How to pack a carry-on, the right way

How to pack a carry-on, the right way


From foliage festivals to family reunions, there are many reasons to in the fall, and as the holidays quickly approach, now is the time many are preparing for fall travel.

You might have been there before—standing in line with your shoes off, waiting in frustration as the poor person two people ahead of you argues with the TSA agent about the size of their contact-lens-solution. Combine this with expensive food options, overbooked flights, the child that won’t stop screaming in your ear and getting hit in the head with a laptop case, and you are exhausted before you’ve even had time to buckle your seatbelt.

However, knowing how to pack your own carry-on luggage correctly can keep you from being that person in line, and can relieve some of your stress.

Here are some tips to help you speed you through the scanners and aisles and into your seat:

  1. Know what you can and cannot carry on.

Can you carry on granola bars? Yes. Golf clubs? No. The rules can change often, and there are myths about prohibited items that are actually allowed. For a comprehensive list, visit, and here are a few of the most interesting:


-Pets—You can carry Fluffy through the scanner with you.

-Knitting needles—These and sewing equipment are allowed, except for thread cutters or scissors, which need to be in checked bags.

-Disposable razors

-Snowglobes—Allowed if under 3.4 liquid ounces and fit in the plastic bag with the rest of your liquids.

Not Allowed:

-Paintball guns—Can be in checked baggage.

-Self-defense sprays

-Hockey/lacrosse sticks or baseball bats

-Replicas of explosives—even if it’s a souvenir that is 100% fake, it will be confiscated. You will also be publicly shamed on the TSA’s Instagram:

You don’t want to be that person that holds up the security line because you forgot to empty your water bottle. No, you cannot stand there and drink it, and you will be forced to go back to the end of the line and start the process all over again.

  1. Pack with security in mind.

If you are taking liquids or a laptop, keep these items in an easily accessible compartment of your carryon. This will allow you to easily navigate security and avoid digging through your socks to find your toothpaste.

All liquids and gels must be in containers 3.4 oz or less, and in a 1 quart plastic bag.
All liquids and gels must be in containers 3.4 oz or less, and in a 1 quart plastic bag.
  1. If you can’t carry it, you shouldn’t carry it on.

Even if a bag adheres to the carryon size limit, if it is too heavy for you to lift above your head, think twice about trying to take it on an airplane—the person in the seat in front of you will probably not appreciate it landing in their lap. You also may have to carry your bag a long way, especially if you have a connecting flight.

  1.    Pack light.

If you are traveling to a destination that hosts cooler temperatures in the fall, it may seem impossible to avoid packing bulky sweaters, boots, hats and scarves. In a standard carryon, these items take up precious space. Instead of these items, consider thinner clothing that can be layered. Even if your departure point is warm, wear your jacket or coat on to the plane—once you take your seat it can easily be stored at your feet instead of filling up half of your suitcase. The same goes for hats, scarves and shoes. If it won’t fit in your bag, but you still feel like you must take it, wearing it can save you space.

  1. Pack smart.

-Try rolling your clothing to make better use of the space in your bag. To avoid an angry call from your mom about a wrinkled shirt, take clothing that is wrinkle resistant, utilize wrinkle-release sprays or many hotels offer an in-room iron.

Pack thinner items that can be layered to save space.
Pack thinner items that can be layered to save space.

-Use a distinctive luggage tag, even if you aren’t checking your bags. Chances are high that your bag will not fit in the overhead compartment directly above your seat. If you are among the last to board, airlines will often require bags to be checked at the gate. Distinctive and humorous tags can be found at sites like, or you can use a colorful bandana to set your bag apart.

-Prepare for the worst. Even if you plan on carrying on your luggage, pack a change of clothes in your personal item if possible. This way, if the airline requires you to check your bag at the gate, then loses it, you aren’t stuck wearing the same t-shirt for three days.


Travel doesn’t have to be unpleasant. While you can’t control everything and everyone else, by following these tips you can ensure that you have everything you need without being the person that the flight-staff tell their friends about.