Fit Everything for Your Spring Break Trip in a Carry-On

Because it is possible to pack all the essentials into one suitcase—we promise!

By Ashley Sepanski

It’s an age-old travel paradox: how to pack light without forgetting anything. Take the time to edit your packing technique and you’ll be rewarded with fewer travel fees, lost bags and overall headaches. Let’s begin:

1. Make A Smarter List

Should you bring a curling iron or is it better to snag one there? Do you really need that extra pair of shoes? What if it rains?

Sound familiar? This is the packing stage that feels the most overwhelming—you need to remember every last detail for yourself, all the while making sure everything is taken care of while you’re gone. Thankfully, breaking this stage down into manageable sections is easier than ever with apps like PackPoint. Enter your destination, dates of travel and what activities you plan to do (night on the town, snorkeling, day hike, etc.), then relax as a personalized packing list is generated for you (it even checks the weather, so you know what to expect).

Take it a step further by planning outfits by day and activity. We’re also fans of the two-tops-per-bottom packing formula. For example: if you bring three bottoms for a one-week trip, that equals six tops, each with mixing and matching capabilities so you have upwards of 12 outfit options.

2. Start Early

It makes sense that packing last minute is the easiest way to simultaneously forget something and bring way too much. Don’t be the person who packed five bottles of sunscreen, just in case, but forgot their swimsuit. Use the extra time you schedule to make an efficient checklist that meets both your family’s and the airline’s carry-on travel requirements. Then play around with folding strategies. While many swear by rolling clothes, others say the bundling method actually saves more space. Once you’ve got everything neatly stored away, make a note to use your precious last-minute time to grab the items you couldn’t pack earlier (like makeup and toothpaste) and to triple check if you left anything behind.

3. Think Like a Backpacker

Backpackers are the masters of traveling light, because when you have to carry everything with you, every ounce matters (hey—someone’s going to have to hoist that carry-on into the overhead bin). While there are many packing habits you can steal from backpackers—stuff sacks, luggage with compression technology, washing and re-wearing clothes—one of the best is simply to purge what you don’t need. It’s common to find freebie boxes at ranger stations and check points along hiking trails that are filled with items hikers packed with good intentions, but couldn’t justify carrying any longer. Pack as efficiently as you can, then step away for a couple of hours. When you come back, look through everything you’ve packed and really consider if it’s necessary. If you can’t think of a legitimate reason to take it (just in case is not a legitimate reason), put it back.

4. Go for Double Duty

While it might feel obvious, pack pieces with multiple outfit options. Get clever by packing a poncho scarf you can wear as a dress, beach cover up and scarf on the plane; a skirt that can also be worn as a dress; or casual sneakers you can wear to the airport, out to dinner and to the hotel gym. Every piece in your bag should go with at least two outfits. Put your clothes to work and you’ll be surprised by how little you really need.

5. Ditch the Outfit You Think You’ll Wear

We all have that one item that lurks in the back of the closet—the stunning-but-not-quite-your-style piece that you bought on a whim and have worn never. While it’s true you might wear a forgotten sun hat while sitting pool side, don’t trick yourself into believing that a new destination will completely change your style. If you haven’t worn it once in the last six months, leave it behind.

6. Streamline Toiletries

It can be too easy to bring the entire contents of your medicine cabinet on a trip. Save yourself the hassle (and a run in with TSA security) by investing in all-in-one products—think makeup palettes with everything you need, shampoo-conditioner hybrids and bodywash that doubles as shaving cream. If you really can’t leave home without your products, try storing creams in contact lens cases or travel-sized bottles you can snag at any store.

7. Leave Room

Often the best part of a vacation is bringing back a haul of souvenirs. Don’t deny yourself the chance to bring home shells you collected on a sunset stroll or the quirky T-shirts you couldn’t resist buying by packing your bag to the brim from the start. Go with an 80/20 ratio: Pack your bags to 80 percent capacity, leaving just enough room to bring a few cherished memories home.