Pack Like a Pro: How to Avoid Checking a Bag on an International Trip

packing tips
packing tips

Yes, you can bring it all with you — if you pack smart. (Photo: Thinkstock)

If you’re like me and prefer to speed through the airport when traveling, flying with only a carry-on is essential. I’ve recently taken journeys from New York to London for a six-day stay, as well as a 10-day trip to London, Paris, Barcelona, and Madrid. And everything had to fit in a hard-shell carry-on roller and my “personal item,” a backpack.

Here was my strategy:

Create a streamlined packing list. Because I wanted to go out and experience various activities — shopping, theater, dining out, nightlife — I selected interchangeable outfits. A key to picking out pieces that can be worn multiple times is to stick to basics: stripes and simple prints. (And on the plane, layering a T-shirt, a light sweater, and a jacket can go a long way.) Here’s my packing list:

gap wool coat for packing
gap wool coat for packing

Wool coat from the Gap (Photo: The Gap)

• Wool toggle duffel coat by Gap

Kenneth Cole soft-shell jacket

• Three sweaters that ranged from heavy wool to light cotton

Indochino custom button-down

• Three pairs of jeans

• Pair of dressy slacks from Kenneth Cole

• Gym shorts and the basics (T-shirts, socks, underwear)

Be selective about footwear. Men’s shoes undoubtedly take up the most space. Pick out a sneaker that’s comfortable for walking and can also be dressed up for a night out. This is what I brought:

Ben Sherman brown leather boots

UGG Australia modern black leather boots (which worked for day and night)

New Balance sneakers, although Lacoste and Generic Surplus also sell stylish designs in leather, suede, and canvas.

Related: WATCH: A New Way to Pack a Carry-on Bag Like a Pro

coach gloves for packing
coach gloves for packing

Coach gloves (Photo: Coach)

Keep accessories lean. I brought a woven scarf, a wool cap by Helen Kaminski XY, Coach leather gloves, a 15-inch laptop, an iPad mini, a Canon DSLR camera, and over-the-ear headphones.

Minimize and come back home with even less. Don’t bring your own bathroom toiletries. Ditch the travel books and magazines in favor of apps and e-books. Think back to your last trip to see if you can skim any clothes this time around. Shop light when traveling. Throw out any toiletries that are almost empty as you pack for your return.

Related: The 13 Essential Items You Need to Pack Like a Parisian in One Bag

burton carry on
burton carry on

Burton carry-on (Photo: Burton)

Maximize the size of your luggage and personal bag. Remember the 45-inch volume rule, and pick a roller luggage that is around 21 inches high by 14 inches wide by 10 inches deep. Tumi offers spacious luggage, but if you’d like something sportier, Burton makes light polyester rollers with cool skate wheels. Pick the biggest personal bag you can find: Instead of a satchel or messenger, take a backpack or large tote. Tumi, JanSport, and Herschel Supply Co. all make spacious backpacks with laptop pockets; Coach, Kenneth Cole, and Ben Minkoff have spacious leather totes. I got away with a laptop backpack sized 18”h x 12”w x 8”d.

Use travel-size space-saver bags. Skip the kind that requires a vacuum: The best are the ones you can roll to release the air. I use Space Bags, which come in various sizes. Just make sure not to overload the bags, as they will rip when you try to seal or push the air out.

Related: Brittany’s Travel Hacks: Stop Checking Bags with This Space-Saving Packing Method

Place socks, underwear, and small T-shirts in your shoes. This helps the shoes keep their form and ensures that there’s no wasted space in your bag.

Wear your largest sweater or jacket and your heaviest/largest shoes. Wearing your bulkiest clothing will leave more space for other things. Boots will most likely be the biggest and heaviest shoes you’ll bring along, so wear them on the flight.

Related: WATCH: 6 Household Items That Will Make Packing Easier

Utilize coat pockets. If your large coat has zip pockets, use them to place anything and everything that can fit: USB cords, toiletries, electronic devices. Even if you don’t need a coat, bring a light rain jacket with zipper pockets you can utilize — and the jacket just might come in handy on a cool night.

WATCH: How to Pack Everything You Need Into a Carry-On

Andrew Villagomez is a travel and lifestyle writer and photographer who has contributed to Details, AskMen, Out, Passport, Latina, and Condé Nast Traveler. He runs his own men’s fashion and travel blog, Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @veetravels.

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