Photograph of a Vera Bradly tote bag in gray on top of a black TravelPro suitcase, both front-facing. Background is gray flooring and light wood wall.

Carry-on Must Haves

Carry-On Must Haves

Packing Like a Pro

Packing is my jam. I’ve always loved figuring out how to arrange things and how to make things fit… let’s just say, when Tetris came out, I was seriously addicted.

Photograph of a Vera Bradley carry-on style bag in a gray color.  Background is white with aqua polka dots.  A hand holds the bag by the handles.

With all the traveling I do, I’m always trying to maximize what I can take in the smallest amount of luggage. Ideally, I travel with carry-on only; I have my TravelPro roller board suitcase and a Vera Bradley shoulder bag (it slips onto my suitcase handle, which I love). I load my suitcase up with all the clothing necessities and shoes and anything I don’t need easy access to (post coming soon about Packing Hacks for cramming the most into your suitcase). The “personal item”, i.e. the bag we all usually overpack that barely squishes under the seat in front of us, is like a quadratic equation I’ve been struggling to solve for years… BUT! Great news! I think I may have cracked it.

Top 3 Best Packing Tips

  • Pack Twice: Yep, I said it (well, wrote it). I, like most of us out there who travel, always overpack my carry-on. So I’ve accepted it and now I pack twice - once with all the things I think I need, then again with what I know I can’t live without, leaving the rest behind.
  • Pro Tip: When you do that first pack, try toting your bag around the house for a few minutes. Ask yourself, do you want to carry this around (possibly while running to your gate) at the airport? Many a time I have hefted my bag once after packing and given it a big NOPE because I do not want to lug the extra pounds.
  • Pro Tip: After a trip, take note (in your phone, on a planner) of what you swore you needed but ended up not touching. This will keep you on point for your next trip. That hardcover book you promised yourself you were going to read and didn’t even crack? Buh-bye.
  • Pro Tip: Keep your quart bag of liquids here (especially for international trips). If you’re traveling out of the country (or just for convenience’s sake on domestic trips), you will need to account for your liquids, pastes and gels. Pack up your allowed 1 quart bag with everything - the hand cream in your purse, the styling products in your toiletry bag - and stash it in your carry on. This will save you the headache and time of getting your bag searched because you forgot you had toothpaste stashed in a side pocket. NOTE: This is just if you are solely a carry-on person… if you’re bougie enough to check a bag, then put all your liquids in there!
Photograph of an overflowing gray suitcase against a blue background. Text on image states, "Tip #1: Pack Twice"
Pack what you want... then pack what you need.
Photograph of a narrow, spiral ring, lined notepad with a black pen lying beside it vertically. Background is an ash wood texture.
Photograph of a person's leg trying to smash down an overflowing suitcase. Text on top of image says,
Photograph of a Vera Bradley gray tote bag with handles. Text overlaid on photo says "Fave Carry-On"

J'adore this bag, y'all. Get one HERE.

  • Consider Your Vessel: I already mentioned how much I adore my Vera Bradley bag with the convenient back opening to slide onto my rollerboard handle. Mr. AirbusDriver, who regularly flies with his crew bag, likes to use the Bange backpack for his day trips as well as for our longer travels (post coming soon about how to pack this efficiently for day trips - airline crew, take note!). When thinking about what you want in your bag, think about:
  • Size: If you’re tall, pick a smaller bag in case there is no overhead storage room and you have to put your bag under the seat in front of you. Even if you’re not tall, it stinks to have no room… let’s be honest; unless you’re flying first class on Emirates, you probably don’t have the most spacious leg room (Southwest, Frontier, I’m looking at you!). My Vera bag works nicely because most of the time I can stuff it under the seat and to the side so that I can stretch my legs a little next to it.
  • Accessibility: How easy is it to find things in your bag? My bag is an easy top-open tote with a padded, securable side for my laptop or tablet and everything else goes next to that. It also has inner side pockets to stash some cords, my passport or other doodads that made the “must have” cut.
  • Bells, Whistles and What-Not: My top feature that I require of any carry-on bag is that it will slide onto my roller board handle. I refuse to carry stuff because it’s annoying to shoulder one bag and roll the other. Other things to think about: durability and color. If you travel a lot, you’re going to want something that can withstand heavy use. Pick something made with sturdy materials and in a color that won’t get dirty easily.
  • Bags in Bags in Bags in Bags! I have designated bags for all my stuff to make it easy to find what I need. It’s like Home Edit, Travel Bag edition!!! Sometimes, I even stuff a bigger bag with smaller bags (I may have a problem, I know). Here are my “required” bags:
  • Liquids Bag - use a clear 1 quart bag when traveling internationally
  • Make-Up/Freshen Up Bag - I always pack a few items like lip balm, hand wipes, pocket tissues, toothbrush and some ibuprofen to fly in comfort and look cute, too.
  • SNACKS! I mean, we all need a snack bag! Check out THIS POST about traveling Keto style, so if that’s your thing, be on the lookout. Check out the perfect snack sized bags from our shop HERE
  • Travel Pillow - If your travel pillow comes with a compression bag already, awesome! But if not, I use the extra small Gonex packing cube to squish my travel pillow into a manageable size. Note: my travel pillow is memory foam, so it compresses pretty easily.
  • Cords and Electronics Stuff - Don’t forget adapters if you are traveling internationally! Grab this sweet cord organizer to really up your game or get some laughs with this one!
  • Knitting & Crochet Stuff - Maybe you don’t knit or crochet, but it’s always good to have a bag for your fave on-board entertainment that doesn’t require power! I like to have this in case I need a break from electronics or I’ve drained every battery.
Photograph of different travel toiletry bags, open, with various small toiletry items visible (ear swabs, toothbrushes, soap, etc.). Text on image states "Tip #3: Bags in Bags"
Photograph of 3 different small zippered tote bags with different graphics on them. Top bag has text: "Caution: Emotional Support Tarantula Inside"; Middle Bag has text: "I just travelled for hours on a plane & woke up tired, hungry & looking like this. Be nice." The bottom bag has a graphic of tangled cords and the text "Cord Organizer"

You know you need these bags in your life, so purchase them HERE.

What are your best carry on tips? Add yours in the comments below. I’m always looking for ways to maximize my Tetris packing skills!

Want more? Check out these posts!

Grab a free printable checklist HERE and then be sure to save some money with my Dollar Tree Packing Hacks!

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