5 ways to pack more (without looking like you did)

girl with tiny suitcase

Every time I pack for a trip, I challenge myself to pack as much as possible in a carry-on size suitcase. It’s become a fun game, and I get better with every trip I take.

Choosing to only travel with a relatively small suitcase means I avoid many costly airline baggage fees. I can navigate bustling areas with greater ease than people hauling larger suitcases. And, I am positive that I can pack as much into my suitcase as some people with the massive ones.

>> Learn more about carry-on packing

Packing more with your current go-to luggage — how to make it happen

Compression bags

compression sackI rarely pack appropriately when traveling to colder climates. Who has room for bulky items like jackets, hoodies, and sweaters? But even Australia’s winter can be downright cold, and I paid the price for leaving warmer clothes at home by having to buy new ones in Oz.

Compression bags are perfect solution when you want to pack heavier, thicker items in the same case or bag you always carry. Some products may save up to 75% of packing space per compression bag!

To use, place clothing into the bag. Then, seal and roll the bag toward the end that has a one way-valve to remove air.


Confession: The first time I rolled clothing was when I packed my bag for Australia two years ago. How had I previously not known one of the best methods of saving space when packing?!

What prompted me to roll? A video of a flight attendant who packed outfits for various occasions for a 10-day trip in one carry-on size bag, including one or two pairs of shoes. Although I knew I could buy clothes throughout the year in Oz, I wanted to pack as many items from my existing wardrobe in my just-slightly-bigger-than-carry-on bag.

With rolling, I packed more shirts and bottoms than ever before but still managed to pull off the light-packer look to other travelers. It’s hard to believe that rolling makes a significant difference, but it does.

Packing cubes

packing cubesBefore rolling, I stacked traditionally folded clothes in a packing cube. With rolling, I can fit 2-4 more shirts in one cube!

Packing cubes are often made from soft material in a box-like shape and can be zippered once full. In addition to serving as great organization tools, packing cubes help maximize space in your case. With their rectangular shape, they take advantage of the walls and corners of a suitcase and can be stacked on top of one another to make sure every inch is being utilized.

Jackets and vests with (LOTS OF) pockets

carry vestWhen a friend first showed me his jacket with countless interior and exterior pockets, I couldn’t help but laugh. Would he ever really use them?

As someone who hates to pay to check a bag, I’m now wondering if I should invest in one!

I recently read about a traveler who wanted to beat a low-cost carrier’s policy of traveling carry-on only with a limit of 10kg. Loading clothing, gadgets, and toiletries into 17 interior and exterior pockets, the traveler made it on board carrying nearly 12kg on his body. Perhaps not the best solution for warm climates but a product like this could save you money and checked baggage hassles time and time again! The jacket isn’t just an item of clothing – it may just become your new carry-on “luggage”!

If you don’t want to pack EVERYTHING in a jacket (and I wouldn’t blame you), a product like this can still free up room in your carry-on bags by housing electronics, books, boarding documents and IDs. And who doesn’t need more space from time to time for that new shirt or souvenir?

All-in-one products

In addition to the above methods, all of which attempt to help you pack more, you can always pack more-with-less by traveling with all-in-one products like:

  • Dual shampoo and conditioner products, whether they’re solid (like LUSH’s bars) or liquid, and dual body wash and shampoo products
  • Moisturizer + sunscreen in one – in Oz, I found that I needed a higher SPF than my moisturizer from home provided and a local recommended a great brand
  • Smart phones: phone, internet, camera, alarm, watch all in the palm of your hand

>> Read about the infinity skirt that acts as a dress, skirt and top!

More ideas to help you pack “smaller”:

  • Choose a small bag to travel with and you’ll only pack what fits inside
  • Take advantage of every available space – inside shoes, various pockets
  • Wear your bulkiest items on the plane/train/bus and carry your coat instead of packing them

I leave for London in a few days and plan to travel with an even smaller bag than normal. Maybe next month I’ll report on whether or not I made it work!

How do you pack smarter by packing more without showing it?

Written by Heather

Heather Rudd Palmer is a 30-something with a love for travel, food, and healthy living. After short trips to Europe in her 20s, Heather left her job at 30 to live, work, and travel in Australia for a year. She visited every state and territory, embarked on two road trips, worked at an organic food store, and ate her way through Sydney. She's now a career counselor for university students. You can find Heather at There's No Place Like Oz and Healthy Life Heather.

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Gear We Use


Packing Cubes – Organize your luggage with the lightweight, durable and compressible Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Compression Cubes.

Backpacks + Daypacks

Pacsafe – Since they come with extra theft-resisting features, Pacsafe bags make you a more confident traveler. We especially love this bag.

Sea to Summit – Of all the Sea to Summit products, our most recommended is the fits-in-your-palm, super packable Ultra-Sil Daypack.

Personal Care

Nalgene Toiletry Bottles – These leak-free toiletry bottles and tubs come in all sizes – even super tiny, helping minimalists pack it all without bulk.

Turkish Towels – They’re thinner than most travel towels, and they actually cover your body! We can’t get enough of Turkish towels for travel.


Speakeasy Supply Co. – They make the awesome hidden pocket infinity scarves that are perfect for stashing secret cash, lip balms, and passports.

Anatomie – Anatomie travel pants come with luxury prices, but they offer many benefits for travelers. See our review of the famous Skyler pants.

Travel Resources

Booking Airfare

Dollar Flight Club – Get flight deal alerts for your preferred departure airport. There is both a free and premium version (recommended for more sweet deals). Members save on average $500 USD per flight!

Skyscanner – Skyscanner is our preferred site for searching flights. They offer unbiased search results and are free from hidden fees. You can also book your hotels and rental cars.


Airbnb – Airbnb is the best place to book out apartments around the world. Sign up using this link to get $37 USD off your first stay booking + $14 USD towards an experience booking!

Booking.com – Search for hotels, hostels, and apartments using this one resource. Use it for flights, car rentals, and airport taxis as well.

Hostelworld – For hostels, Hostelworld remains our number one source for booking stays. Choose from straight up hostels, budget hotels and bed and breakfasts.

Trusted Housesitters – Save money on travel accommodation by becoming a housesitter. Housesitters often have extra duties, like caring for pets and gardens.

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