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Get the top tips for packing your carry on. (Photo: Getty Images)

Tips + Trends

Think You Can’t Pack Light? Peep These 7 Tips for Traveling with a Carry-On

Whether you’re looking to avoid airline fees for checking a bag or embarking on a weekend trip, traveling with only a carry-on bag isn’t just economical, it’s easier than you think.

The best part? Leaving your big suitcase at home not only saves you money, it also saves you time because you don’t have to wait around for your luggage at the airport (or worry about your bag getting lost).

Follow these tips and you’ll be a carry-on pro in no time!

RELATED: Packing Must-Haves for the Savvy Business Traveler

1. Be Sure You Have the Right Bag

Some airlines are stricter than others about bag dimensions, but generally speaking, your carry-on must be approximately 22 x 14 x 9 inches or less. A soft-sided bag or backpack can be condensed in an overhead bin so you can often go a little bigger and squish it down.

The weight limit is typically 40 pounds, but most airlines don’t usually weigh carry-ons, especially if you check in online and never go up to the counter. Be sure to check your airline’s website before you leave to ensure your bag meets their requirements.

2. Pack Smart

Packing cubes make it easy to organize your clothing, while compression bags are helpful if you have to pack bulky winter clothes. If you’re not bringing either of those, roll your clothes. They are less likely to get wrinkled, and it will save space.

If you’ll need a coat or sweater, wear or carry it at the airport to create more space in your bag. Wear your bulkiest shoes so you don’t have to pack them and use a glasses case for super-small items or cords.

3. Make Your Clothes Multitask

Take a cozy scarf that can double as a pillow on the plane or a wrap if you get cold. Think about what clothes you can reuse with different outfits, like a tank top that can be dressed up with a few accessories or a cute-but-casual button-up shirt that you could wear hiking during the day and to happy hour in the evening.

4. Don’t Forget Your Personal Item

Most airlines allow a carry-on plus a personal item, so pack your laptop, toiletries and snacks in another bag. This will give you easy access to them when they need to come out for security, and you won’t have to move things around that you’ve meticulously packed in your carry-on.

5. Make a List and Check It Twice

Make a list ahead of time to decide what you actually need and what you can leave at home or downsize. For example, load your books onto a tablet instead of bringing paper books, get a charger with multiple adaptors on one end instead of needing several cords, and limit your shoes to a pair of sneakers, nice shoes and flip-flops.

6. Minimize Toiletries

One of the only downsides to only bringing a carry-on means you are limited to the one quart-sized bag and liquids weighing 3.4 ounces or less. But don’t be discouraged — you can usually buy anything you need once you get to your destination and most hotels and rental properties will have the basics waiting for you.

7. Be Prepared to Do Laundry

If you are traveling for more than a week, you may need to wash some clothes, or at least your underwear. Hand wash items in the sink, use your hotel’s laundry service or book a vacation rental with a washer and dryer.

The most important thing when traveling with just a carry-on is to use every single inch of space you can and fill all the nooks and crannies in your bag. Plan ahead, pack wisely and you’ll be able to spend more time at your destination and less time with the crowds at the baggage claim.