In a recent post, we talked about the 7 reasons why I opt to travel with a carry-on size bag only.
Sometimes it’s a rollerbag. Sometimes it’s a 40L backpack. But it’s ALWAYS carry-on size.
Now, I know there are a lot of you who think this is impossible for you. But truly, if I can do it, so can you. Here’s how.
10 Tips for Traveling with a Carry-On Only
Think of everything you pack in terms of: 1) how much space it takes up, and 2) how much it weighs.
Always opt for the smallest, most lightweight items. That includes even tiny items like power converters, cameras, chargers and makeup. (HINT: you don’t need all your makeup!) I even use an inflatable neck pillow, because it takes up far less space than a stuffed one, and I swap out blush brushes and such to optimize my packing space.
Along those lines, never bring full bottles of OTC medication and other goods, if you can avoid it. They are often far larger than the pills inside, wasting space in your bag.
You can also always put cosmetics into smaller containers.
If you don’t use something on one trip, eliminate it the next.
Travel, learn, and adjust. If you didn’t use something, no matter how small, cut it from your future travels. Strive to never bring more than you need–really, really whittle it down. This is part of the fun of travel: realizing what you really need, and letting go of what you don’t. And, hey, buying what you need if you find you need it after all.
There’s a saying among hikers of the Camino de Santiago: we carry our fears. It’s so true! But maybe it’s okay to leave some of those fears behind. Know what I’m saying? When packing, ask yourself if you really need it, or if you’re just afraid you’ll need it and have to go without. Anything you’re bringing “just in case” should get a second or third look.
Bring a daypack or purse that collapses down to almost nothing.
I have a Baggallini purse that takes up almost no space. If I am limited to one carry on or personal item by the airline, I pack my purse within my rollerbag. (Baggallini is a GREAT brand, developed by travel experts. I bought my bag years ago and it still looks brand new. This is not sponsored, just an honest truth.)
Skip luxury items.
When you’re trekking through Sa Pa, do you really need that flatiron? Bring one or two pieces of jewelry if you like, but pack with an eye toward practicality, for the most part. Pack only what you need, if possible.
When you only have a carry-on size rollerbag or backpack, this sounds impossible, right? Packing less than you need is an awesome travel tip. If you leave off an item or two on purpose, you can purchase an item or two as you travel. Leave a dress at home, buy one in Paris. Leave the scarf at home, buy one in Bali. Get it?
Keep in mind, too, you can often grab last-minute souvenirs at the airport on your way out. That way, you aren’t carrying it around in your travels.
Limit yourself to two pairs of shoes.
This is consistently a challenge for me, but it’s important as shoes are evil, nasty space gobblers! Choose shoes that are less bulky and more lightweight. You may need one pair for hiking and another that is both for urban walking and dining out.
Budget travel is not the time to pack your chunky wedge heels! Think comfort. Think portability. Think practicality.
Do not even think about packing shoes like these. “BUT INSTAGRAM!” Yeah, I know, sistah. To pack light, sacrifices must be made.
Wear your heaviest, bulkiest clothes on the flight.
If you try to pack a jacket or hoodie, you will never get your gear down to a single, carry-on bag. Wear the hikers through security. Wear your full-length pants and hoodie if you’re bringing them (though honestly, hoodies are a space hog). You may have to remove them when getting the TSA pat-down, but you’ll be able to pack more of what you need as a result. #worthit
Pack a wardrobe you can mix and match.
You’re not going to have a widely varied wardrobe when you pack with just a carry-on. So find thin, lightweight, layer-able options that you can mix and match. I go with a lot of black because it hides stains and can be dressed up or down, but I often throw in a couple of items with color for punch.
My favorite travel dress packs down to next to nothing, never wrinkles, wicks moisture and weighs very little. It’s this Columbia PFG Freezer Cooling Dress. You can even easily wash it in the sink and hang it overnight to dry. And, no, this is not an ad. We’re never sponsored, so we can always be honest! Back to our point: simple dresses are great for packing light, but especially this particular dress.
Wash clothes as you go.
In most countries, you can find access to either laundry services or laundry facilities. Particularly with long-term travel, laundry days usually hit when I need a break day anyway. Wash as you go and you can pack a week’s worth of clothes for two months of travel. I’m living proof.
Get rid of things as you travel.
I love when I no longer need something in my pack, because I can let it go to make room for something I do need! Don’t be afraid to donate clothing as you travel, or pass along items you no longer need to other travelers or your hosts. Keep in mind if you find something you must have, you can always ship it home, rather than carrying it with you in your travels.
There you have it! My 10 tips to help you travel with carry-on luggage only. Pack light, and you will travel far and fast.
Charish Badzinski is an explorer and award-winning features, food and travel writer. When she isn’t working to build her blog, she applies her worldview to her business, Rollerbag Goddess Global Communications, providing powerful storytelling to her clients.
Posts on the Rollerbag Goddess travel blog are never sponsored and have no affiliate links, so you know you will get an honest review, every time.
Find Charish on Twitter: @rollrbaggoddess, on Facebook at @rollrbaggoddess, and on Instagram at @rollerbaggoddess. You can also read more about Charish Badzinski’s professional experience in marketing, public relations and writing.
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