Travelling With Only A Carry-On - Pack Smarter, Travel Lighter

Travelling with only a carry-on is a no-brainer for short trips. But it’s the ultimate travel hack for journeys longer than 10 days. Once converting to a true carry-on traveller, you will never look back. 

No more checked bags before boarding means no more excess baggage fees, which is a welcome change if you plan for budget travel. The horror stories of lost baggage at the carousel will also never happen to you. 

But for many travellers, it's not the saved coins or the fear of lost bags that motivated them to embrace this way of travel. That is, travelling the world with more freedom and fewer things on their shoulders gives them more time to appreciate each adventure.

Now, let's join the carry-on-only team with us, and see how life-changing this way of travelling is!

Choose The Right Light Luggage

The right luggage or bags is the foundation for travelling with only a carry-on. A lightweight luggage companion offers freedom, flexibility, and a serious dose of "I got this!" for any traveller.

Type Of Carry-On Luggage

Each type of luggage has its own advantages, so depending on your destinations and activities, one can outshine the others.

Suitcases are ideal for long travel days when packing ultralight isn't possible to cover all the essentials for the entire trip. But they can be a pain to lug around streets, stairways, etc. Plus, it’s tempting to pack everything into them.

While not as preferred, duffel bags (especially those with wheels) can be squished and shoved into the overhead cabin, even when they are a little “chubby." However, similar to suitcases, they are not ideal to carry around for long.

Last but not least, a travel backpack. But does a backpack count as a carry-on? Yes, as long as it doesn't exceed the size limit. We always prefer minimalistic backpacks whenever our trip involves a lot of movement, as they give us hands-free freedom. This is especially true if you are planning on doing a lot of walking or hiking during your trip.


Before anything else, you need to pick the right carry-on bag. The first thing you want to look at is its measurements. This is an important criterion, as your bag has to deal with carry-on allowances from one airline to the next. 

What size bag is best for carry-on? There's no fixed size, as the carry-on limits vary among airlines. For a rough estimate, the general standard is 56 X 36 X 23 cm (22 x 14 x 9 inches) as per Federal Aviation Administration regulations. This ensures that your carry-on will fit nicely into the overhead cabin. 

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Choose a size that fits your travel plans and the airline's restrictions.


Another equally important factor is weight, as you don't want your carry-on to add up too much to your overall luggage allowance. Unfortunately, carry-on weight has no universal (and sometimes official) size limit. 

There are airlines with more generous policies, like British Airways (23 kg or 51 pounds) and those with stricter allowances, like Singapore Airlines or Qantas (7 kg or 15 pounds). 

Though the weight limit is usually not strictly enforced, it's worth double-checking with your airline's policies to know the rules. Regardless of how easy-going the limit is, a carry-on bag made of lightweight materials is your best travel companion.


This tends to be less important than the above factors, but choosing the right features can help your packing process be more enjoyable. 

Some carry-on bags come with basic designs, with a large compartment for you to stuff everything into and one or two pockets, no more. But trust us, you are always better off having a backpack or suitcase with extra organisational features. 

This can be a shoe separator, protective laptop sleeve, zippered pockets, and compression straps. At least, look for bags with a few pockets as this gives you easy access to your in-flight essentials.


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If you’re on the go, you'll love the mobility of travelling with a backpack.

Another thing you want to properly research is the mobility of your bag.  Packing all your travel essentials in one place means your carry-on bag will end up heavy. That's why the studier the wheels, the easier the unlock function of the handle, the easier it is while navigating the airport. 

But when flexibility and mobility are your top priority, you can't beat a backpack. Generally, if your backpack is under 50 litres, it can be your carry-on for most mainstream airlines. 

Whether you want to travel to Europe with a carry-on only or do island-hopping in Thailand, a reliable backpack is your best friend.  Check out CabinZero's collection if you want to skip lugging your suitcase around the airport. Be it functionality or style, invest in a backpack you're looking forward to using it.

15 Carry-On Only Travel Hacks For A Smooth Flight

What to do if you only have a carry-on? Flying with only a carry-on can be an efficient and smart way to travel. Here are some hacks to make the most of the only luggage you have!

1. Rolling Is Better Than Folding

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When it comes to packing clothes, nearly every seasoned traveller will tell you the same advice: roll them.

Let's be clear, we have nothing against folding. But rolling is the best way to tuck everything into a tight space if you travel the world with one carry-on bag (when every inch counts). It’s easy, and everyone can do it in seconds.

