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People seem to either live by traveling carry-on only or can’t imagine ever doing it. In this post, we hope to dispel any misconceptions about why you may or may not want to travel this way. Keep reading to find out if traveling carryon only is right for you!
Traveling Carry-on Only
There seems to be a misconception going around that traveling-carry-on only is the only way to travel or else you’re doing it wrong.
I’m writing this article to help dispel that myth. After all, people are different and what works for one may not work for all. Whatever suitcase size you choose, you have to do what makes sense for you. And that’s all that matters.
Recently one of our readers expressed frustration about the idea of traveling carry-on only. With so many baggage restrictions, stating that it seems impossible for everyone to travel this way. So what’s the deal with the idea that traveling carry-on is the ONLY way to pack? Let’s dispel this myth once and for all.
Compass Rose Compression Packing Cubes
What’s the deal with this carry-on trend anyway?
Once I started traveling lighter and using packing cubes to help me fit all my belongings in a carryon size suitcase, it completely elevated my travel experience. I was able to avoid the small inconveniences that create unnecessary frustration and have a more positive experience to enjoy my trip to the fullest.
Other travelers might state that “carry-on is the only way to travel” and this might be because they’ve had such a good experience with this method that they feel passionate about encouraging others with the idea.
However, I have a feeling what they really mean is that “carry-on is the only way for THEM to travel.” It doesn’t have to be the way for you to travel.
Watch the packing tutorial on Youtube!
In 2017, I launched Compass Rose Travel Accessories and my very first product was a 4-Piece Set of Carryon Packing Cubes. These are the only packing cubes sized to fit the exact width of a carryon suitcase and they also have a unique color-coded and numbered organization system – the only kind currently available anywhere on the market.
I put together a five-part YouTube series showing you the different methods to use packing cubes. If you use this specific packing strategy, they can also compress your belongings. This is the secret to traveling carryon only!
eBags TLS Mother Lode Mini 21″ Wheeled Duffel
It’s not about traveling only in a carry-on; it’s about packing light.
Packing light is a great goal to have, whether or not you choose to travel in a carry-on suitcase or something larger. A heavy suitcase can weigh you down, cause you to struggle on and off transportation, and make a trip more frustrating than it has to be.
On my first trip to Europe, my grandmother and I took a large 30” suitcase for both of our belongings, plus a carry-on suitcase and a personal item. We assumed that if the airline offered this much baggage allowance then we needed to bring that much stuff for our trip.
Not only did we end up wearing two or three outfits the entire time but we also missed a connection between a train and a long distance bus because we couldn’t move quickly enough through a crowded train station.
The tour company, Globus, ended up leaving us at the Brussels train station and drove off to Amsterdam without us! Fortunately, we had hidden money under our clothes with a secret bra wallet because we had left our purses inside the coach! While I was able to deal with this frustrating experience, my grandmother struggled with this more and it put a damper on the rest of our European trip.
The next year I traveled to Europe with one of my friends. This time, I brought a smaller 25” wheeled duffle and didn’t pack as much weight as the year before. I knew how many stairs and rushed transportation journeys I would likely encounter so I packed smarter this time around.
Tip: A duffle strap made it easier for me to carry my bag up and down the stairs. Here are some of our favorite wheeled duffle bags.
it luggage 21.5″ Lightweight Expandable Carry-on
Unfortunately, the friend I was traveling with made the same mistake I made on my first trip: she brought an overstuffed carry-on size backpack plus an overweight, large 30” suitcase. As we were making our way up the stairs at a train station in Italy, her suitcase handle broke.
So there we stood with a broken suitcase and so much weight to travel with. I ended up bearing the brunt of the issue as my friend’s back problems prevented her from maneuvering her own suitcase.
If you have back issues or other mobility restraints, a lighter and smaller bag is easier to handle when you’re on the go. An elevator isn’t common in many accommodations or Airbnbs unless you’re staying at a hotel. Read more tips here and here for travelers with back issues.
Needless to say, I have the worst memories of the trip and wish we could have done things differently.
As a general guideline: if you can’t carry your own luggage up at least one flight of stairs then you should consider packing less. Always choose a lightweight suitcase.
