Checked luggage often makes air travel more complicated than it actually needs to be. When you check your suitcase, you also open the door to a host of potential errors, delays and problems – think lost luggage, damaged suitcases and waiting 30 minutes on the luggage carousel for your luggage to come out. And, who can forget those pesky checked bag fees? While there are some tools out there to take the stress out of checking your suitcase (hello, AirTags!), if you have a choice, you’ll probably want to stick to a carry-on bag.
Fortunately, there are plenty of strategies you can use to avoid checking your bags on a trip of almost any length. From rolling up your clothes to carrying a backpack for your extras, or booking a place with a washing machine so you can refresh your clothes on the go, traveling with just one carry-on bag is possible.
If you want to carry just one carry-on bag on your next trip, then you need to be prepared. Here are 20 items we recommend you take with you to maximize your space and travel light without leaving any essentials behind.
$295 on departure
If you’re traveling with only one carry-on bag, you’ll want to make sure your carry-on bag is top-notch. This oversized hardshell carry-on bag from luggage specialist Away features a TSA-approved combination lock and an internal compression system to allow you to fit more in your bag. In fact, we awarded the Away Carry-On suitcase the title of best overall hardshell bag in our testing, and the larger version will give you all the same benefits in more space.
$250 on Amazon
You’ll probably want a travel backpack, along with all the small essentials that don’t fit in a larger carry-on bag. We love this backpack that doubles as a travel bag and adventure bag. It is lightweight and versatile, made of waterproof material. Multiple compartments help keep your travel essentials and gear organized (including room for a 17-inch laptop), and interior pockets provide storage for your important documents. The backpack is available in four colors: gray, black, blue and black camo.
Packing cubes are an essential tool to help you stay organized on the go without taking up too much space. You can use the cubes of different sizes to pack neatly rolled up shirts, pants or dresses, as well as socks, underwear and even shoes. These five cubes from Calpak are made of durable and waterproof mesh fabric. Once your boxes are full, you can pack them neatly in your carry-on luggage before heading to the airport.
$30 $25 on Amazon
This hanging toilet bag from Amazon lets you organize shampoo, soap, lotion, and makeup in a small space. You’ll have to make sure your items are all under 3 ounces to pass the TSA’s liquid rule, but you can pack all your grooming items in one bag that has multiple zippered pockets and several roomy compartments. When you arrive at your destination, you can easily hang your toiletry bag in the bathroom for easy access. The best part? The bag is leak-free, so you don’t have to worry about liquid seeping into your luggage in the event of a spill.
$62 for a bite
The Bite Daily Habits Set is perfect for travelers looking to improve their dental hygiene on the go. It includes liquid-free toothpaste and mouthwash, as well as a travel toothbrush and floss. The kit includes four months of dental care essentials, and the fact that it contains no liquids means you can easily pass TSA without worry. Your dental care products also come in recyclable glass bottles, so the entire kit is free of plastic and waste. The Bite Daily Habits Kit comes in four different flavors to suit your taste: Fluoromentum, Non-Fluoromenthol, Berry and Charcoal.
Don’t sacrifice your skincare routine just because you’re only sticking to the bag you carry with you. This lovely travel bag comes with a rose gold eye mask, four organic and reusable circles, a petite rose quartz refreshing scrape and a green tea makeup sponge. There’s also plenty of storage space, so it’s perfect for carrying small items like lipstick, tweezers, and dental floss. Pack this travel bag in a larger box with your makeup and other toiletries, or tuck it into your travel backpack separately. Either way, you’ll have several beauty essentials.
Pillow Pack $39
The PillowPack offers a sneaky way to carry more clothes and essentials for a plane trip without sacrificing any space in your suitcase. And, its dual purpose means it can also be used to support your neck on its own. This neck pillow is completely empty as it is meant to be stuffed with soft items needed for travel. In fact, the PillowPack can hold eight shirts and four pairs of socks, saving so much space in your suitcase. While it’s not our top choice for travel neck pillows (i.e. the Cabeau Evolution S3), it’s a great option if you’re looking to maximize your packing space.
$17 on Amazon
Laundry sheets are ideal for travel because you can keep them in your carry-on bag or backpack without worrying about TSA restrictions on liquids in your luggage. This 50-pack of laundry sheets from Sheets Laundry Club makes it easy to do laundry on the go, whether you can use the washing machine or have to hand wash items in the sink in your hotel room. Either way, having your own method of doing laundry can help you reduce luggage while traveling and avoid checked luggage, which is the ultimate goal.
