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How to Travel Without Checking Your Bags

Updated on August 7, 2013
How to Travel Light
How to Travel Light | Source

I’m the kind of person who will load ten grocery bags on each arm just so I don’t have to make two trips to and from the car. I’ll balance five bath towels on one arm and two sets of sheets on the other, with a blanket tucked under my chin, just so I don’t have to make two trips to and from the laundry room. I’ll awkwardly clutch three beverage bottles in each hand and clumsily drop them on the table just so I don’t have to make two trips to and from the fridge. I’ll… well you get the idea.

Why that second trip is such a hassle I don’t know, but it’s simply one I don’t have time for. So the idea of checking bags at the airport and having to make a trip down to baggage claim to pick up my luggage after what was no doubt a prolonged and uncomfortable flight is simply not going to happen. I don’t care if I’m traveling for an entire week – I will fit all seven days worth of clothes and necessities into the standard regulation size carry-on and personal item.

While regulations may differ slightly depending on the airline and the type of plane, the maximum size of a carry-on is usually 45 linear inches (22” long x 14” wide x 9” tall) and the maximum size of a personal item is usually 36 linear inches (something like a briefcase or laptop bag). So that’s a grand total of 81 linear inches of space to work with. Definitely doable. Here are some tips for how you can pack for a week-long trip without checking your bags.

Make a List

Write down every single thing you want to have with you on the trip – even the little things like dental floss and phone chargers. Then go back and see if there’s anything you can cross off and do without for the week – maybe you can simply use the hotel’s lotion instead of bringing your own. Now you can start to see how you might group items together and where in your luggage they might fit. This way you won’t end up shoving items at the last minute into random places in your bags where they don’t fit.

Bring Outfits Not Options

This is probably the most important rule when it comes to packing. Whether you’re traveling for business or pleasure, you likely have a pretty good idea of what you’ll be doing on your trip so decide ahead of time what you’ll wear each day and then pack those clothes only. If it’s a business trip, your days will probably start pretty early so you won’t have time to sit around debating what to wear anyway, and if it’s a vacation, wouldn’t you rather spend more time seeing the sights than standing in front of the mirror?

Forget the New, Stick With the Old

When it comes to the small things you’ll be taking with you – like socks, underwear, night wear, exercise clothes, etc. – bring the stuff that’s a little more worn. Not stuff that’s falling apart at the seams, but stuff you wouldn’t mind parting with. Then, instead of collecting it in a dirty clothes bag during your trip, simply toss it. The extra space in your luggage will be just enough to carry back any souvenirs you picked up.

Bag it Up

I’ve tried using those space saving bags before (the kind that shrink a stack of clothes down to a pancake after you squeeze all the air out) but I actually found them more cumbersome than anything else. They were usually bigger than what I needed and I never could quite get my stack down to a pancake size. What I’ve found to work is simple grocery bags. I place each “group” of clothing (socks and underwear, nightclothes and gym clothes, tops and sweaters, etc.) into separate bags, tie them nice and snug, and then fit them into my luggage in any direction that works. For example, I could stack the bags on their sides instead of simply laying them flat.

Use Every Pocket

Most carry-on luggage or personal items come with various pockets on the inside and/or outside of the suitcase and these storage areas shouldn’t go unused. In fact, they’re a great place to put your toiletries. Place all your liquid items into one quart-size plastic bag and all your non-liquid items into another one. Then flatten the bags out and slide them into the pockets. You could also use these areas for electronics like cameras or cell phone chargers.

Wear Bulky Items

If you need to bring a blazer or bulky sweater, or if like me you never go anywhere without your running shoes, wear those items instead of packing them. They’ll take up valuable space in your luggage that you could use for other necessities.

While it may take a bit of planning to fit everything you need into two bags, it’s a lot better than waiting for 20 minutes at the baggage claim trying to decipher your black suitcase from everyone else’s or better yet finding out that the airline lost your luggage.

What are some of your favorite “travel light” tips?

TSA Rules and Regulations

Click here for a list of prohibited items in carry-on luggage.