Wait a minute. It’s also not as easy for everyone to travel in a carry-on.
What about multiple climates, long-term travel, families, bras, and clothing sizes?
Since traveling “carry-on only” isn’t the aim of the game, perhaps these general packing tips might help you pack lighter:
- How to Pack for Multiple Climates
- How to Pack for Long Trips
- Family Packing Tips
- How Many Bras to Pack
- Plus Size Packing Tips
Delsey Luggage Sky Max 2 Wheeled Underseat Carryon
But what about the savings? All the airlines are charging nowadays.
To be honest, the financial element is a bonus but not an incentive for me. In fact, just because I travel “carry-on only” doesn’t mean that I don’t check my bag. They’re not one in the same thing.
When I don’t feel like dealing with my bag or when my electronics weigh me down (after all, my laptop weights 2lb on it’s own, not counting the insanely heavy cord), then I’ll throw on a protective suitcase cover and just check it. No biggie.
My goal is to travel in a carry-on for the convenience and peace of mind that it offers me and that’s all that matters. I’ve accomplished my goal of traveling with less and that has nothing to do with checking or not checking my carry-on size suitcase.
However, some travelers love the thrill of not checking a bag and that’s an incredible goal to have. You should feel good because you’ve accomplished something awesome.
But if that’s not your goal, that’s completely fine, too. As long as you have a happy travel experience – that’s our ultimate goal.
Tarriss Jetsetter Digital Luggage Scale
And then there are the 5kg or 7kg limitations…
Budget airlines tend to have strict carry-on restrictions, so consider the monetary benefits of traveling with them as opposed to a more expensive airline. Are you saving so much money on the ticket that the cost of checking your bag outweighs the annoyance of having to pay the fee?
I usually calculate any potential baggage fees for my carry-on when choosing a budget airline in order to determine if I am getting the best value.
These are some packing principles that might help you pack for a 7kg baggage limit. They will help but ultimately they might not be the solution and you just might have to check your carry-on.
If your goal is to not check a bag, then read this hack on a sneaky way workaround with 5 kg baggage restrictions. If you use this hack, make sure to read this to avoid this packing disaster that commonly occurs with the packing strategy.
Watch the video on Youtube and subscribe to my channel!
So what’s the point of Travel Fashion Girl?
From our packing lists to our tips on packing light, our goal is to empower you with tools and resources that can help you experience less stress on the big trip you’ve been waiting for all your life.
We share ideas on what to wear abroad to give you a visual example of what type of clothing you might want to use for the weather. Likewise, we also share tips on packing light (or carry-on only) and creating your own travel capsule wardrobe if those are your goals.
Learn from our principles, and always tailor them to your personal preferences and type of trip.
We made certain decisions when we started traveling and it put a damper on our trips. If we can help you have a happy, stress-free trip (regardless of the size of your suitcase) then we’ve accomplished our mission.
Learn more about stop overpacking here!
Why travel carry-on only?
Here are the top reasons why our readers love to travel carry-on only, as well as tips for how you can do it too!
- One reason: Carry-on or lost bag!
- I had my bag permanently lost traveling home and have had several ‘delayed’ bags, resulting in up to a week without luggage.
- You only have to have your bag lost or sent to a different location ONCE to know that carry on is the way to go. No one wants to be in a foreign country or across the country for that matter without your stuff.
- We have lost luggage in the past and had a bag bust open on the carousel, as well as having flights changed and ending up with no time to collect and check in bags between connecting flights. Carry-on makes everything so much easier.
- Lost luggage, delayed flights with delayed luggage, damaged bags, getting caught in baggage handling strikes! I’m usually making multiple connections and it’s much less stressful having my gear with me.
- I don’t want to risk losing my luggage. It happens, and it sucks and ruins your trip. Even if I do check on ski trips, I still bring a carry-on with my essentials.
- I am a frequent international traveler and travel solo. I’m sold on carry-on only now after my Antarctica trip was almost seriously derailed when I was in Buenos Aires and all of my cold weather clothes wound up in Lima. It took three days for it to arrive.
Delayed or Changed Flights
- Our checked bag has been lost several times on international trips, usually due to plane delays and reshuffling of our flights. We always carry an extra change of clothes and a couple pair of underwear in our backpacks just in case!
