Slim Down: Essential Personal Items to Avoid Carry-On Fees and Fly Light
Slim Down: Essential Personal Items to Avoid Carry-On Fees and Fly Light - Pick Your Bag Wisely
Choosing the right carry-on bag for air travel is one of the most important decisions you'll make when packing light. The bag itself can easily add 5-10 lbs to your total weight, so traveling with a lightweight carry-on is key to avoiding fees. Hard-sided roller bags may seem appealing, but they are much heavier than soft-sided bags. Opt for a soft-sided duffel or backpack made from ultra light materials. I switched from a hardshell roller to an Eagle Creek Wayfinder 30L which weighs just 2 lbs. Lightweight fabrics like ripstop nylon are durable yet shave off ounces compared to canvas or leather. Compression straps and removable hip belts are also useful for cinching down a bag when it's not full.
The optimal carry-on size is right around 40L. This leaves ample space for clothing and toiletries without exceeding sizer restrictions. Carry-on limits vary slightly by airline, but most allow bags up to 22 x 14 x 9 inches. I avoid anything over 45L because the extra cubic space just invites overpacking. A 40L backpack can hold 5+ days of essentials if packed wisely.
Wheeled duffels seem convenient but often lack backpack straps, making them difficult to manage when boarding buses or trains. Backpacks reign supreme for keeping your hands free and distributing weight evenly. However, a backpack with hideaway straps that can be pulled out when needed provides the best of both worlds. I prefer backpacks even for business trips thanks to features like laptop sleeves and luggage handles.
Organization is critical when living out of a carry-on. Bags with multiple compartments help separate clothes from tech and toiletries. Mesh pockets and media pockets keep chargers, headphones and other small items in place. Some bags have entire sections that unzip to create separate storage zones. I always choose a bag with a clamshell opening so I can access gear at the bottom without unpacking everything.
Durability should not be sacrificed in pursuit of the lightest bag. Look for abrasion-resistant fabric and high quality zippers designed to withstand years of travel. Weatherproofing is also useful for protecting belongings. I once got caught in a tropical storm and my Eagle Creek emerged unscathed. Prioritize bags with YKK or other premium zippers that won't fail after a few trips.
What else is in this post?
- Slim Down: Essential Personal Items to Avoid Carry-On Fees and Fly Light - Pick Your Bag Wisely
- Slim Down: Essential Personal Items to Avoid Carry-On Fees and Fly Light - Edit Your Toiletries
- Slim Down: Essential Personal Items to Avoid Carry-On Fees and Fly Light - Wear Bulkier Items
- Slim Down: Essential Personal Items to Avoid Carry-On Fees and Fly Light - Leave Behind the Electronics
- Slim Down: Essential Personal Items to Avoid Carry-On Fees and Fly Light - Limit Souvenirs
- Slim Down: Essential Personal Items to Avoid Carry-On Fees and Fly Light - Pack Smart Shoes
Slim Down: Essential Personal Items to Avoid Carry-On Fees and Fly Light - Edit Your Toiletries
When packing carry-on only, scrutinizing your toiletries is one of the best ways to cut weight and hassle. Liquids and gels are heavily restricted for air travel, so you’ll have to get creative about editing down to just the bare essentials.
I’ve learned a few key tips over the years for minimizing toiletries while still feeling fresh on the road. The first is to swap out any large bottles or tubes for travel sizes. Think shampoo, face wash, sunscreen, etc. You can buy TSA-approved sizes or make your own by decanting a small amount into empty travel bottles. Some liquid products can even be swapped for bar versions - bar soap versus body wash, for example. Solid shampoo and conditioner bars are also great low-waste options.
Forget about any hair styling products, which tend to be bulky and heavy. I rely on just a small dollop of multipurpose styling cream that I rub between my hands and work through damp hair. It cuts frizz and provides just enough hold. Other heavy products like masks, serums and hairspray get left behind.
When it comes to skin care, I stick to a gentle cleanser, moisturizer with SPF and a solid facial serum. Heavy night creams get swapped for a few drops of face oil. I skip makeup entirely besides tinted sunscreen and a sheer lip balm.
I fill a contact lens case with face moisturizer rather than packing a whole tub - another space-saving trick. Foaming cleansers are lighter than heavy cream ones. I fill my own travel-size bottle with foaming acne wash. Bar soap doubles as body wash. And I coat my body in a mix of face oil and lotion rather than packing separate body creams or oils.
