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Carry On Only Tourist: How To Travel With Only Carry On Luggage

1-ton luggage sculpture Vancouver Intl Airport

1-ton luggage sculpture Vancouver Intl Airport Photo (c) The Guy Who’s Going Places via flickr

Most people say when they see my luggage ready for the next trip: how can you travel with such a small bag? My reply is, how can you be bothered with such a large one?

What Are The  Airline Carry-On Limits?

There are three limits you need to be aware of they are in order of complexity:

  • luggage size and number of items
  • luggage weight
  • restrictions

Each airline can be slightly different – research all that you will flying on your trip, you’ll have to go with the most restrictive to get away with no luggage fees through out.

Luggage Size.

The maximum size of carry-on is fairly universal and usually comes in to a rectangle of: 56cm (22in),45cm (18in) 25cm (10in). This is really to do with the size of overhead lockers on modern jets. Note you’ll not get this size bag in smaller commuter style planes.

The number of items vary widely. Most, certainly not all, airlines will allow you to carry an additional “personal item” include a handbag, or a laptop bag, as well as an overcoat or similar.

Luggage Weight

This varies a lot from a mean 5kg (11lb)to generous 12kg (26lbs): 7kg (15lb) or 10kg (22lb) are the most common. For most travellers this is actually the limit, unless you are filling your carry on bag with tissue paper, you will most likely hit the weight limit before you over fill the bag.

That’s even when using a soft bag – so think long and hard before you allow rolled luggage to claim some of that precious weight allowance.


Although the details vary from country to country – the TSA regulations are a reasonable place to start.

Liquids are universally limited to not just 100ml (3oz) containers but also only the containers that will fit into a 1 litre (1 quart) ziplock bag.

What I Pack for Carry-On Only Travel

Clothing for 3 months travel in hot and cold climates

Clothing for 3 months travel in hot and cold climates

Note of the below include what I’m wearing for the flight, I’ve never heard of an airline saying you are wearing too many clothes!

My packing list for warm weather is:

3 tops
3 bottoms (shorts or skits or capris)
3 panties 2 bras
1 swimsuit or tankini
1 sarong (parareo, lavalava)
1 sun hat

1 pair of Teva or similar sports sandals

1 camera
1 Kindle for reading
1 netbook for work (these two may be an iPad mini or other tablet on future trips)
1 phone
chargers/cables/plug converters as required for them
paper copies of reservations and flights (the travel industry is still a bit dinosaurs us-like on this)

toiletries which include small size toothpaste, toothbrush, small deodorant, universal plug, laundry line, suntan lotion and insect repellent, brush and comb. I may have a hotel room sized shampoo with me, otherwise I just buy toiletries on arrival and abandon them on departure.

first aid kit – I carry any prescription medicines plus a few plasters, aspirin (or similar). Everything else I will buy on arrival as required.

For a beach holiday I will add
1 swim top to prevent my blond skin burning
1 knee length board shorts for same
1 mask and snorkel set – because I like a set that fits, I hire fins as required
1 small beach towel

For a winter holiday I will add
I’d replace the bottoms with full length trousers
2 pairs of socks
1 pair walking shoes
1 top and bottom merino or thermal underwear
1 mid layer sweater usually merino
1 rain jacket

On the flight I’d actually wear the mid layer, jacket and shoes which is usually necessary to keep the weight down to acceptable limits.

Tricks and Tips for Travelling Light

Minimize and Share Electronic clutter is a pain. If at all possible make sure you share cables e.g. USB charging cables for phones and tablets can be shared (unless their are Apple’s non-standard appliances).

Share with your travelling companion – you don’t both need a laundry or first aid kit.

Packing for Varied Climates

Carry On Luggage for Two

This is a photo the actual luggage for two of us, on the doorstep, as we left for a three-month trip which included Thailand beaches and Europe in December. The gray bag in the front is expandable. We left it in our Kuala Lumpur hotel for a month while we hit the Thai beaches, stuffed with all our warm clothes – cost about $20 from memory for the hotel to store it for us.

For the flights we wore the warm clothing and shoes to stay within weight limits.

On arrival in London we went straight to a cheap clothes shop and bought hats, gloves and scarfs, which we wore pretty much continuously while there (it was the year of the great snowfall in the UK and it was -10C (14F) in Prague. We left them behind when we flew out of Europe.

As we wore almost all our clothing all the time in Europe we had no problem flying with just one bag each on Europe’s restrictive budget airlines, the smaller bags went inside the larger ones for flights.

Commonly asked questions -

Don’t You Get Bored wearing the same clothes all the time?
Yes. But not as bored as I get with hauling too many bags around or waiting for the luggage to appear at the end of a long flight, or filing the forms for lost luggage.

Don’t you hate wearing dirty clothes?
Yes. That’s why I either wash frequently or use laundry services. In much of Asia I can get 1kg of laundry done for about $1 in about 24 hours. If I have to do it myself I chose stuff that is light enough to dry overnight in the bathroom. Or I use a washing machine if provided. Chose items which are easy to wash in a sink: silk, light cotton, merino, thermals are all excellent. Heavy cotton, denim, anything that needs serious ironing, leave at home.

I’m a  women, we need more stuff. 
I’m a woman,  no you don’t. In fact it’s easier for a woman, men’s shoes are heavy and bulky, compared to ours, plus my partner’s underwear takes up a whole lot more space than mine, and he doesn’t carry bras.

What if you run out of <fill in the gap>
Don’t tell anyone, this is just between you and I, but the world has shops. Seriously, real life shopping opportunities. The first thing I did in Yangon, Burma was hit the famous Scot Markets – and come away with a bottle of rather nice herbal shampoo that lasted the trip.

What If I  Need Good Clothes – I’m Going to A Wedding
For women this is fairly easy. For men a suit is a pain as are the shoes to go with it. Consider hiring for the day or sending stuff home after use. For women – there are plenty of options that look classy but are in fact very light weight – e.g. silk pajamas style trousers with a camisole top. Check your coat on arrival so no one sees it. Dress sandals can be lightweight and compact. A lipstick, mascara and eye shadow are small and you can always buy and discard as you require them. Or pay for a makeover including the blow wave. No a hair dryer is not a necessity. Ever.

Last two images courtesy of

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One comment

  1. I travel to England to visit my parents once a year. I take a book for the flight and leave it at my parent’s house, then I have a book shipped to my parent’s house for the flight home. I know there’s electronic stuff, but I’m not asked to close my book during take off and landing.

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