Carry-On Only: Everything You Need to Know to Avoid Checking a Bag

This is Beanca. Beanca is an expert traveler.

Be like Beanca.


Many of us have seen as well as taken part in the current increase in the Black travel movement. Mix it in with careers that allow us to work remotely or include travel for multiple days at a time leaves a lot of young millennials spending days or even weeks living from airport to airport, on the road, or somewhere abroad.   We rotate outfits from bags in our hotel rooms, Airbnb’s, trunks, or even balconies overlooking foreign lands.

After I spent six days in Colombia dragging luggage around that was twice my size which caused Beanca great disdain by the way, she showed me the holy grail of packing methods. I was once a "check my bag and pack everything I own" type traveler but I am glad to say I have been delivered and life is better over on this side of the pasture. 

Twitter is filled with stories of late bags, luggage not making it on the flight, and being caused to spend an eternity trying to retrieve belongings. When Beanca became one of those horror stories she decided that it was time for a change. In 2010 she was accepted into a study abroad program at The University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. Faced with being gone for seven months, Beanca did what most of us would do: she packed everything she owned. After nearly 24 hours of travel and an eternity at baggage claim, she was informed that her bag was missing. For comfort, she was given a $25 stipend to power through an undisclosed amount of time (it was really just 14 hours, but it was enough to dramatically scar her).

Eight years and countless trips both domestically and internationally later, she altered her packing philosophy. From 3-day weekly work trips to extended international travel..She. Doesn’t. Check. Bags.  

Why is Beanca sharing these tips with you? 

  1. To help you get in/out of the airport quickly as possible. Your time is essential.
  2. Avoid bag check fees. Save those coins
  3. We don’t love em and we don’t trust em (read the above Australia story again for a refresher). You are bringing your best stuff on a trip...why would you put those items in the hands of a stranger?
  4. What you read below will sound like it is the absolute MOST, but the real point here is to do the prep work to make the annoying parts of your trip painless by saving you money and energy to focus on having fun.

Beanca's Guide To Expert Packing

The week before/of it’s important to knock some tasks out so you aren’t scrambling to do everything right before you leave.

  • Know your Luggage:
    • Pay attention to carry-on allowances. Generally speaking there is a standard Domestic Size carry-on and one for International travel. They will vary by airline, but in Beanca's experience, she has only had to box an agent for forcing her to gate check her international carry-on bag once.
  • Your Style Approach Matters
    • Packing in the same color schemes, materials, and types of items will get you more bang for your buck by being able to mix and match, build outfits, and have your clothes do double duty on your trip


It’s important to get  a few errands out of the way to make sure you have everything that you need

  1. Pouches
  2. Tiny travel size liquid containers. These are also very lit for your gym bag.
  3. RX refills
  4. Drugstore makeup


List, List, List: Make day-by-day, occasion-by-occasion, list of every outfit you plan on including in your bag. Mix and match staple items with one or two special pieces. (there is a handy dandy packing list in my Resource Store by the way)

  1. Write the list by hand to help you slow down and really think, look and edit it a couple of times.
  2. Include annoying stuff like workout clothes and sleep/lounge attire.
  3. Think about IG worthy photo opportunities because we all love doing it for the ‘gram and when you will likely be bumming around most of the day. Plan accordingly.

SERIOUSLY BE HONEST HERE…if you’re going to a beach, guarantee you will spend a couple days exclusively in swimwear and cover-ups…do you need a complete fashion nova outfit for those days? Probs no.


  1. Seeing all of your outfits laid out can allow you to have a good idea on how well your packed pieces harmonize with one another as well as being able to reevaluate your needs.
  2. Pull everything out on a flat surface and stack by clothing type (pants, shirts, dresses/jumpsuits, lounge/gym, shoes, etc.).
  3. One best practice has been to try to establish equal height piles of each clothing type. For the most part, that means you can do some solid mixing and matching without having too many of one item vs. another. 
  4. Packing cubes – She gives these two thumbs up. They help contain and section off items in your bag. Beanca suggests that you use them for undergarments and then throw in an empty one for dirty clothes throughout the trip.
  5. Shoes. This part sucks. There are no recommendations other than prayer and restraint. Especially if heels are required.


