The Art of the Carry-On Bag
Signs of spring are in the air across the country, signaling that your next warm-weather getaway is—thankfully—right around the corner. Over the long winter months, we’ll bet you’ve had more than enough time to dream up your next travel destination. So now that you’ve picked the perfect spring spot, it’s time to get packing!
Depending on your travel plans, you may be hitting the open road to spend a few days in a nearby state or county, or you may be jet setting to a more exotic and far-flung locale. Whatever the case, you need a reliable bag by your side that can handle whatever the travel day may bring: enter the humble carry-on.
There’s nothing like having a perfectly packed carry-on in tow. This do-it-all bag is your most reliable companion on trips of any distance or duration, and to us, it’s a must for every trip. Here, we unpack this trusty piece of luggage, revealing why this unassuming bag is actually every traveler’s secret weapon.
Defining a Carry-On Bag
From backpacks to duffels, and rollaboards to totes, a carry-on bag can technically take many shapes. And for road trippers with enough cargo space, you just may want to bring one or two of each—a bag for novelties and snacks within easy reach of the front seats, another as a basic overnight bag for hotel stays en route to your final destination. The configuration possibilities are truly endless; plus, these smaller bags can more easily stuff into nooks and crannies of the vehicle’s trunk and floorboards, maximizing the space and allowing you to bring more of your closet and pantry along for the ride.
But for air travelers, the definition of a true carry-on bag narrows quite a bit. While most any bag type will suffice, cabin space is far more limited on board commercial aircraft, and many domestic airlines will restrict each passenger to just one carry-on of up to 22” x 14” x 9”. Depending on the aircraft, it could be smaller, as in the case of regional jets.
International airline size restrictions can be even more stringent, and in any case, passengers with basic economy fares may not be invited to bring a carry-on aboard the plane at all—only a small personal item, such as a purse or small backpack. So be sure to check your airline and specific fare’s restrictions before starting to pack.
Packing a Carry-On Bag
While there are many schools of thought on this subject, there are a few gold standard pieces of advice that will help you pack a carry-on bag like a pro, so you can reap the benefits both while you’re in transit and once you reach your final destination.
- Consider a bag that can work double duty, such as a duffel, tote or backpack that can also pull its weight as a day bag once you reach your destination. If you need space for more items for a longer trip, a rollaboard bag may be your best option—but don’t forget to tuck a smaller tote or other day bag inside so you’ll have something to carry during your stay.
- Keep your phone, wallet, passport, and ticketing information secure, but within easy reach for TSA and any other times you may need to access your travel reservations or identification while en route. A small zippered compartment on the front or interior lining of your bag will do the trick, keeping these items separate from the rest.
- We know—even though you’re on vacation, bringing your laptop along may be unavoidable. No harm! Just pack it in a padded sleeve, ideally on the exterior of your bag for direct access so you can easily take it out for security and then re-stow it gateside.
- Consider the temperature swings! You may be off to the beach, but that airplane could be a chilly high-60s for the duration of your flight. Think: layers. And remember, it’s ok to dress for the plane, and keep a spare change of more beach or resort-friendly clothes in your carry-on bag for a quick change when you land.
- No matter how short your travel day may be, there’s always the chance of unexpected delays. Bring snacks that will tide you over between meals, along with an empty water bottle. Once you’re through security, just fill it up and stay hydrated throughout the day.
- When it comes to entertainment, variety is king! In addition to a book or magazine, download a few podcasts to your phone, and a movie or two to your phone or tablet device. If the in-flight wifi doesn’t work, you’ll have plenty of diversions during the flight.
- Pack light! Sure, it’s easier said than done, but generally speaking, you’re likely to need much less on that next vacation than you think you will. Our rule of thumb: lay everything out that you want to take along, then put back half. As long as you pack in layers, and think in terms of mix-and-match color palettes, you’ll have everything you need.
- Roll any items of clothing. Some people are staunch proponents of folding or hanging such articles in garment bags, but there’s just no getting around it: to maximize the interior space of a carry-on, while ensuring your items will arrive at your destination veritably wrinkle free, rolling trumps just about every other packing technique there is.
- While it’s no fun to think about, try to pack your carry-on bag around the contingency of a long delay, cancellation or re-route. Even if you do have a larger piece of checked luggage, you may be separated from it, and in these scenarios, you’ll thank yourself for packing a spare change of clothes (again, layers will serve you well!), along with a toothbrush, and travel size toiletries... Bonus: even on delay-free days, you’ll have everything you need to freshen up once you land—then hit the beach or pool with no other stops needed in between.