Use these time-tested tips to avoid checking luggage from here on out.

If You’re Checking a Bag, You’re Traveling Wrong—Here’s the Right Way to Pack a Carry-on Bag

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Traveler tourist woman walking and dragging luggage bag at train station and searching hotel for booking room.

This article is part of our six-week, limited edition newsletter series, Last-Minute, Low-Stress Travel, which will give you the tips and trips to make all of your summer travels go smoothly. Travel editor Krista Simmons and other experts will walk you through everything from how to deal with common travel nightmares, how to save money on your next vacation, packing hacks, camping trip ideas, and more. Sign up here to get each installment straight to your inbox.

There are countless reasons why you should be carrying on your luggage when traveling: It saves money on checking bags; your suitcase stays by your side, circumventing the inevitable airline blunder of lost luggage; you’ll avoid waits at baggage claim; and frankly, you can have bragging rights. But packing a carry-on can be daunting and difficult to organize, especially for longer trips. Here’s how to pack carry-on luggage easily, every single time.

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1. Get the Right Suitcase

It goes without saying that it’s important to get yourself a piece of luggage that’s universally carry-on-sized. Our editor in chief swears by this Mystery Ranch duffel, or if you’re more into the ease of hard-side rollers like I am, the Monos Carry-On Plus, made in Vancouver, is an awesome option. While I could easily make the case for splurging on these brands, if you’re after something great and more affordable, American Tourister is a U.S.-made brand that we can stand behind, and their carry on options are under $70 on Amazon.

2. Create a Capsule Wardrobe

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I am a huge fan of Kristine Fernandez’s perspective on creating a capsule wardrobe, and this idea not only applies to always having something to wear in your daily life, but also when you’re traveling. Her primer on how to create a capsule wardrobe can be seen in this YouTube video here. Her philosophy starts with a wardrobe audit, which you should absolutely do when you’re packing. Then, start by building basics and essentials that come in solid colors that can be mixed and matched. Her five essential pieces are a great white sneaker; well-fitting crew neck tank tops or t-shirts; skin-toned slides; jeans or trousers; and a versatile black dress. I’d also like to add a great blazer or leather jacket into the mix, which can really dress things up and provide some warmth, especially in-flight.

person packing small containers into larger bag
Packing cubes from Eagle Creek.

Courtesy of Eagle Creek

3. Purchase Packing Cubes

You’ve no doubt heard at least one friend rave about newfound packing organization courtesy of the addition of packing cubes. Without ever having used them, the thought of adding a series of zippered compartments to anything doesn’t necessarily elicit much in the “wow” department. But that reaction is sure to change the moment you begin making use of these handy organizers in your previously disheveled suitcase. We love the ones from Eagle Creek, as well as this particular set from Peak Design.

4. Wear Your Bulkiest Pieces en Route

I always travel with a leather or jean jacket, and I almost always bring a hat from Wyeth to protect my face from the sun. I’ll also wear whatever pair of shoes is the largest to the airport, whether that be a pair of Danners for hiking, or Ariat leather boots for horseback riding, because doing so saves tons of valuable space. Plus, I’m a firm believer that athleisure belongs in the gym and for doing errands, rather than being a travel-day uniform.

Kate in Danner Boots on Rocks

Ren Fuller

5. Streamline the Shoes

Shoes are one of the largest items that you’ll pack, and therefore it’s important to minimize. Similar to the idea of creating a capsule wardrobe, you’ll want to minimize how may pairs to bring. I usually opt for one pair of crisp white sneakers that are comfy to walk in, a pair of utilitarian boots that can clean up nicely for dinners, and a pair of athletic shoes or hiking boots if needed.

6. Minimize on Toiletries

TSA regulation-sized bottles are still under 3 ounces, and thankfully there are lots of options for toothpaste, lotions, and face products. I always save sample-sized items to pack in my toiletry bag, and reuse small containers whenever possible. There are also some really cool solid products out there, like Lola Arnao‘s ultra-concentrated solid lotion and shave bars. Each 2-ounce lotion bar is the equivalent of a bottle of lotion but with zero plastic, saving on space and helping out the environment at the same time.

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