How To Pack a Carry-On Like a Boss

Jul 31st 2012

If you thought my Type-A agenda planning was bordering on madness, you may be even more concerned with the way I pack a suitcase. But ohemgee, this kind of thing gets me completely high.

On tour, I was the one designated to pack our gear into the trailer. My whole crew was proud of the way I could maneuver an entire 4-piece band’s touring paraphernalia into a tiny space. I excel at the real-life version of Tetris.

When packing for BlogHer ’12, I knew I’d have a lot of stuff to bring along. I’m in NYC five full days plus a morning for our flight so I needed 6 outfits at a minimum plus some extra items for special events like parties and dinner with my husband. I also needed to pack a box of my personal swag to give out. With all this, I first assumed that I’d need to go with a big suitcase and check my baggage.

But airlines have lost my baggage before, and I really cannot imagine surviving NYC with NO clothes and NONE of my blog swag to hand out. That would be an absolute NIGHTMARE. This exact thing happened to me when my band traveled to London some years ago to be on Top of the Pops and do some other promotional stuff. I got there and had NO clothes to wear. I had to borrow something ill-fitting from the label rep because I couldn’t afford to replace anything, so I went on Top of the Pops looking less than my best. Not my finest moment.

Thinking about this made me decide that come hell or high water, my clothes and swag were going in a carry-on. Next I just had to figure out how. Ah, but this is my specialty!

I saw a great slide show from the NYT Business section showing “10 Days in a Carry-On” and it’s a GREAT one. But, aesthetics mean a lot to me, so I wanted my suitcase to look more organized that hers did. I was also packing some items that I felt needed extra care (read, chiffon with sequin detailing), so I wanted them wrapped inside another cloth for extra protection.

So here’s my show and tell!

What’s in the bag:

7 Bottoms:

  • 4 pairs of shorts
  • 2 Skirts
  • 1 pair of Jeans

8 Tops:

  • 6 shirts
  • 2 Cardigans

3 Pairs of Shoes:

  • Strappy heals
  • Gladiator-style sandals
  • Flip-flops

2 Pajamas

  • 1 pretty nighty
  • 1 cami/capri set


  • 9 pairs of underwear
  • 4 bras
  • 1 tank with built-in bra


  • 3 Belts
  • Jewelry

Personal Care

  • Flat Iron
  • Hairbrush
  • Makeup bag
  • Glasses
  • 1 Quart bag with toiletries

Blog Swag to Give Out

  • 100 Blog Buttons
  • 250 Business Cards
  • 250 Post Cards (for our ROYO session)

But HOW did I do that? Easy – rolling and Tetrising, natch!

Just grab a pillow case out of your closet, lay it down, and start stacking your shirts. When you’re done, fold it in half and start rolling it up tightly until you’ve got yourself a clothes burrito! It will pack all those shirts into a fraction of the space while keeping them far more organized.

Next up! BOTTOMS! Same idea.

After you’ve rolled everything, place these items toward the bottom of the suitcase. This should only take up about 1/2 of the bag. Then place shoes around the inside perimeter of the suitcase. Next, lay in your other items (Makeup bag, hairbrush, etc.) at the top.

In the top mesh part of the suitcase, I placed in my underwear, bras, and belts. This is how it looks when it’s completely finished.

Don’t forget to utilize the outside pockets!

I ALWAYS ALWAYS (well, since 2006) carry my 1 Qt toiletries in the OUTSIDE zipper pocket of my carry on, that way they’re quick to whip out for the security screening and quick to put away without disturbing any of the rest of the bag.

And there’s my 100% packed BlogHer12 bag!


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49 Responses to “How To Pack a Carry-On Like a Boss”

  1. JenniferPittmanParis | Profile
    VA:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    I think I love you…

  2. VA:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    this post almost makes me sorry i live in nyc and have no packing to do. have a great trip!

  3. VA:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    planning for our 1st family vacation in 6 years, flying to florida w/ a 6 and 11 yo, carrying on all of our stuff. This couldn’t have come at a better time! 

