Mind And Body

De-Stress Your Next Vacation by Packing the Perfect Carry-On

Vacations can be a great way to relieve stress and improve your health, but not if your baggage causes you emotional baggage. Amidst a surge of lost suitcases in airports around the globe, it may be time to simplify the way you travel.

Carry-on luggage is a simple, time-efficient option for your next vacation. The size limits may be challenging, but think of all the freedom you’ll have as you can skip the baggage claim and go straight to your destination.  

The Surprising Benefits of Taking a Vacation

Taking more paid vacation days is “positively associated with both overall health and life satisfaction,” according to a 2016 Canadian study of 3,451 workers. A smaller 2018 German study found that even a four-night vacation has instantaneous positive effects on a person’s well-being, including a reduction of perceived stress. Another study conducted in 2021 found that employees experienced a surge in creativity two weeks following a vacation.

A 2019 study found that Type 2 diabetes and stroke — both of which put people at risk of heart disease — decreased after a vacation. And a 2020 study shows that exposing yourself to diverse experiences and settings has a positive effect on your emotions; even traveling to a destination a short drive away can have lasting happy repercussions.

Tips for Smarter Travel

Despite the mental and emotional benefits of taking a vacation, lugging around an overloaded suitcase can turn a potentially rejuvenating trip into a nightmare. The possibility of lost checked luggage can add further stress to your travel. A recent report found that airlines mishandle six out of every 1,000 bags, so you have a small but real chance of dealing with a lost or delayed bag. Here are a few tips to consolidate your items into a carry-on and ensure your baggage experience goes smoothly. 

  • Get familiar with your airline’s carry-on policy. Visit the airline’s website and note the measurements for carry-on luggage, and then measure the height, width, and depth of your bag to make sure it will slide under your seat or into the overhead compartment as specified. Most airlines require a carry-on bag to be no larger than 22 inches by 14 inches by 9 inches.
  • A week before your scheduled vacation, make a list of items to pack. Consider using a free packing list organizer app. Wash any soiled clothing you may need and replenish your toiletries. Pack neutral-colored clothing, or a single color scheme, so you can mix and match pieces.
  • Wear your bulkiest items on the plane. Regardless of where you’re traveling, identify your heaviest, most awkward-to-pack outfit and make it your go-to travel ensemble. Bonus: Coats and jackets make terrific in-flight pillows!
De-Stress Your Next Vacation by Packing the Perfect Carry-On
  • Savvy travelers know to bring as few shoes as possible. Depending on the weather at your destination, sport a pair of stylish sneakers on the plane and pack either sandals or boots. Make sure you can easily remove your shoes for airport security.
  • Use packing cubes (reserve one for soiled clothing) or vacuum-seal your clothes to save space. Many vacuum storage bags come with a travel pump. Fold your clothes and put them in the bag, then vacuum out all the air.
  • Tuck a slim toiletry bag into the front pocket of your carry-on luggage. Airline passengers may travel with a quart-sized bag of toiletries in containers no larger than 3.4 ounces. Not sure if you’re allowed to bring a particular item in your carry-on bag? Check this list.

Shoppers, take heart! Flying with only a single carry-on bag shouldn’t curtail your love of finding and purchasing the perfect souvenirs. Just remember to mail them home.

Is Your Carry-On Up to the Challenge? If Not, Try These!

Ideally, your carry-on should be lightweight and durable. Look for a bag with plenty of compartments to keep small items organized, and opt for a small top pocket to hold your travel documents and credit cards as well as your phone, plus a padded pocket for your laptop so that you can quickly and easily remove it for TSA. You may want to opt for a polycarbonate hard shell roller bag that’s perfect for an airplane’s overhead compartments or a sturdy smaller suitcase that fits under the seat and has a hard-shell protective sleeve for your laptop.

If backpacks are more your style, look for one with a padded front pocket for easy removal of your laptop. If you crave a versatile backpack for airports and hiking trails alike, opt for a waterproof bag with comfortable straps and front and back padding. Techies may want to consider a travel backpack that comes with a power bank and built-in USB phone charger; just check with the individual airline for any restrictions on smart bags.

Perfect Your Posture

Whichever carry-on bag you choose, be mindful of your posture when you’re toting it. Wear both straps of a travel backpack instead of slinging it over one shoulder to prevent muscle strain. Lift with your knees and avoid twisting when carrying your luggage; turn your entire body in the direction you wish to go. When putting a carry-on into the overhead bin of an aircraft, first lift it onto the seat in front of you, and then use both hands to place it in the compartment.

Bon Voyage!

Downsizing from a heavy suitcase to a carry-on will simplify your vacation and, in turn, boost all the mental and emotional benefits that come from experiencing a new locale with fresh sights, sounds, and tastes.

By Melissa Hart

Melissa Hart is the author of Better with Books: 500 Diverse Novels to Ignite Empathy and Encourage Self-Acceptance in Tweens and Teens and the award-winning middle grade novel Avenging the Owl. She's contributing editor at The Writer Magazine and a Creative Writing instructor for the MFA in Creative Writing program at Southern New Hampshire University. WEB: