Beat the Baggage Fees: Your Entire Vacation in a Carry-On


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Airline companies are forcing us to be more resourceful, and large luggage is being tossed into storage while we wear out the tread on our carry-ons’ wheels. Why are we becoming dependent on hotel laundry and dragging heavy bags through the airport to fight with others for overhead space? It’s not because we want to; it’s because we have to.

While many of us do enjoy having a small bag of luggage with us for convenience, we didn’t think of it as a necessity until we started getting charged for checked baggage in May of 2008. That fateful year for large luggage, American Airlines announced they would be charging a “first checked bag” fee.

Nearly all of the major airlines serving the U.S. and Canada now charge a fee for the first checked bag, and even Southwest Airlines — one of the few remaining companies to allow a free checked bag — is hinting that their “bags fly free” slogan may be changing soon.


Flying with solely a carry-on and a personal item has been good for us too. When we pack all of our clothes into a carry-on, we don’t have to worry about lost luggage and spending three days on the beach in Puerto Vallarta without a swimsuit.

And while the concept of over-packing pretty much flies out the window, it doesn’t mean you’ll be unprepared at your destination. Follow this simple guide to packing your carry-on, and you’ll realize it’s the perfect piece of luggage for three, seven, 10 and even 14-day excursions.

Step 1: Pick Your Bag

Most luggage sets come with a carry-on size bag, but if you don’t have a typical luggage set, the usual size allowance by major airlines is 45 inches (add the bag’s length, width and depth). And don’t forget your personal item too. This can be a purse, backpack or any other bag that you hand carry. The personal item is an ideal place for fragile items, electronics or entertainment you plan to use in-flight.


Step 2: Choose Your Travel Wear Carefully

You’ll be toting your carry-on through the airport with you, so it’s important to keep it light. Wear your heaviest items to the airport (such as a jacket, jeans and close-toed shoes) to lighten the load that you have to carry and leave more space inside the bag for other items.

Step 3: Start Packing Clothes

Always keep the duration of your trip in mind when packing clothing. Pants, shorts and other bottoms can typically be worn three times before washing and shirts can usually be worn twice (wear a bib if you’re eating crab legs). Fold pants once and lay them flat on the bottom of the carry-on.

Rolling other items like shirts, skirts and dresses will keep them more wrinkle-free than folding and far more wrinkle-free than stuffing, so tightly roll all of your t-shirts, tops and dress clothes. Keep in mind that you’re no longer able to pack “what if” items, so if it’s very unlikely that you’ll go bowling, don’t pack your bowling shoes.

Underwear, socks and bathing suits are items you certainly don’t want to do without, and they store perfectly in the mesh pocket on the interior of most carry-ons. If you’re not using a typical carry-on, your bag’s edges or side pockets will work just as well.


Step 4: Shoes, Makeup and Toiletries

Believe it or not, that exterior pocket on your carry-on is good for something. This is the perfect place to put your toiletries and makeup for easy access through security. Instead of rummaging through your neatly packed bag for 3.4-ounce bottles of liquid, you’ll save time and a potentially huge hassle.

Place your shoes in a plastic bag, and it’s time to play some Tetris. Flip-flops fit easily on top of clothing, but larger shoes often need to be stuffed along the sides of the interior of the carry-on. Whenever possible, wear your heaviest and largest pair of shoes (such as walking shoes for days of shopping) and pack your lighter pair. Always pack shoes that can be used for a number of occasions over those that only match one outfit.

Step 5: Overflow Items

It doesn’t all fit? Don’t panic. Check to see if your “personal item” is full. If you’re carrying a large purse or backpack along with your carry-on, it’s likely there’s a little extra space for a pair of shoes, a spare book, a few pairs of socks or other items that just wouldn’t squeeze into your bag — no matter who you had sit on top of it.

About the Author: Courtney McCaffrey

Courtney McCaffrey is a travel writer and editor based in Wilmington, N.C, Mexico and around the world. In addition to writing, she lives for travel - seeing new places, experiencing new cultures and surfing new waves.


  • All this light packing is fine for the airline. But think of the retail side of it people now do not spend as much in the country they visit so long term this is no good for the economy. Also if you have a disability and need special dressings or medicines you are forced to pay for checked luggage which can be very expensive. When is the passenger going to have a voice and not the greed of airlines

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