There’s a lot of competition in the aviation industry forcing many airlines to slash ticket prices in order to make making travel more affordable. To combat these low base fares, airlines have started to charge for other services such as checked bags, food, drinks, baggage, and even advanced seat selection.
These changes bring a significant amount of additional income to airlines. However, we are primarily concerned about the question of, “What do end-users think about this practice?”
No one is happy with having to pay extra, especially when airfare is already a huge cost of most vacation budgets. One way you can curtail additional expenses is to travel with the least amount of luggage possible.
I’ve seen people check in multiple 50-pound suitcases while traveling across the world. I always think to myself, “What could they possibly be bringing with them across the world?” or “How long will they be gone for?”
I made it a goal to travel light and as minimalistic as possible on every single trip. Why? Because there are so many benefits to traveling light!
Benefits of Traveling With Only a Carry-On Bag
- Avoid checked baggage fees.
- Bypassing the airline kiosks upon departure.
- Having everything accessible to me throughout my flight.
- Not having to wait for my bag at the carousel.
- Not potentially losing or getting my bags destroyed in the carousel.
- Fewer belongings for thieves to steal.
- Easier onward travel.
- Packing and unpacking is an easier ordeal.
- Knowing exactly where everything is.
- Less weight and stuff to lug around town.
- Reduced stress thanks to minimalism and purposeful packing.
I learned along the way that one carry-on is always enough.
Some of my friends still can’t fathom how I can live out of a small bag for so long. But it’s entirely possible! We’ll share our tips on how you can pack just enough for your trip regardless of how long or short it is.
Tips for Traveling Far with a Single Carry-On
#1 Choose the Right Sized Carry-On Bag
Most airlines allow a carry-on plus personal item (purse, suitcase, crossbody, small backpack, etc.). Ensuring that your bag fits an airline’s carry-on guidelines is very important. It will also determine how much you can pack and what you should leave behind.
The permitted baggage size is typically 56 x 36 x 23 cm or 22” x 14” x 9” inches and 22 pounds or 10 kg.
Almost all airlines have strict restrictions for luggage weight and size. Always check airline carry-on luggage policies prior to packing. This will prevent any problems when you’re about to board your flight.
I’ve seen people miss flights and get turned away due to having too much luggage, too big of luggage or not paying for the correct amount of luggage that they are trying to bring on board. If you’re trying to trick the gate attendant, it may end up costing you more than what you initially paid for your airfare.
Carry-on Backpacks and Suitcases We Recommend
There are many on the market, but here are our top picks.
When choosing a carry-on bag, you have two options; a travel backpack or a carry-on suitcase. It’s important to determine which one you prefer. Backpacks are great for mobility when you need to walk down dirt paths or narrow roads.
Rolling carry-ons are great for people who do not want to put strain on their bodies. It also allows you to hold a bit more than a backpack would. I personally find it easier to pack using a carry on suitcase.
#1 Pakt Travel Backpack ($295)
The Pakt Travel Backpack is very intelligently designed to reduce strain on the body while maximizing space and storage on a carry-on backpack.
The Pakt bag is also more sustainable than many other brands. I was very surprised how quickly I replaced my other backpack options with the Pakt backpack.
One feature that won me over, was the ability to remove the waist straps to reveal a fanny pack! Oh and the lifetime guarantee sealed the deal as well.
#2 Osprey Porter 46 Travel Backpack ($160)
The Osprey Porter Backpack is very roomy. The molded sides also allow the bag to compress easily so that it fits into the overhead compartments of most planes.
The bag does not come with a back frame and the straps are a little more complicated to use. Overall, it’s a clean-looking bag and holds enough for a month’s worth of travel. All Osprey bags also come with lifetime warranties.
#3 Herschel Trade Carry On Rolling Suitcase ($130)
The Herschel Trade Carry On suitcase is by far my favorite. It’s sleek and comes with a limited lifetime warranty. I love the durable lining and mesh pocket that separates your items in your luggage. I keep my clothes in the main compartment (handle side) and my shoes, accessories, undergarments, toiletries on the opposite side.
#4 Amazon Basics Carry On Suitcase
Amazon Basics makes a pretty sturdy carry on spinner. The bag expands and easily packs into the overhead bins. It also comes in various fun colors and sizes that you can nest into each other. We’ve only had to replace it once but it’s been traveling with us for over 2 years now!
#2 Pack a Week’s Worth of Clothing
Intend on packing enough clothing for a week. When packing light, anticipate that you’ll be doing laundry every 7-10 days. At the end of the week, make time to do your laundry at the laundromat or pay for laundry service.
A week’s worth of clothing should give you enough outfit combinations to last a few months. Change up your outfit with accessories and by getting creative with your pieces. For example, wear your thin dresses as tunics with leggings underneath.
Pro Tip: If you have a screen printed shirt, I recommend wearing clothing inside out if you want to wear a solid colored top. You can remove the label if it is too obvious. I’ve done this plenty of times and it’s allowed me to expand my outfit choices and reducing my carry on weight significantly.
#3 Pack Clothing that Matches
People often go shopping to prepare for their vacations. After 10 years of traveling, I’ve learned that I have everything I need for my trips from now until probably 20 years out.
Think about the things you love to wear day after day and bring those items. They will make dressing for your trip easy.
