How to Travel Carry On Only: A Beginner’s Guide to Minimalist Packing

Girl with backpack in Ait Ben Haddou, Morocco

Traveling carry-on only sounds like something for shoestring backpackers, but regardless of your travel style, it’s actually a very useful skill to be able to have. Few things are more freeing than traveling light. It makes everything easier, from flying to packing. But somehow it sounds so hard! So I’ve collected my 5 top tips on how to travel carry-on only. Test them out before your next trip, and drop me a comment to let me know what you think!


This is something people often skip, but you definitely do not want your bag using up too much of your oh-so-precious weight limit. If you are buying a new bag, make sure it is lightweight first. Unlike with check-in luggages that are tossed around, there is no reason to waste weight on a heavy exterior. If you have multiple bag options at home, weigh your luggages with nothing in them to see which is lightest.


Cut What You Want to Take in Half

Yes. In half. The first time I heard this tip, I thought it was genius, and I’ve been doing that ever since. It’s hard to generalize on how many outfits every person should take. If you are traveling entirely in warm weather, maybe you can pack two weeks worth, as your clothing items are naturally thinner and lighter. If you are traveling in winter, boots and sweaters and coats will eat up weight and room fast. That’s why I think the best rule of thumb is; list out everything you think you need, and then force yourself to cut it in half.

Focus on Multi-Use Items

A large shawl can be a scarf, a blanket, a head wrap, or a sarong. Leggings can be used to work out, to sleep, or to wear under a long shirt, dress, or coat as faux pants. Don’t bring that cute pair of shoes to only wear once or twice. Try to limit yourself to two solid pairs of shoes to wear out and one pair of slippers for showering. Lately, I’ve been bringing a pair of black athletic sneakers (my favorite Nike Free Runs) on every trip. They look fine with leggings, shorts, and even casual dresses, but they are also functional for long walking days and even hikes.

Ditch the Liquids

Instead of buying expensive (and environmentally unfriendly!) travel sized toiletries, just ditch liquids all together. Or as much as you can, anyways. Try a shampoo bar and bar soap, which will also ensure no spillage in your luggage. You can also always buy liquids once landing if you are traveling longer term.

Recommended reading: A 5-Step Guide to Traveling Cheaper

Do Laundry on the Road

Traveling light does not mean you get to smell. Buy some detergent when you land, and wash clothes every week or two at your hostel, AirBnb, or even hotel. This also means you need to pack items that aren’t high maintenance to wash!


I traveled for 3.5 weeks in Europe during spring with just carry-on. I started in Germany and Austria, where it snowed a bit, and ended in sunny Spain and Portugal, where I enjoyed two beach days. How did I pack for two opposite climates with just carry on? I put all my heaviest items in my personal bag (that extra bag you put under your seat on the flight). All my denim items, my thick-soled sneakers, and my camera weighed the same as my actual carry-on bag. But it didn’t matter, because my personal bag was never weighed. Many airlines don’t even have a weight limit for this bag, but definitely check before your flight.


Everyone swears by the roll method, which I’ve actually never used. But I think the important thing here is to pack tight and neat. My mother is the world’s neatest packer, and I got a little bit of her gene with that. I always fold my clothes very neatly and press them down on each other very tightly. Regardless of if you roll or fold, the key is keeping it neat and tight.

I’ve recently learned about packing cubes, and these are a great edition to the travel packing scene. They make it so easy to take apart your entire luggage without messing up everything on top. They also help compress your items. Consider investing in a set if you travel even somewhat regularly.


Layer up as much as you semi-comfortably can before the flight, and then start stripping remove a layer or two once on the plane. Wear two coats, put on two scarves, wear leggings under a pair of shorts, strap on your heaviest shoes, and top it all off with a hat if you’re bringing one. This saved me while back packing around Europe between two different climates.


Have you tried any of my 5 tips to travel carry-on only? What tips do you have? I would love to be better at packing light!

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Planning a trip or planning a vacation? Consider packing light to save stress with this travel guide on how to travel carry on only.
Planning a trip or planning a vacation? Consider packing light to save stress with this travel guide on how to travel carry on only.
Planning a trip or planning a vacation? Consider packing light to save stress with this travel guide on how to travel carry on only.


  • […] Greater Mobility – Without a large suitcase to lug around, you’ll enjoy greater mobility during your travels. This can make it easier to navigate crowded airports, public transportation, and city streets. […]

  • Sue Story
    July 19, 2022 at 7:06 PM

    Keep to black and white or navy and cream basics for easy coordination plus for a woman a few colourful,scarves and maybe a colourful evening top that goes with the black or navy
    I did 7 weeks in Spain England and Chicago with a carryon. Brilliant on trains in Spain.

    • That Travelista
      July 22, 2022 at 7:22 AM

      Thanks for sharing, Sue! I totally agree on both points. I also try to keep to a bunch of darks and a bunch of lights when I travel for long periods of time – to make laundry easier lol! And Spain definitely has a great train network. 🙂


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