International Woman Traveling with a 16in Carry-on

I travel and a seriously good amount.  I will present at about 35-40 events, attend company functions/meetings and this year with a considerable amount of those outside of the Denver area, this means I’ll be on a plane around 5-6 trips per month.

Women commonly pack more, but I receive a few comments per my average three day trip on how I’m able to travel with a 16 inch carry-on.  I’m picking up new tricks every day, but the one thing I’ve come to learn, once you find a great travel trick, you have a tendency to look no further so I thought I’d share and hopefully it will provide value to others who travel.  These tips and tricks aren’t just for the women travelers, either, so guys, please do read on.  I’ll make sure to include links to anything I’m able to as I build out this post and may revisit it to add updates as I come across new products or tips.


So it took me a while, but as varied as my trips can be, I have two suitcases and two backpacks.  They’re all carry-on size, as I would sooner give up my right hand than my baggage to the airlines.  I shop primarily at TJ Maxx and when in Europe, I love looking around as they have the most awesome bags that are FUNCTIONAL and small.  I hate waste and bling will annoys the heck out of me… 🙂

Samsonite 20X14X9in standard international carry-on.  This is for 1-2 week trips. I bought this bag in Vienna and drug it around all day while sight seeing and I’ll never find another one like it until I go to Europe again.  It’s light, has fantastic wheels and has enough room for two compression bags of clothes, a second set of boots, all my toiletries and the front pockets have enough room for liquids for the security check.  It is only 9 inches deep, so it can fit into smaller, overhead bins, but is quite stable.  I wish US bag companies sold the awesome bags you find in every European retailer.

Swissgear 16 inch carry-on.  This is my bag I take on my 2-4 day trips.  In comparison to the other bags this size, it has significantly more room in the main compartment.  I can pack two medium size or one large size compression bag of clothes, shoes, all my toiletries and the front pocket is large enough to hold my liquids if I need to pull them out, (I have TSA Pre-check) or other accessories.  It has a top compartment in the front for tickets and other items I need quick access to.  I picked up this bag at TJ Maxx for $70 and the closest I can find online is the 20 inch version, same color, but if you take two wheels and four inches off it, you get the idea…:)

Belkin Backpack  I have arthritis and I’m not going to heft around a huge backpack.  This backpack has an expansion zipper if I need to pack more, but the space, organization and the features make it my favorite backpack yet.  It’s really slim and can fit under the airline seat in front of me without having challenges getting anything out of it.

My Travel Necessities

Compression bags-  These are the bomb.  You can roll up your clothes, compress the bag down and get back up to 40% of the space if you just simply packed your clothes.  I always take two compression bags and then use one for laundry during the trip.  This serves two purposes:

  1.  Separates clean from dirty
  2.  Makes unpacking very easy.  Dump the dirty into the hamper when you get home and you’re already 1/2 unpacked.

The Trtl travel pillow–  This is one of my newest editions to my travel.  I’m a pillow snob-  I admit it and complain about flat pillows at hotels all the time, but on trying different travel pillows, had just given up.  They were filled with air, memory foam that compressed or seriously-  what is up with the foam beads??  I just don’t get it.  The ostrich pillow and the inflatable that’s almost good enough as a raft just haven’t cut it and then I found the Trtl.  This pillow may look funny, but it’s incredibly functional.  It’s small, (fits in that small pocket in the front of my 16in carry-on) requires no inflation and really does work well.  It’s like a fleece scarf that has a well designed velcro enclosure and a pocket that has a support system in it that’s similar to a lumbar support for your back, except it’s for your neck.  You can wrap this around your neck, secure it and you then are able to go to sleep without having to worry about waking up with a crink in your neck.  I’ve only had it for three trips now and folks ask me about it every time.  It is AWESOME.

Collapsible Water Bottle-  I always have one in my backpack.  They keep me hydrated when on the plane and I don’t have to worry about those stupid plastic cups and turbulence.  When I’m at conferences, it’s almost impossible to find water fountains and I don’t have to beg anyone for a water bottle, plus if you’re in Europe, a lot of times, they don’t understand American’s obsession with bottles of water.  When you’re jet lagged, water intake can really help, so instead of frustration, this just removes a challenge.

Small LED light on Backpack Zipper–  This has come in handy so often and I don’t even remember where I got it from.  Its very similar to the one in the link I’ve provided and I use it on planes at night, when I’m looking for items in my bag, trying to find keys for rooms, etc.

Revlon Cuticle scissors–  I did have these confiscated in Singapore, but surprisingly, never before on any of my trips.  They’re kept in my non-liquid toiletries bag and I can’t count how often I’ve needed these or someone at an event has needed to borrow them.  They’re small and they actually cut unlike cheap ones in sewing kits.  I’ve cut thick plastic and even trimmed my bangs with them.  Get the Revlon ones and you can purchase them in most Walgreens, Targets and other stores in the US.