  4. VA:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    planning for our 1st family vacation in 6 years, flying to florida w/ a 6 and 11 yo, carrying on all of our stuff. This couldn’t have come at a better time! 

  5. VA:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    Like a boss?! Daaayum, woman! I think you deserve a Nobel Prize for this… or something! I mean, it’s genius, pure genius!When I read your packing list, I thought “She’s using a carry-on? She must a) be using when of those ‘wear this dress 10 ways!” dresses and b) that you’re super-tiny, hence tiny clothes, hence being able to fit EVERYTHING in that wee suitcase!I went away for 4.5 days and took about 3 times as much stuff, and I prefer to pack light (admittedly first time to destination and unsure what to bring, but still!). 

  6. VA:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    Ok…I will personally fly you to Atlanta so you can pack for me and my 5 year old for my sister’s week-long destination wedding trip in December…Bridesmaid dress, shoes and accessories included!! 

  7. VA:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    This makes my heart super happy.  I can pack my three kids and my clothes for a week long trip in one suitcase.  Not a carry on, but this includes packing my cloth diapers. My husband, alone, takes a suitcase of equal size and volume, just for him.  LeSigh.

  8. AbbyElizabethFarrar | Profile
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    Can you put this knowledge into packing All of me and my 9 month old’s belongings into a dodge neon? Moving in a week and wondering how the heck I’m gonna do it.

  9. VA:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    I have to say, I am impressed and when it comes to packing, I am hard to impress!  I once spent two weeks in Europe; 1 week in sunny, super hot (it was mid-July) Spain with my girlfriends on vacay, the other week was spent in cold (55F), wet, rainy Ireland on business (requiring business suits and heels) and all I had was my carry-on and a big handbag.  My friends love to poke fun at me for my crazy love of organized suitcases, but this post makes me feel more normal.  Gina, you are a kindred spirit.  Also, LOVE the way you roll your clothes in the pillowcases!

  10. VA:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    So I’m not the only one that does this! I’m still proud of the day that I managed to pack 7 very full grocery bags full of random things into the tiniest little overnight bag – about the size of a small diaper bag or a medium sized purse. The only thing that didn’t fit was a feather duster because of the handle, but I just stuck that out where the zipper ended, so it was still done up. It was supposed to be an exercise in teaching us kids (I was about 8 at the time) the futility of trying to “fit the camel through the eye of the needle” – oops!

  11. VA:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    excuse me, but where did you get those gold shorts? must have….

  12. VA:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    A) AMAZING. (thank you!)
    B) WHERE on earth did you get the gold shorts? must have…

    • TheFeministBreeder | Profile
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       @BearcatFlohr They’re silver and came from the Jennifer Lopez collection at Kohl’s – on sale for $22!

    • VA:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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       @BearcatFlohr crafty and spendthrift. you have it all don’t you? 
      Keep it up darlin. you’re awesome!

  13. VA:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    nicely done! now if only you can share with us where you got the gold shorts–adorable!

  14. VA:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    This would have come in handy yesterday….I checked my bag, and they LOST IT!!  UGH!!

  15. VA:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    Now. how do you do it in winter?   That’s where I get really freaked out.  Everything’s so bulky.  I’m totally using the shirt roll thing in the future. I SUCK at packing.

  16. VA:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    Oh, eeek – just what I needed for a 10 tour of Italy!  Thank you for your help!

  17. VA:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    The pillowcases throw me off? Won’t they be taking up more valuable space and serve no purpose once you get there? No matter what method I’ve tried-rolling, ziploc bags, tissue paper….my clothes still come out wrinkled!

    • TheFeministBreeder | Profile
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       @andegetyourgun No, they make it easier to roll into small burritos AND they serve as laundry bags for your dirty clothes on the way back.

