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The Art of the Carry-On

All I need for a 5 day trip to Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

All I need for a 5 day trip to Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

We here at No Kids like to think we have mastered the art of the carry-on. We know there are those who hear our words of advocacy and will never know its truth, but we promise the word of the carry-on is less is more. More time, less hassle, fewer fees. I can’t remember the last time we went on a trip for a week or less and felt the need to pack more than a rolling carry-on and one personal item (usually a camera bag for me, Amanda totes our little blue backpack with all of our flag patches).

You need to follow a few rules to make carry-on life work. The first rule of carry-on is it’s got to be a carry on. Do not try to sneak some oversized backpack or suitcase past the gate; it won’t fit in the over head, you’ll try to make it fit, hold up the line and just look like an asshole to the rest of the passengers. Here’s a quick list of the measurements broken down by airline.

United Airlines, American Airlines, and Delta – 22”x9”x14” (Yes, The Wheels Count!)

Alaska Airlines 24” x 10” x 17”

Frontier Airlines 24” x 10” x 16”

JetBlue 24” x 10” x 16”

Southwest 24” x 10” x 16”

Virgin America 24” x 10” x 16”

You’ll want to try to keep the weight to 25 pounds or less.

Your personal item should be smaller than your carry-on. United Airlines actually limits the size to 17” x 9” x 10”. The rule of thumb is that it must fit under the seat in front of you, because it has to be stowed for take-off and landing.

When you’re choosing a carry-on or personal item, make it something durable. I once had to listen to a lady complain how she didn’t want her bag placed in the overhead or under the seat because she didn’t want it scratched. I joined the flight attendant in some dramatic eye rolling.


I generally try to pack light, by accepting that I am an over-packer at heart. After all, the first step in overcoming any problem is admitting to yourself that it is a problem.

I take only the clothes needed, and tend to wear the same outfit to and from the destination. I suggest trying to find outfits that are multipurpose, too. I like to pack a pair of trunks or slacks that are good for the pool and for walking around town without looking like I’m in a swim suit. I am also a proponent of getting laundry done at your destination.  It doesn’t matter if you need go to a laundromat, which is an interesting cultural experience in itself, or send out one or two garments with the hotel valet.  The odds are that what you end up spending at the laundromat or the valet will still be less than the fee many airlines charge for a checked bag.

I also try not to take a lot of gear. I’m a photographer, so it’s easy for me to over-pack my cameras and lenses.  I’ve learned something over the years, unless it’s exotic or a once-in-a-lifetime trip, just taking the body and a wide-angle lens is usually enough. For snapshots my phone does a pretty good job. The same goes for books, whether it be a paperback or journal, I try my best not to take them and rely on e-readers. Again, I can use my phone to dictate my journal entries then print or copy them over when we get home. A great reason for limiting what you take is because it is less to worry about leaving behind on your way home.

So, for your sanity and your pocketbook, pack light.


About No Kids, Will Travel

In the eyes of their friends and family, Amanda and Zeke are a young jet setting couple without any real responsibility. In real life, the stress of work and raising a kitten push them to flee reality at every opportunity. The "lack of obligation" gives them the chance to explore the world.

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