How to travel with a carry-on like a Pro!

a light box that states "Bon Voyage" with a variety of colourful travel-sized products surrounding it \

Up until just over a year ago, I had never travelled by air anywhere with just a carry-on.  It didn’t matter if it was for a two-day business trip or a long weekend, I always checked a bag.  Then last year, we booked a short trip to Montreal and because I didn’t plan on doing much shopping, I decided to challenge myself to do it.  And surprise – it was much easier than I expected and *gasp* I actually kinda liked it!  Since then, I’ve only packed a carry-on for trips that are less than a week in duration and I’ve compiled a bunch of tips so that you too, can learn how to travel with a carry-on like a pro! 😉

Before you begin

Before I begin packing for any trip, carry-on or not, I always follow these steps:


The very first step in my process is researching my destination; I usually hop on TripAdvisor’s travel forums and do a little reading beforehand.  I find the forums to be a very valuable resource with a wealth of information from people who actually live or have travelled extensively to the area I’m visiting.

Things I generally like to know include:

  • What will the weather like? 
  • What activities do I have planned? Am I’m going to be strolling through the city, hiking up a mountain or a combination of the two?
  • Will I be spending the majority of my time indoors or outdoors?
  • What’s the vibe like?  Is it a beach-destination or a metropolitan city?  Is there an informal dress code for restaurants/venues/events?

The answers to these questions will determine what type of clothing, footwear and toiletries I bring with me; with limited space in a carry-on, every item matters and ideally gets used and/or worn (and re-worn!).  I like to ensure I pack as best I can for the conditions and places I’ll find myself in.


After I’ve answered the questions above, I literally sit down at my desk and plan my outfits. That involves making a list of what I think I’m going to do each day and outfits that correspond with that activity; this isn’t typically set in stone but I like to have a general idea so I can plan my outfits accordingly. For example, when we went to Vegas this past Summer, I knew:

  • It was going to be hot (typically 40 degrees Celcius each day) (no heavy clothing aka pants)
  • We’d be spending the majority of our days at the pool (need: swimsuits, coverups + flip flops)
  • We’d be spending our evenings going out for nice dinners, gambling and seeing a show or two (dresses + heels)
  • One day would be spent shopping (shorts + tees)

I then take my list to my closet and begin pulling out clothing and shoes.  Obviously, these plans are set in stone but it gives me a good estimate of how much of everything I needed to bring with me.

Make a list and check it twice

After a trip to Hawaii a few years ago where I failed to pack any swimsuits, I always pack using a list.  Using the list-making app Evernote, I created a packing list that contains absolutely everything I could possibly need while on vacation (no matter what the destination).   Prior to packing I run through my list and check off everything I know I’m going to need.  Once I’m finished packing, I run through it again to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

Get the most out of your carry-on space

Packing everything into that small suitcase can seem overwhelming but believe me, if I can do it, almost anyone can!   Here’s some tips to make the process easier, make you think and make sure you’re only packing what you really need:

Be realistic

I used to pack a full-size dry shampoo with me on weekend trips until I realized how ridiculous that was – it generally takes me a close to a month to go through an entire can of Batiste.  A travel-sized can is more than enough for me!

Same goes with makeup – am I really going to use those 5 eyeshadow palettes and 4 highlighters I brought with me?  As much as I love makeup, I’d much rather spend my time exploring my destination than spending 2 hours applying eyeshadow in the hotel bathroom.

Versatility is key

Clothing-wise, I tend to gravitate towards packing classic items in neutral colours; typically these can be worn day or night, mixed and matched and either dressed up or down.  Staples for me include a good pair of jeans, white t-shirt, cardigan, a black dress, and a denim jacket.

For toiletries, I love products that are also multi-purpose.  I never bring shaving gel with me – that’s what the hotel’s hair conditioner is for!  Need to tame my eyebrows? I spray a little hairspray on a spoolie and brush it through.  Not bringing an eyebrow gel saves me a little room in my liquids bag.

Put in on repeat

I don’t know about you but at home, I rarely wear things only once and then throw it in the wash – but why is it when I’m on vacation this seems like a cardinal sin?  This doesn’t work if you’re a messy eater or sweat a lot but I’ve discovered that I don’t need to bring five pairs of jeans with me – two is fine and I can wear each pair twice!

Roll with it

Jessica Braun introduced to me to the roll-up method for packing a while back and I haven’t looked back since.  I personally find it offers me more space but what I really like is how much easier it is to find my clothes!

Leave room for the new

If you’re a shopper like me, then you usually tend to do a little a lot of shopping while travelling.  I’d rather have fewer options upfront with room to bring things back than over-pack and not have room for shiny new things.

Bulk Up

I’m not always a fan of doing this because I like to be comfortable when flying – but if you’re in desperate need of some room, wear bigger, bulkier things on the plane, such as jackets or boots.

Travel-size me

Sometimes travel-sized products might be more expensive but, for me, they’re often worth that extra buck or two.  I find travel-sized products are generally more compact than then fill-yourself options and I’m more likely to use them up afterwards than the ones I fill myself.

Use what you are given

As someone who uses a lot of beauty and makeup products, the space in my liquids bag is a precious commodity.  Trying to pack my liquids bag has been one of my biggest challenges and it didn’t take me long to realize that my hair and body products were hogging the majority of my space!  Recently, I decided to leave my shampoo and body lotion at home and just use the products the hotel supplied.  Surprise – both worked just fine!  We stay in decent hotels so the products are generally of good quality and on a typical weekend trip I usually only wash my hair once or twice anyway so it’s really no big deal.

Give and take

In relation to my point above, I’ve determined that as long as I have my purple conditioner and styling products, I can easily get by using the hotel supplied shampoo and body lotion. Think about what’s really important and essential to have and compromise on the rest!

Sharing is caring

If you’re travelling with a spouse, partner, or friend, share products if you can!  Mr. PRL and I share products like toothpaste, shampoo, moisturizer, mousse, etc – it only makes sense.

Also, Mr. PRL rarely fills up his liquids bag with his own products so I stash a lot of our essential products in his – which leaves me more room to load mine up with makeup!

Buy products at your destination

Sometimes this is easier than trying to cram everything in your liquids bag – especially for things that you may be using a lot of or are bulky, such as sunscreen or contact solution (I wear dailies on vacation).

DIY it

If I can’t find a travel sized version of my must-have product then my last resort is to fill up a container of it myself.  It’s my last resort because:

  • it’s a hassle;
  • the containers are generally larger and bulkier;
  • I usually end up wasting product because I forget to label them (thus forgetting what in there) or forget about them completely.

I think I would do this more often if I could find some good travel containers and bottles – Canada needs a Container Store stat!

It’s in the bag

If you find yourself traveling a lot, I recommend picking up a good liquids bag  I always prefer using a reusable liquids bag over a Ziplock – I find they offer more protection for my items, are sturdier and I can fit more in them. Whatever you get, just make sure it’s TSA-friendly.  Some of my faves include Sephora’s Beauty on the Fly bag and this Clear Toiletry Bag (I have one similar)

Do you typically travel with a carry-on?


  1. lipstickonthelake says

    Great tips!! My husband and I actually share a carry-on sized bag even for weekend trips if we are driving to our destination. I don’t usually roll my clothes but I’ve heard of doing that, I need to give that a try!

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