If done in the right way, rolling can also reduce wrinkles on your clothes. Another great thing about this carry-on-only travel hack is you can stack your items vertically instead of on top of one another. This way, you can quickly see and grab at a moment’s notice without rummaging around.

Try Packing Cubes

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The real magic to staying organised on the go.

Rolling squeeze-out air between seams. The technique helps everything stay neat and organised. But to truly save space, packing cubes is the ultimate solution.

With these cubes, you won't mindlessly throw all the items into the luggage before zipping up and going. Using them gives you more sense of order and organisation, which, therefore, prevents the urge to overstuff.

To move a step further, consider trying compression or vacuum-sealed bags. They work incredibly well if you’re travelling with fluffy and bulky items like winter clothes. Simply put them into the bags and then deflate the air. While it might take extra elbow grease, you can save up to 50% of the space. 

Extra cubes can be used for dirty clothes and items on your return. This can prevent unpleasant odours from invading all the crooks and crannies of your suitcase. 

For clean clothes, on the other hand, pack each type of clothing item in different cubes (like one for bottoms, one for tops, one for underwear, etc.). This style of organising your luggage also makes it easier to repack your clothes when returning home. 

3. Sharing Is Caring

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While regular packing cubes help you stay organised, compressed packages are the master at space-saving.

If you are not a solo traveller, try to share toiletries and electronics (adapters, cords) with each other. You'll be amazed at how much space you can save by combining essentials. Plus, with a helping hand, you can remind each other of what to not leave behind.

Many airlines charge extra fees for checked luggage. By sharing a suitcase or minimising the number of toiletries and personal items, you could end up with fewer bags, and thus potentially avoid additional baggage fees.

4. Check If You’re Entitled To A Personal Item

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Make use of the underseat baggage allowance.

Many airlines also allow for one personal item per passenger in addition to your carry-on. Don't forget to double-check with your airline so you have extra space to carry what can't fit into your suitcase.

Your “personal” item can be a smaller handbag or a backpack that can fit under the seat in front of you. Your airline also has a different set of dimension limits for this type of luggage.

There are many strategies to use this extra space. Some passengers sneak in their toiletries, jacket, or extra pair of shoes. This can allow you to focus better on clothing items in your carry-on. The personal item also doubles as a day bag for a day hike or a day trip around your destination.

5. Build A Travel Capsule Wardrobe

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A few versatile, quality pieces are all you need to travel light.

One of the best takeaways from any seasoned traveller: Try to mix and match your clothes to have a smart capsule wardrobe. Building multiple outfits out of just a few items is not rocket science. This is when neutral clothes are your best friends. 

For example, a black pant can perfectly match a crisp white top or a grey sweater. Our number one rule is never to pack clothing that only does a single duty. If you live your carry-on lifestyle, space is precious, and anything easier to recycle should be your choice. 

Also, prioritise clothes that can multitask. The mini wardrobe of seasoned packers usually contains items that can double, triple or even quadruple duty.  

When you’ve tried all the outfit possibilities that your wardrobe can offer, don't be afraid of repeating your clothes. No one will ever notice, especially when you're just a strange, foreign tourist somewhere far away from home.

6. Lightweight, Breathable Fabric Is Your Best Friend

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The fabric you choose can make a difference in your luggage size and comfort.

Thick and heavy fabrics work incredibly well in cold weather, but they are of little worth if you’re travelling across climate zones. Choosing lightweight materials often means you can pack more clothing items in the same space. 

This not only gives you more choices to refresh your look but also helps you deal with climate switches more easily. For example, a lightweight sweater on top of a T-shirt or tank top can keep you warm on a crispy evening. You can take off the outer layer whenever you feel the heat.

7. Minimise Toiletries

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Want to get through the security in record time? Go with solid travel toiletries. Photo by lithiumphoto -

Always keep the TSA's 3-1-1 rules in mind when packing toiletries. All of your liquids must fit into a single, clear quart-size bag, and each passenger can only have one bag on their carry-on. Failure to comply with this rule means you're running into trouble in the TSA line at the airport.

To avoid the issues of TSA's liquid policies together, consider switching to toiletries in solid forms. Solid shampoos or perfumes always breeze through the security, last longer, and leave no spillage behind.

Skipping your toiletries entirely and buy anything you’ll need at the destinations is a gamble. Our advice? Bring what you know you can’t find where you’re heading (in travel size of course); ask around on travel forums and communities. If you visit there the second time, you can consider skipping toiletries as a strategy.