I refill a tiny dropper bottle with my preferred perfume so I can spritz it on versus packing the whole ornate bottle. I switch prescription meds to smaller daily pill packs or cases. One razor handles the job versus a bulky pack. And I use solid toothpaste tablets that weigh next to nothing and don't count as a liquid.
Slim Down: Essential Personal Items to Avoid Carry-On Fees and Fly Light - Wear Bulkier Items
The bulk and weight of the clothing you pack plays a huge role in keeping your carry-on light. Stop thinking about outfits and individual pieces - start thinking in terms of fabric weight. The lighter and thinner the fabrics, the more you can cram in your bag without hitting the scales.
Synthetic athletic wear is your best bet for reducing bulk. Brands like Lululemon and Athleta specialize in featherlight, wrinkle-resistant fabrics made from sweat-wicking synthetics or ultrafine merino wool. A full outfit of synthetic activewear easily folds down small. Look for stretchy joggers, shorts, tanks and tee shirts ideal for exercising or lounging on flights.
Down jackets are a winter traveler's best friend when it comes to saving space and staying warm. Premium 800-fill down is highly compressible yet delivers serious insulation value. While a traditional wool peacoat weighs a few pounds, an ultralight down jacket with similar warmth packs down smaller than a football. Brands like Patagonia, Outdoor Research and Arc'teryx offer durable options designed for alpine sport that transition seamlessly into urban wear.
Lightweight merino wool tops are another travel staple thanks to their ability to resist odors and stains even after daily wear. Thin merino layers take up minimal room while regulating temperature in any climate. For fair weather trips, skip bulky sweaters and jeans in favor of merino tee shirts, button downs and sweater polos that breathe well and dry quickly.
Leave the suit jacket, blazer and any heavy outer layers at home if possible. Dress shirts and pants made from travel-friendly synthetics and wool blends easily pass for business casual along with a sport coat. Pack just one versatile sport coat or blazer and use it to instantly elevate casual separates when needed. Modern tech fabrics mimic the look of fine wool with a fraction of the weight.
Take advantage of clothes with built-in features that add versatility and comfort without requiring additional layers. Look for pants with integrated belts, tops with hidden hoods, and jackets with removable liners. Well-designed garments serve multiple purposes. Avoid overpacking by sticking to streamlined pieces in lightweight fabrics that mix and match to create complete outfits.
Slim Down: Essential Personal Items to Avoid Carry-On Fees and Fly Light - Leave Behind the Electronics
When packing for air travel, scrutinize your electronics to pare down to just the essentials. Laptops, tablets, e-readers, and camera gear quickly bulk up your bag and inch you closer to carry-on weight limits.
Start by asking yourself if you truly need your laptop. Tablets and smartphones may suffice for basic tasks like email, social media, and reading. For short trips under 5 days, I comfortably rely on my iPad mini and iPhone rather than lugging my MacBook Air. The tablet slips neatly into a sleeve and saves nearly 3 pounds.
If traveling with a partner or group, share larger devices like laptops. My husband and I take turns bringing our computer on getaways and use file sharing apps like Dropbox to access needed documents. For families, having kids share a tablet can seriously minimize clutter.
Don't automatically pack your bulky camera gear like interchangeable lenses, flash units, and pro DSLRs. Modern smartphone cameras output stunning quality for casual travel photos and videos. Or consider upgrading to a pocket-sized mirrorless camera that captures professional images in a body half the size of a DSLR. Sony and Canon now make capable mirrorless models perfect for light packers.
Leave the e-reader at home and use your smartphone or tablet to access Kindle, Apple Books, or other reading apps. Pack just one universal charger compatible with all your devices rather than hauling multiple chargers. Avoid bringing things like handheld gaming systems, external hard drives, and wireless printers - leave them all behind!
If you must bring a laptop or DSLR, research slim and lightweight models before your next purchase. Apple's MacBook Air and Microsoft's Surface Laptop slim down to just 2-3 pounds. Mirrorless camera systems shed 50% or more of the weight. Protect delicate gear in ultralight foam padding rather than bulky hard cases. Consider insurance plans that cover electronics damage to avoid packing excess padding.
In chilly weather, electronic heat packs are lifesavers for avoiding dead smartphone and camera batteries. HotHands and other brands make pocket warmers that protect down to -20 degrees when slipped into a pouch with your device. No need to bring extra backup chargers. Simply toss a few hand warmers into your pack.
