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8 Clever Tricks to Fit More in Your Carry-On

By Bennett Kleinman
Read time: 4 minutes

Packing for a trip is a lot like playing a game of Tetris — just when you think it’s going well, you make one silly mistake and need to start all over again. This can be especially frustrating when it comes to smaller carry-on bags, which many people rely on for shorter trips or to avoid those hefty checked bag fees. But often, travelers fall victim to the same packing mistakes and end up with too much clothing to fit in their carry-on, leaving them to pay extra for an additional suitcase. Looking to avoid that scenario on your next trip? Here are eight clever carry-on packing tricks.

Wear Bulkier Items on the Plane

Traveler at airport wearing bulky sweater and listening to headphones
Credit: SeventyFour/ iStock via Getty Images

Even if the weather doesn’t call for it, try to wear your bulkiest items on the plane, thus freeing up valuable space inside your carry-on. If you’re traveling from somewhere warm to a colder climate, wear your down jacket to the airport — it might be uncomfortable at first, but you can always take the jacket off on the plane. This tip also goes for boots, sweaters, or any other item that may take up too much room in your carry-on. Instead, stick to thin fabrics when packing.

Bring Samples of Your Favorite Cosmetics

Traveler packing toiletries in travel kit
Credit: miodrag ignjatovic/ E+ via Getty Images 

You’ve probably got a favorite shampoo or preferred brand of foundation, but those big bottles can take up valuable storage space. Instead of carrying around full-size products, shop for travel-size containers or, better yet, head to your local beauty store for free samples of your favorite products. Free samples offered at retailers such as Sephora often come in tiny packages that are perfect for maximizing space (and are also small enough to pass TSA regulations).

Use a Vacuum Sealer

Traveler using vacuum sealer to pack suitcase
Credit: Zigres/ Shutterstock 

It’s not just your clothes that add bulk to your suitcase — pockets of trapped air between articles of clothing can also add volume. Enter: vacuum-sealed storage bags. Vacuum sealing reduces the volume of each bag by up to 80%, allowing you to pack five times as much in any given carry-on. If you’re in the market for such a product, then this compact electric pump from Wanalit is an affordable and effective option. 

Avoid Denim

Person folding clothes to pack in suitcase
Credit: StefaNikolic/ E+ via Getty Images 

You may need to leave that denim jacket or your favorite pair of jorts back home if you want to pack efficiently. As a material, denim is quite bulky and heavier than most other fabrics, which means you’re potentially adding unnecessary weight to a heavy carry-on that you’ll be lugging around the airport. If you want to bring a pair of jeans, try wearing them on the flight to free up storage space.

Roll, Don’t Fold

Close-up view of clothing items rolled in suitcase
Credit: Boyloso/ iStock via Getty Images 

Rolling up clothing instead of folding it has a number of advantages. First, rolling often means fewer wrinkles, so your clothes are ready to wear the moment you unpack. Second, the tighter the cylinder, the more space you’ll be saving — you can even use rubber bands to keep each roll of clothing tight. If you’re especially pressed for space, roll up a few shirts and tuck them into your shoes. Another handy trick frequent travelers swear by? Packing cubes. These expandable compression packing cubes allow you to squeeze even more into your carry-on. 

Store Chargers in an Eyeglass Case

Traveler sitting on bed closing suitcase
Credit: FreshSplash/ E+ via Getty Images 

Have a spare eyeglass case lying around? You can use it to store any loose charging cables for your phone, tablet, or other device. This helps lessen the amount of clutter in your carry-on, and also keeps those chargers organized so that you can easily access them once you reach your destination. Eyeglass cases are also perfect for storing jewelry, medicines, or any other small, loose items.

Pack Hats Upside Down

Traveler packing hat into suitcase
Credit: Riska/ E+ via Getty Images

If you’re traveling to the beach with a big sun hat, be sure to pack the hat in the carry-on upside down. This allows you to store extra items inside the open portion of the hat and maximize the room you have available. Doing this also helps the hat maintain its rigid structure so that it doesn’t get squished by the rest of the items inside your carry-on.

Zip It up First… Then Add More

Close-up shot of traveler zipping up luggage
Credit: simonkr/ E+ via Getty Images 

If you’re still struggling to close your carry-on because it’s packed to the brim, try this method: First, remove a few items and zip up the bag. Once the bag is completely closed, unzip a small opening that’s just a few inches wide and stuff whatever you can into whatever limited space is available. Repeat this process elsewhere around the entire edge of the bag until you’ve utilized all of the available space and can’t fit another item inside.

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