How to Travel with Only a Carry On: 12 Simple Tips

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Team Never Check A Bag

I’ve been traveling out of a carry-on backpack for over four years now.

I love the concept of packing light so much that I was even asked to be a guest on my local news station and talk about tips for not overpacking in a carry-on. 😮 I guess this is what I’m known for now, and I’m okay with that!

I thrive on the freedom that traveling with a carry-on backpack gives me—no more waiting in line at the airports at check-in desks, no more rushing to baggage claim to get my stuff, I can walk around easily with all my belongings, and I can pack/unpack all my stuff in about 10 minutes.

Still need more convincing? How about having no airline fees to check a bag, you’ll never worry about your stuff getting lost because it will physically be with you, and in general you will just worry less because you will have less stuff to keep track of!

If packing light is a foreign concept to you, and you’re not sure where to start, the following 12 tips are what I try to remember while packing my carry-on for an upcoming vacation. Try them out!

Related: My Ultimate Carry-On Packing List

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Which one would you rather have to carry?

12 simple tips for traveling in a carry-on:

1. Pack your favorite neutral colored clothing that are easier to mix and match. I recommend sticking with colors like black, grey, white, and tan. You can also throw in prints to pair around your neutral colors such as floral, plaid, or stripes!

2. Wear your bulkier clothing and shoes on the plane to save space in your bag. Boots and shoes instead of sandals. Wear your jacket (planes are cold anyway) and jeans as well.

3. Use packing cubes to compress items and keep everything organized. They make packing and unpacking so much easier! Most people opt for two packing cubes, one for clean clothes and one for dirty clothes. Or you can use your second cube for smaller clothes such as socks, underwear, bras, etc.

4. Roll your clothing instead of folding and stacking to save space. This also helps prevent clothes from getting too wrinkled for the most part as well.

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Even sweaters can be rolled into packing cubes!

5. Limit the number of shoes you bring. You could easily just take 2 pairs of shoes: 1 pair of walking sandals that also look fine for going out, and 1 pair of sneakers. You can bring a 3rd pair if they are slim and compact (like flip flops or flats), but it’s not necessary.

6. Leave your “just in case” items behind. You will more than likely not need an extra travel sink plug, sleep sheet, mosquito net, washing line, travel pillow, door stop, collapsable bowl, etc… Anything you find yourself needing while away, you can easily buy over there!

7. Never take the full size of any toiletries. Travel sized toiletries are your friend. You can also buy TSA approved tubes to put your liquids in as well.

8. Don’t bring any hair care accessories like straighteners or hair dryers. You can usually rent these for free in hotels and hostels anyway.

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Easy peasy.

9. Don’t bring anything that has sentimental value to you that way you don’t risk losing it.  Also, keep super expensive items at home as well. It’s less to worry about!

10. Take note of what you wear the most from your wardrobe a couple weeks before your trip. What clothes are you always reaching for? Which pieces do you feel most comfortable in? Those are the clothes to bring on your trip with you. This will help make packing way easier.

11. Leave behind items that take up unnecessary space. For example: instead of books, bring a kindle, or just use the Kindle app on your smartphone or listen to Audiobooks. Instead of your bulky, noise-canceling headphones, just bring regular ear-bud headphones. Instead of a neck pillow, just bunch up your jacket and use that. Get creative!

12. Either commit yourself to not shopping while on your trip, or be honest with yourself and know that you will shop, so plan accordingly and leave some extra space in your bag. This usually requires you to take a couple clothing items out (but don’t fret since you’ll be buying new clothes anyway!)

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This tweet sums it up.

I used to be the type of girl who felt like I needed endless outfit options when I went on a trip. I would always pack last-minute “just in case” items in my bag or go on a shopping spree to buy even more stuff for vacations that 99% of the time never got used or worn.

Maybe you can relate?

It took a lot of trial and error, but now packing light is my favorite way to travel. I can’t imagine ever lugging a giant suitcase ever again! My sanity (and my wallet) are better off now because of it. 😆

As a bonus, here’s that news segment I was featured on about packing light. I blacked out the entire time.

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