Pop Fold Brush–  Its surprising how sharp a brush can be when pushing into your compression bags or how annoying it can be to pack it into netted pockets into a suitcase.  I love this one because it’s full size when unfolded, so it works to blow dry straight my hair, but it’s easy to fold into a small size and throw into the pockets without concern.

Thermacell Curling Iron and Straightener–  Having a ton of adapters when you go over seas can take up a lot of space.  Even worse is when your curler or straightener overwhelms them.  Hair dryers are easy to come by and I don’t recommend packing one, but what do you do about the post dry option for professional looking hair?  Thermacells are AWESOME and a cartridge lasts a long time.  Think of it as a cigarette lighter powered product.  The curling iron/straightener and cartridges are small and you’re allowed to take one cartridge in your carry on baggage!  Even if their’s no plugs in the bathroom at the hotel, I can still do my hair… 🙂

Best Travel Containers-  I found that you don’t actually need that much product and to have smaller than the 3oz. travel bottles worked best.  I also want to take my products with me.  Changing products to something other than what you’re used to in one of the quickest ways to ask for discomfort in the way of skin reactions, illness, etc.  Sephora has a 1.25 Far & Away Silicone Tube that is an incredible size.  I use this for shampoo, face wash, etc.  This is less than 1/2 the size of the 3oz tubes, so you can get more in that quart size bag!  They also have it in a 3oz size for, (me) conditioner, body lotion and other larger need items, but 3oz silicone tubes are easy to come by, it’s these small ones I covet.  I also got sick of plastic cosmetic containers breaking on me.  It was commonly the cover and then I spent tons of time cleaning up my toiletry bags.  eBags now sells the great GoTubbs cosmetic containers!  These will not break and they won’t let you down.

Power Banks-  As we discussed earlier, power adapters can be a pain.  At least a number of places are just going USB and you can charge where you need, but what if you can’t?  I like to take a slim power bank, anywhere from 12500-20800mah with me on international trips and charge my phone and tablet off of it, then just charge power bank when needed.  I can commonly get 6-10 charges off the power bank and may only need to charge it once over the trip.

iPad, not iBooks-  I love books.  I work in my library at home and love the looks and the beauty of the pages.  I don’t want to be hefting them around in my backpack or be limited to one book on a plane or layover.  My iPad mini has Kindle and Texture on it.  I have a number of books and I have a $10/month plan for unlimited magazines from Texture.  I also have a Napster music account for unlimited music, (nope, still not an iTunes person) to drown out any children, (or adults) who have “run out of quarters” in their travels… 🙂

Earphones Bigger Than Your Bag?-  I had a fantastic set of Cleer alloy structured headphones, but just couldn’t justify lugging them around, but wanted the noise canceling benefit they provided in a set of earbuds.  I know, you’re saying it can’t be done, but it looks like the Scottish hate listening to others, because they figured it out.  RHA makes some awesome earbuds!  I love the T-series and after misplacing my T10 for over a month, I broke down and purchased a T20i, (of course, that’s when I discovered the T10’s at the Longmont office where they’d fallen out of my backpack…. :))  They’re metal, so you can count on them taking a serious beating.  The sound quality is awesome and the noise canceling is incredibly impressive.  I just upgraded to the iPhone 8 and I seriously can’t talk myself into going to the MA-series wireless as I love the T-series ones too much.  Damn adapter.

When I have to switch bags, I simply switch over my compression bags, straightener/curling iron, smart chargers, three, small toiletry bags over, (one is my liquids, one makeup and the third is non-liquids) over to the new bag.  Other than a few more clothes or another pair of shoes, maybe a power adapter for a longer trip, there really isn’t much of a difference in the packing routine.


TSA Precheck

If you haven’t, definitely get TSA Precheck and if the site is working, consider Global Entry, (it appears they just updated it again, so I’d say set it up now!)  If Precheck lines are getting long and Clear is available in your area, it may be worth it, as it has been for Tim and I.  With this combination, we skip the precheck line, then go directly into the precheck security.  We’re commonly through security, even on the busiest days in less than 5 minutes.

Boots, Schmoots

People look at my boots and think I’m a glutton for punishment, but many airports have increased the sensitivity on the sensors and more people are having to take their shoes off even in precheck.  I have invested in combat boots that I can take off with one hand.  They untie easily and I’m simply dealing with the reality of the lacking common sense in security at this time.  I’m one to simply be prepared and make sure that my liquids are easily accessible, the I don’t have anything in my pockets, etc. that can trip up the alarms.  Be like a boy scout, be prepared and just get through the line.  Don’t hold others up with lack of preparation.

The same goes when you’re getting on the plane.  My tablet, water bottle, Trtl pillow and earphones are in the front pocket of my bag.  My suitcase is easy to slip into the overhead compartment and I can slip into my seat and be settled in less than 15 seconds.  Maybe its just me, but I try to be polite to my fellow traveler and get out of other folks way when in security and when boarding and debarking the plane.

Hopefully this offers some tips others can take advantage of and I hope it brings you peace on the hectic road of life and airlines…. 🙂