Traveling with carry on size luggage is becoming more and more popular. Mounting airline fees, more sophisticated travel gear, and increasingly active travel itineraries have inspired many to travel lighter.
We used to pack a lot more than we do now. It wasn’t unusual for us to have to pay extra for overweight bags. After taking so many flights we’ve found ways to pare down the things we travel with. Some key travel pieces have helped us lighten our load considerably. Knowing what we do now, I feel almost anyone can travel with carry on size luggage!
Here are our best tips and tricks that just may make carry on luggage a possibility for your next trip!
First - Know your airline's standards for carry-on luggage sizes
Each airline has their own restrictions on size, weight, and the number of items allowed in the cabin. Always check your carriers website prior to packing or purchasing what you believe to be a carry-on size bag. Dimensions and weight restrictions do change regularly. This comprehensive list by Travel Made Simple includes updated information on carry-on sizes and weight restrictions for 150 airlines worldwide!
Second - Choose the right carry-on bag
The bottom line is there is no "one standard size" for carry-on luggage. That can make it a bit tough to decide on appropriate dimensions for your carry-on bag! Before we left to travel long term, I worked part time in an outdoor adventure store to get discounts on the travel gear we needed. Every time we visit home I see if they need part time help so I see what's new in travel gear and stock up on anything we need to change or replace. Working for them I get the chance to learn about a lot of great backpacks, duffels and, wheeled luggage. Here are what we think are the best bags for traveling carry on based on that learning and our own personal experience.
- Traditional backpacks- Osprey Kestral (regular), Kyte (women's specific)
- Travel backpacks- Osprey Farpoint 40
- Wheeled carry on luggage- Eagle Creek Load Warrior
- Wheeled carry on luggage with stowable backpack straps- Osprey Ozone w/ detachable daypack and stowable backpack straps
Next - the right organizational accessories
Packing cubes and compression sacs will help keep you organized and help maximize space in your carry on size bag. Here are must haves for each specific type of carry on luggage.
- For traditional backpacks- The Hobo Roll (compression and organization all in one light ingenious design).
- For both travel style backpacks (those that open like a suitcase but have stowable backpack straps) and wheeled carry on suitcase styles - Eagle Creek Specter clean/dirty packing cubes and Compression Sac Set Medium.
Third - The right clothes
Multi-purpose shoes, odor resistant clothing materials, and thin, durable, quick drying fabrics are key. Here are some of our favorite key pieces of travel clothing. They're all high quality, light, durable items we've had personal experience with.
- Icebreaker Merino wool tees and Smartwool Merino socks- Unlike synthetic materials, Merino wool reacts to changes in body temp and it's super breathable. It helps you stay warm when you're cold and cool (and dry not clammy) when you're hot. Merino is also highly odor resistant making it possible to wear clothing made of it multiple times without worrying about smelling bad.
- Columbia women's Back Beauty pants, capris, and shorts - I love this line of pants, shorts, and capris! They don't look like travel pants (clean lines, no cargo pockets, a variety of leg shapes to suit any shape). They're light and stretch beautifully without loosing their shape.
- Columbia men's convertible pants, and dressier pants
- Mountain Hardwear Stretch Ozonic rain coat, The North Face Talvo Gortex rain coat- Both of these coats are available for men and woman. They are incredibly light, super breathable, and pack ridiculously small.
- Compressible synthetic hoody - Arc'teryx Atom LT Hoody - Unlike down, synthetically insulated outerwear dries quick and remains warm if it gets wet. The Atom LT Hoody packs small and layers really well because of its awesome anatomical fit. It's the only hoody you'll need, seriously.
- Thin fleece - The Columbia Glacial Fleece Pullover is our absolute favorite light fleece. I own 6 of them (but I only travel with 2 at a time). They fit great and stay looking great, they hold they're shape and color and don't pill.
Fourth - Limit toiletries, you can always buy more of what you need at your destination
Liquids are heavy and sizes and total quantities are restricted for carry on items. The standard is each liquid you bring needs to be 100 ml or less and your total combined liquids cannot exceed what can fit inside a one-liter size Zip Lock bag. Here are our best tips to keep liquids under the acceptable limits:
- Use a solid option for soap and shampoo. My favorite solid shampoo/body wash is made by the Rocky Mountain Soap Company. Their Natural Shampoo Bar with Rosemary is awesome; it smells great and works beautifully as a shampoo and all over body wash.
- For women, buy a tinted moisturizer (with or without sunscreen). They usually come in smaller tubes. My favorite, cgsmoothers BB cream tinted moisturizer by Cover Girl is only 40ml's. It kills two birds with one stone; great coverage and a daytime moisturizer all in one small, neat tube.
- Buy a travel kit designed for carry on liquids. The Nalgene Medium Travel Kit includes a variety of light refillable carry on size bottles with all of the durability you'd expect from Nalgene. Anything else you need to take that's liquid can be pared down into one of the smaller bottles.
Fifth - The solution to packing less is keeping what you take clean
Getting laundry done while you travel can be a real pain. If your accommodation does have laundry service it can be really expensive and if it doesn't, hand washing is time-consuming and a bit hard on the hands! We found the perfect travel accessory to deal with this problem, The Scrubba!
Dubbed, "The world's smallest washing machine.", the Scrubba helps travelers manage laundry super effectively.
- It's extremely light and packs small.
- Scrubba requires no electricity.
- Minimal water is needed to get clothes clean.
- The key feature is the flexible internal washboard. It allows travelers to thoroughly wash multiple items at once.
Travel with less luggage and more cash! Skip the laundry service and get your clothes machine quality clean in minutes with the Scrubba.
The bottom line on how to travel with carry on luggage
Reducing size and weight on everything is key. Here's a recap of the most important aspects to packing effectively when you're traveling with carry on luggage:
- Know your airline's restrictions for dimensions and weight for carry on luggage. Research a few different carriers you are more likely to fly with and choose a bag that will fit each of their requirements if you can.
- Pack multipurpose clothes (eg. pants that zip off to shorts or capri's) and footwear (eg, Only 2 pairs of shoes; one pair of sandals and one pair of hiking/walking shoes).
- Choose fabrics that are light and resist odor (eg. Merino wool).
- Keep liquids to a minimum. Remember, you can pare down your favorite toiletries into smaller travel containers designed for carry on luggage. Try out a solid version for shampoo/body wash. Or, buy what you need for toiletries when you arrive at your destination.
Saving money on baggage fees is another benefit to traveling with carry on luggage.
These articles outline more ways you can cut costs on your next trip:
- 59 Best Travel Tips Learned in 595 Days of Perpetual Travel
- 14 Ways to Save on Travel Costs in 2017- No Travel Rewards Credit Cards Required
- 20 Easy Ways to Save on Travel Right Now
Now that you know how to travel with carry on luggage do you think you can do it for your next trip? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
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