8. Plan To Do The Laundry

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A visit to the laundromat per week works wonders. Photo by hyotographics -

We know holidays are meant to escape mundane tasks, including daily laundry. But if you want to take only a carry-on on a long trip, you're likely running out of clean clothes faster than you think.

Make sure your accommodation has a washer and dryer or sits near laundromats. While on-site laundry service at your hotels can be costly, local laundromats in many parts of the world, like Asia, are incredibly cheap.

Hand-washing your items in the hotel sink and hanging them dry overnight is also an option. If you want to streamline your laundry, travel laundry detergent and portable wash bags are worth a look at.

9. Know The Difference Between Nice-To-Haves And Must-Haves

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To pack or not to pack?

We're sure bare necessities like clothes, footwear, toiletries, and sunnies will easily fill up your suitcase. Whenever any new item pops up on your packing list, think about this question: “Will I use this item enough to justify a spot in the luggage for it?”.

When packing, lay all the clothes and necessities in front of you. Then, take in what you need the most and leave out the rest. A general rule of thumb is to reduce the initial packing list by 50%, but it's great if you can do around 30% or 40%. Remember, take half the clothes and twice the money, and you’re golden.

Here are some of our must-have travel items. To us, these are dealbreakers as they can make or break your trip.

  • First aid kit
  • Travel Insurance
  • Quick-dry clothes
  • Layers
  • Chargers and adapters
  • Comfortable walking shoes
  • Extra socks and underwear
  • Hat, sunglasses and sunscreen for tropical countries.

Anything else? With a fully-charged phone, internet access, and cash/credit card, you can buy almost everything at the destination, especially if you are in a city.

10. Wear The Heaviest Items

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You can store your jacket with the compression straps. Photo credit: Marianna / @marynka

This is another key takeaway for carry-on-only travellers. We often avoid packing the heaviest and bulkiest items in our luggage. They eat up too much precious luggage space. 

Instead, wear the big items you want to take along, such as jackets, trainers, or boots, on the plane. If not, consider taking your sweaters or any bulky clothing item on your hands to the plane. Some backpacks have bungee cords or attachment points to hang or store your gear. Make use of them. It's legal, and you won't have to cross any carry-on boundaries or waste luggage space to do so.

11. Choose Your Footwear Wisely

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Narrow down your choices to a maximum of 2 pairs of shoes.

Perhaps shoe lovers are those who find it hardest to switch to a carry-on-only lifestyle. With so much love for their collection, whittling down to just a few pairs to fit into the luggage will be an agonising task. 

However, you’ll need only 3 pairs of shoes for a two-week holiday, no more. Many seasoned carry-on travellers even limit their luggage to 2, or even 1, pairs only. However, it won't hurt much to sneak in flat, lightweight flats into your suitcase, especially when you can't live without them. 

Again, stick to footwear that can multitask while travelling to save the suitcase footprint. For example, the trio of running shoes, casual shoes, and sports sandals can work excellently for multiple occasions. 

Yet, depending on your activities on the itinerary, you can also swap in a pair of hiking shoes when travelling to the UK, New Zealand, US National Parks, or anywhere you plan to go on a hike. 

Also, have some strategies when packing your footwear. Your shoes should go to the bottom of the luggage, which helps your bag more stable and prevent wrinkles from clothes.

12. Make The Most Of Your Space

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Generally, you should pack your items in order of use. Photo by Kay A/ -

There's always an order that works to make the most of every corner of your suitcase. Start with the heaviest items. They are normally your shoes or bulky outerwear you want to bring along. 

You can also make the most of the space inside your shoes by stuffing socks, underwear, or delicate items like watches and sunglasses. Then, add any thick layers like jeans and jumpers. 

After that, you can cherry-pick lighter items, like shirts and skirts, to go in now. These thin layers can tuck into available gaps to form a sturdy form for your luggage. The last layer is for those items you want to have quick access to in-flight or when landing.

13. Know The Rules

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A carry-on-friendly backpack makes everything a breeze.

The most common size limit is 22” x 14” x 9” (56 cm x 36 cm x 23 cm), which is applied by many airlines. If you travel with your carry-on only, it pays to double-check with your airline allowances to avoid any surprises at the gate (after all, there are just two criteria to check: size and weight).

Moreover, knowing what is allowed on board is crucial, along with what’s not. Generally, avoid packing the following items:

  • Liquids that are 100ml / 3.4 oz or more
  • Anything that is sharp and can be used as a weapon
  • Flammable materials
  • Lithium batteries exceeding 100Wh or 160Wh
  • Power tools, drills, saws, and any tool over 7 inches
  • etc.