- I appreciate the flexibility of flight changes when I have carry-on only. Last year I was flying home from JFK and my flight was overbooked. They needed volunteers to get bumped but it meant spending an extra night in New York City.
- It was much easier to make this change because my luggage wasn’t on the flight. Best of all, they gave me an $800 voucher, which paid for my entire next trip! If I have a longer layover there is often an earlier flight and they let me jump on if there’s space and I only have carry-on, which I wouldn’t be able to do if my bags were checked.
- I need the flexibility. I change flights all the time at the last minute (for work or when traveling using miles) and you can’t do that when you check bags. Also, if you are planning to travel on trains around Europe you can’t haul around that much stuff. Now that I’ve started doing carry-on only, I am addicted to it, as well! I don’t dress really differently, it just requires me to think more about what I’m taking. It’s kind of a fun personal challenge.
- I am a minimalist packer and always travel carry-on. It’s so much easier to be nimble when flights are canceled. Plus, I know exactly where my ’stuff’ is at all times.
Packing Only What You Need
- I promised myself never again would I lug around huge suitcases. In my years of visiting I always end up wearing the same three to four outfits, pack way too much, and way too many pairs of shoes.
- I think part of it is only taking stuff that you will use and need. I’ve had some trips with massive bags of gear and only used about 10%. We travel with smaller bags and I aim to carry only the basics.
- I’m traveling for five weeks with under 10kg and I’m saving a ton of money using discount airlines, and I’m a pro at this point in packing light. Even now I feel like I brought way too much stuff. I always pack too many warm weather tops and then only wear one or two of them over and over.
- I’ve lost my luggage too many times not to go carry-on only. And even when I did check a big bag of clothes, I never wore half of it. If I plan it right and coordinate my colors I can get a week’s worth of clothes out of just a few pieces.
- I don’t want to pay $30-$70 to check a bag. Domestic still charges $30 for the first bag, $50 for the second, and intentional is often the same. It’s just not worth the extra cash for stuff I won’t wear.
- I love getting off a plane and just going. No waiting. Just boom you’re there. Even when my bags are free, I don’t check. I hit customs sooner so I go through faster. I spend less time standing and waiting and more time exploring, and it’s far easier for me to move from city to city or get into or out of hotels.
- No worries about taking the train and what I will do with my luggage or if the apartment I’ve rented has stairs! Or even if I’m taking up too much space at someone’s home. I’ve gone as long as ten days with carry-on only, but that’s my longest trip due to work and vacation time!
- It makes travel with teenagers much simpler—we walk straight to our gate, no check in. We get off the plane and get through the airport quicker. We don’t need a huge rental car because our bags are small. We can move around train stations, subways and buses easily. When hotel rooms are tiny, small luggage makes it easier to move around with all of us in small spaces.
- Standing for an hour waiting for a bag after a long flight is painful. I’d rather be in the car headed home. With carry-on in Toronto, I can be in the car in 20 minutes.
- For me it is the ease of moving around. The terrain in Europe and traveling from place to place makes it very difficult to lug it whole bunch of luggage. My first trip I did this and I will never do it again. It was very miserable. I also don’t like having to wait for my luggage when I get off the plane. In many European cities it takes quite a while to get your luggage. I can be utilizing my time getting into the city.
- I physically have trouble carrying even 7kg comfortably and prefer a bag I can carry for quick movement.
- I traveled two weeks last fall with just carry-on and I’m so glad I did. Those cobblestone streets, stairs and trains in Italy would have been horrid with a large suitcase.
- I’m planning to pack carry-on for a month in Italy and Greece. It’s all about not having to lug around heavy stuff on trains and water taxis and walking to and from some accommodations.
- We often take coaches or trains between destinations (such as within the UK) and lugging around even a personal item and carry-on each is enough, but also a checked bag? Nope! Too much hassle and too heavy and for me, I’m likely to leave a suitcase somewhere.
- For me, it comes down to hauling luggage between hotels and B&Bs. We rarely stay in one location more than three days. It’s terrible at our age trying to drag big luggage on trains and in taxis. My body just can’t stand it.
- We did a month last year carry-on only. It makes life so much easier! And that included two teenagers doing carry on only too!
