Leader of the carry-on pack: top tips for travelling light

By David Flynn, May 16 2014
Leader of the carry-on pack: top tips for travelling light

There's nothing like the freedom of flying with only one or two carry-on bags as your travel companion.

No checked luggage to slow you down. No waiting at baggage carousels or having your bags head to Hawaii when you're in Hong Kong.

You can walk straight off the plane, out of the airport and be on your way to your hotel, your first meeting or your first pre-dinner drink.

Here are some simple but smart ways to leave your cumbersome checked luggage behind and pack like a travel pro.


Start by investing in some non-iron or crease-resistant cotton business shirts from quality brands and retailers.

With cheap wrinkle-free shirts the treatment of the cotton or even the inclusion of artificial fibres can prevent the shirt from breathing, leaving you uncomfortable and sweaty.

The age-old technique for packing shirts – including long-sleeved business shirts – involved a combination of folding them with arms to the rear, and then rolling them from the bottom to the top.

It's incredibly efficient but not to everybody's taste.

“I don't believe in rolling clothes to create more space,” says Melbourne software engineer and frequent flyer Liam Rasmussen.

“It damages collars on business shirts. Instead I fold my shirts the same way you see in department stores.”

The Shirt Sleeve is a compact satchel designed for a neatly folded shirt and other accessories, while Eagle Creek's Pack-It folders is a larger shoulder-bag with room for several days' worth of shirts and pants packed wrinkle-free.


Don't pack your suit jacket. Wear it onto the flight, then have it hung in the wardrobe or gently folded and stowed in an overhead locker.

In economy, place it on top of your carry-on luggage instead of beside it, to avoid other passengers shoving their bag in and scrunching up your jacket.

If you do need to pack your jacket, there's a clever trick of folding one of the shoulders of your suit jacket inside the other to avoid wrinkles.

Check out the step-by-step guide at Black Lapel.

Adding a rolled-up T-shirt in the final half-fold will also prevent a crease from developing down the middle of the jacket.


Choose one pair of shoes that you can wear on the plane as well as to meetings and dinners. That's a tough call, especially for women! It requires shoes which look sharp and are exceptionally comfortable.

I favour slip-on shoes or dress boots with a little extra give around the sides, so I can breeze through airport security checkpoints and quickly slip them off once the flight begins.

Julius Marlow's Flight Path range are designed with the frequrnt flyer in mind; other brands which deftly merge comfort and style include Ecco and Geox.

If you've got room to pack shoes in your carry-on bag, make full use of the space inside them for your rolled-up socks, a small bag with your cufflinks or jewellery or other loose items.

For hitting the gym or even the running track while you're away, consider packing lightweight "bare running" shoes such as Vibram Five Fingers or 'bare running' equivalents from larger brands.

Use a zip-lock plastic bag to keep them separate from the rest of your clothes. If you forget to bring that bag, grab a shower cap form the hotel's bathroom.


Keeping liquids, aerosols and gels to under 100 millilitres is a given for overseas trips but also a good guideline for flights within Australia.

Next time you buy fragrances or skin-care lotions, ask if they can throw in some free samples – they're ideal for travel. (If you're seeking something more substantial, Jo Malone sells fragrances in a travel-friendly 30 millilitre size.)

Conventional wisdom is to never pack a toiletry bag with items that the hotel can supply, but there are exceptions to that rule.

Many women prefer to bring a small bottle of their own shampoo or conditioner, lest the hotel's product give their hair that crazed crack-addict look.

I always bring my own razor, having learnt from nicked, rashed and bloodied experience not to trust a hotel's largely price-driven choice.

Noise-cancelling headphones

As much as I love my Bose QC15 noise-cancelling cans, they simply demand too much room when I'm travelling in carry-on ninja mode.

For those shorter trips I swap to a pair of the more compact Bose QC20 noise-cancelling earbuds, which take up almost no more space than a standard iPhone headset.

Other brands to consider for space-saving sound including Etymotic, Sennheiser and Sony.

Double up

Airlines allow one carry-on piece of luggage and one "personal" bag, which can range from a purse to a laptop bag or small backpack.

Make the most of this by spreading your gear efficiently across both bags.

Adelaide-based engineer Gordon Noble, whose globe-trotting habits have earned him lifetime Gold frequent flyer status with Qantas, packs smaller items of clothing into plastic zip bags “from the local discount shop”.

Don't pack it, send it

Burdened by a bag-full of brochures or samples to hand out to clients you'll meet on your trip?

Instead of taking those "leave behind" materials with you as Evil Checked Luggage, have them sent directly from your office to the hotel via courier or parcel post.

First come, first served

Business travellers with frequent flyer status often enjoy priority boarding ahead of other passengers.

Take advantage of this to make an early claim on overhead bin space directly above your seat. It's almost a must on flights within America and Asia, and in any country during school holidays and long weekends.

If I'm travelling in economy, I always ask airline staff at the check-in desk or airline lounge how full the flight is.

The more passengers there are, the more likely I'll leave the lounge early and aim to be among the first on the plane to ensure there's room for my bags.

“Attach your frequent flyer baggage tags to your carry-on bags,” suggests Brisbane app developer Peter Loh.

“Gate personnel and flight crew are less likely to say something if they think your bag is slightly too big when they recognise your frequent flyer status.”

What are your top tips for travelling light and making the most of your carry-on luggage?

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David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.


17 Dec 2013

Total posts 51

I dunno, that crazed crack addict look can work sometimes. Sure does get you a lot of looks

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

05 Dec 2012

Total posts 20

On the non crease shirt subject, may I recommend www.mizzenandmain.com as a fantastic manufacturer of shirts, that are quality, non crease and stylish.

A question about packing toiletries.

Does anyone know why aerosols are required to be taken out for security checks when travelling domestic but not when departing Australia from international terminals?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

12 Jun 2013

Total posts 16

Great article David. One issue though: the link to The Shirt Sleeve doesn't appear to work.

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