How to pack a carry on suitcase in 10 easy steps

Going on flights is stressful. Why not take away a little bit of that stress and learn to pack your carry on suitcase like a ninja? We’ve broken down how to pack a carry on suitcase in 10 easy steps. Follow-these and you’ll be breezing through security and loving travel again.

How to pack a carry on suitcase

Step 1: Get a great carry on suitcase

If you’re going to pack well, you need to have a great bag. And we don’t mean any old carry on from the department store. Get yourself a quality “buy it for life” BIFL bag that will last decades. We have done the hard work for you and identified our top rated carry on luggage below. Also check out our comprehensive carry on luggage buyer’s guide if you want more!

Get a bag built like a tank

Not all bag quality is created equal. A lot of bags have terrible zippers and wheels that will break off in a few years. We love the Briggs & Riley Domestic spinner in terms of durability. This thing will take a major kicking and still come out unscathed.

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Briggs & Riley Baseline Domestic Carry-On Exp Spinner, Black, One Size

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Get a bag with ample storage

If you are the kind of person that needs a lot of well-thought-out pockets we totally recommend a carry-on bag that puts pockets to good use. Nobody does this better than Eagle Creek on their Tarmac AWD spinner.

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Eagle Creek Tarmac Awd 22, Slate Blue

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Get a bag with some style

If you’re getting a carry on for business use nobody does business chic (and crazy quality) like Tumi.

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Tumi Alpha 2 Continental Expandable 4 Wheel Carry-On, Black, One Size

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Get a bag that is a great deal!

Not all carry on bags need to cost a fortune. That’s where the Travelpro Maxlite 4 comes in. This bag is not only durable and functional, but it is a faction of the cost of other bags in the same quality tier.

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Travelpro Maxlite 4 Expandable 21 Inch Spinner Suitcase, Black

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$89.95 $280.00

Make sure the carry on size will actually fit on the plane

The last thing to do before you pull the trigger on a new bag is to make sure that it conforms to the baggage restrictions for the airline you are traveling on. If you aren’t sure where to find this, we have put together a list of all major airlines baggage restrictions. This includes both the weight and size of the bag.


Step 2: Figure out your destination

What are you going to bring with you? Well, that totally depends on your destination and your reason for traveling. Obviously if you are traveling for business, you will be taking very different items with you than what you will bring on a vacation to Japan. Before you start laying out any items to pack, figure out what you will be doing at your destination. Will you need workout gear? Electronics for doing work?


Step 3: Decide whether you are going “carry on only”

We totally recommend people to strongly consider traveling with only a carry on bag and a personal item. This way you can avoid checking any bags which often comes with extra fees nowadays. But also you will avoid any risk of losing your luggage in transit. But my favorite reason for considering carry on only is that it forces you to cut down on what you bring with you. You’d be surprised how little you actually have to bring with you when traveling.

Travel Tip: Carry on bags come in two main sizes, domestic and international. If you are traveling in Europe or Asia you may want to consider the slightly smaller international size to make sure it fits in the overhead bins.

Step 4: Make your packing list

This is a crucial step. You don’t want to forget anything that you will absolutely need at your destination. But also, you don’t want to bring everything but the kitchen sink.

We did all of the hard work for your packing list. Check out our ultimate packing list download here. We have everything you could possibly imagine bringing with you! Plus you can download it in PDF, Word and Excel for easy printing.

Step 5: Get some packing management solutions (like packing cubes)

Before you start jamming all of your underwear and laptop cords loosely into your luggage, consider picking up some packing cubes. These things were an absolute revelation when I discovered them 5 years ago. They not only help you contain everything, but they also will compress your clothing to allow you to pack in more stuff. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, here is how to actually use packing cubes.

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Eagle Creek Pack It Specter Cube Set , Strobe Green, 3pc Set

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We love using one medium packing cube for underwear, one for t-shirts, and a suit/garment bag for blazers and other formal clothes. Eagle Creek makes an awesome set of packing cubes that are probably the best in the business.


Step 6: Get your liquids and toiletries in order

If you’re going to travel carry on only this will be especially crucial. There are a few tips to make organizing all of your shampoo, shower gel and facewash. First, get yourself some GooToobs. These reusable liquid bottles have become my most trusted item in my toiletry bag.

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humangear GoToob Travel Bottles, 3-pack, Clear/Blue/Green, Medium (2 oz)

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Make sure you keep an eye on how you actually pack your liquids for your carry-on bag. The TSA requires you to use what they call a 3-1-1 bag, a one quart see-through plastic bag. This bag will need to carry ALL of your liquids and creams for your carry on.

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TSA Approved 3-1-1 Airline Carry On Clear Travel Toiletry Bag | Quart...

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Travel Tip: Try to get toiletries that can play “double duty.” For example, there are some shower gels that can double as shampoo.

Step 7: Pack the necessities and know where to find them

Pack your clothes and other items in your bag, but make sure you keep track of your necessities. Get yourself a good passport wallet and make sure your passport, air tickets, itinerary and visas are all stored in there. Pack this on an outer pocket either on your carry-on or your personal item before you go through security.

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Fjallraven Passport Wallet, Green

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bluesmart how to pack a carry on suitcase

Check out these awesome carry on bags from Bluesmart that can actually recharge your phone!

carry on bags from Bluesmart

Step 8: Pack everything!

We recommend starting out with heavier items near the bottom of the back (where the wheels are) and then fill in the rest of the luggage with lighter packing cubes. Rolling your t-shirts, underwear and anything else that is light is an awesome way to save room and guard against wrinkling. Check out this awesome tutorial video on how to roll your t-shirts to really become a packing ninja.

Travel Tip: Put your shoes in either custom shoe bags or just in plastic bags so they don’t get dirt or germs on your clothes. While you’re at it stuff a few large size Ziplock bags in the outer pockets of your bag. You never know when you’ll need them!

Step 9: Weight your bag once it is packed

Nothing is worse than arriving at check-in and having the airline person tell you that your bag is too heavy. Make sure this doesn’t happen by weighing your bag at home once it is all packed BEFORE you go to the airport. We recommend this travel luggage scale.


Step 10: Separate your day of clothes and any airplane stuff

Don’t pack anything you may need during the flight in the carry on that you will put in the overhead bin. Sure, its tempting to just throw it all in there, but it is much more convenient to keep this stuff in your personal item. I use a backpack for my personal item and will fill it with:

  1. A change of underwear, socks and t-shirt
  2. A spare hoodie/sweater for when the plane gets cold mid-flight
  3. Snacks
  4. USB charger for phone and tablet
  5. Laptop (when I am traveling for business)
  6. Headphones and anything else for entertainment (Nintendo Switch anyone?)
Travel Tip: Wear a pair of jeans or larger pants on the plane. First of all, they will keep you warm. Second, it will free up valuable space in your carry-on bag.

Bonus Tip: Bring an extra packable duffel

If you are traveling carry-on only on a vacation sometimes you won’t have any room to bring back souvenirs! Well, what I do is pack my Eagle Creek packable duffel bag in my carry on. It doesn’t take much space and can be expanded on the way home, filled with stuff and used as your carry on. Check your actual carry-on luggage and you are all set!


That’s it! If you follow these ten steps you will be way ahead of 90% of travelers out there. Consider yourself a packing ninja now! You now know how to pack a carry on suitcase like a pro.

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Last updated on December 10, 2017 11:18 am

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