How to Travel with Carry On Only

After many years of hauling a sixty litre backpack around the globe, we finally attained enlightenment in more ways than one. These days, a thirty litre day pack is our limit and we are passionate advocates of travelling light. We look at other travellers struggling with their huge backpacks and wonder what they have in them that makes them worth struggling with. Take it from us – travelling light is the way to go!

It started with a one month jaunt to Thailand Cambodia and Laos. As an experiment, we decided to take a day pack each. It worked like a dream and we have never looked back!

The Essential Foldaway Daypack

The Advantages of Travelling Light

  • No Need to Check Baggage. There is no chance of having your luggage lost by an airline! You can usually check in online and therefore don’t need to wait in line to check your bag at the airport. Additionally, you don’t have to wait to claim your bag on arrival at your destination because you don’t have one. (Please note that the rules regarding checking bags may be changing due to COVD-19. Consequently, make sure you check out the policy of your airline as regards to hand luggage).
  • You can carry your backpack onto buses with you. This alleviates security issues as everything you have is travelling with you. Furthermore, you don’t have to wait to have your bag unpacked from the hold. Sometimes this foils the touts and you can beat everyone else to the best guesthouse! Often, local buses don’t have storage facilities, and travelling with a full size backpack is extremely difficult on a crowded bus.
  • It is physically easier to handle a small backpack and will put less strain on your body. You can hop on and off buses, trains, boats or tuk-tuks with ease. You can walk further than someone carrying a large pack, sometimes eliminating the need to pay for transport. It is easier to pound the streets looking for accommodation if you need to.
Travelling with a Day Pack – San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico
  • You won’t be carrying anything you won’t use. You will be practising minimalism on the road. Everything you take will serve a purpose. You won’t be tempted to buy useless souvenirs which you shouldn’t be buying anyway, because you don’t have room for them in your backpack. (Admittedly, some people may see this as a disadvantage!)

Tips and Tricks

  • To achieve enlightenment, it is necessary to think very carefully about what you pack. If you are travelling with a partner or friend, it makes sense to share toiletries, a guide book, medical kit etc. Anything you can really.
  • A foldaway daypack is essential and should be lightweight. It allows you to take anything you need with you when you go out for the day, therefore avoiding the necessity to unpack your main backpack.
  • Toiletries should be packaged as small as is practical. Travel towels are incredibly light, small and quick drying. Do not even contemplate taking a traditional fluffy towel!
  • In many Asian countries, you can buy washing powder in tiny packets, which are excellent for use while on the road. Talking of washing powder, the secret to travelling light is to wash what you wear on a daily basis. In warmer climes, drying is not a problem and items will dry overnight. Once you get into the habit of washing your clothes out every day, you will find it is no hassle to complete such a minor chore. It is definitely preferable to the alternative of being loaded down with an outfit for every day of the week!
  • To pack efficiently, use strong zip lock bags, cubes or small stuff sacks to keep things separate and compact.
Our combined gear on a trip to Mexico, Central and South America

Camping Gear

When we were in New Zealand, where we hiked and camped, we obviously needed more than we were carrying. We went to a store called Warehouse and purchased some amazingly cheap gear, which we donated to friends when we left. Someone leant us a full size tramping bag. Another option would have been to hire camping gear. The car hire company we used also had a room full of camping equipment that other backpackers had dispensed with and everyone was free to borrow.

How not to pack light! On the Abel Tasman Trail in New Zealand

Travel Light, Travel Free

There are, of course, certain circumstances which would make it impossible to practise travelling light. It may be a little ambitious if you were going to Canada in the winter, for example! In most situations, however, (especially if travelling in the tropics), minimalism is the way to go. We guarantee that once you try it, you will never want to return to the days of being encumbered with a heavy, bulky and a mostly unnecessary load on your back. Travel light, travel free!

We have refined our packing list over many years of travel and these days have it down to a fine art. In our next blog, we will itemize the essential items which we always take along on a trip.

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  1. Great info. We also use traveling combo pad locks to lock the zipper compartments when we have to or want to leave our traveling backpacks behind.

  2. I love this idea! I try to only bring a carry on any time I travel and my friends are constantly surprised that I’m not dragging along a big suitcase. I never feel like I am missing anything though, I just feel like I pack more thoughtfully. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Traveling with just a small carry-on backpack made such a difference for my travel experience too. On our our last trip pre-pandemic last fall, I carried a tiny bag and had only two outfits — one on my body and one in my bag. We stayed in Airbnbs and always had a washer, so it was easy to wash an outfit and night and hang it to dry. The whole experience was absolutely liberating.

  4. I usually travel only with a carry-on size suitcase bit really need to get lighter for some trips. I always end up bringing stuff I don’t even use.

  5. I only ever travel with carry on. Never take a beach towel because it is easier to buy a cheap one on arrival, use it and leave it.

    • Agreed – it’s just not worth the space! When we are travelling for several months at a time, we just take a travel towel and a sarong which is multi-functional and can be handy if we are at a beach.

  6. Great tips! Looking forward to travels… sometime… Stay healthy!

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  8. I also have similar black bag as in picture. Totally agree with the idea of light weight baggage on travel and especially on hiking or trekking.

  9. Some nice suggestions. My wife and I also have a travel blog, and in the spirit of your post, it is called
    Happy trails!

    • Thank you! We are already following your blog and it’s great. It sounds as if you are as enthusiastic about hiking and exploration as we are!

  10. Great post…I’m currently working on travelling lighter but being a woman who has never knowingly under-packed, it’s a process for me! My biggest step so far has been letting go of the idea I must pack for every just-in-case.

  11. Great article! Traveling light is so freeing. It’s like a weight has been lifted off your back..literally. lol

  12. Interesting. We’re obviously not talking about dining out in celubrious circumstances!

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