- I love traveling with a backpack only! I feel like it’s a challenge and it really helps simplify and I feel freer with less stuff to lug around.
- For my family, it’s about the simplicity. We road trip as much as we fly and we still do carry-on only size luggage. In fact, my kids don’t even own luggage any larger than that. It’s just what we do.
Peace of Mind
- I only ever travel with a carry-on, and I find it easier just to keep my bag with me especially as you just don’t know if you’re getting on that flight. I’m pretty good at it now!
- So often, once my flight lands I’m often not in that destination for very long. I’m either catching a train somewhere else right away or only there overnight. I know too many people who have had a delayed bag continually follow them along on their travels. It’s just peace of mind to have my things with me!
- With carry-on, I never worry about where my bag ended up or if I have everything I need! It’s so freeing for me to bring less and travel lighter.
Do you have any tips to add about the benefits of traveling carry-on only? Share in the comments below!
For more packing strategies, please read these posts:
- How to Pack in 5kg
- How to Fit Everything in a Carryon (Video Tutorial)
- How to Pack in Less Than 15 Minutes: My 3-Step Strategy
- 10-Step Guide to Packing One Suitcase for any Trip
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Because of Alex, Travel Fashion Girl, I have learned to travel carry-on only since my first Europe trip in 2014. Since then I have gotten better and better with packing strategies. This website is why I have the confidence to travel without fear. Thank you.
I’m a check it gal. I travel frequently by myself and dragging a suitcase as well as my tote/purse along with me EVERYWHERE (including trying to fit into bathroom stalls with them!) during the longish wait between getting through TSA and getting on the plane is awful. I get into the airport, relieve myself of bags and am free to meander and walk – a lot – until I get on the plane (especially fun in airports like Heathrow and CDG). When I deplane, I wait for the “crush” of people to drag down luggage and go to the bathroom, then I refresh myself (brush teeth after a long flight, etc.). By the time I get to the carousel the bags are there and I head out to transportation. As another reader commented, I’ve never had a lost bag and my only flight changes ended up with me and my bags in the same place every time. I like arriving relaxed and this does it for me. I’m rarely in THAT big a hurry I guess. But I DO appreciate the tips on how to scale back on what I take with – leave some of the “fantasy outfits” behind! And I am going to try the cubes this year for my next trip – so thanks for the great info!
Hi Trish, thank you so much for sharing your packing experiences with me!! Its about what works best for you, everyone is different and so is the way everyone packs! I am pleased you enjoy the tips on how to scale back!! 🙂
Thanks for your post
I however am part of the checking crowd, on most trips I bring a bicycle and ride 6 days a week about 50 miles daily. Do you have any suggestions on a wardrobe with this in mind for five months in Africa?
Hi Debra, thank you for your question! Wow, that is amazing! Have a look at this post for some tips to help with your packing: https://www.travelfashiongirl.com/africa-travel-packing-tips/ You may also find this helpful: https://www.travelfashiongirl.com/category/packing-2/travel-packing-lists/africa-packing-lists/ Hope this helps! Have an incredible five months!! 🙂
I have read your posts and watched your videos. My question is: how can you pack cubes and not be a wrinkled mess? I know most hotels have irons, but does that really make “carry-on only” worth it? You show button down blouse, etc. that, surely, must need an ironing after being folded, rolled, and stuffed into a cube.
Hi Kirsty, thank you for your question! If you are worried about wrinkles, then have a read of this article for tips on how to pack to reduce wrinkles:https://www.travelfashiongirl.com/how-to-pack-clothes-without-wrinkles/ Hope you find this helpful! 🙂
Thank you for finally bringing this up!! I’m currently planning a long-term trip and am utterly frustrated by the constant ‘carryon only’ comments. I have tried various levels of minimalism, and often use a carryon size bag for shorter trips, but it’s often not practical for multi climate and longer trips. I absolutely hated travelling SE Asia with 30L for 3 months- rotating 3 T-shirt’s constantly was just horrible, and my bag was still heavy enough (7kg+) that I didn’t want to carry it any further than I had to! Plus the airlines are so strict about carryon size/weight these days! Don’t get me wrong, I am a total supporter of not overpacking, but I definitely think it’s time to change the thinking that ‘carryon only’ is the only way to go!
