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Travel with Carry on

There are four reasons for travelling with carry-on only. First, many airlines in the US charge for checked luggage, and this can really add to the cost of a trip. Second, it saves the time needed to check a bag at the airport. Third, waiting in Baggage Claim can be a real drag, keeping you from the beach or that important meeting. And fourth, there’s the risk of your luggage being lost, especially if you have connecting flights. This doesn’t happen very often, and the airlines are pretty good about reuniting fliers with missing luggage, but it can still be a major inconvenience.

Travelling with just carry-on avoids these problems but it does need some familiarity with the rules and a little planning. Here are some tips to help with your next flight.

Use the right size bag

Most airlines, (Delta, United, American, US Airways,) limit travelers to one bag measuring a total of 45 inches (that’s length plus depth plus height,) and a small personal item like a purse or laptop case. Unfortunately though, a lot of older planes have very small overhead bins that are barely able to hold the standard roll-on bag. To make matters worse, since flights are often full and no one wants to check their luggage, there’s often competition for this stowage space. That’s why it can be prudent to use a small, soft-sided bag – a duffle bag or backpack that will fit under the seat in front of you rather than a full size roll-on.

It’s worth noting though that coats, duty free shopping and anything needed for assistance, like a walking stick or stroller, are not counted as the “personal item.” (Use the links above to check individual airline polices.)

Plan your wardrobe

Pack clothes that can be mixed and matched and serve double duty rather than special items that you’ll only wear once. For men this might mean a single sweater that can be worn into the office and to a baseball game rather than two items, one smart and one casual. Likewise, women should think about skirts and pants that can be paired with a variety of tops. Pack no more than one pair of shoes because you’ll be wearing a second pair, and wear your bulky jacket or top coat rather than having it take up valuable space in your roll-on.

When packing, leave no empty space. Start by using smaller items to fill around the metal struts and supports in the bag, then build up even layers rather than making a heap in the middle. Don’t forget to put things inside other things. Your phone charger can go inside a shoe, for example. It’s also wise to place heavy items at the bottom as this makes the bag less likely to tip over.

Know the security rules

Don’t forget that all your carry-on has to go through the security scanner at the airport. The Transportation Security Administration (the TSA,) recommends travelers follow the “3-1-1 rule.” This means liquids in 3 ounce bottles, all liquids in a clear Ziploc™ bag, and one bag per traveler. Remember too that the clear bag should be taken out of your carry-on and placed in one of the screening bins a sthis makes it easier and quicker for them to do their job.

Many travelers get caught out by the restrictions on liquids and mistakenly try to carry bottled water through the checkpoint. Buy water on the “air side” of the security screen. The same goes for alcohol: either shop at the Duty Free (if boarding an international flight,) or just buy beer and wine at your destination.

When flying, checking bags slows you down and can be expensive. By planning what you really need to take and packing carefully, it’s possible to get away with only carry-on, even for a week-long vacation.