Carry-On Only Travel

Some lessons learned after 6 months

So I’ve been travelling for the better part of 6 months now with carry-on only luggage, and LOVING IT! Needless to say, however, it brings with it some tricky challenges and obstacles to overcome. Selecting what you are going to bring with you, and determining what will be essential for the duration of your trip is key, and will vary drastically depending on who’s travelling.

carry-on only - my backpack before the challenge

This is an image from before my days of Carry-On Only… look familiar?

In the beginning

My first couple attempts at carry-on only travelling barely fit the bill in terms of qualifying as “carry-on ONLY”. I was stopped regularly for trying to squeeze my tripod bag on with my Lowepro CompuDaypack through the x-ray. I had countless wires for every electronic device under the sun protruding from my little bag. Mixed in were clothes, toiletries, countless electrical adapters, a medical kit, some more random things (complete list here), on top, of course, of having my laptop and DSLR! My poor little bag was not built for such conditions. Needless to say, the challenge was there, and I prevailed. The victory brought with it some valuable teachings, mind you.

Carry-On Only at Wat Arun

Me and my Carry-on Only CompuDaypack at Wat Arun, Thailand

Why Travel with Carry-On Only?

This could be a blog post in itself, really. The abbreviated list would consist of some top reasons like:

  • self-check-in at airports, eliminating baggage drop-off queues.
  • no waiting for baggage on the arrival either – both are HUGE time savers!
  • no reservation, no worries. With carry-on only, there’s no rush to find a hotel upon arrival, as you can casually explore your surroundings until you find a spot that’s perfect for you!
  • environmentally sound! Less weight, means less fuel for EVERY form of transportation. This equals wins for the environment every step along the way!
  • Less is more – if you can master living with this little on the road, it can easily be translated to your life as a whole. Having once been a pack-rat myself, I can justly say that there is no liberating feeling equally met as that of letting go of all your possessions which tie you down.

Choosing what to pack

This is the tricky part that is on everyone’s mind. At the end of the day, it’s going to be entirely up to you meeting your needs. One thing to keep in mind, is that you need to separate your needs from your wants. Wants in this game are truly secondary. Being a ‘digital nomad’ such as myself, two of my needs are having a laptop, and camera, so I can continue brining you regular updates from the road. This is why I’ve chosen to travel with the  Lowepro CompuDaypackIt accommodates those two primary needs, in a size which is accepted by most airlines as carry-on only friendly. I still need a few extras of course. Clothes, toiletries, rechargers/adapters/etc.


Carry-On Only packing

This is just about the lump sum of what I would bring for 1 month or less!

Clothing will really be climate dependant. If you’re planning a trip to the polar regions, I doubt this challenge will really be for you, unless you plan on wearing all your layers for the whole trip (which might not be a bad idea). If your trip involves multiple climates ie hot/cold/wet/dry – this again may be quite difficult (though not impossible). Always check seasonality too – if you’re travelling in a rainy season, for example, having so few clothes may mean you’ll be wearing a lot of wet stuff!

Keeping my clothing limited to 3 shirts + the one I’m wearing, 2 pairs of undies + 1 on me, 1 pair of shorts, 1 bathing suit, and 1 pair of versatile shoes (I’ve chosen the toe-shoes by Vibram – check out my review on them HERE). I would always suggest at least one set of warmer clothes, often to be warn while in transit. Air Con in SE Asia for instance seems to set all time records for trying to out-cold each other! Airports often have their A/C cranked as well. Even if your climate doesn’t call for cooler temps, it’s really better safe than sorry.

Toiletries don’t have to be too complicated. A lot can be picked up along the way, and if your trip is for a month or less, you can often get travel sized gear to get you through (and restock when needed, while on the road). Toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, cotton swabs, some bug/sun spray (small bottles) and I’m good to go. I’ve also dropped the med-kit as a necessary, if my trip doesn’t involve being in the wilderness for extended periods of time. A few bandaids should suffice when you’re in the cities. Remember – this is all about bare-essentials. I’ve only got about 7 litres to work with after my laptop and DSLR gear are in my carry-on only bag.

near-universal power cord - great for Carry-On Only travellers

I recently learned a pretty cool trick. The figure-8 AC power cord that is used by so many camera’s recharger packs, actually fits perfectly into an Apple’s charger pack as well! So long proprietary cables! I now bring 1 cable to accommodate all my chargers! This greatly reduces unnecessary cable space. Universal power adapters are also key. I found one which transforms into almost every power outlet – all in one! This is way more ideal than having 6 or 7 different adapters floating in your bag!

If you would like some ideas on what to bring in your backpack for your next adventure, check out his post by Nomad is Beautiful for their tips on choosing what to pack for Thailand!

Reality Check

This isn’t for everyone, and I realize that. I would love to see the world travelling with carry-on only! If not for environmental reasons alone, then just for witnessing the sheer joy in discovering a world free from stock-piling possessions. My suggestion for first timers is not to plan your first time doing this as a big trip (like my 4 weeks to Borneo). Try a weekend away to start. I’ve known people who go away for 3 days and it looks like they’re moving houses. If a weekend goes well, then try a week. the most important thing to remember is the separation of what you will NEED from what you just WANT to have with you. Will your trip be a disaster if you don’t have a different pair of shoes for every night out? If so, this may not be for you.

Have you had any experiences with travelling with Carry-On Only luggage? If so, what did you learn from doing it? Do you still travel with Carry-on only, or do you pick and choose when to do this? Please share your stories in the comment section below!