How to Travel With Only A Carry-on

It didn’t dawn on me that people traveled without checked luggage until earlier this year. I had that epiphany when my boyfriend and I were researching the steps it would take to reach to Machu Picchu from Jamaica. He said we’re not checking any luggage to take six airplanes and two trains. I scoffed at the idea initially and wondered how shall I manage to travel that light for one week. I warmed up to it eventually after I realized checked luggage for all those connecting flights wouldn’t be practical. If my luggage didn’t arrive on time at one leg of the journey, that would be disastrous. I learnt a lot from this experience so here I am sharing hacks on how to travel with only a carry-on, as well as the benefits of not having checked luggage.


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How To Travel With Only A Carry-on

  • Purchase a small suitcase or duffel bag which fits the average airline carry-on requirements.
  • Double check the carry-on weight limits and dimensions of your airline. They’ll change from airline to airline with Spirit having the smallest dimensions I’m aware of, that is, 22 x 18 x 10 inches including handles and wheels. Copa Airlines has a carry-on weight limit of 10 kg or 22lbs. Many times the staff may not measure or weigh your luggage, but if it looks obviously overweight– they will. If your luggage ends up being too large or over the weight limit, you’ll be forced to check it last minute at the gate and that will cost you.
  • Pack early. You’ll need time to pack and repack so that you only travel with the most absolutely essential items. Last minute packing is a no-go.
  • Plan your outfits. Carry multipurpose clothing such as jeans and neutral colours so that you can mix and match while remaining stylish. Try on outfits or at least lay them out on the bed so that you can ensure you’ll look good in the limited items you’re packing. However, no matter how light you’re packing, still ensure you take something fancy in addition to your flipflops and swimsuits so that you can attend any formal dinners or events which may arise.
  • Don’t carry extra things just because you think you may need them. Chances are you won’t! How often do you come back from a trip with clothes you didn’t even touch? If you’re traveling with only a carry-on, you don’t want to be weighed down with unnecessary items or clothing. If you’re traveling to a place where people live, they’ll have stores or vendors where you can buy anything you end up needing– but chances are, you won’t need it anyway.
  • Roll your clothes instead of folding. This creates more space in your suitcase.
  • Wear your heaviest clothing and shoes. I was worried about looking ridiculous at first, but this practice is pretty common. That winter coat, hiking boots, sweater and sneakers will take up too much weight in your suitcase. You can pack an extra few shirts and sandals in the space that that coat would occupy.
  • Get travel sizes of all the cosmetics, toiletries and appliances you plan to take with you. I even purchased a tiny travel iron which weighs only 1lb in the event my hotel room didn’t provide an iron since having an iron was important to me. I couldn’t bear to waste precious space on a full-sized one.
  • Packing cubes can save space in a carry-on, therefore they may be worth the purchase. However, the space you save can be negligible especially if you’ve already mastered the art of rolling your clothing into the most compact size possible.
  • If you’re spending more than 10-14 days away from home, you’ll require either an accommodation with laundry facilities or a laundromat. Bear this in mind while planning your trip.

Benefits of Ditching Checked Luggage

1. You save time at the airport. If you’re traveling on a tight schedule or have a close connecting flight to catch, the precious minutes you save by not having to search for your luggage can go a long way. Use that time to find your next gate or grab a meal.

2. This decreases the likelihood of your suitcase or possessions getting damaged. Have you ever looked out the airplane window and seen the guys load the suitcases onto the plane? They practically throw the bags, which can result in a suitcase getting scratched or even broken apart, and fragile items stand no chance. When you stack your own luggage in the overhead compartment, it’s less likely for it to become damaged.

My neatly packed carry-on, ready to go (20 lbs, 20 x 14 x 10 inches)

3. Carry-on luggage prevents the inconvenience of lost or stolen bag(s). Imagine if the airline forgets to load your luggage, or it gets placed on the wrong plane and you end up arriving before the luggage does? This can take hours, days or WEEKS to get fixed, which is mightily inconvenient if you’re on vacation and left without clothes to wear. This travel mishap happens rather often, and you can avoid it by traveling with a carry-on. That way, your luggage is with you at all times.

Wrap Up

I may never go back to checked luggage again at this rate, ha! Do you usually travel with checked luggage, a carry-on or both? If you haven’t traveled with only a carry-on yet, do you think you could? Let me know in the comments below. Please bookmark this post and pin for later. Share with a friend to downsize their luggage for the next trip. Remember to subscribe for new posts.

‘Til next time.

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Rochelle | Adventuresfromelle

Adventures from Elle is a travel blog for locals & visitors who want to experience the best of Jamaica, one adventure at a time. The blog is curated by Rochelle Knight, a junior resident (M.D.) in internal medicine and published author. She began the blog in 2016 as a medical student & wants to see the world, starting with her home country. Purchase her book 'SIGHTSEE JAMAICA' on Amazon and join her in Jamaica!

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