One of the easiest ways to save a few bucks on your next adventure is by packing strategically. This means leaving your big suitcase in the closet and making do with the space you have in your carry-on. If that thought seems a little scary (and maybe even impossible), don’t worry — you’re not alone. It’s completely normal to be wary of assuming you can fit everything you need for an extended vacation into something small enough to fit into the overhead compartment of an airplane. But trust us — you can do it.

Do Some Research

The first step to proper packing is checking your airline’s regulations when it comes to carry-ons, as the size and weight requirements vary from carrier to carrier. Be sure to abide by your findings, as the last thing you want is to get hit with a last-minute baggage fee that could have been avoided. Unfortunately, budget airlines seem to be a tad stricter when it comes to the size, weight, and number of carry-on items (most no longer allow for the addition of a small “personal item” such as a backpack or purse), but that just means you’ll have to get creative with what you pack and what you leave at home — more on that later. Once you know what dimensions you’re working with, the real fun can begin!

Pick the Right Carry-on

There’s no sense in using an old ratty gym bag just because it won’t get flagged by a flight attendant for being oversized. To maximize your carry-on potential, be sure that your luggage has a certain level of quality to it. Aim for something made from a durable material that is stitched well and has sturdy zippers, as well as a few extra compartments for your odds and ends (such as toiletries or an extra pair of shoes). Even if this means spending a bit more on your initial purchase, it will be worth the cost in the long run. What you don’t want is a carry-on that falls apart mid-trip — these things need to last.

Pack Practically

When it comes to choosing what to actually put in your carry-on, practicality is your best friend. In a way, this represents the essence of travel: it doesn’t matter what you look like or what gadgets you bring along; it’s about enjoying the experience. A good example when it comes to choosing between want and need is footwear. Realistically, you don’t need 10 pairs of shoes for a single getaway. One or two (including the ones you’ll be wearing on the plane) will suffice, so be sure to choose them according to the type of terrain you’ll be trodding over. Venturing to Peru? Bring a sturdy pair of hiking boots. Spending a week in Hawaii? You won’t want to be wearing a new pair of Nike sneakers on the beach. If you’ve packed for what your destination demands, you also won’t have to worry about making on-the-go purchases for items you probably have back home, which can make re-packing a nightmare. So, to cut to the chase, bring only what you need.

Photo by @zachdriftwood
Photo by @cshimala

Value the Versatile

For avid travelers, lightweight attire is a must. This type of material not only dries on the fly, but it is also promises to be useful in all sorts of situations — everything from eating dinner to hiking. You might be thinking that apparel like this is only useful for warm-weather destinations, but it works if you’re headed somewhere cooler, too. For locales with variant weather, it’s important to dress in layers (think thermal shirts and down jackets, for example, which will take up much less space than big, bulky sweaters and parkas). And if you decide that you do need something a bit bulkier, don’t be afraid to wear them onto the plane. Once you’ve checked-in and boarded, you can remove a few items at your own discretion to avoid overheating. And finally, if you’re worried that you’ve underpacked, remember that doing laundry during your travels isn’t the end of the world — after all, it’s still much cheaper than checking a bag.

Don’t Waste Any Space

This is the creative part of packing, where you might have to play around with the order and arrangement of your travel essentials. A good place to start is by investing in a couple of compression bags (just make sure they’re travel-specific and not industrial-sized). By vacuum-sealing items into air-tight spaces, these handy helpers maximize your carry-on space like no other (and they’re waterproof to boot, which can be a lifesaver if you’re caught in a downpour or a shampoo bottle decides to burst on your way across the pond). Packing cubes are also growing in popularity these days, as the fabric containers cram your necessities into close quarters, and are known to keep things a little more organized than errant bags. When it comes to packing techniques, you’ll want to forgo the traditional folding system and roll your clothing. Rolling will help eliminate wrinkles and, more importantly, maximize the space in your carry-on. Once that’s finished, you’ll be ready for take off!

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Header image by Arnel Hasanovic.

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Brad Donaldson is a writer and editor proudly based out of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Although his roots are in Canada, his desire to see more of the world frequently takes him away from home. His work, both as an editor and writer, has appeared in local newspapers and publications.