Keep Calm and Carry On: 12 Best Practices to Travel With Only a Carry-On

By Camille Poire | BLOG

Jul 13
how to travel with only a carry-on

Traveling with only a carry-on is a challenge that any frequent traveler will probably want to master sooner or later. This skill is crucial because it opens up your travels to a whole new level of comfort and freedom. For example, you don’t have to spend money on your check-in luggage if you learn to travel with only a carry-on.


On that note, being able to use only a carry-on when you go on a trip is something that you have to learn. Packing light can seem daunting at first, but it will become progressively easier if you practice it often to get the hang of it. You can do that by creating a routine and a plan for managing your carry-on luggage. Here are 12 of the best travel practices to help you get started packing only a carry-on.

Start with picking the right bag

When choosing the correct carry-on luggage, you first need to think about your average travel needs. If you're feeling lazy or in a rush, you might simply pick out the carry-on that looks the most appealing. However, the outward design and physical appearance shouldn't be the first factor you consider in picking the right bag.

Each kind of carry-on luggage has its pros and cons. You need to weigh those out to find the one that’s most fitting for your travel style. For example, if you have a business trip, you should use a carry-on case that won’t wrinkle your suit. If you want to be able to pack-and-go, a backpack or a duffel bag is the right choice.

Different types of carry-on options can help you address more specific travel concerns, so be more deliberate with the bag that you choose.

Check your airline’s carry-on restrictions

Each airline sets different travel rules, so travelers should first check out the particular booking terms of their airline of choice. You might find an issue with their rules and restrictions, like maximum weights and additional fees. People who travel with only a carry-on should pay special attention to the airline's carry-on restrictions.

The carry-on size and weight allowed differ from one airline to another. Therefore, if you get too used to one airline's restrictions, you might find yourself going over the limit. Before you book a flight, make sure that you're familiar and comfortable with the airline rules you need to follow.

If you only have a limited choice of luggage, this is an especially important step to ensure you travel with comfort with only a carry-on.

Pack essential items first

money medication essential travel items

Since you have limited space in your luggage now, you need to make sure that you’re bringing your most essential travel items. You need to be more careful of the things you pack, so you shouldn’t leave it to the last minute. Packing in a hurry usually induces a bit of a panic, leading you to pile up things that you don’t need into your baggage.

Key items that you should be packing in your luggage first include:

  • Travel documents
  • Identification
  • Medications
  • Phone, laptop, and camera
  • Chargers for your electronic devices
  • Clothes

Be strategic with your clothing choices

Since your clothes are a part of your essentials, they’re not something you can cut off your packing altogether. However, it doesn’t mean you can’t dial it down when you travel with only a carry-on. Being a bit more strategic with the clothes that you bring with you will ensure that your luggage isn’t full of items that you don’t need.

packing clothes for trip

At most, you should only have a week’s worth of clothing, and that’s the maximum. You can even get away with bringing three days' worth of clothes if you know how to mix-and-match and plan your outfits correctly. If you book a place with a washing machine and a dryer, then it’s even better. If not, there will probably always be a laundry service accessible anywhere.

Roll your clothes

One way to pack more items in your carry-on is by strategically folding your clothes. Or even better: roll them instead. With limited space in your carry-on, rolling your clothes will keep them more organized and minimize the amount of space they take. Of course, make sure you have a working iron at your accommodation, just in case you manage to wrinkle your clothes.

Be selective of your footwear

select footwear to travel with only a carry-on

When it comes to footwear, you can get away with bringing only two pairs of shoes on your trip. You should always wear the bulkiest ones at the airport. Choosing versatile footwear that is suitable for multiple occasions is the key to reducing the number of shoes you travel with.

Bring travel-sized or solid toiletries

Ensure that your toiletries are in travel-sized containers. If you can manage, you might want to try purchasing a majority of your toiletries at your destination instead. Another alternative would be to bring shampoo or conditioner bars instead. These aren’t liquid, so they’re much more comfortable to bring with you.

If you're planning to travel with only a carry-on regularly, investing in a great toiletry bag for travel will also help you organize all your toiletries neatly and reduce the space they take in your luggage.

Maximize the space in your carry-on

Since you have limited space, make sure that you make the most out of that space. However, remember to strike a balance, especially if you plan on bringing home some treats, trinkets, and souvenirs from your trip.

Wear the bulkiest items in transit

Aside from your shoes, you should also wear your bulkiest clothing items in transit. For example, wearing your jeans and coat on your flight will free up more room in your luggage and lessen its weight (as well as prevent you from being cold on the plane).

waiting at airport

If your carry-on is just a little too heavy for the airline's limit, you can also try to remove an extra layer of clothing from your luggage at the airport and wear it on the flight.

Use packing cubes or compression bags

These two solutions are a light packer's best friends! Using packing cubes or compression bags has two benefits when you travel with only a carry-on: they organize your items and leave more space in your pack. Therefore, if this is something that you need help with, consider purchasing these items before you start packing.

Bring multi-purpose items

Multi-purpose items help you reduce the number of things that you pack into your luggage. For example, lightweight clothes that you can wear in many ways and styles are useful. Ziplocks are also helpful since they can contain wet items, protect items from getting wet, and so on.

Minimize electronic gadgets

packing to travel only with a carry-on

As much as possible, limit the number of electronic gadgets that you bring with you. Unless you’re a photographer by trade, you probably don’t need to be lugging around multiple lenses for your camera, or even an entire camera. A lot of phones these days have fantastic camera specs already, anyway.

Conclusion: Make Carry-on Travel Work for You

Traveling with only a carry-on can be intimidating and challenging the first time you do it. However, building up a routine and getting used to it first will help you master that art eventually. Of course, you need to take the plunge and downsize your luggage first to do that.

With the help of these tips, though, you should be equipped with the necessary knowledge to help you travel with only a carry-on with ease.

Have you switched to carry-on travel? Do you have other top tips to share? Let us know in a comment below!

Rating: 4.52 (21 votes)

About the Author

Hey, I'm Camille! I'm a 30-something "ex-French" girl turned world explorer. In 2013, I quit my life to travel the world - and I haven’t stopped since! I have lived in the UK, South Korea, Thailand, and Colombia, and have visited 50+ countries as a location-independent travel writer and affiliate marketer. I like sleeping in hammocks, riding scooters, eating all the foods, and scaring my mother trying adventure sports! I now share this journey with my nomadic boyfriend Mr B, with whom I recently bought a home base in the mountains of Bansko, Bulgaria.

Leave a Comment:

Leave a Comment: