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How to travel with 1 carry-on bag

Returning home after yet another trip, I wanted to write about a topic I get many questions about.

How to travel with 1 carry-on bag and never check luggage again.

For more travel tips, please refer to this blog post.


In my previous job as a talent manager, I traveled almost every month on short trips spanning 2-3 days. How to pack was never a second thought and almost always brought more than needed. However, this past year I have traveled extensively abroad and needed to pay attention to what I was packing since each trip would last anywhere from 1-3 months. After almost a year of traveling, there are many things that were learnt along the way including the importance of the right bag, comfortable shoes and packing light. Today, I’m sharing some tips from my experience and research on the topic. If you’d like to add your own, please share in the comments below.

These tips will help to:

  • Save time
  • Feel secure
  • Move faster
  • Reduce stress
  • Save money on checked baggage fees

Create a system and never over pack again!

Here are some tips how to travel with 1 carry-on bag and never check luggage again.

  1. Pick the right bag or luggage.

This will depend on where you are going. After a recent trip to Belgium, my fairly new rolled luggage did not survive and 1 of the wheels needed to be replaced. Cobblestone streets are great unless you have to roll through them.

If you are set on rolled luggage, soft sided is preferred over the hard case. They weigh less and are more adaptable to the items inside. Simple box design will have more storage versus the curved counterpart.

Duffle bags are also a good option. They compress well and can fit much more than a carry-on suitcase at times.

  1. Create a packing list.

Not all the items that you ‘might’ use but rather the foundation of what you need -things you would miss and wouldn’t enjoy the trip without.

Starting with your morning routine and ending with night.  Ask yourself:

– What items do I use on a regular basis?

– What activities do I plan to do on this trip?

Your packing list should represent the essential items.

Just like every pilot is required to complete a mandatory checklist, so should you.

Here’s the basic foundation of the items you need:

  • Shoes (comfortable shoes – most important! e.g. snickers, flip flops, high heels)
  • Everyday clothing (e.g. shirts, pants, dresses, underwear, socks, pajamas)
  • Activity-specific (depending on what you plan to do – e.g. exercise, formal wear)
  • Weather-specific clothing (e.g. umbrella, coat, hat, scarf, swimsuit, boots)
  • Toiletries (e.g. toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant, cosmetics, medicine)
  • Travel documents (e.g. boarding passes, itineraries, your passport)
  • Entertainment/Business items (e.g. computer, tablet, chargers, headphones, books)

Packing and Travel Tips:

  1. Picking a neutral color scheme ensures items will mix and match.
  2. If you plan to wear jewelry, pick just one tone, gold or silver.
  3. Bring clothes that can be layered.
  4. If something can only be worn once or requires ironing, extra fixings, etc. leave it.
  5. Pick items that wash easily and dry quickly.
  6. For doctor-prescribed medicine, bring your prescription.
  7. Get free samples of toiletries. Many beauty companies will be happy to provide them for you.
  8. Another option is to buy empty travel size bottles and refill with your regular products. This saves you money and allows you to use your favorite products instead of what’s available sample size in stores.
  9. To save space, get a 3 in 1 product that functions as a shampoo, conditioner and body wash.
  10. Jewelry, chargers, other small electronics and toiletries go in separate zip lock or mesh/nylon bags. If your bag has side pockets, place liquids bag there for easy removal while going through security.
  11. If you are bringing a suit, don’t forget to utilize the space inside. Many items can fit in 1 suit bag and it’s rarely checked for weight.
  12. Instead of a regular towel, get a micro towel. They don’t take much space and dry very quickly.
  13. Collapsible water bottle doesn’t take much space, will ensure you stay hydrated and can easily be refilled while traveling.  I use the one from Vapur and have been happy with it.
  14. If you travel often, I would also recommend having a pre-packed bag with all your liquid/medicine/samples, this way, you can just toss it in the luggage, grab a few outfits and ready to go.
  15. Wear your heaviest clothes and shoes.
  16. If you have a camera with you or a laptop, consider wearing a small shoulder bag just holding these items.

Now that you narrowed down your selections, let’s get down to packing it all in and utilizing all the precious free space.


  1. Pack it. 

  • Roll all your clothes. This ensures more items will fit in and also helps reduce wrinkles in your clothes.
  • Build a foundation by packing heavier clothes on the bottom and lighter on top. Shoes and bulky items should go at the bottom of your luggage. Put socks and any other small items inside the shoes to save extra space.
  • Get a compression bag and put all your clothes inside. Another option is to use packing cubes. They provide structure especially if you use a duffle bag.
  • Prepare another outfit you can easily change into if there’s a change in temperatures or going straight to an event. Put this on the side of your luggage or in your handbag.
  • Sneakers or tennis shoes can also attach on the outside of your bag. Simply tie the laces around the handle and let them dangle.
  • Pack healthy snacks to save money at the airport. Granola, nutrition bars, dry fruit all are good options and don’t take up too much space.

Here’s how I travel:

  • Before departure email a copy of my itinerary and passport to a friend.
  • Inform credit cards and phone company of travel plans.
  • Have a written address and phone number of my destination/host.
  • Check in online.
  • 1 carry-on holding my clothes, shoes and toiletries. In a separate bag placed on top for easy removal and change include: 1 outfit, exercise clothes, pajamas, towel and toiletries. A rain jacket is on the outside pocket along with an extra nylon bag.
  • 1 smaller bag holding laptop, phone, chargers, harddrive, camera, book, notebook, pen, umbrella,  water bottle and snacks. Even though it’s smaller in size, it’s the heavier bag of the two and holds the most important items. Because of its discrete size, it’s rarely weighted!

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Having it all in one bag allows me to work anywhere and anytime. Airport layovers and long flights are not an issue if I can work on my computer.

When unpacking, I only take out the items I will need for the next 1-2 days and keep it all next to each other.

By thinking ahead and organizing your luggage and handbag accordingly, you save time and make sure nothing is lost or forgotten.

Hope you found these tips useful and will travel with 1 carry-on and never check luggage again.

If these tips are not enough, check out the sites below to get more information.

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