  1. Let it marinate and reevaluate again!
  2. Remove things/add things and remove things again.
  3. Think back through outfits and occasions…For example, one of her most recent trips was a family trip to Spain and she needed pajamas. She forgot to lay out pajamas since she usually doesn't wear them…take that as you will.
  4. Remove your plane fit from the stacks – LAYERS!
  5. On the top – Tank + t-shirt + light sweater + scarf (even in the dead of summer), and jacket if winter/fall…give yourself the option to put on and/or remove or add clothing in unpredictable plane temperatures. But more importantly, if it’s on your body it’s not in your bag. So MORE ROOM! Plus that’s four mix and match items you have for your trip. So boom.
  6. On the bottom - Leggings (or gray sweatpants for our Print Papis out there) are ideal for comfort/overnight but wear jeans if the trip is short enough because they are so bulky.
  7. Don’t wear sandals on a plane. Idc idc idc. Don’t. Once again, wear your largest/bulkiest pair of close-toed shoes (slides, gyms shoes, booties, riding boots). If you’re wearing tights/nice socks, throw a big fluffy pair of “plane socks” in your personal bag.



  1. She zips all of her clothes in the contained side of her suitcase. There is no theory or opinion here…she rolls, she folds, she stuffs; she even defies physics to make it fit. 
  2. Shoes go around the exterior of the open side of her suitcase with the soles towards the exterior sides to avoid as much gross outside stuff from touching things as possible


All extraneous items go in pouches; nothing hangs loose in her bag. It helps you quickly put your hands on things, get through security MUCH faster, avoid spills, and above all stay organized while you’re literally running around the world. Her break is as follows: 

In the suitcase (on the side with the shoes)

  1. Hair – As the natural hair goddess and champion of twists outs that she is, a ton of products are required.  She doubles up on travel sized containers for each of her gels, styling, and conditioner products. Brush, scarf, 500 bobby pins that she will lose, etc. are also in here.
  2. Face/Body/Toiletries – RT travel-sized containers. Remember, worst case, you can buy most products anywhere…like lotion. Everywhere has lotion…at a minimum, they have coconut oil. STOP. PACKING. FULL SIZE. LOTION. REQUIRING. YOU. TO. CHECK. BAGS. Or don’t, and travel with Beanca so she can use yours. K thanks.

Her personal bag is where the magic happens. She specifically got her staple one was from a work event that she organized so it was free .99! but Madewell, H&M, etc. all make similar totes.

  1. Makeup (Because you should always be able to pull your face together)- Try to supplement your usual high-end items with some drugstore makeup, so God forbid anything happens in transit you won’t be heartbroken. Have you ever broken an expensive bottle of foundation or lost a NARS concealer? Exactly.
  2. Jewelry (Keep your valuables on you…just in case you get played and have to gate check)
  3. Purse Tings – pens, tea, Advil, etc.
  4. Cords – This is a gem! She uses her headphone case to stuff all her chargers and external batteries; her headphones are usually on her boom. She usually needs to charge everything the night before meaning this is something you can gather the morning or day of. 

Don’t close the bag…you’re going to have to open it again…I promise…so don’t close it.


  1. B*TCH YOU GUESSED IT…REEVALUATE.  here is nothing more upsetting than not touching an outfit/shoe you have been lugging around. THIS IS YOUR LAST CHANCE.
  2. Bet ya forgot some things. 
  3. Stuff the personal bag. 
  4. Laptop (only if you’re going to FOR REAL use it)? Camera? Passport? Chargers that you used the night before? Wallet? Load it in.

  5. Check for your passport…again.

  6. Misc: 

  • Carry a reusable water bottle and ask the flight attendants to refill the entire thing…often. It will keep you from getting dehydrated on long flights
  • That hair scarf that you probably put in your hair pouch but you know you’re about to knock out on that overnight flight? Yeah…keep it close.
  • Keep make-up wipes to remove your make-up off before boarding and then lather on all the face moisturizer/oils possible. 


  1. RT: Check for your passport...again.