Twelve countries, 27 cities, 20 planes, 11 trains, four boats, three continents, two islands and one carry-on bag. From the first snow of winter in Iceland to sweltering on the beaches in Havana, I can say with confidence that it is possible to travel the world with just a carry-on bag, no checked luggage required.
Why would I set myself this insane task? It was a big, fast-paced trip and I was on a budget. Most budget airlines charge extra for checked luggage – usually about $25 per bag. Across 20 flights, that adds up to about $500 per traveller. It also means the airline can’t lose your luggage, because you’ve always got it with you. And you get to walk off the plane and straight out of the airport without waiting at the luggage carousel, which can make a big difference if you’re only stopping over for a night or two.
So how is it possible to pack for vastly different climates with only a carry-on bag? The strategy was to move from cold to hot – the first half of my trip occurred in western Europe, at the beginning of European winter, and I finished up in the Carribean. This meant that I started out with my bulkiest clothes on my body. My last stop before I reached the warmer weather was Spain, which has a reliable and affordable postal service. When I arrived in Spain I packed up a box with 9kg of boots, jackets, scarves, gloves and souvenirs, and posted it all home for $80. This left room in my bag to purchase some cheap T-shirts, a pair of sandals and more souvenirs, so I was ready for the warmer weather.
In terms of planning, don’t take any one-off items, and do your shopping for the trip early, to take advantage of seasonal sales. I picked up some merino thermals and a down jacket for half price before I left, and they served me well. Silk and synthetics work well for travelling, because they’re lightweight and fast drying. I replaced my bulky tracksuit pants with a merino pair, and they not only looked good enough to wear out and about, they were also a quarter of the size when rolled up. I also highly recommend investing in good quality socks. Your feet are going to do a lot of work, so treat them right.
Now that I’m home, what were the wins and where did I go wrong? I would definitely take a different pair of boots – I opted for fashion over function, and they didn’t perform well in the snow. Keeping your feet warm and dry is the key to a comfortable day out sightseeing. On the wins side, I purchased a second-hand kindle, loaded it up with books and took a veritable library with me in my bag. I invested in a Scrubba washbag – it’s a portable clothes washer that packs down to almost nothing. This was by far the biggest space-saver, as being able to wash clothes as I went meant taking fewer of each item. And finally, the bag I took was the Osprey Farpoint 40. I can’t recommend it highly enough for functionality or durability.