Slim Down: Essential Personal Items to Avoid Carry-On Fees and Fly Light - Limit Souvenirs
One of the best parts of traveling is bringing home mementos and souvenirs. From mini monuments to local snacks, sourcing the perfect trinket or treat can be a fun way to prolong the travel experience. However, souvenir shopping can also derail your carry-on goals if you aren’t mindful. Those artisan ceramics and vintage textiles quickly bulk up bags and create hassles at security checkpoints.
When buying souvenirs, I always ask myself - is this worth the weight? Will I actually use or display it at home? If not, it gets left behind. I once carried an antique wall hanging across 3 countries before realizing I had nowhere to properly hang the unwieldy tapestry. Lesson learned - my memories from experiencing that outdoor market are enough without accumulating objects.
If picking up souvenirs is important to you, get selective. Focus on small, non-breakable local specialties that pack flat and capture the essence of place. For edible treats like tea, coffee, spices, honey and sweets, share them if possible rather than stockpiling multiple of each item. Bring an empty reusable water bottle and fill it with olive oil, wine or other liquid delicacies to avoid heavy glass bottles. Items like shells, bookmarks and keychains take up almost no space.
Postcards and prints of artwork you enjoy fold up small and don’t add weight. Another favorite trick is buying a scarf, handbag or clothing item handmade locally using beautiful regional textiles - these double as chic vacation wear and meaningful souvenirs. Or collect patches and insignia representing places visited and sew them onto a jacket or hat over time rather than accumulating separate objects.
Skip bulky items like musical instruments, rugs, statues, vases and glassware. Even if a piece seems special, be realistic about whether you’ll actually use it or if it will end up collecting dust in storage. The same goes for souvenir apparel like printed shirts and hoodies, which take up precious bag space and may not suit your regular style back home. I've learned to admire handmade crafts as works of art, take a photo of them for memories, and move on.
Slim Down: Essential Personal Items to Avoid Carry-On Fees and Fly Light - Pack Smart Shoes
The shoes you select for your carry-on can make or break your lightweight packing strategy. Bulky sneakers, sandals and heels take up precious real estate inside your bag and contribute unnecessary ounces. I've experimented with ways to minimize footwear while still keeping my feet happy and blister-free on the road.
Start by thinking about your actual needs. Do you require specialty hiking or running shoes for sports on this particular trip? If not, one versatile pair of sneakers is plenty. Brands like Allbirds and Rothy's make lightweight knit and washable shoes perfect for strolling, exercising and casual wear. For warm climates, I love OluKai's ultrapackable flip flops with soft straps that prevent blisters when walking miles. A pair weighs just 4-5 ounces. For cooler weather, look for slip-on wool sneakers that insulate feet without heft - or low profile leather loafers that add a touch of polish.
If packing formal shoes, go for ultra-minimalist brands that optimize comfort and foldability. Travel specialist Ace Marks makes brilliantly engineered oxfords and loafers for men crafted from one piece of leather to reduce bulk. The heels cleverly flatten to slim the silhouette. Brands like Margaux offer ballet flats with hidden arch support made for all-day wear - yet they roll up tiny in your bag. Haflinger's boiled wool slippers compress to pancakes.
Leave behind bulky shoeboxes and opt for light cotton shoe bags instead. Some brands make collapsible styles that take up zero space. Protect delicate heels and fabrics with removable sole guards. If you need a shoe for a special occasion, wear your bulkiest pair on the plane and pack something more versatile for the rest of the trip.
Speaking of wearing your heaviest items, always wear your clunkiest footwear through airport security to free up precious carry-on room. Lace-up boots, chunky heels, athletic shoes - get them on your feet! If checking a bag, pack shoes inside your suitcase instead. But limit yourself to what you'll actually wear.
Don't feel you have to stick with boring solid colors to maintain a lightweight capsule. Brands like Toms, Converse and Vans make flats and sneakers in fun patterns that instantly punch up casual outfits. Scarves, lens filters and colored laces transform the look and feel of shoes, too. Skip the space-hogging galoshes and pack clever foldable rain covers instead. Most weigh just 2-3 ounces and protect your shoes in soggy weather. No need for bulky winter boots - look for waterproof leather kicks with cozy shearling insoles.