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Tips on how to pack a carry-on

by SuperiorInvest

For some travelers, the mere thought of packing a carry-on bag can ruin even the most intense vacation anticipation. But packing light can also be a creative endeavor that helps build excitement for your next getaway. And with checked baggage fees on the rise, it makes economic sense to master the art of packing a carry-on. Here are some tips on how to save space and your sanity.

If you tend to overpack, start by thinking about why you're traveling in the first place. Doing so can help you focus on the many sights, sounds, aromas, and flavors you're about to experience rather than the many items of clothing you can't fit into your bag.

“It's all about mindset,” said Pauline Frommer, co-president of Frommer's Guidebooks and Frommers.com, who hasn't checked a bag in more than 20 years. “When you travel,” she explained, “it's more about you seeing the world than it is about the world seeing you.”

Pack coordinating colors so you can bring fewer items and still have options, like re-wearing the same pants with multiple shirts. Darker colors mean that a stain won't make something unusable. And invest in some technical clothing. These garments keep you warm without being bulky, are easy to move around, have pockets for essentials like glasses and cell phones, and are water and odor resistant so they can be worn more than once. Many outdoor clothing brands (Patagonia and Arc'teryx, to name a few) make clothing ideal for hiking but stylish enough to wear when the sun goes down. Just pack some eye-catching accessories.

“I tend to wear a necklace,” Frommer said, which she wears over her day clothes “to make it look dressier.”

There is no perfect carry-on bag for everyone. To determine which bag is best for you, ask yourself how you will use it. Will you take it long distances, through subway turnstiles and city streets? Or will you normally get off a plane and get into a car? Bags with wheels tend to be less taxing on your body, although if you're taking public transportation or flights of stairs, a backpack or lightweight duffel bag can keep your hands free and make transitions easier. Also consider the things you will bring. Structured, harder luggage is usually better for keeping dress clothes wrinkle-free and organizing unwieldy items, like high heels. That said, a soft duffel bag without wheels has a better chance of fitting into an overhead bin.

Nerissa Settie, who, as an executive butler at Raffles Doha in Qatar, trains the butler team and oversees daily operations, wrote in an email that “each option offers a different benefit,” with canvas bags providing more depth and bags with wheels. Bags that offer more compartments and less stress on the shoulders. If you opt for the latter, buy a bag with four wheels, Settie recommended, which is easier to maneuver along an airplane aisle.

Whatever bag you choose, know the rules. Carry-on baggage dimensions vary by airline, so be sure to check your airline's specific size and weight requirements, including those of any connecting airlines.

Also pay attention to your route and fare class, which may affect the number of bags you can carry, as well as their weight. And remember: While your bag may meet the carry-on policy, that doesn't necessarily mean you'll be allowed to bring it. For example, if you are in a low boarding group, you are more likely to have to check your luggage at the gate. With this in mind, keep essential items, such as medications, in a small bag that can easily fit under the seat in front of you. If you're not sure if you can pack a particular item, check government websites for places you plan to travel, such as the Transportation Security Administration's What Can I Bring? and the European Commission's air traveler information page.

When it comes to packing your clothes, the question is: should you fold them or roll them? Mrs. Settie recommends rolling because it uses less space and produces fewer wrinkles. That's easy enough with t-shirts, but how about a suit jacket? Raffles Doha butlers use a technique of turning one shoulder of the jacket inside out and then tucking the opposite shoulder inside, lining up the sleeves and then folding the jacket in half while inside out, which minimizes wrinkles and helps to protect the outer layer of the jacket (Ms. Settie shared instructions here). Or just wear your jacket on the plane, something Settie suggests because jackets and jeans take up a lot of space and weigh more. Plus, he said, doing so gives you “the added benefit of traveling in style.”

When placing items in your bag, think about balance. Place heavier items, like shoes, on the bottom (near the wheels, if your bag has them). Frommer said he typically packs two pairs and keeps things like socks and jewelry in them.

Clothes should go toward the top of the bag to reduce wrinkles created by weight, and jackets should go at the bottom, Settie said. You can also add a layer of wrinkle protection by placing skirts and blouses in plastic dry cleaning bags before folding them and then placing them on top of the bag.

A little research ahead of time can free up a lot of space. Call your hotel or vacation rental to find out if items like hair dryers and sunscreen are provided so you don't have to pack your own, and ask if they have washing machines or offer reasonably priced cleaning.

And don't worry about packing your bags for any possible eventuality. Shopping for practical things while you're out and about can be a lot of fun. It's a chance to talk to locals, try regional products (like the affordable beauty elixirs found in Parisian pharmacies), and of course, take some treasures home, thanks to all that space left in your bag.

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