How to Fit it All in One Bag: Carry On Packing Tips

ambitionNow that most airlines charge for a checked bag, we have all been forced to get creative when packing our free, carry-on bags (be careful, though, because some airlines like Spirit, Frontier, and Allegiant charge passengers for carry ons as well). Worried you won’t be able to fit four or five days worth of clothing, shoes, and accessories in a 22 x 14 x 9 inch space? What about all of those liquids and toiletries? Before going to extreme measures, take a look at some of our carry on packing tips:

Wear Your Heaviest Winter Gear on the Plane

Going to a cold destination? Stick to one jacket, one hat, one scarf, and one pair of boots and wear all of these items on the plane. Sure, it might be a little more cumbersome to take off all of these items when going through security, but the annoyance will be worth the money you save. As an added bonus, these items can keep you warm and cozy if you need to sleep on the plane.

Take Advantage of Your Personal Item

Airlines will tell you that your personal item can be a jacket or purse, but you can actually bring a medium-sized duffel as long as it fits under the seat in front of you. Drape your jacket over your legs and place your purse in the seat pocket if you have both of those items as well. Use your personal item for irregularly shaped items or difficult-to-pack items, such as books and high-heels.

Choose a Malleable Carry On

Avoid hard shell carry ons that won’t stretch to accommodate your items. Instead, try a flexible, cloth carry on with roller wheels for easy accessibility such as the Timbuk2 Co-PilotTravelers Club, or Victorniox Ambition. Also, opt for outside pockets. They make it convenient to pack gloves or other items you may need once you land.

Pack Socks, Underwear, and Other Small Items Last

Instead of allowing all of these small, flexible items to occupy an entire layer of your carry-on space, stuff these in the small spaces in between irregularly-shaped items at the end. You can stuff these items inside shoes like boots or sneakers as well.

Roll Your Clothing

Passengers often absentmindedly stuff their carry on to maximize space, not thinking about how clothes will look when they come out. Save yourself a headache and roll your clothing into small cylinders to avoid wrinkles. 

Pack Solids & Wipes Instead of Liquids

According to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA):

“Liquids, gels, aerosols, creams and pastes must be 3.4 ounces (100ml) or less per container; must be in 1 quart-sized, clear, plastic, zip-top bag; 1 bag per passenger placed in screening bin.”

Many of us need more than this when traveling. If your final destination involves a hotel, don’t bother with shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, or lotion. If not, here are some alternatives to liquids:

Buy solids. L’Occitane sells solid perfume; Honey House Naturals sells all-natural bee product hand and body lotion; and Lush sells a ton of different solid beauty products like soap, shampoo, and conditioner.

Switch to wipes.  Many mainstream brands sell face-wash wipes, such as Simple and MAC, but now you can even buy wipes to propel mosquitoes.

Buy a travel kit. Some companies like Burt’s Bees sell travel-friendly product packages. You can also pick one up at Target that includes deodorant, shampoo, and body wash. If you can’t find one with the right products, you can always make your own—just stay under the limit.

Pack it All in a Jacket

The Scottevest Carry On Coat has been designed to take the place of a carry on altogether. With 33 pockets, this coat is designed to accommodate three days worth of belongings. The ScotteVest Carry On Coat has a secure travel document pocket to avoid pickpocketing, pockets specifically for an iPad, iPod, and iPhone with interior clear screens, and a patented personal area network to keep your wires tangle-free.

While this coat probably won’t hold shoes or any irregularly shaped items, you could maximize your personal item for this purpose. Delta’s Sky Magazine was evidently intimidated because they rejected the ScotteVest Carry On Coat advertisement over the use of the words “Beat the System” and “Avoid Baggage Fees.”

What You Might Pay to Check a Bag

If you really want to check that bag (or even carry one on), here’s what you might pay for domestic flights in the economy cabin:

Alaska Airlines
Carry On: Free
First Checked Bag: $25

Allegiant Air
Carry On: $15-$18 at time of booking/$23-$45 pre-departure/$50 at the airport
First Checked Bag: $20-$25 at time of booking/$28-$45 pre-departure/$50 at the airport

American Airlines
Carry On: Free
First Checked Bag: $25

Delta Air Lines
Carry On: Free
First Checked Bag: $25

Frontier Airlines
Carry On: $30 for online booking / $35 through call center/ $30 at web check-in/ $40 at airport/ $60 at departure gate
First Checked Bag: $20 for online booking / $25 through call center/ $25 at web check-in/$30 at airport/ $60 at departure gate for bags exceeding size requirements

Hawaiian Airlines
Carry On: Free
First Checked Bag: $25

Carry On: Free
First Checked Bag: $20 online or at a kiosk/ $25 at ticket counter

Southwest Airlines
Carry On: Free
First Checked Bag: Free

Spirit Airlines
Carry On: $35 upon booking online/$100 at the gate
First Checked Bag: $30 upon booking online/$100 at the gate

Sun Country Airlines
Carry On: Free
First Checked Bag: $20 online/$25 at the airport

United Airlines
Carry On: Free
First Checked Bag: Varies by destination, but often $25

Virgin America
Carry On: Free
First Checked Bag: $25

For more information about luggage and packing, check out:

By Brittany Malooly for