$10 on Amazon
Having your own portable clothesline makes it easier to avoid checked luggage. You can hand wash some clothes on the go and hang them to dry while you’re out sightseeing. This clothesline includes built-in clips so you can wrap it around your luggage without carrying clothespins or other accessories. This portable clothesline is also stretchable and elastic, so you can customize its size to the space you live in.
Pack a pair of versatile sneakers that you can wear throughout your trip to save space. Merino wool is a natural fiber that helps keep feet dry and odor-free, making it ideal for repeated wear on a single trip. With that in mind, Allbirds Wool Runners (one of our favorite travel shoes) are a great option to wear during your trip for hiking, biking, or any other sightseeing. Wear these shoes from the airport to your destination to save space in your luggage.
$40 Amazon $39
Shampoo and conditioner bars from The Earthling Co. Can help you check a few boxes on your packing and travel checklist. You can take shampoo and conditioner with you on the go without worrying about TSA restrictions on carry-on liquids. And, as an added bonus, you can avoid creating more plastic waste in the process. These hair sticks come in compostable packaging, so you can store them in just about any container in your carry-on luggage.
Backcountry from $45
If your goal is just to pack a few clothes, consider bringing a pair of convertible pants. This pair from Colombia for men (there is a similar pair for women) is great for active and leisure travel, mainly because they can easily go from pants to shorts and back again. These special convertible pants are also available in eight different colors to suit any style, and you can choose a tailored option based on your length and waistline. They also feature multiple pockets, built-in waistband and UPF 50 sunscreen.
50 U.S. dollars From $29 on Amazon
Carrying a crossbody bag with you on the go can help you keep your documents organized and always within reach. This bag is perfect for travelers as it has a main lockable compartment and interior slots with RFID blocking technology. The crossbody strap is adjustable to fit most body types. Plus, it’s available in five different colors to complement any outfit.
This convertible jacket achieves incredible results by transforming from a travel jacket to a carry-on bag, making it a versatile tool for avoiding checked luggage. You can wear a jacket on a plane, pack your belongings in the lining, and turn it into a bag at any time. In addition to offering several larger compartments for clothing or electronics, this jacket-bag combo has a phone pocket, a tablet pocket, a dedicated toilet area and a sunglasses hook. It also comes in six different colors and multiple sizes, from extra small to 3XL.
$22 $20 on Amazon
This five-pack of compression bags from Amazon lets you pump out excess air to maximize storage space for clothing and other items. A hand pump is included, but you can also attach a vacuum hose for better suction and faster results. These bags are reusable and can be purchased in many sizes and quantities depending on the quantity you need.
The LifeStraw Peak Series Collapsible Squeeze Water Bottle is our traveler’s pick. The reason is simple: not only does it filter the water for you, but it also folds into a small size that’s perfect for carrying around. After going through airport security, fill up the bottle and keep hydrated on the flight and upon arrival at your destination.
If you want to stick with your regular lotions, soaps, and beauty products, but they’re too big to fit in your carry-on bag, consider this reusable and customizable set from Cadence. We love the Build Your 6 pack, which offers six customizable, leak-proof magnetic containers so you can take all your essentials with you. Say goodbye to single-use plastics and say hello to this aesthetic kit you want to use over and over again.
From $14 on Amazon
If you’re struggling with packing extra shoes in your carry-on bag, this travel shoe bag from Amazon can help. Not only is it made of waterproof material, but it also comes with a handy carrying strap for easy portability. Available in seven different colors and designs, this travel shoe bag can easily hold a large pair of shoes or two small sandals.
$37 From $25 on Amazon
Make sure your most precious items arrive without knots and knots, and are safely stored in one place with this travel jewelry box. It’s small enough to fit in a carry-on bag, but has enough room to store all your rings, earrings, necklaces, bracelets, and more. Best of all, both layers can be closed with a zipper to keep everything safe throughout the journey.
$27 on Amazon
A travel wallet is a must for any traveler. We love this wallet and passport holder combo because it offers multiple storage options. Not only is it available in six colors, but you’ll also have room for passports, cash, multiple travel credit cards, business cards, and more. Plus, it’s small enough to fit in any carry-on bag or backpack.
Looking for a travel credit card?Find out which cards CNN Underscored has chosen as ours The Best Travel Credit Cards for 2022.