Don’t pack everything the night before, Once you’ve made up your mind, do a test-run a few days before to see how everything fare. Is the current weight good? If your itinerary involves a lot of walking, can you comfortably carry everything? Is there anything you can’t travel without? 

13. Gadgets Are Bulky, So Reconsider What You Need

Unless you're on a business trip or tied with freelance projects on the go, leave your laptop at home. The same goes for backup drives, iPads, or DSLR cameras, which are considered a luxury for those wanting to travel ultralight.

Again, if you're on a short trip with no remote working commitment, ditch all the stuff. Most of the time, many light travellers can manage with just a smartphone. After all, holidays are all about unplugging from daily life, aren't they?

14. Be Selective When Packing Your Cosmetics

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Go for multitasking makeup products to save space. Photo By Merlin Lightpainting On Pexels

Just as with shoes, you don't want to bring the entire makeup collection with you. For most getaways, bring enough beauty products for one night and one day look, and that’ll suffice. 

Like with other travelling essentials, we love cosmetic products that can do more than just one task. Why bring five separate shadows when you can get by with one small palette? Does your collection have a multitasking product that serves as lipstick and blush in one? If not, you can get a bit more creative!

15. Pack Smart To Get Through Security

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A little mindful packing goes a long way.

There are two things that you're most likely to take out for security screening: the liquid bags and electronics. So, it’s best to store these items in an easy-to-reach corner of your luggage so you can take them out for X-ray scanning in no time.


1. Do I Have To Go Through Customs If I Only Have A Carry-On?

No matter what you're carrying with you, you still need to go through customs when travelling internationally. Customs are a required process for officers to detect illegal goods that passengers might sneak into their luggage. So, everyone has to go through customs, no matter how many bags he/she is carrying.

2. Does A Purse Count As A Carry-On?

A purse is usually considered a personal item rather than a carry-on. Many airlines normally allow their passengers to bring on additional items, along with a carry-on, like a briefcase, backpack, or purse free-of-charge. 

This piece of luggage will have to fit the seat in front of you, with the most universal limit being 18 x 14 x 8 inches (46 x 36 x 20 cm).

3. What If My Carry-On Is 1 Inch Too Big?

It depends on the airline staff to decide the next step about what to do with your oversized luggage. If you're in luck, a 1-inch difference won't give you any trouble before boarding the plane, especially during those less busy seasons. 

Yet, some airlines will be stricter when it comes to carry-on size restrictions. Again, the final verdict is made by the airline staff. 

If your luggage catches their attention, you might be asked to put your bag in the sizer at the gate. If it crosses the size limit, you might have to check it in the cargo hold or pay for the checked bag fee (around $30-70$). 

4. Does A Pillow Count As A Personal Item?

The answer is No. The travel neck pillow worn around your neck won't be counted as a personal item. Simply make sure there are no TSA’s contrabands inside.

A full-size pillow, on the other hand, can be considered a personal item. Airlines including American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta, and Frontier all classify a pillow as a personal item. 

5. Can I Bring A Backpack, A Carry-on And A Purse?

As a general rule of thumb, passengers are allowed to bring two 2 items on the plane. One carry-on luggage fits in the overhead cabin and one personal item fits under the seat in front of them. The latter can be a backpack, a purse, a briefcase, or a laptop bag. 

If you wish to bring an extra purse, fit your small purse into the backpack, so they are just one item. Remember that this “combined” item shouldn't exceed the personal item size or weight limit. 

6. Do You Have To Check In For A Flight If You Only Have A Carry-On?

When you travel with a carry-on only, you can save the bag-checking step at the bag drop before boarding (and baggage claim later). However, it’s still essential to check in, no matter the number of bags you're flying with. 

To save time, you can do the check-in online, and print your boarding pass at home. Since there are no bags to be checked, you can skip the queue and go straight to security in no time. After that, there will be plenty of time left to nosh on some pre-light drink.

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Travelling carry-on only is a delight.

Less Is More: A Golden Rule of Travel

Is it possible to travel with just a carry-on? Yes, travelling with one carry-on is an acquired skill, and we hope our tips and tricks above can help you along the road.

It's a wonderful goal not to have any bag checked. Travelling with a carry-on only brings more convenience and peace of mind to your experience. And, after all, does anyone not enjoy the freedom of flying with less? 

Once you can shed unnecessary items and focus on what truly matters - the joy of discovery and experience. 


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