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Travel Often? Become a Carry-On Expert

Living the carry-on life can be easier than you thought.

For some of us, travel is part of our jobs. Or maybe, after a long week, jetting off (or driving) to a favorite location is a must. Even the one-off trips (like the one I just scheduled to Vegas for a concert), can be gratifying and stress-free if you know how to pack.

I don’t know about you, but I prefer not to pay for those baggage check fees. $25 is the equivalent of two or three poolside margaritas. And if you have a family with you, forget having the extra money for a fancy dinner on your trip. You just dropped a ton of cash on shipping your clothes, that are traveling with you anyway, and half of which you might not wear.

So what tools can help you become the king or queen of the carry-on? And what tips will keep you from having to repack everything you need for every trip, or help you get out of dodge without a whole lot of prep work?

Check out the these items and tips that will get you travel ready on a moment’s notice…

1. The Carry On Bag - Ricardo Santa Cruz 7.0 Spinner Luggage (21 Inch Carry On)

It’s all about the bag.

For years I had a very small carry-on I bought at Wilson’s Leather. It got the job done, but I couldn’t pack more than an extra pair of shoes and my “personal item” was usually an oversized (and heavy) backpack.

In October, I was heading to a conference in Charlotte to speak in front facility managers about office culture, and wanted to have some versatile outfits for the warm climate. Charlotte is still sweaty that time of year.

I not only had to dress up for my speaking engagement, I was going to get a tour of Charlotte Motor Speedway. That’s where jeans and my comfy cowboy boots would come in handy but the boots just wouldn’t fit in my carry-on. I certainly didn’t want to wear them on the plane—at this point in my life, I’ve already settled on my airport outfit: yoga pants, a loose top and sweater with a pair of slip on shoes. I will never again wear jeans, or even dress pants on a plane. And certainly not boots. It’s all about comfort, or as I call it, publicly-acceptable jammies.

The morning I was leaving for my trip, I headed over to Kohls Department Store and picked up an awesome (and spacious!) carry-on that not only fit my boots, but was seriously my idea of a dream bag.

Let’s start with the outside. Because it’s a softer bag, a couple of books and accessories fit nicely inside the front compartments and they don’t make the bag bulge. The zippers open and close nicely and the spinning wheels make it easy to navigate through the airport. Kudos to the person that came up with that idea.

Also, I love when a handle is adjustable. My personal item is no longer that heavy backpack, it’s a larger soft-sided tote I can throw under the seat or even a simple purse. And I can just slip the straps over the carry-on’s handle and spin away.

Now, for the pure gold—the interior.

It has two compartments. The larger side is deep (enough for cowboy boots, toiletry bag and then some!). It has a plastic zipper bag attached to the top end for your liquids that easily detaches if you need to drop it in the bins at security. There are straps to help hold your things in place and a mesh zippered side pocket I use to store my cords, chargers and other small essentials (see first aid/sewing kit below). For my trip I fit boots, extra shoes, an extra purse, toiletries and had some room to spare.

The other side is enclosed by a zipper with a mesh front pocket—also good for cord management. It’s surprisingly roomy and perfect for clothing. And one more thing - this bag has a tracking device on it.

Since it’s a larger bag, clocking in at 21 inches. I will warn you, some flights, the overhead bins are tiny. But they can stow it for you, and you usually can grab it as you walk off the plane. If not, it gets checked—for FREE.

I loved this bag so much so I bought one for my hubby for Christmas.


2. Packing Like a Pro - Bago Packing Cubes

Roll, don’t fold is the rule.

Still, strapping down your clothes sometimes isn’t enough. You need packing cubes.

What I love about these cubes? The different sizes. The larger cube I use for pants, jeans, shirts, and the smaller I use for intimates, socks, t-shirts (I like to bring them for sleeping or bumming around town) and my swimsuit. And they are easy to toss into your suitcase (although the carry-on above negates the need for using more than one cube, it’s still nice to be able to keep things organized).

These cubes also come with reusable plastic bags. You can never have too many plastic bags of good quality. I use them to help control wrinkles on special items, because I much as I try to pack wrinkle free clothes, they still come out wrinkled. Rolling some of my more delicate blouses in these bag help protect and smooth them.

Also, the plastic bags come in handy for keeping dirty clothes separate from clean stuff. Although, in a pinch, the hotel room laundry bag is good too.


