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AAA Traveler Worldwise | Travel | Traveling
The Best Way To Pack Your Carry-On, According To A Packing Expert


It’s the age-old question we each face as we prepare to head off on a trip – how am I going to pack my suitcase? We each have our own process. Some like to roll all of their clothes; some like to use packing cubes. But AAA Packing Expert Debby Calvert has a method of her own that maximizes space, minimizes wrinkles, and keeps you organized no matter where your travels take you.
Before starting your packing journey, it's essential to pick a suitcase approved by major airlines in the United States. According to Calvert, the bag needs to be under 45" to fit in the overhead compartment, with most suitcases measuring 22" x 14" x 9". 22" inches is generally the maximum height for a carry-on suitcase. Still, Calvert encourages travelers to check with their airline for specific baggage restrictions.

In addition to a carry-on suitcase, air travelers are also generally entitled to a small personal item, like a backpack, tote, briefcase, or purse that must be small enough to fit under the seat in front of you. This is the perfect place for a tablet, small purse, change of clothes, and toiletries.

Speaking of toiletries, travelers must follow TSA regulations for liquids, gels, and aerosols. Calvert has a reminder on how this should be handled to move through security screening quickly.

“You’re allowed one, one-quart clear bag,” advises Calvert. “Every liquid or gel bottle in the bag cannot be larger than three ounces. You can squeeze as many [liquids or gels] as you can into the bag, but they all have to fit in one bag.”
Once you've determined which suitcase you're going to use for your adventure, it's time to start packing. Calvert recommends beginning with a surprising choice.

“I’d like to start with the shoes. Shoes have space inside, so I like to pack my socks in my shoes to maximize space,” advises Calvert. “I use a shower cap and put it over the bottom of the shoes. That way, it prevents my clothes from getting dirty.”

Calvert places shoes at the bottom of the carry-on bag, on the left and right-hand sides, to provide extra weight to the bottom of the bag.

Next, Calvert advises circling any belts along the perimeter of the bag. Additionally, if you need a laundry line with you to dry your clothes at the hotel from any handwashing, it can be looped around the perimeter of the bag, too.

If you think you need more space on your return trip, now is the perfect time to insert a collapsible duffle bag along the bottom of the bag for future use. It’ll be perfect for any souvenirs you pick up along the way that may not fit in your bag on your return trip.

Calvert recommends packing all undergarments in a plastic bag next.

“A plastic bag is perfect for a swimsuit on your return trip. But it also makes things sanitary for your undergarments,” advises Calvert. “If TSA were to search your bags and they have dirty gloves on, they’re not touching your undergarments.”

The bag of undergarments is placed at the bottom of the bag, along with any scarves that Calvert mentions are perfect for altering outfits you may repeat to provide a new look.

Calvert advises packing any clothes that could wrinkle, like shirts and dresses, in a dry cleaner bag with no print on the exterior, on hangers. Center the dry cleaner back in the suitcase with the excess clothing and plastic bag hanging out the side of the bag.

Next, place any pants in the bag (folded in half at the waist) 90 degrees from the dry cleaner bag with both ends of the pants hanging over the end of the bag. Calvert then recommends rolling any cotton shirts, placing them in the center of the bag.

With the dry cleaner bag and pants hanging outside the bag, fold them toward the center of the bag, wrapping the rolled cotton shirts like presents.

At this point, you're able to zip your carry-on closed and head to the airport knowing you're organized and ready to hit the security checkpoint.