Travelling with only carry-on luggage sounds challenging before you try it, but it can be a liberating and money-saving experience once mastered. In the last year and a half I have been on over 30 flights for trips that lasted a minimum of five days with only carry-on luggage. I once travelled with only a regular backpack and a messenger bag for two weeks in South America and packed enough clothing that I never had to do laundry, was prepared for the cold of La Paz and warmth of Lima, and had running attire. Here are my top ten tips for mastering carry-on only travel and still having room for items like souvenirs, gifts, and workout gear.
1. Think versatile. Ensure the clothing and shoes you pack can be worn with many other items, dressed up or down, and worn for multiple occasions. For example, I pack shirts that go with all of the pants, skirts, cardigans, and sweaters I bring, so if one item becomes unavailable, I have something else to wear it with. Make sure that you have one pair of shoes that goes with everything.
2. Avoid bulky items. Jeans and heavy sweaters take up more space, so I suggest focusing on lighter items like pants and/or skirts, which are also more functional than jeans, and cotton, cashmere, or merino wool sweaters, which take up less space. Pack as few pairs of shoes as possible and try to choose light-weight shoes. Wear your bulkiest shoes on the plane.
3. Focus on the trinity: shirts, socks, and underwear. Pack more tops than bottoms since they are more likely to become dirty. Bring more underwear and socks than you need, as these items do not take much space and having extra will save you from doing laundry.
4. Compression bags are a “light” traveler’s best friend. You can bring far more clothes if you compact them into a smaller space with the help of a compression bag. Note that compression bags may not be useful in situations where your bags are smaller.
5. Roll your clothes; do not fold them. Rolling your clothes helps save space and prevent wrinkles.
6. Pack early. Packing a few days to a week in advance gives you time to weed out unnecessary items and think about what you actually need for your trip. It also eliminates the last minute panic that ensues when you find out that you cannot close your bag.
7. Bring toiletry items that are not liquid. Packing more non-liquid toiletries like bar soap, crystal deodorant, sunblock sticks, powder, and eye makeup remover or astringent towelettes saves room in your one quart bag.
8. Pack multi-purpose toiletries. Try to bring toiletries with more than one use, for example castile soap (hand, body, and face cleanser and even shampoo) or a combination toner/eye makeup remover (I highly recommend Caudalíe Cleansing Water). If you can get away with it, bring two-in-one items like combination contact cleaner and solution or all-in-one shampoo and conditioner.
9. Make at least one of your bags multi-use. No matter what the reason for your trip, you will need a bag that serves more than one purpose if you going to succeed as a carry-on only traveller. For example, bring a backpack or messenger bag that holds a laptop or a smaller bag or large purse that can double as your day bag.
10. Use a backpack or backpack/roller bag combo not a roller bag. This advice may seem odd, but I have been on many flights where due to the plane being full, the airline forced some people to check their bags. If you wear your bag on your back, it appears to be less conspicuous and less susceptible to being confiscated for check-in. Also, backpacks are usually more flexible and thus more items can be stuffed into them.