3. Essentials Organizer - Waterproof Toiletries Bag

Compact, soft and lightweight, this toiletries bag is perfect for someone who wants to bring essentials and keep them super organized.

I ordered mine on I haven’t used this specific bag just yet, so I can’t speak for the long-term quality, but hey, it was $9.

What I like about it is the design—enclosed pocket for liquids such as my hair spray, gel, makeup remover. The mesh pocket is great to throw my makeup in (more below about what cosmetics I bring). It has a hook for the bathroom door and rolls back into a nice cube.

See…it’s all about the cubes.


4. Jewelry Organizer - Travelon Jewelry Roll or H Halston Jewelry Portfolio

I have two options for jewelry organizers. One (Travelon) I’ve used and the other is from Halston. It’s a bit pricy so I felt lucky to have received it in my Winter 2018 FitFabFun box. I can’t wait to try out.

The Travelon Jewelry Roll has nice compartments to separate your necklaces and earrings. I try to coordinate with my outfits. They can really help dress up your look.

If I see a good deal on earrings, I sometimes buy two and keep one in my travel organizer so I am not always repacking. You can’t go wrong with hoop earrings in gold and silver.


What’s next? Tips for easy packing.

So, here’s the part where you decide what to actually bring. You have this great carry-on bag, the cubes to separate your clothes, the toiletries bag and maybe the jewelry organizer. You are using a carry on, so you still have limited space. How can you bring your essentials, dress great but still travel light?

Clothing - For All Occasions

Bringing items in the same color hue is a good place to start. I am partial to black, whether it’s pants, tops, or sweaters. It’s easy to accessorize and when everything basically matches, you can mix and match quite a bit. To make these outfits stand out, I choose to bring bold scarves.

In some cases, a fancy outfit may take up room, so make sure you are packing the right way. Use all the spaces in your bag, even stuffing items in your shoes will free up some square footage you need. Here’s a great VIDEO about how to pack everything you need. Take note of her clothing options and her use of cubes! Also, there are tons of “How to’s” on YouTube, so travel down that rabbit hole if you’re interested. And don’t forget some hotels have laundry service. Money-saving tip: I find nearby laundromats.

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Skin Care - sometimes skin care goes by the wayside because they come in bulky tubes and containers. Places like Sephora, Ulta, and even some drugstores carry quality skin care products in travel-sized options. I bring cleanser in a small tube, or sometimes I throw facial wipes in my bag along with lotion or moisturizer. Also, Mary Kay Oil-free Eye Makeup Remover is my savior. I had scored a travel-size bottle when I was selling Mary Kay, and refill it often.

Having these items stocked in your toiletries bag at all times will cut out the hassle of repacking them each and every trip.

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Cosmetics - bring two or three eye shadow palettes if you love makeup like I do. The more versatile a palette is, the better. You want it to work with your wardrobe too. In a pinch, Elf has cheap palettes with a variety of colors and they are high-quality. Stores carry travel-size makeup brush sets you can also keep in your organizer.

Perfume - I collect sample-sized perfumes, but also have purchased a few travel atomizers so I can bring my favorite fragrance. Store those in your toiletries bag and refill as needed.

Toothbrush/Toothpaste - Here’s a secret - my dentist always gives me a toothbrush and small toothpaste. Perfect for travel and they can remain in your toiletries bag.

As far as other items such as hair care, deodorant, etc., are sold in travel-sized options in the drug store. I like to stock up when I get coupons from CVS. I sometimes use the hotel soap, but there are travel sized body wash options if you need them. And you can also use travel-approved containers for many of these products. Make sure to label them!

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First Aid / Sewing Kit

Always a good rule of thumb—travel with small amounts of items that fix stuff, whether it be a button or paper cut. Some of these smaller kits can be found in sundries stores in hotels or drug stores.

You never know when you might need to sew something or stop the bleeding. LOL.

My motto is “rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it.”

Other items to consider:

Fashion tape - good for gaps in a blouse or fixing a hem.

Stain remover wipes


Hopefully some of these items and tips will help you pack lighter for even your longer trips.

For more info, check out this great blog from Travel & Leisure: How to Pack Lighter, Smarter & Faster.

Safe travels!

Kelly DuffComment