Hi Ashlea, so happy you enjoyed the article!! You are so right, you need to pack for best sorts you and your needs!! 🙂
As a black woman with thick natural hair and a complicated hair care regimen, carryon only is a nonstarter for me and I’m sick of crazy eyed people evangelizing to me about it. Not all of us can get away with relying on the toiletries left in hotel rooms. I travel with too many restricted liquids that would a pain to decant in TSA approved bottles. I don’t pay to check a bag anyway, since I get two free checked bags on JetBlue for domestic travel, and have credit cards for other airlines with similar perks for international travel.
Hi Aurora, thank you for taking the time to share this with me! Definitely, you should pack for what works best for you! 🙂
I swear by carry-on, but really struggled with packing for a recent Europe trip where I was going to two different climates (high 80s and low 60s). Even after following your Europe 2-week Summer/Fall packing list, I ended up checking in a small suitcase. However, my packing cubes were a timesaver. I’ll definitely be giving those as gifts this holiday.
Hi Jennifer, thank you for taking the time to share this with me!! So happy to hear you like packing cubes as much as me, they will make someone an awesome gift!! Hope you had a fabulous trip! 🙂
Good post. We always travel first class and check our bags for free… so we never travel too light… on the way home. However all of your tips are still pertinent as we do travel light going as we like to shop. I have traveled around the world for a month with three pairs of shoes. Packing cubes are the best for keeping things sorted and unpacking quickly, I have a rolling garment bag and can literally unpack In 5 minutes.
Plus who knows what is in hotel room drawers.. ewww. Wrinkle free comfortable clothes that can be washed in a sink are my mantra, all you tips are so pertinent! Thanks so much!
Hi Sophie, thank you for your lovely comment, so happy you enjoyed the post!! Thank you for sharing your packing experiences with me, its really fascinating, I love to hear about how our readers’ pack!! 🙂
FYI — I just travelled only with a carry-on following your packing list and tips (THANK YOU!) 1 airline had a max of 10kg, and the other 7kg for carry on. My carry on was 11kg. So need to watch weight in addition to size limits for bags.
Hi Perla, awesome job with your packing, thank you for sharing!! So happy to hear the TFG’s packing tips were able to help you with your own packing! Hope you had an awesome trip! 🙂
I think that you jut need to pack for the occasion and your needs. For example, I will be attending a wedding and will be check in on a bag because the wedding gift is large and has items that are restricted from carryon. I have no qualms about paying for checking in the bag as I also will be bringing back items that are restricted and too heavy for carryon. On other trips I have travelled with carryon on only and loved its. Other times it is more stressful trying to pack only a carryon due to restricted items or souvenirs. I would rather pay to check in a bag than spend time and stress out over everything fitting in a carryon. But that is just me. There are lots of factors to consider, such as ground tranportation, accommodations, age/health, length of stay, special occasions/activities, trip purpose, etc. We don’t all have the same needs when we travel each time. So go with your gut, take other peoples advice into consideration, make mistakes and learn from them, and just enjoy your trip. There’s no point in stressing out over luggage.
Hi Jane, thank you for your comment, it is really interesting to hear about the way you pack and travel! Thank you for sharing your awesome packing advice, it is definitely about what works best for each individual! Have a fantastic time at the wedding you are attending!! 🙂
I travel a lot in winter and need a warm coat. I get annoyed at all those who bring carry-on bags that fill the overhead bins so that there is no place to store my coat.
All well and good UNLESS you are physically unable to lift a carryon into the overhead. My credit card allows 1 free checked bag on American Airlines which is what I fly 99% of the time. I am in my 70’s and have never lost a suitcase and they have only been delayed twice that I can recall and that was only a few hours. So do carryon if you want but don’t be guilted into thinking it’s the only way to travel. It’s not.
Hi Carry, thank you for taking the time to share your insight. Definitely, it is about what works best for you! 🙂
Although I prefer to travel carry-on only, I, too, am finding it impossible to lift my backpack into the overhead these days. But I have always found a willing attendant or passenger to handle that for me.
As Alex said in the above post, it’s what works for you!