Lost Luggage?

Has Your Luggage Every Been Lost by an Airline?

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    • abrodech profile image

      Anya Brodech 

      4 years ago from 130 Linden St, Oakland, California, 94607

      Good ideas! I've learned that it's important to be realistic about what I'll actually be doing because I usually end up totally overpacking. If I'm going to visit family, usually casual clothes are fine because we don't really go "out" anywhere and end up staying mostly around the house. Also, if going on a tropical/beach vacation, just bring some shorts and tank tops and a couple of dresses maybe if you'll be staying at a nice hotel. But for the most part, you'll just be hanging out in your swimsuit all day and won't really be wearing "real" clothes except at night for dinner.

      I agree that you should wear your bulky/heavy items like coat and boots/gymshoes on the plane with you since those take up a lot of space.

      I bring my worn out shoes with me on vacation so I can throw them out at the end or leave them in the hotel room. I couldn't handle wearing old underwear though, eww, lol.

      I'm a huge fan of the little travel size bottles, usually I buy a few sets form Walmart of plain empty bottles and then fill them up with my products.

      Packing for a trip is hard, especially if you're a girl, but thinking about it carefully ahead of time really helps!


    • GiblinGirl profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from New Jersey

      Thanks alocsin!

    • alocsin profile image


      6 years ago from Orange County, CA

      Some excellent ideas here -- and I always travel without checking any bags. Saves so much time and trouble. Voting this Up and Useful.

    • Cindy Riley profile image

      Cindy Riley 

      6 years ago from Marana

      Thanks Bizzymom: I found these tips very helpful. I am going to be traveling tomorrow to see my son.

      Now that I have already packed way to much things, LOL I can now undo and only bring what I really

      need to use on this trip. Awesome hub page and very useful tips.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts on traveling lighter.

    • GiblinGirl profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from New Jersey

      Thanks bizzymom. What an awful ordeal. I'm glad you did eventually get the luggage back.

    • bizzymom profile image


      6 years ago from New York

      This is a well written hub with great ideas. My luggage was lost a few years ago and although I eventually got it back, it was traumatizing. I had to make all the phone calls and get people to actually physically look for my luggage instead of just telling me they will notify me when they are found. Luckily I got a very sympathetic person in Nevada to actually walk around to look for my luggage. Both suitcases had just been abandoned. Anyway, since then we do not check in our luggage. So, thanks for the great tips. You made practical advice fun to read. Cute luggage by the way!

    • GiblinGirl profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from New Jersey

      Good suggestion tipstoretireearly. Thanks for commenting!

    • tipstoretireearly profile image


      6 years ago from New York

      One good exercise is to look at your luggage after each trip. Did you really need everything that you brought? If not, don't bring it next time. Great hub!

    • GiblinGirl profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from New Jersey

      Hey Trish - wow that's pretty impressive to pack for two weeks in one bag.

      Yeah I can definitely understand that if you really don't know what the weather will be like it would be hard to know exactly what to bring.

      Thanks for commenting.

    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 

      6 years ago from The English Midlands

      Hi :)

      I didn't lose my luggage when flying, but when travelling by coach.

      I agree that this is possible to do. I once packed everything for a fortnight on Mallorca in a smallish roly-poly bag, which I took onboard the plane as hand luggage. Other than that, I just had my handbag. No problem!

      Nowadays, I tend to take too much stuff, but we don't fly, we drive, and we travel through France and Spain, when the seasons are changing, so I do need options.

      If I were flying and knew exactly what the weather would be like and what I would feel comfortable in, then I think that I could really cut down.

    • GiblinGirl profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from New Jersey

      I love duffel bags - they're so great for travel. Yes, the key really is to take just what you need and forget the rest. Thanks for commenting suzette.

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 

      6 years ago from Taos, NM

      Great ideas. I travel with an overnight bag I put in the overhead compartment and a large tote bag with my purse in it and any other items I might need, and that is it! I don't have to stop and get baggage when I arrive at my destination. Thanks for sharing this!


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