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How I Manage to Fit 10 Different Outfits Into One Carry-On

And no, it's not the rolling method.

July 13, 2021
Photo by MJ Kroeger

In May, I traveled by plane for the first time in more than a year. Some parts were like riding a bike: keeping pace with the security line shuffle, timing my arrival to the airport so I had just enough time to grab a coffee, and chewing on gum as we ascended to keep my ears from popping.

Other parts… not so smooth. I forgot to take the portable charger out of my suitcase before boarding (and held up the line trying to pull it out), I developed a cold on the way back likely because my body wasn’t used to all the germs, and most notably, I lost the ability to consolidate a week’s worth of clothes into one carry-on.

“Pack a capsule wardrobe,” they said, and, “Don’t bring anything you don’t usually wear.” Okay, fine. But to that I say: what is the point of vacation if not to wear things I’d never wear anywhere else? I’m a different person when I travel—I try new foods, I take midday naps, I talk to strangers. So why on earth would I wear the same leggings, Birkenstocks, and T-shirt combo I wear every day?

This presents a challenge, of course, because outlandish wearables rarely add up to multiple functional outfits. They’re more likely to take up more space for less purpose, but there’s a not-so-secret weapon I’ll employ time and time again—packing cubes.

You’ve heard about them before. Every luggage company has its own version, and I’m sure people you know swear by them. But now—when traveling doesn’t come as naturally to us as it used to—is the time to finally break down and get some. They’re lightweight, keep your clothing organized, fit way more than in the suitcase itself, and are (usually) durable enough to last a thousand trips over.

I have a set of five packing cubes from Calpak, and while they barely got any use in 2020, I’m reminded all over again why they’re an absolutely essential part of packing. They’re made to be used in Calpak luggage, but I use them in my diminutive Away carry-on to great effect.

The largest one at 17 inches wide holds an astounding amount and takes up one side of a clamshell carry-on. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I’ve stuffed 10 dresses of various lengths into this one zippered bag—and TBH, I probably could’ve squeezed in another two. The next largest size at 15 inches takes up about half of one side of my suitcase, and is perfect for a couple rolled pairs of jeans, tops, and pajamas. Then there are two 12-inch cubes, of which I usually only end up using one. These are perfect for the 36 pairs of socks and underwear I routinely pack (just in case), or two to three pairs of shoes. Finally, a 13-inch pouch that’s lined with water-resistant fabric holds every ridiculous travel-sized toiletry I decide to bring, and then some.

You might be thinking: can’t I just roll all my clothes up and save space that way? No! I’ve done it, and it doesn’t save nearly as much space as separating everything into cubes first. The cubes act almost like vacuum bags, compressing the clothes inside into their smallest forms so you’re less likely to have to sit on your suitcase just to zip it shut. Plus, they serve the added bonus of keeping all your items neatly organized into sections, so you’re not rifling through every last article of clothing just to find your sleep shirt.

If you’re still on the fence about investing in a set of packing cubes (please, hop down onto the right side of the fence with me) take a gander through the following space-saving, sanity-preserving, clothes-organizing beauties below.

1. Calpak Packing Cubes 5 Piece Set, $62

Photo by Calpak

2. Paravel Packing Cube Quad, $65

Photo by Paravel

3. Away The Insider Packing Cubes, $45

Photo by Away

4. Container Store Heather Grey Packing Cubes Set of 3, $24.99

Photo by The Container Store

5. July Packing Cells 8 Pack, $85

Photo by July

Do you use packing cubes when stuffing your carry-on? Tell us your packing tips below!

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Carole Kenney
    Carole Kenney
  • SophieL
  • witloof
  • Mirella
  • Lynn D.
    Lynn D.
When I'm not writing & editing for Home52, I'm likely to be found DIY-ing a new piece of furniture (or restoring an old one), hanging things on the wall in my apartment, or watching hours of vintage RHONY.


Carole K. January 16, 2022
I’ve gotten quite a few of these free, when donating to certain causes. They’re not fancy, but they have zippers and one side aeration. I find them very handy when packing.
SophieL October 5, 2021
I've been using Eagle Creek's packing cubes since the '90s and love them. Highly recommend.
witloof July 13, 2021
I'm a big fan of packing cubes, and several times a packing cube full of clothing made a great pillow when I was on a night train in Europe. I love the North Face ones with two sides so you can keep your clean and dirty clothes separate.
Caroline M. July 14, 2021
This is so smart!! Next time I'm on Amtrak or even a plane I'm using this trick!
Mirella July 13, 2021
The concepts are sound but I think that those are outrageously priced packing cubes ........ triple the price of what you would pay at brick and mortar stores chain stores and possibly quadruple online. This is not like purchasing a high quality saucepan where you get more if you pay more.......
Caroline M. July 14, 2021
Hi Mirella! They are on the pricey side, but I do actually think it's similar to investing in a nice pan if you travel a lot and need to fit all your items in a carry-on!
Lynn D. July 13, 2021
I wanted to see the 10 different outfits!
AntoniaJames July 13, 2021
Me, too. I thought this was about how to create 10 outfits with X number of pieces. (Based on what went into the rolling bag in the article, I'm guessing you could make 30+ outfits if the items + accessories were carefully chosen.)

And let's not forget, the number of outfits you can get into a suitcase using packing cubes also depends on the fabric and construction of the articles of clothing. For those who prefer to wear more structured clothes (essential in many international business contexts, when appearing before most courts of appeals and supreme courts (and trial courts in some jurisdictions), etc.), the cubes may be helpful, but they don't provide quite the benefits you'd get when traveling with lots of lightweight knit garments.

That said, I found the article interesting and helpful. ;o)
Caroline M. July 14, 2021
Lol! Maybe I'll share some pics from my upcoming trip to Mexico ;)