Traveling Light: How to Pack a Carry-on

For some travelers, the mere thought of packing a carry-on bag can sour even the most potent vacation anticipation. But packing light can also be a creative endeavor that helps build excitement for your upcoming getaway. And with fees for checked bags on the rise, it makes economic sense to master the art of packing a carry-on. Here are some tips on how to save space — and your sanity.

Get in the minimalist mind-set

If you tend to over-pack, begin by thinking about why you’re traveling in the first place. Doing so may help you focus on the many sights, sounds, scents and tastes you’re about to experience instead of the many outfits you’re unable to cram into your bag.

“It’s all about the mind-set,” said Pauline Frommer, co-president of the Frommer’s Guidebooks and, who has not checked a bag in more than 20 years. “When you’re traveling,” she explained, “it’s more about you seeing the world than the world seeing you.”

Pack colors that coordinate so you can bring fewer items yet still have options, like re-wearing the same pants with various shirts. Darker colors mean a stain won’t render something unwearable. And invest in some technical clothing. Such pieces keep you warm without being bulky, are easy to move in, have pockets for necessities like glasses and cellphones, and resist water as well as odors so they can be worn more than once. Many outdoor apparel brands (Patagonia and Arc’teryx, to name a couple) make clothes that are great for hiking yet sleek enough to dress up when the sun goes down. Just pack some eye-catching accessories.

“I tend to maybe throw in a necklace,” Ms. Frommer said, which she wears on top of her day clothing “to make it look more dressy.”

Choose your bag

There is no perfect carry-on for everyone. To determine the bag that’s best for you, ask yourself how you’ll be using it. Will you be carrying it long distances, through subway turnstiles and city streets? Or will you typically be rolling off a plane and into a car? Bags with wheels tend to be less taxing on your body, though if you’ll be taking public transportation or flights of stairs, a backpack or lightweight duffel can keep you hands-free and may make for smoother transitions. Also consider the things you’ll be bringing. Structured, harder luggage is often best for keeping dress clothes wrinkle-free and organizing unwieldy items like high heels. That said, a soft duffel bag without wheels has a better chance of being able to squish into an overhead bin.

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