How to Pack a Carry-On Suitcase

Expert advice to save you space and time.

Welcome to Guide to Life, a series of tips, tricks and insights designed to help you get the most from your gear.

Before you travel, it's worth taking time to consider how you pack. While your main focus may the the destination, a thoughtful approach to packing your carry-on will make your trip much easier. The combination of what you pack and how you pack it can reduce stress while you're on the move. To help you best prepare, we talked with some experts to get their advice on how to pack a carry-on suitcase.

Before you pack

"Before I even start packing, checking the weather of my destination a day or two before is of utmost importance," says Ron Griswell, an outdoor educator and activist. It sounds obvious, but this will dictate most of what you pack. While your toiletries may remain constant, an accurate picture of the weather will dictate the types of layers you bring.

After you check the forecast, make sure your other travel necessities are in order. Refresh your toiletries, charge your electronics, load up your music playlists and make sure your car has enough gas to get to and from the airport. "I don't know how many times I've been stressed out by running late to the airport because I had to stop and fuel up," Griswell says.

It's also important to not pack at the last minute. "I used to stay up late packing the night before well into the day," Griswell says."I discovered that nothing is worse than being sleep deprived on a plane." He even goes on to say that getting enough sleep is the most important thing before getting to the plane. We're inclined to agree.

Edit, organize, compartmentalize

Griswell suggests a minimalist approach when packing a suitcase. Tidying expert and bestselling author Marie Kondo agrees. "With a carry-on, space is limited – choose carefully," she says. "Before I pack, I review my itinerary and select the items that will maximize my "spark-joy" moments for the trip."

Packing a suitcase isn't about stuffing as much as you can into the confines of your luggage. You should be efficient and thoughtful when you pack, editing, organizing and compartmentalizing your suitcase. Consider how long you'll be traveling, and then select enough clothes for the duration of the trip. From there, edit your selection, but pack one extra outfit just in case you get caught in the rain.

When organizing, packing cubes are great tool. Use these to separate your shirts, pants, electronics and toiletries. Not only will they keep your suitcase cleaner, they'll make unpacking and repacking far easier.

Roll your shirts, fold your pants

"The key when packing is to store clothes upright almost like you’re filing things," Kondo says. This makes your garments easily visible when you're unpacking, and it also takes up less space in your suitcase and prevents wrinkles.

For thinner clothes like shirts, start by folding the garment in half, lengthwise. Then, roll the garment and place it into the packing cube standing up.

Heavier clothes like sweaters, jackets and pants are made from thicker fabrics, so they're less prone to wrinkling. "Rolling clothing made of thick fabrics will only make them thicker — it’s better to fold them," Kondo says. "Since I fold my clothes like this at home, it’s easy for me to pack quickly the day before I travel. I transfer items from my drawers straight into my suitcase — and when I’ve reached my destination, I put them straight into drawers at the hotel."


Shoes and boots can be very difficult to pack. They take up a large amount of space and can be difficult to fit among your other necessities. If you can avoid bringing extra pairs of shoes, then do it.

If not, make sure to stash them in a dust bag to protect your other items from getting dirty. Keep your shoes stuffed with shoe trees to prevent them from being crushed in transit. But if you're short on space, stuff them with your socks

Bring your own shampoo

Your Dopp Kit keeps your toiletries and grooming supplies in one place. While some like to pack it in a carry-on backpack, others opt to stash it in a suitcase. Either way, travel-sized bottles are a simple packing hack. Just fill them with your go-to shampoo, conditioner, soap and mouthwash. They'll save you from buying travel-sized toiletries from the drug store that you won't actually want to use.

Keep the snacks in your backpack

For items you may want to access during the flight, consider packing them separately in your carry-on bag, the one that goes under your seat. These are things like your laptop, water bottle, medication, hand sanitizer and snacks. Keep everything else in your suitcase. "No one should be hovering over people while the seat belt sign is on digging through socks and underwear looking for whatever it is they need," Griswell says. "Foresight goes a long way."

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