How I Went From Perpetual Over-Packer to Carry-On Convert

This Thanksgiving, hit the airport like an absolute pro.


Enjoy all the free time at your gate, since you skipped that check-in line. | Shutterstock.

Thanksgiving, the most traveled holiday of the year, is almost upon us, which means a checked bag or two or 10,000 are bound to get misplaced by airlines. As someone who has lost a great deal of money to (insanely priced) overweight baggage fees over the years, I am probably the last person to be writing a post on how to pack light. However, I decided to change my ways last week as I prepared for a long weekend in LA. Here’s how I downsized my life into one teeny carry on and still looked cute for Cali, plus a few extra tricks from our staff of seasoned travelers.


Accessory switch-up. | Lauren McGrath.

Bring outfits you can wear from day to night.
The key to this is packing pieces that can be worn many ways; stick to a simple color scheme. Bring smart accessories that will completely change your look from casual to classy – behold, the power of a red lip, chunky necklace and heels. (See more of celeb stylist Anh Mai’s day-to-night looks here.)

Consolidate your cosmetics kit.
Let’s be honest, you only use about five items in your makeup arsenal anyway. Bring only the essentials, swapping out individual eyeshadows for a neutral, everyday mini-palette. Dab and blend lipstick onto your cheeks as blush. Good mascara is non-negotiable. If you’re hyper-conscious of space, you can always bring these fun-sized cosmetics instead. Buy travel-sized shampoo and conditioner once you’re there, and discard before you head home. Bring perfume/cologne samples instead of your big bottle. Use this travel skincare kit to salvage your skin from airplane dryness and last you through the visit.


Thankfully, a topknot is always chic. | Shutterstock.

Leave the hot hair tools at home.
Consider the trip a heat-damage detox for your mane. Instead of curling your tresses, try any of these 30 amazing no-heat hairstyles. And if you simply cannot live without a hairdryer, your hotel or Airbnb is bound to have one lying around.

Measure out your meds.
Bring a weekly pill organizer, á la granny, and fill it with the trip’s ration of meds instead of rattling around the airport with all of your pill bottles. Use any extra space in the organizer for as-needed fixes like Advil, and stow in an easy-to-reach compartment.


Dont sacrifice that fab textured layer just because it takes up too much space. | Shutterstock.

Wear your bulkiest items on the plane. 
Lucky for you, planes are usually cold, so layer that fur vest or chunky knit sweater over a lighter layer for the flight. Try to wear boots or sneakers to the airport (even if you do hold up the security line for an extra 20 seconds) so they don’t take up precious cargo space.

Stuff your stuff.
For the pairs you must pack, leave no space unfilled! Stuff shoes with your smaller items like socks and undies – just make sure they won’t make your unmentionables smell like feet. Stow your jewelry in small baggies and tuck them into the cups of bras with an underwire.


The roll method. | Shutterstock.

Fold like an absolute pro.
This one’s the killer – don’t fold your clothes as if you were putting them away at home. There are a few schools of thought: roll your clothes up like Cinnabons, lie items flat in the bed of your mini suitcase in thin layers, or vacuum seal your wardrobe in bags if you’re really committed. But whatever you do, remember this is a carry on, not a drawer, so stow accordingly.

Yes, packing light is an annoying, anxiety-ridden process – But what if it snows or I have to run a marathon or something? However, breezing past the check-in desk with your trusty carry on is an exhilarating experience that your not-so-savvy travel companions will envy immensely. Plus, you won’t have to wear your weird high school clothes to Thanksgiving dinner because the airline lost your luggage. And remember, if you just couldn’t cram everything in the one bag, there’s always that airline-allowed personal item (aka Mary Poppins bag for extra crap). Safe travels, turkeys!

PS. Be sure to make room in your bag for one of these amazing non-cheesy hostess gifts.