The Great Carry-on Debate: 7 Packing Tips You Need Now

Preparing for a vacation is hard work. Consider these packing tips to help you decide if you need the big bag or the carry-on.

 

To carry on or not to carry on? That seems to be the question of the hour. And it’s one I consider often—not daily but close.

Almost every time I open the cover of a travel magazine, the featured story offers some sort of packing tips or tricks for fitting everything into a smaller suitcase or putting together more outfits with fewer pieces.

mary-poppins-bagNow, I’m a little like Mary Poppins. I can cram copious clothing options into the tiniest bag. But I’m far from practically perfect, particularly at packing. I’ve traveled enough to know that just because I can fit something into my bag doesn’t mean I should, especially with airlines imposing loftier fees for exceeding weight restrictions. But it doesn’t mean I follow that rule all the time.

So, I as I sit here reading another review of the ultimate capsule wardrobe for a 10-day Canary Islands cruise or how to fit 40 pieces of clothing into a pint-sized shoulder bag, I can’t help but wonder…why? Don’t get me wrong. There are definitely times when size matters. But I often read comments from people stressing out because they just can’t make it work. And I’m one of them.

Travel can be stressful enough without the added packing pressure. I’m on the side of traveling light whenever it makes sense. But that’s the key—knowing when it makes sense. Here are my packing tips for figuring out when it’s best to take the bare bones and when it’s most ideal to indulge.


run1. Are you going to be moving from one place to another? And how often?

If you are moving around a lot, a carry-on is the way to go. No one wants to lug around a hefty bag to multiple locations, which many include various flight connections or plans to travel by train to several destinations. Not to mention, without a home base you can’t unpack. Digging through layers of clothes inside a suitcase just isn’t practical. Pare it down to the minimum.


clock2. Are you short on time?

If you have a tight layover, waiting for checked baggage can be a deal breaker. Pack a carry-on so you can dash from one gate to another without worrying about your checked baggage.


ship3. Do you have a captive audience?
Cruising and touring offer a creative challenge to the fashion conscious, especially if you’re like me and have a particularly unique wardrobe. Other women will notice if you wear the same thing over and over again. I find it difficult to leave home without a few extra outfits for trips where I know I’ll run into the same people often.

journal4. What’s your budget?

I’m cheap, so if I’m traveling within North America, I’m not likely going to spend the extra $25 each way to check a bag. But for overseas travel, I’ll take advantage of the free baggage allowance and check a bag if I’m not moving around a lot or short on time between flights. Why not?


woman5. How do you feel about laundry?

If you hate doing laundry, do you really want to do it on vacation? Smaller bags mean less room for the basics—socks and undies—so you’ll need to wash them throughout your trip. On the flip side, if you don’t want to be bogged down with piles of laundry when you return home, pack light and look for a laundromat. I hate unpacking. In fact, I often don’t fully unpack until I need an item that was last seen in my suitcase or until my next trip when I need to use the bag again.


bike6. What types of activities will you be doing?
If you have a lot of different types of activities planned, packing light simply may not be an option. If you’re going to climb mountains, swim with sharks, take walking tours, and enjoy the local nightlife, it might be worth the extra few bucks to check a bag that can carry everything from hiking boots and sneakers to flip-flops and stilettos.

world7. What makes you happy?

Finally, if it’s going to cause you nothing but angst to try to fit everything into a tiny bag or give you hives because you can’t take that extra sweater, just do it. Forget the hype—I know it’s trendy right now, but do what makes you happy, whether it’s delighting in the joys of fitting everything in that one small bag or throwing everything but the kitchen sink in a good old-fashioned full-sized bag.

Try these helpful packing tips to decide if you should take a big bag or a carry-on for your next trip.

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