      • VA:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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         @TheFeministBreeder Also, an extra FYI make one of them a satin pillowcase. I always travel with one to put over the hotel pillowcase. Sleeping on satin never puts crease in your face (a trick I learned from my Mom years ago) and I’m allergic to feathers and acts as an extra barrier.

  18. VA:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    Love this – and thanks for the photos. I’m nosy about other people’s packing – the best I managed with only carry-on was a one month trip up the east coast of the USA (Miami to NYC) last September. Naturally I blogged about packing for it (here: ). And I did laundry, so it was more like packing for a week. 

  19. VA:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    So in the beginning, you say “Oh tour, I was the one designated to pack our gear into the trailer.” I believe you meant, “On tour,” correct? Love the post though! I’m preparing to study abroad and this is super helpful!

  20. VA:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    How big can a carry on be or how much can it weigh? I will be in a wedding in November and I have only been on a plane once back in 1997…. ooops I would rather stay on the ground… But if I only have a carry on it’s free on American Airlines I would die if I lost anything I need for this weeding not to mention my friend would kill me. Should I ship my dress and shoes to ensure that are there and safe for wedding day and her gift also. HELP

  21. VA:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    Wow… love it! I am a crazy packer from way back and I have never seen this pillowcase trick. Am absolutely going to try this. My daughter-in-law has referred to me as Mary Poppins. Flew in for her bridal shower, packed my clothes in a small carry on (not even a suitcase size) and packed all the gifts in a checked 24″ suitcase. When I produced 4 shopping bags of gifts,including a wok, she and everyone else were stunned. :)

  22. VA:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    I’ve been told I’m a master at packing, going to try the pillow case method, awesome. someone mentioned something about packing for kids, when my kids were small, i’d pack their entire outfits in ziploc bags (one for each day of vacation), you can even fit their little shoes, hair bows, whatever. I have been able to put an adult summer outfit in a ziploc, my problems arise from ‘products’& bulky shoes’…….gotta figure a way to downsize on thosw products.
    And the JLO shorts are beautiful! Love those!

  23. VA:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    Thank you for this guide!  Thanks to this, I was able to pack everything I need for a 9-day trip into one carry-on bag!

  24. VA:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    Great idea! Another thing I do is put the bottles of hairspray, etc., inside the shoes if you check your bag in. It helps protect them from bursting, leaking, etc as they get tossed and packed one on top of the other.

  25. VA:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    This only works if you are traveling somewhere a) that is not cold and b) that you don’t plan on working out.

    • VA:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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       @anneteinrl I packed two cardigans and a pair of jeans – and also took 3 pairs of shoes and wore my work-out sneakers. It can still be done.

  26. VA:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    Did you forget to pack your jeans?

  27. VA:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    I love this. I travel a lot and have come to adapt some tricks to packing light. I also have to have my workout clothes since I like to keep in shape while I’m away from home, and my tennis shoes, which I wear on the plane. I hate walking through security barefoot anyway, so having socks on makes me feel a little more protected. The only other shoes I pari is one pair of flip flops, and one pair of black flats which go with everything-jeans, shorts, capris, skirts, sundresses. Flip flops are also great for wearing around hotel rooms. I never walk around barefoot. And I rarely pack heels. I never get a chance to wear them anyway and they take up a lot of room. In the winter I pack a pair of jeans plus the pair I’m wearing. I usually wear a pair 2-3 days anyway before washing, so 2 pair will last me almost a week. I pack 3 or 4 long sleeve shirts and some tank tops for layering. I stick to a basic color scheme of white, black, and grey. I throw in color with jewelry and/or scarves. I pack scarves in a mesh lingerie bag, which I found at the dollar store. This can also double as a travel pillow. And if you can find them, Purex 3-in-1 Laundry Sheets are great for throwing in your luggage in case you do need to throw some clothes in the washer while you are away. They travel easily, and have everything you need in one sheet. Detergent, softener, anti-static.

  28. VA:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    I LOVE this!!! Do you have another post for maybe 10-12 days of traveling in Europe in December (cold weather)? I would LOVE to see what you can do with that. I usually travel there during this season and can never condense my suitcase.  :(

  29. VA:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    The packing tips are great!  I am sorry you appeared to have a nurse who was unable/unwilling to properly educate you about what was happening with your body. Your story makes you sound like every nurses nightmare!  Uncooperative, noncompliant and hysterical.  Not a good combination.  Most hospitals do no allow ANY family member in an operating room. Some will allow one person to sit with patient through AFTER induction, prep & draping is done. When baby leaves the OR, the visitor also leaves the OR.
    People, especially duella;s, that treat the nursing staff as enemies instead of learned professionals who are there to help the patient get WHATEVER type of birth experience they desire?  Those people are despised by most L/D nurses. Duellas are there to offer support to the patient, not PROTECT the patient from the staff. We are not the enemy and I profoundly hope that you remembr that in your duella ‘duties’.

    • VA:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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      @DragonflyWishes You obviously do not know what a DOULA does if you don’t know how to spell DOULA. FYI, the best available medical evidence that we have shows that DOULAS reduce infant and maternal mortality and morbidity, and create a safer experience for mom and baby.
      If you think that a woman who wants control over her body is “Hysterical” then GET OUT OF MATERNITY CARE before you hurt more and more women and babies.

  30. VA:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    How do you pack jeans?

  31. JenniferPittmanParis | Profile
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    I wear my one pr of jeans on the plane and rehear and/or wash at hotel.

  32. VA:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    What size suitcase did you use?

    • VA:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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      @MiriamCleary I don’t remember the brand name of my suitcase, but it’s a normal airline-approved carry-on size. It fits into those little cages you see at the airport check-in counters that measure the size of your bag.

  33. MeghanWinkelmannWoodlief | Profile
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    Now do this with boots and fall clothing… We recently went to Maine and it might be an understatement to say my husband was not pleased with the fact that I had to bring a carry on and a checked bag. But in my defense we had a wedding to go to so I had to pack dress clothes that I normally wouldn’t bring on a vacation. I also had to bring a coat and a jacket since the NE weather in October can be unpredictable. Warm clothes take up too much space!!!

  34. VA:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    Found this post in preparation for an upcoming trip… did some perusing, and HEY!  I have seen you perform live ROCKIN!!!  VS will always be one of my faves!!  Awesome! :-)  Thanks for enriching my life first through rock when I was an angsty teenager and now through compulsive organization as an adult.

  35. VA:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    I’m pretty sure you’ve just become my new packing hero. While I too have some mad packing skills, (played a lot of tetris growing up) your carry on skills far exceed my own. Thanks for this!

  36. VA:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    I think this is great and I am so anxious to try it.  Question: will this work the same way for plus-size women? If my shirt or pants are bigger than yours, I can imagine they would take up more room.

  37. VA:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    this is the first post i ever read on your site! and it’s the one i externally clicked on and was linked here from also, so without this post i would have never been a blessed with all your words of wisdom and rants and hours of amusement of reading that you’ve so graciously provided me with! LOLS that sounds cheesy and cliche but I really mean it! I love your blog and I love reading it. I also love all the resources I’ve obtained through your site, via links and other posters and other websites listed and referenced here. So thank-yOu for blogging because I really appreciate your blog. <33 Ivy- Southern California

  38. VA:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    Love it!! My husband travels weekly and is moving from international trips to domestic trips which will be much shorter, so he’ll only need a carry on. I will share this post with him and keep this in mind for myself next time we hit the airplane. I am seriously not organized when it comes to traveling…and it’s because I try to take way too much and only end up using half of it anyways. Go figure! 
    Thanks for the tips 😉 Will you be at Blogher 13’? I am really thinking of going there but am also going to HAVEN which is more geared towards home and garden/DIY bloggers. Cheers!Jennifer @Blissfully Ever After

  39. VA:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    Did they let you carry the pins on the plane?

  40. VA:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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    have you ever tried those space saver bags? do you like the pillowcase method better?

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