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Keep Calm and Carry-On (No, Really!)

Carry on luggage
Image used with permission by copyright holder
How to have stress free carry on bags
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Yes, we know. We’re just as sick of “Keep Calm and…” memes as you are, but, here it just makes sense because, when traveling, carry on bags are really just small suitcases full of stress. Especially if you’re like more and more Americans who are skipping checked luggage (and their obnoxious baggage fees that come with unjustly high chance of having your stuff lost or damaged) and heading into flight with just one bag. Maybe you even own a few carry on bags, you know, for different occasions (We have a North Face for rough terrain and a Rimowa for business). And if you’re living your life out of just one bag, you’re sure to have some carry-on bag problems. So here are some solutions we’ve tried. All work and fit neatly in the overhead bin of your on-the-road life.

Problem: You’re traveling with a suit, which means you’re that guy in the airport juggling your coffee (or, OK, whiskey) with a garment bag.

Solution: Ditch the garment bag. You can get your suit from point A to point B with minimal wrinkling by individually wrapping each piece (including the tie) in a thin, dry cleaner bag. Then lay the suit at the bottom of the bag, so it over laps both ends, pack your socks, underwear and T’s in the middle and then wrap the extended pieces over top, so the suit is hugging everything you’ve packed. It works by keeping the fabric from rubbing against itself under pressure, which is the primary cause of wrinkling. Carry on bags win!

Problem: Shoes. Usually, it’s a girl problem, but now that you’re a jet setter, you have it too.

Solution: Bring two pair and nothing more. Go over your itinerary and double check your needs, but generally speaking, bring one pair you’d go to dinner in, and another you can use more casually. Wear the heavier pair on the plane and pack things like socks in the pair in your suitcase. Shoes should go on the wheeled end of your roller (As should all heavier items) to keep the weight balanced. And, if anything gets muddy on your trip, use the hotel shower cap as a shoe bag.

Problem: You’re a gadget geek. Either you can’t fit all of your electronics in your carry-on or personal bag, or have, but are scared you might get gate-checked (and if you’re not a preferred customer, there’s a good chance the overhead space will be full by the time you board). You’ll immediately send your valuables down a chute, where it will get manhandled and then thrown on a pile, where breakage/never seeing it again is a real possibility (Here’s where we remind you that as of 2012, 8 out of every 1000 bags in the US were mishandled).

Solution: First, carry on bags are not for precious items. Save those for your personal bag. But since that’s not always possible, there’s this thing: The Scotte Vest. It’s not going to win you any style awards, but within its 24 hidden pockets, is room for your camera, assortment of tablets, a laptop, portable charger and other meaningful incidentals you might want to keep close to your body. Load it up and never be questioned about your carry-on at the gate ever again.

Problem: The extending handle on your rolling carry-on bag is too short.

Solution: First of all, congrats. You’re tall and girls seem to like that. But, man, that must suck walking through the airport all hunched over and catching your bag on the back of your heels. You could take care of that issue at the point of purchase, which means actually trying it out in a brick and mortar store rather than online to make sure the bag fits. Lower end brands tend to skimp on handle length on carry on bags but you don’t have to invest in a $400 beast either. A belt works mighty fine to give you few more inches, but if you feel like getting fancy, $15 product handle extender from Travelon gives you another eight inches. Be warned, if you have a four-wheeled spinner (which can be pushed or pulled), an extension will render it a pull-along bag only.

Problem: You’re setting the world on fire with your good looks. Wait, that’s not a problem. This is: You’re doing three cities in two weeks, or some kind of ridiculous multi-city tour that involves different climates and expectations of style.

Solution: Be basic (but not in the current street definition of the word), it will help you cut down on extra clothing. Beige (khaki), navy and grey are the easiest colors to mix and match. A compression bag will help fit your favorite wool sweater and can double as your laundry while you’re on the road. Speaking of, don’t be afraid to wash your socks, underwear and T-shirts in the hotel sink. A little shampoo, some hot water and then lay them out to dry on the sink or over the shower (check for hidden hanging lines placed inside the shower).

Problem: You have no idea if your bag will meet the requirements for carry on bags.

Solution: By law, 45 linear inches is the maximum allowed on domestic flights, but it’s smaller in other countries. Even so, if your luggage adds up but veers too far from the standard 22 x 14 x 9 shape (it’s 20 x14 x 9 in most European countries), it may get screened out, as unfriendly to overhead bins. Hard shells have the benefit of keeping the same size, so check yourself if cramming your things into a fabric or expandable bag. Some airlines and bag manufacturers do not include wheels in the measurement, but others do, so check ahead and measure that bag yourself to be sure. And then there’s weight, which some airlines actually enforce for carry-ons. (Hawaiian Air has a strict 25 lbs limit, Singapore air just 15 lbs and Virgin Atlantic a whopping 13lbs) and as airlines look to squeeze more money out of travelers, look for more companies to follow suit. So when picking a bag, in lieu of leather, look for sturdy but lighter ballistic nylon at minimum of 1000+ denier (thickness) or, if you like a hard shell, pick polycarbonate over aluminum.

Problem: Liquids.

Solution: Remember the 3-1-1 rule. You are only allowed one bag that measures one gallon and you can only fill it with containers that max at 3.4 ounces. So no, you can’t bring that mostly used 10oz tube of shaving cream.

Editors' Recommendations

Matt Bell
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Matt Bell is a travel and grooming writer. He's endured Thai face slapping massages, swam in a cage with crocodiles and…
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