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How to pack carry-on

There are enormous benefits from fitting all your things into only a carry-on bag (or "cabin baggage" as the Brits say): no waiting at the airport to check or retrieve your luggage, no hassle with porters at the pier, and no risk of lost luggage.

That said, fitting everything in carry-on is tough, especially with the airlines' strict restrictions on liquids (maximum of 100ml per bottle, and all bottles must fit in a 1 quart baggie).

But it can be done! Follow our tips, review our 7-Day Packing List, and you too can saunter directly from airplane to taxi stand.

Ten Tips for Minimalist Packing

  1. Think multi-use. A shawl will keep you warm and pretty on formal night, and works as a scarf on the plane. Similarly, use conditioner or soap instead of bringing separate shaving cream.
  2. Minimize liquids. Because the airlines restrict you to just one quart baggie of liquids, this is the toughest part. Buy travel or trial sizes of everything you use. Also look for things you can get in non-liquid form: facial wipes or beauty bars rather than face wash, a compact foundation rather than liquid make up.
  3. Maximize your luggage. Get the largest permitted carry-on you can -- but keep in mind that the rules are different for different airlines. (European and discount airlines are especially strict.) Also, if you are flying within the US you can bring both one piece of luggage and a "personal item." That can be a small handbag or something the size of a large briefcase. The latter will give you more room.
  4. Use every nook and cranny of your luggage. Stuff hosiery, socks, etc. into your shoes to use the space and help your shoes keep their shape.
  5. Fold everything, even your dirty laundry for the trip home. It's the best way to keep everything compact.
  6. Elegant basics are the most flexible. A black cashmere sweater is just as warm as a sweatshirt, but only the cashmere can go on either the shore excursion and into the dining room.
  7. Accessorize for variety. You can get away with packing just one formal dress if you choose something basic and accessorize. You might wear brightly-colored shawl one night, and glittering jewelry another. Similarly, a beautiful silk scarf takes up almost no space, but easily dresses up a basic sweater.
  8. Small is beautiful. Look for items that are compact. A tank top and shorts make fine pajamas and take up less space than a flannel nightgown. Knee-length is smaller than full-length.
  9. Launder onboard. If you use the list below you can pack for a 7-day cruise without doing any laundry. But for a longer cruise, send things the ship's laundry; it's a bit decadent, but cheaper than at most hotels. You can also hand-wash in your sink. No need to bring soap -- lingerie boutiques will tell you that shampoo is even better than Woolite. Virtually all ships have a laundry line over the bathtub or shower to dry your items.
  10. Scrutinize everything. Do I really need a second shawl? Will I really get around to reading that book on vacation? Set aside anything that is questionable. Only reconsider it once you have packed everything you absolutely need and can see how much space (if any!) you have left over.

7-Day Packing List

One of our members, PJ, provided the following list based on her extremely light packing. It is based on a warm-weather cruise.


  • Black cashmere sweater. Warm and versatile.
  • Black fleece jacket. Rugged and warm on its own. Very warm if layered over the sweater, which is useful if you start your trip somewhere cold. Patagonia brand jackets look nice and have secure inner pockets.
  • Black skirt for informal evenings
  • Long-sleeved button-down shirt x2, good on their own or as cover-ups over a swim suit or tank top
  • Black long-sleeved knit shirt x2
  • Tank tops x4
  • Blouses x2, for informal evenings
  • Jeans x1
  • Beach capris x1
  • Hosiery x3, socks x4, undergarments x7
  • Swim suit
  • Pajamas: tank top, shorts
  • Black walking shoes. As comfortable as sneakers, but look nice enough to wear throughout the ship
  • Flip-flops. For the beach and pool
  • Black high heels for all evenings
  • Elegant black cocktail dress. Bias-cut, crushable, non-iron
  • Elegant green cocktail dress (not strictly necessary)
  • Jewelry set (necklace, earrings, bracelet)
  • Shawl
  • Silk scarf
  • Sun hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Regular glasses

Liquids: what goes in the 1 quart baggie

  • Contact lens solution, travel size
  • Moisturizer, small bottle of expensive stuff
  • Sunblock SPF 55
  • Contact lenses, two sets, disposable
  • Lip balm
  • Skin cream
  • Hair products, salon size (ie, small)
  • Conditioner, travel size
  • Toothpaste, travel size

Vanity kit

  • Brush (or comb, if pressed for space)
  • Razor, eyelash curler
  • Cleansing facial wipes
  • Toothbrush, floss
  • Vitamins, aspirin, band-aids


  • Rolling bag
  • Backpack, to carry electronics. This is the one "personal item" the airlines allow in addition to the rolling luggage
  • Beach bag, packed into luggage
  • Secure money pouch, hidden
  • Plastic bags x2 for shoes and laundry, packed into luggage


  • Laptop. Lenovo x61s. It's under 2lbs, hardy, and has a very bright screen. Charger.
  • Digital camera. Charger
  • Mobile phone / PDA. USB charger, which is smaller than the regular charger


  • Passport
  • Cruise tickets or printed confirmation
  • Wallet
  • Keys
  • (airline tickets are usually electronic)

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