Written by Travel & Packing Expert, Anne McAlpin


No matter where your next journey takes you, a carry-on bag is one of the most important bags you will pack.  In addition to medication and valuables, it’s important to pack at least one change of clothes, just in case checked luggage is delayed.

Here are 7 tips to packing the perfect carry-on bag:

Know Your Airlines Carry-on Luggage Rules

Carry-on rules vary from airline, so confirm with your airline what their size and weight restrictions are.  Most allow one personal bag – generally no larger than 9’ x10’ x17” and one carry-on bag – generally 9” x 14” x 22”.

If it’s time to purchase a new carry-on, be sure to invest in a quality bag – like Briggs and Riley’s 22” Spinner – it meets the carry-on limits of most airlines and has a lifetime warranty.  Spinner wheels make it a breeze to fly through airport terminals – and extra expandability comes in handy for souvenir shopping.

Always Have A Back-Up Plan

It happens – even though your carry-on bag is compliant – you might have to check it at the last minute due to space limitations. Be prepared by packing a small expandable tote bag and –  before you hand over your bag  – quickly transfer important items like medication and valuables into this smaller bag.

The Blu Bag Expandable Tote is a favorite for so many reasons:  packed in its own travel pouch it’s only 4”x5” but expands to 9” x24” bag when needed – it holds up to 50 lbs. – is machine washable – and rolls up in an elastic band for quick storage. It’s also my go-to-eco-bag for outdoor markets and souvenir shopping.

Be TSA Ready With Liquids

Things are constantly changing, so check TSA.gov for security updates – especially allowable liquids.  Currently – each traveler is allowed one clear quart size bag of liquids, each item no larger than 3.4 oz.

For ease –  fast track your way through airport security with Travelon’s Wet/Dry Hanging Toiletry Kit.  This organizer combines a 1-quart size compartment  – with 3 reusable bottles, two jars and a 1.2 oz bottle with atomizer, all TSA compliant – and includes a 2nd compartment for non-liquids – good for packing in flight items like a toothbrush, medication, etc.

Pack Clothing That Layers

Clothing can take up the most space in any bag.  Instead of packing bulky single-use items (like a heavy coat) pack a couple pieces that can be layered – to create custom comfort for any weather.  A multipurpose long sleeve shirt – like Columbia’s Silver Ridge Shirt – goes from hiking to dinner and keeps your dermatologist happy providing UPF 40 sun protection.

Limit the Number Of Shoes

Shoes are usually the heaviest item in any bag – so limit yourself to a maximum of three pair – one that you are wearing and two that you pack. A comfortable walking shoe, a loafer or runner and a pair of sandals make a good combination for most trips.  Switch out sandals for a low boot for cold weather travel.

Tip: Pack shoes in repurposed newspaper bags or eco-friendly packing organizers – like this set from Eagle Creek that includes a bag specifically for shoes.

Maximize Space With Compression Packing Organizers

The challenge of packing a carry-on is trying to fit everything into one small bag. Compression packing cubes – like Baggallini’s three set– and Travelon’s compression one way air-valve bags– are the answer.  These organizers allow you to ‘compress’ the excess air out, and that means added packing space.

Pack Your Handbag Inside Your Personal Bag

A personal bag is defined as a purse, small backpack, laptop/computer bag or similar. If  traveling with a small purse, use every inch of allowable space by packing it inside a large tote – filling it with more items like snacks and water.

My favorite personal bag is Baggallini’s Overnight Tote –  it’s so large I can easily pack my new Everywhere Slim Crossbody handbag inside, change of clothes, comfort kit, and more. And – it stays upright under the seat in front of me – making it easy to find things in flight.  Best feature?  A luggage sleeve that secures it over the telescoping handle of any carry-on bag.

Traveling Soon? We'll Help You Pack!

If you’re planning for a vacation, Join AAA and Anne McAlpin for a packing workshop to learn about the items and techniques that will have you packing like a pro before you go. Events are free to attend, but space is limited. Register to reserve your space today. We can’t wait to see you there!