For those of you who value utility over fashion, here is the unvarnished truth about what my wheelie looks like when you open it . . . and how yours can look that way too.
1. Use a carry-on with few structured compartments or other doodads.
I’m all for manifold zippered pockets in a laptop bag, but I’ve found them-along with internal straps, sleeves, hangers, and other organizers-to be a drawback in a wheelie. Wide-open space lets you squeeze more in and weighs less. My 22-inch Travelpro Rollaboard — which I have been forced to check only rarely, on certain flights between or within foreign countries — has external expandable zippered compartments, and that’s about it. In those outside pockets I place garments that I will need easy access to in transit-typically my jacket, sweater (for warmth on the plane), and pashmina shawl (which doubles as an airplane blanket) — and that I can throw on, should the bulging pocket ever cause the carry-on to exceed the allowed dimensions (not all airports, airlines, security stations, and gates use the same size restrictions or enforce them consistently).
2. Think of the zip-top bag as the Swiss Army Knife of your packing system.
All of the stuff that other travelers place in the aforementioned internal compartments, I place in Ziploc bags. One holds my liquids, gels, and creams in containers of three ounces or less. Another holds dry toiletries, another my makeup, another electronic accessories (cables, chargers, anything I don’t need at my fingertips in my handbag). I carry a couple of spare Ziplocs for use during the trip-say, for holding a wet bathing suit. If I’ve made purchases and need to free up space in the wheelie, I’ll roll up some wrinkle-free clothing (e.g., a wool sweater), stick it in a gallon-size Ziploc, squeeze out every bit of air, and — like magic — the sweater’s size is halved. I even fill a sandwich-size Ziploc with stuff I may need during the flight (eyedrops, nasal spray, hand cream, lip balm, earplugs, eye mask, vitamin C-my version of a business-class amenities kit) and place it inside the Ziploc that holds my three-ounce liquids, then remove it post-security and place it in my handbag for the flight. When I’m not on the road, the Ziplocs holding my travel-size toiletries sit at home in the closet. I never empty them; I just save them for the next trip.