How to Go from Checked Baggage to Carry-On Without Sacrificing a Thing.

Of all the necessary components that go into getting ready for a trip, packing is my least favorite, most frustrating, and the chore that always ends up as a last-minute dash. The results? Unpacking everything and repacking in a larger suitcase, when sitting on the smaller one breaks the zipper as I try to force it shut. Then, upon arrival at our destination, I find too many tops, not enough socks, separates that don’t go together and forgotten essentials. Well, that was my story before April, 2015, when I finally got smart about packing for a trip.

The problem is the same for most of us; too many choices and too little packable space. Then there’s the specter of having what you finally do pack being lost by Wing-and-a Prayer Airlines, not to mention, the hassles involved in getting your suitcase back, assuming you actually make it that far.

Finding and repacking things while moving from place to place in a short span of time has a tendency of turning me into a raving lunatic. My suitcase becomes so disorganized, I have to sit on it to get it closed. And this the larger one we’re talking about here!

So what changes can you make to turn this recurring travel nightmare into a mostly stress free operation? Let me break it down into logical steps that will help you keep your sanity before and during your trip.

Change Your Mindset

The first thing is to alter your approach to packing. Instead of seeing it as a menial task that can be completed 20 minutes before you’re scheduled to walk out the door, give yourself a deadline. And I don’t mean the afore-mentioned 20 minutes. Begin the process a few days in advance, take out your suitcase and leave it open on a spare bed or other out-of-the-way spot.

We use the guest room, and as we think of items we are likely to forget, we put them on the bed as we think of them.

  • Gifts for family or friends with whom you will be staying
  • Technology bag with extra cables, charges, headphones, external drives and batteries, to which you can add items still in use up to departure time
  • Formal ware; if going to a wedding or other special event
  • Articles of clothing, shoes and outerwear you won’t be needing before you leave
  • Passports, itineraries and other paperwork you will need at your destination
  • Small umbrella, inflatable neck pillow, slipper-socks, travel hair dryer, and other random items you will want on your trip
  • And, in our case, pre-measured dog food, collapsable bowls, Nylabone and busy bags for Otto
What to carry
The TravelPro Suitcase I Selected

The TravelPro Suitcase I Selected

We purchased Travelpro™ rolling carry-on bags that are designed to hold as much as possible. There is a section in the lid for flat items such as suits and dresses, plus two exterior and two interior compartments. The case can expand for items purchased on vacation, but you will then have to check it.

Since airlines also allow one personal item, I carry my briefcase. Inside is my purse, laptop, other technology items, toiletry bag, a couple of days worth of food for my guide dog, Otto and other small items. Immediately after boarding, my purse and computer emerge, and the briefcase disappears into the overhead bin.

Packing Aids

Some prefer to stuff their clothes into individual zip-lock bags, but we’ve found packing cubes to work well for us in terms of increased flexibility. These cubes are zip-up gems that come in an assortment of sizes, colors and styles. Pack them with entire outfits, categories of clothing or toiletries, Put them on a shelf when you reach your destination, easily find what you need and pop them back in your suitcase when you’re ready to move on. Instead of handling a lot of individual items, you only have three or four packets with which to deal.

For our first trip using packing cubes, we bought Eaglecreek™ double-sided small wet/dry cubes. I used mine for undies/bras on one side and socks on the other. My husband used the dry side for underwear and the wet side for damp items such as workout gear.

Examples of the Packing Cubes we Purchased

Examples of the Packing Cubes we Purchased

We also bought a set of four Shacke cubes that came with an additional laundry bag. The laundry bag was a pleasant surprise, because the drawstring top kept everything inside, it was bigger than those pitiful bags from the hotels and because it’s recyclable, I was able to throw in with the laundry for a much-needed freshening up.

This particular brand of cubes is only available in black. If you’re traveling as a family, you might consider cubes that come in different colors, so the kids can each have their own, thus heading off at least one potential battle.

Hanging Toiletry Bag

Hanging Toiletry Bag

My all-time favorite, though, isn’t a cube at all. It’s a hanging toiletry bag, with everything in clear plastic-sections. It’s TSA friendly, and you can easily move it from room to bathroom, and back again. This is handy if you are sharing a bathroom in a home or AirBnB.

I keep travel size toiletries, some first-aid items and other assorted small items. Most of the contents stays put when I get home. Before the next adventure, I simply check to make sure that all the bottles are filled and add a handful of last-minute items.

We watched a number of YouTube videos on packing cubes before deciding what we wanted. This is a good way to see what’s available before you buy.

Now, Let’s Get Packing

Our suitcases have trenches on the interior because of the extending handle. These spaces can be filled with shoes, hairdryer and other items that create a level surface for packing cubes.

The space in the lid is perfect for a laundry bag, jeans, slacks and similar flat items.

For a month-long European trip, I used two of the black cubes, and the red double-sided one. In a larger cube, I packed lightweight items, including five rolled-up tops, six folded shirts, two pairs of capris and a wash -and-wear dress. A slightly smaller cube held a light cardigan and four long-sleeved tops. Since we were traveling to both warm and cool climates, layering was a must.

Packing Cubes in Suitcase

Packing Cubes in Suitcase

Anything that doesn’t need ironing can be rolled, using up less cube real estate. In the previously mentioned packing job, I filled a cube with one layer of rolled t-shirts and capris, and topped it with a layered of neatly folded button-down shirts.

Try to work out a color scheme. Black pants and jeans go with almost everything. That is also true of white and khaki. Just remember, you don’t need them all.

The ability to avoid checked luggage saved us time when we arrived at airports, and made transporting them from hotel to train station, back to airport a breeze. What really sold me on packing this way, though, was the ease with which I could repack and the fact that, when I unpacked, I still had more than enough of everything.

Do you have any favorite packing tips you would like to share? Let me know in the Comments.

Note: Products mentioned in this article are ones I use myself. I receive no compensation from any store or manufacturer.

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