Find matching clothing for the pieces that you love to wear often. This will allow your wardrobe to be versatile. Include a pop of color or pattern here and there to help your outfits stand out. A good rule of thumb is to limit the majority of your wardrobe to neutral colors (black, white and nude) and choose three primary or secondary colors so that you can mix and match your outfits.
Here is a quick list of items I typically fit into my carry-on bag. You can click on the items to see the exact products that I bring with me on my travels.
- 5 T-shirts
- 2 Button Up Short Sleeve Tops
- 4 Tank Tops (neutral colors are best)
- 3 Long Sleeve Tops (typically chambray blouse, long sleeve crew neck, sport top)
- 2 Jeans
- 2 Pants
- 2 Leggings
- 2 Shorts
- 2 Dresses
- 1 Pajama Set
- 2 Bikini/One-Piece
- 1 Crossbody Purse
- 1 Fanny Pack
- 1 Convertible Bag (turns into backpack, tote, crossbody and has a clutch)
- 1 Pair of Sunglasses
- 5 Bras
- 6 Socks
- 1 Pair of Sneakers
- 1 Pair of Flats
- 1 Pair of Sandals
- 8 Underwears
- 1 Jacket (moto/denim/blazer)
- 1 Packable Rain Jacket
- 1 Packable Down Jacket (for colder climates)
#4 Expect to Do Laundry
When you pack light, expect to do laundry while traveling. It’s OK to wear certain pieces a few times before you launder.
When sorting clothing in your luggage, make sure you keep clean and dirty clothes apart from one another. Dirt and oils from your soiled clothing can cause bacteria to grow and make things turn a little funky.
Most inexpensive destinations will charge $2-3 USD per kilo of clothing laundered. This service typically takes a day and can be delivered to your accommodation or picked up. We were able to get our clothing laundered and folded for only $6 USD for two people in Vietnam. It was worth it!
In more developed countries, consider using a nearby laundromat. Make sure you have detergent and enough change to use the machines. I use Stoneworks laundry capsules and biodegradable dryer sheets while traveling. I place 3-4 detergent capsules and 3-4 dryer sheets in an empty Altoid tin which saves me a lot of space when traveling.
Ask your accommodation or hotel whom they recommend for laundering services in the area. They may have helpful information that will determine if you need to do your own laundry or outsource it to a local business.
#5 Pack Travel-Friendly Clothing
Travel-friendly clothing makes all the difference in the world. Travel apparel is typically lightweight, quick-drying, dry wicking, breathable, and is often wrinkle-resistant. I go for styles that can be worn up or down and can easily be washed and hung dry when needed.
Travel clothing is also inherently comfortable. This will make your travels easier when you’re cooped up on a plane or train traveling long distances.
#6 Use the KonMari Method When Packing
Marie Kondo not only changed my home, but she also changed how I travel. If you’ve never seen her show on Netflix, I highly recommend it. I also have her book which has a plethora of organization and decluttering tips to make your life stress-free and intentional.
I use the KonMari method to fold my clothing so that everything stands up and remains visible in my luggage. I also maximize the space available in my bag. I place clean clothing on one side and dirty clothes on the opposite side.
Using her folding method, I am able to fit more than I need in a single carry on, which gives me room for souvenirs and emergency storage space. I’ve also found that I do not need packing cubes when I am folding this way. #gamechanger
#7 Pack Solid Toiletries OR Buy Your Toiletries at Your Destination
Liquid toiletries can take up a lot of space. Instead of packing liquids, consider using solids such as shampoo bars, toothpaste and mouthwash pellets, sunscreen bars, face and body cleansing bars, etc.
Reducing the amount of liquid you carry will not only make your bag lighter, but it also prevents any spills from accidentally happening in your bag due to cabin pressure. Solids also tend to be a more zero waste and sustainable travel option.
You can also opt to buy toiletries at your travel destination. If your hotel has toiletries, use those instead. I love when hotels have toiletry dispensers!
#8 Wear Your Heaviest Clothing While Traveling
Instead of packing your heavy clothing, which can cause you to go over carry-on weight limits, wear it on your body until you arrive at your destination. If you have heavy electronics, wear them in your pockets until you’re onboard and then offload them into your personal bag or carry-on. Voila! You made it.
#9 Minimize Your Tech
Tech can be heavy. I opted to bring the smallest versions of the tech items I could not live without. Here’s a quick list of my tech must-haves:
- Macbook Air
- Pixel Phone + charger + USB cord
- Moment Phone Cases and Lenses (to capture my adventures)
- Bluetooth Earphones
- Tripod + Selfie Stick with Bluetooth Remote
- International Power Adapter
If you like to read, consider downloading a reader on your phone or reading from your laptop. I personally love listening to podcasts and audiobooks while traveling.
What Else Is In My Bag?
I have a few other items in my bag that aren’t necessities but rather luxuries.
- Travel Yoga Mat by YOGO
- Anti Theft Gear
- Sustainable Kit
After traveling the world with one backpack and carry-on for months at a time, I’m convinced a carry-on is the only way to go. I can never see myself over-packing again. Purposeful packing and bringing only the items I need is liberating and saves me so much money and time!
The next time you travel, challenge yourself to pack a single carry-on only and let me know what you think. I hope you join me on this minimalist journey! #carryonlife #sustainabletravel
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