How to travel with carry-on only

A familiar sound when traveling to tourist hotspots is suitcase wheels on cobble stones, often accompanied by the site of a sweaty couple close to tears dragging their mountainous luggage towards their hotel. Surprisingly to some, you don’t need to bring enough outfit changes to dress a small army – four pairs of shoes is too many and you realistically won’t read all seven of the books you’ve jammed in your suitcase.  

Travelling with just carry-on luggage is cheaper, easier, less stressful and, most importantly, entirely doable. These are my tips on how to travel with carry-on luggage only.

carry on bag on bed at home

Know what you’re dealing with
Look up what the carry-on luggage restrictions are for the airline you’re flying with. Different airlines will often have different size and weight restrictions for carry-on luggage, although most restrict you to around 7kg total. If you have any internal flights, or are travelling with different airlines, plan your packing around the most restrictive measurements and weight requirements. It’s best to do this before you begin packing.

Know the rules
Some airlines have quite strict rules surrounding what you can and can’t bring onto the plane. However, this can work to your advantage. For example, some airlines allow passengers to bring on a smaller ‘personal’ bag such as a handbag or laptop case as well as their carry-on luggage. In the past, I’ve opted to keep any heavy items such as a laptop, tablet, book or liquid toiletries – which also makes for easy access when going through security – in this ‘personal’ bag. That way if my carry-on bag is weighed, it definitely complies with the weight restrictions.

Check it before you check-in
Weigh your bag before you get to the airport. If you don’t have a portable luggage scale, don’t worry. You can jump onto your usual bathroom scales, weigh yourself, then do the same while carrying your luggage and work out the difference. This will make it easy to avoid any nasty surprises and check-in fees at the airport.

Bigger isn’t always better
Yes, there is something satisfying about having a full litre of body wash available at the end of a long day of adventuring, but it’s not a necessity. One of the biggest struggles most people will have when opting to travel with carry-on alone is trying to minimise their toiletries. You won’t be able to carry any liquids over 100ml. While you could opt to carry a number of small bottles, I recommend traveling with a bar of soap, a small bottle of sunscreen or zinc, and then picking up small quantities of shampoo, conditioner and other products along the way.

Wear it
If you’ve ever seen someone walking through airport security wearing heavy boots, a jumper, a jacket, a hoodie tied around their waist and a towel as a scarf it was probably me. A minor exaggeration, yes, but you’d be surprised just how much weight and space a single heavy jacket can take up. For this reason, I always opt to either wear or carry it through the airport, this way it won’t be weighed with the rest of my luggage.

Op shop
I lean heavily on op shops for weather appropriate attire when travelling, especially when visiting a range of different climates. The truth is, if you’re only spending a few days at a cold destination then it’s probably not worth lugging your favourite puffer jacket to the other side of the globe with you. Instead, duck into a local charity shop on your first day in town, grab a second hand one for a bargain and drop it back before you leave.  

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Written by Liv Gardiner


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