Packing Hacking 101: How to Maximize Your Carry-on Luggage

Posted by - June 15, 2017 | Category: Library

Packing Hacking 101: How to Maximize Your Carry-on Luggage

Lesson 1: Choosing a Carry-on Bag

I’m not one of those folks who normally travels with carry-on luggage only; in fact, quite the opposite is true — I tend to make the most of my checked luggage limit. I think of it as getting my money’s worth. If I’m allowed to check a bag, I’m gonna check a bag. For me, to not check one is akin to leaving money on the table. And that’s not something that happened very often at my house.

To go a step further, I’d often mock long-term travellers who only had carry-on. Okay maybe mock is a strong word. Curse at them under my breath maybe. But only because they were often so smug in their packing savvy that they deserved a slap upside the…okay…breathe Raymond.

In with the good air, out with the bad.

Anyhow, you know the type of traveller I’m talking about. Gliding through the airport wearing one of their net sum two outfits, still wet from the washing they gave it in the dorm room sink the night before, complemented by a self-congratulatory smirk on their face…Raymond…what did I just tell you? Breathe man. It’s not that hard.

Anyhow, now that many airlines are charging for every checked bag, it makes financial sense to maybe *sometimes* travel with carry-on luggage only. So when the good folks at Best Buy Canada asked me to come up with some tips for maximizing your carry-on luggage limit, I was all too eager to oblige. So eager in fact, I decided to document my carry-on caper by booking a flight with Air Asia who received a LOT of flak from customers by now limiting carry-on luggage to 7 KG — and that includes your personal item. Seven kilograms total — including your purse or laptop or camera bag or whatever other items you decide to lug onboard.

I do enjoy a good challenge, so for my week in Luang Prabang, Laos at the Mekong Tourism Forum I was determined to get all I needed safely and securely into the overhead. That included enough clothes for 4 days of the conference, a few fancy dinners, and then 2 days roughing it and chasing elephants through the lush hills at the Elephant Conservation Center.

Was I successful? Well, yes…and no. Read on to find out why, but first things first — when it comes to staying within your carry-on limit, the first place you should start is not with the contents, but with the actual bag. And here’s what you need to look for.

Weighty Decisions

Lowepro HighLine RL x400 AW 21.57″ Soft Sided 2-Wheeled Carry-on Luggage (photo courtesy of Best Buy Canada)

When I first saw this Lowepro bag staring up at me from the luggage section of Best Buy Canada’s website, it was lust at first site. Stylish, rugged, and weatherproof, it even has a dedicated cushioned compartment for a laptop and a tablet. Then I looked at the weight — a hefty 3.24 kilograms. When your carry-on limit is only 7 kilograms that doesn’t leave a lot of room for, oh I don’t know, maybe your clothes? It’s not so bad with other airlines that allow 10 kilograms for your carry-on, but on Air Asia, this one would be sent packing.

Burton Traverse 20.5" Luggage maximizing your carry-on

Burton Traverse 20.5″ Luggage (photo courtesy of Best Buy Canada)

Wheels and an extendable handle add unnecessary weight, so a better choice would be a backpack. The Burton carry-on backpack pictured above is made from similar durable material, also has a dedicated compartment for a smaller laptop, and at only 1.2 kilograms, is about half the weight of the Lowepro wheeled pack.

Since I’m already in Asia, I had to use the carry-on I already had — a padded Moleskine weekender duffel bag that converts into backpack.

And sometimes what you already have needs to be pared down to make it less lofty. My empty bag was close to 2 kilograms already, but with some modifications, I brought the weight down to 1.4 kilograms. Here’s how I accomplished that, and how you can as well if your current carry-on is pushing you into overweight territory:

  • Removed the shoulder strap
  • Removed the backpack straps as well and used only the grab handle on the side
  • Removed the custom name tag and lock that came with the bag
  • Took out any unnecessary padding (clothes wrapped around your camera, laptop or other electronics will do the same job.)

Coming back from the conference was where things went south. Although I take photos of business cards and brochures so they end up in the cloud instead of being bogged down with paper (the cloud — look into it. HUGE fan of the cloud), I still end up with a mix of souvenirs and swag that put me over the limit.

Luckily, this is Asia, so most cities are rife with cheap knock-off bags. And Luang Prabang was no exception. I found a wafer-thin North Face (North Faux?) bag at Dara Market for the princely sum of 150,000 KIP (about $24 Canadian) to take the overflow. Okay maybe one of the straps broke already, and I do struggle with one of the zippered compartments (it wants to zig when I want it to zag) but it did get me and my newfound purchases back in one piece to Bangkok. If you’re in the market for an honest-to-goodness actual legit North Face backpack, Best Buy Canada carries them now too.

Hard-sided Carry-on vs. Soft-sided Carry-on

Given a choice between hard-sided luggage and soft-sided luggage, I always opt for soft-sided. It’s much more forgiving when trying to cram in your belongings, and it’s much more malleable if you’re forced to prove your bag fits your airline’s carry-on dimensions at the check-in counter.

Plus soft-sided tends to weigh a heckuva lot less than hard-sided. And isn’t more of your stuff instead of more of some stupid suitcase a good thing?

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6 comments - add one
  1. Hi Raymond,

    You would have smacked me. And that would be OK; I deserved it with my tiny little carry on backpack, laptop, tablet and phone, and little else. I trick it out a little for long haul flights – need sweat shirts and pants shoved in the little backpack – but spending so much time in the air or on the road I go totally minimal with carry on stuff.

    Super tips. Thanks for sharing 🙂


    1. I doubt I would have smacked you Ryan, but I’m unpredictable at times, so who knows. 🙂

      I’m doing a lot of slow travel lately, so taking along a few creature comforts with me is in the cards. It was a great exercise to attempt carry-on only though!

      Hope all is well in your world!

  2. Hey

    Wow, love the theme, style and ‘feel’ of this blog – so unique, well done!

    Cheers for all the great articles on here (it’s gonna take some time to get through reading them though) and your unique take is refreshing.

    Love in particular this carry on packing guide – as I’m one of those that just can’t sort this out. I’ve even had to buy a bigger case because it’s such a struggle. I’ve previously managed to smuggle up to 19kg in a Go Ruck GR2 – but that’s totally not the point! Time to go down, rather than up 🙂

    Your tips will help and I’m rethinking now my carry on strategy…

    Cheers, and have a lovely day !


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