How to Travel with only a Carry-on

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I didn’t always recognize the beauty of traveling light. Packing with just a carry-on is so hard for me. I tend to over pack and half the time I only wear a few things that I pack so I have a lot of things I don’t need. I usually pack like I’m going somewhere for 2 weeks but I’ll be gone for only 3/4 days. Yikes I know, so many things I dont need. 

After some trial and error, I think I have figured out how to pack with just a carry-on. The following will help you choose what to pack for a trip, and fit it all into a bag you can actually lift, so you know how to travel with only a carry-on on bag.


First thing first, whatever airline you have booked with, make sure you look to see what the size of the carry-on should be. Each airline is different, but it’s usually 19-20 inches. Also make sure you have up-to-date information on limits and restrictions- on what you can and can not take. 

The next thing is pick your bag wisely. You’re taking one bag, but what that almost always really means is one suitcase (or large backpack or duffel bag) and one purse or tote. You can also include a smaller bag that packs flat. This is useful if your plans include activities where you won’t want to carry your handbag or messenger bag.

Any bags you take should be light and comfortable to lift. I was in a store the other day and I was looking at luggage and I picked up the lightest and most comfortable suitcase, However I did’t get it, but it was really nice. Ok so now you have your bag, whats next? You have to figure out what you need.

The key word here is “need”. Taking that amazing pair of heels or sneakers just in case or that extra coat are not going to be on the list. Before your final pack, lay out all of your clothes and then take half of what you think you’ll need. Sounds tough, right? It really is, But, you have probably taken a number of trips before where some supposed necessities never saw the light of day (Me). Also take a look at the weather, that will help you determine what to take. 

If you’re travelling somewhere with cold weather, you’ll likely want to take a big, warm coat. But if you pack that in your carry-on, there won’t be much room for anything else! Instead of lugging a huge coat around with you, pack lots of layers that you can easily mix and match – you’ll still stay warm on your travels, have more flexibility in what you can wear, they’ll be lighter and also take up less space in your bag. Limit the what if scenarios. I have fallen vitim to this. Packing light requires a little bit of compromise and sacrifice, so be strict with your packing and be honest with how necessary certain items are.

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Ok now you have your bag, laid out your clothes that you are going to pack, now its time to pack. Wrap shoes in plastic bags and place them at the sides or corners of the bottom of your bag to help it hold its shape. Stash extra plastic bags too. They take up no space and are perfect for laundry or anything that gets wet. Another tip is to roll your clothes, don’t fold. Packing cubes come in handy. They let you fit so much more in your carry-on.

So you’ve packed your carry-on bag, but you don’t want to be that person who has to get something out of the overhead luggage bin every half an hour. Most airlines allow you to pack a personal item bag (but do check this with the airline you’re flying with!), so put all of the things you’ll need during your flight in there to place under the seat in front of you. Like your laptop, phone, books, pastport, chargers, etc. 

But the question is ..why travel with a carry-on? 

Boarding passes can be pre-printed on-line for most airlines, and one can sail through security without stopping at the airline counter to check-in luggage, thus avoiding long line-ups and not having to be at the airport as early.

Cost savings – many airlines now charge for checked baggage. 

All your belongings are with you, so no lost luggage and no burst liquids. 

By the time people wait at the airport carousal for their luggage, we get first dibs on taxis and are nestled in our hotel room sooner.

It’s quite simple: if you have limited or no space in your bag to put anything else in it, you don’t have the option to buy things and bring them home, well unless you buy another bag!

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What are your tips for packing for a carry-on only trip? Tell me in the comments below.

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