September 29, 2023 | Allison Robertson

How To Travel With Only A Carry-On Bag

How To Travel With Only A Carry-On Bag Travel selfie and packing bag split image

Traveling with just a carry-on may seem like a challenge, but with the right strategy and a little bit of planning, you can not only pack everything you need but also avoid the headaches of checked luggage.

Here's how you can travel lighter, save money, and breeze through airports with just a carry-on.

1. Know Your Airline’s Baggage Policy

Person packing for a tripVlada Karpovich, Pexels

Not all airlines have the same carry-on bag policies. The size, weight limit, and the number of bags you're allowed to carry can vary.

So, before you start packing, check your airline's website for their specific rules. This step could save you a lot of hassle and potential additional costs at the airport.

2. Choose The Right Bag

Two people reaching for luggage bagsDids, Pexels

Your choice of bag can greatly influence your packing efficiency. 

Look for a lightweight, sturdy bag with lots of compartments to help organize your items. Using a soft-sided bag can be easier to store underneath your seat or squeeze into the overhead compartment.

Some travelers prefer a backpack for its versatility, while others prefer a wheeled bag for easier transport. The choice is entirely personal and depends on your specific travel needs.

3. Master The Art Of Clothing Packing

Person packing luggageTimur Weber, Pexels

When packing your carry-on, the way you pack your clothes can make a significant difference in the amount of space you use.

Consider rolling your clothes instead of folding them—this not only saves space but also minimizes wrinkling.

Packing in layers makes it easier to compress your bag if needed. Start with heavier items like jeans and sweaters at the bottom of the bag and lighter items like t-shirts and underwear at the top.

Remember to take advantage of any empty spaces. Stuff socks, chargers, or other small items into shoes or corners of your bag.

4. Pack Multipurpose Items

A woman packing travel essentialsTimur Weber, Pexels

Every item you pack should earn its place in your bag.

Pack clothes that can be layered, mixed, and matched to create different outfits. Opt for lightweight, quick-drying, and wrinkle-resistant materials.

Don't forget that shoes can take up a lot of space, so consider wearing your bulkiest pair on the plane and pack only one more versatile pair.


5. Embrace The Power Of Packing Cubes

A woman packing clothingTimur Weber, Pexels

Packing cubes are a game changer for efficient packing. They help organize your luggage and can compress your clothes to free up more space.

You can designate a cube for each category of items (e.g., tops in one cube, bottoms in another) which also makes it easier to find what you need without disorganizing your whole bag.

6. Comply With Liquids Rules

Toiletries packed in a bag for travelTimur Weber, Pexels

Remember that most airlines have a limit on the number of liquids, aerosols, and gels that you can carry in your hand luggage.

Typically, each container must be 100ml or smaller and all containers should fit in a single, clear, resealable plastic bag.

It's a good idea to purchase travel-sized toiletries or to use reusable travel-sized containers for your products.

7. Utilize Destination Amenities

Woman in a hotel bathroomMediteraneo, Adobe Stock

Whenever possible, make full use of the amenities provided by your destination.  Doing so can help reduce the amount of stuff you need to pack, freeing up valuable space in your carry-on.

Most hotels provide basic toiletries like shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and sometimes even toothpaste. 

So, unless you have specific brands you can't do without, leave your toiletries at home and make use of the ones at your destination.

Many hotels also provide things like hair dryers, irons, kettles, and even small kitchenettes. Take advantage of these to reduce what you need to bring.

If you're going to be at your destination for more than a few days, consider packing less and using the hotel's laundry service, or look for a local laundromat.

Some travelers even wash smaller items in the hotel sink and hang them to dry overnight.

8. Leave Some Space For Souvenirs

Souvenir shop in a small rustic townNaim Benjelloun, Pexels

If you plan to bring back souvenirs or do some shopping at your destination, make sure to leave some extra space in your bag or pack a lightweight foldable bag in your carry-on.

This gives you a bit more flexibility with your return journey packing.

9. Don't Forget About Entertainment And Comfort

Person holding a tabletNew Africa, Adobe Stock

Long flights can get boring and uncomfortable, so don't forget to pack a few small comforts. Load up your e-reader or tablet with books, movies, and games for the flight.

You might also want to include travel essentials like an eye mask, travel pillow, and earplugs.

10. Keep Essential Items On Hand

Important travel itemsconejota, Adobe Stock

Always pack your essentials in your carry-on—not just because they're necessary, but also in case your checked luggage gets lost or delayed. These include travel documents, prescription medications, electronics, and valuable items.

Traveling with a carry-on doesn't mean sacrificing your needs or comforts, it just means packing smarter.

Once you get the hang of it, you might even find that the simplicity and convenience of traveling light make your trip more enjoyable.