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5 Tips for Packing a Carry-On Like a Pro

5 Tips for Packing a Carry-On Like a Pro

Going carry-on only can be intimidating for someone who’s always travelled with a checked bag. I have many friends who often ask how I do it (and sometimes, why).

However, as a former management consultant, I got used to living out of a small suitcase. In my industry, you were looked down upon if you checked a bag. Watch the shows “House of Lies” or the movie “Up in the Air” to get a little peek into this world, and the mockery that would ensue if you checked a bag while travelling with your colleagues.

Even when I travelled to Portugal for a week last year, I easily could've checked a bag but instead opted for the fun challenge of going carry-on only (and my boyfriend did too).

A few years ago, we did a survey at Encircled to find out if going carry-on only was a thing that our readers did.

Turns out, although many of you have dabbled in carry-on only travel, the majority of our readers are still checking a bag most of the time.

Here’s the five most common objections we heard to going carry-on only (and how you can overcome them on your next adventure).

“I have too many toiletries to go carry-on only”


I’m a product-junkie too, so I can relate. In the US and Canada, there’s a 1L liquid limit for toiletries, with a maximum per-item carry-on size of 100ML. There are a few ways to overcome the idea of needing ‘all the things’ to get ready in the morning when travelling so you can easily go carry-on only.
Firstly, I suggest finding mini versions of some of your favourite items. In addition to finding carry-on approved sized shampoo, hairspray, and body wash, you can also now find your favourite moisturizer, serum and eye cream in a mini size. I find my favourite minis at Sephora and stock up in advance of trips. Remember, a little product goes a long way!
Second, look into buying more multipurpose toiletries. Things that can do double duty, so you don’t have to bring as many items. My absolute favourite is the Sahajan Facial Serum which easily doubles as a face serum, eye treatment and truthfully I think I’d use it in my hair to smooth the frizzies.

“I want to be prepared for anything, so I pack more clothing than I need, so I can’t go carry-on”


Ooh yes. Been there! The telltale sign of an overpacker is if at the end of your trip, you haven’t worn 25% of your suitcase.

Throwback to my 2-week trip to Spain over 8 years ago where I brought a huge 30” HEYS roller, and had to drag it up the hills of Barcelona. Lesson learned! Overpacking, or the fear of not having ‘enough’ clothing, is a real challenge.

The way I overcome this is two-fold:
Firstly, and most importantly, I map out my activities on my trip along with the weather, and then I pack using the 3 x 3 Grid packing method . At its core, the 3 x 3 Grid packing method uses 3 tops, 3 bottoms and 3 layers to create a minimum of 27 outfits. 

This packing strategy will reduce the amount of clothing you bring dramatically - especially if you’re making sure you wear stuff multiple times. Leave the fear that someone might see you in the same outfit twice at home. It will help you travel so much lighter without that burden!

Second, I take everything that I need to bring based on my outfit planner and place it in packing cubes. I find it easier to organize outfits when I have a list to work off of, and an organizational system in my carry-on. It makes grabbing the right outfit simple. 

“I have to bring my (insert name of special product) and I don’t have a carry on size”


I hear this objection often, especially when travelling to sunnier destinations. There’s this barrier to leaving toiletries at home for fear of either not finding the item (apparently contact lens solution is hard to procure abroad), or having to overspend on the item (i.e. sunscreen) at the destination.

We all have those must-have cosmetics and products that we seemingly can’t live without, however, why not decant them into a smaller bottle?

Unless you’re going on a 6-month adventure, you’ll likely not need a whole 500ml bottle of shampoo. We’ve found these amazing reusable travel containers called GoToob+. They’re made from a squeezable, silicone material that’s easy to wash when you’re done, and they hold a lot of product. There are several sizes, and the cap even locks to prevent accidental spills or explosions in your suitcase.

So, next time you travel, take your fav shampoo, sunscreen or moisturizer and just downsize it!

“I have trouble making outfits to wear on vacation”


I’m not a fashionista by any stretch of the imagination, but I do love outfit planning. And I need help to do so.

As mentioned above, having an outfit plan for your trip is key to lessening the amount of clothing you have to bring, so you can travel lighter and go carry-on only. However, you need to have the ideas for the outfits together first.

Here’s how I approach making ‘the right’ outfits for any trip:

1. Research the destination. My fav go-to blogs for stylish (and practical) travel include Her Packing List (focuses on practical lists of what to bring for any destination), Hitha on the Go (a wealth of resources on stylish travel from an experienced jet-setter) and Travel Fashion Girl (an excellent resource for outfit inspo for various adventures). Another brilliant and free resource is Pinterest. We’ve got a board on travel street style so you can globetrot without looking like a major tourista.

2. Focus on multi-way items. I try to pack only dress-up/dress down items, and pieces like our Chrysalis Cardi that can be worn multiple ways (8 if you're counting!), so you can get more outfits out of less pieces. Another 8 in 1 is our Evolve Top helping you maximize that minimal packing space. 

3. Be strategic with accessories. The right necklace, chic scarf (did you know both our Chrysalis Cardi and Evolve Top can be worn as a scarf?), or pair of earrings can take a basic tank top from day to night. Also, bonus - accessories are usually pretty small and easy to make their way into your carry-on. That said, I often stay away from bringing more than one purse (unless it’s a night out clutch) because purses, and shoes take up a lot of space in your carry-on.

“I can’t fit everything I want to bring into my carry-on”


The main problem here is that you’re still bringing TOO much stuff. Go back to your outfit list, edit and trust us on the 3 x 3 Grid Packing Methodyou won't regret it.   

For toiletries, check with where you’re staying on your trip. Do they have shampoo/conditioner? If so, leave yours out. A week without your fave hair treatment won’t break you!

Does your hotel have a blow dryer or flat iron at your hotel? Awesome, take those out too.

Are you going to have access to laundry? Yes! Great. Take out some of your socks, bras and underwear. You can easily wash them (even without a machine you can!). Figuring out what’s available at your accommodation in advance is key to lightening your carry-on bag.

Continue to focus on versatility NOT just in your clothing and toiletries. Bringing every medication in your cupboard? Think again! Depending on where you’re travelling, unless it’s prescription, you’ll likely be able to find the medication at the hotel or a nearby pharmacy.

I have faith that even the biggest over-packer, with some time, thought and pre-planning can go carry-on only on for any trip.


All photos are copyright Encircled. Contact us for permissions/rights to re-use or repost images. 

Travel Essentials. Encircled creates versatile minimalist clothes with the everyday traveler in mind. Each piece is Made in Canada, out of sustainable, and eco friendly materials.

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Travel Essentials. Encircled creates versatile minimalist clothes with the everyday traveler in mind. Each piece is ethically made, out of sustainable and eco friendly materials.Travel Essentials. Encircled creates versatile minimalist clothes with the everyday traveler in mind. Each piece is ethically made, out of sustainable and eco friendly materials.Travel Essentials. Encircled creates versatile minimalist clothes with the everyday traveler in mind. Each piece is ethically made, out of sustainable and eco friendly materials.Travel Essentials. Encircled creates versatile minimalist clothes with the everyday traveler in mind. Each piece is ethically made, out of sustainable and eco friendly materials.


1 comment


Loved this! I started going carry-on only a few years ago… and have never looked back! We even took just carry-on for our honeymoon to Hawaii. It’s the most refreshing feeling to walk off the plane and straight out the airport, while everyone else waits around for baggage… and it’s rare that I find an item I needed but didn’t pack. (Now my new challenge is seeing if I can do carry-on only with me and my baby’s luggage! :)

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