Should You Travel With Carry-On Only?
Here are four scenarios where you should consider it.
From business trips to backpacking, the idea of minimalist travel with the bare essentials – whether that’s a toothbrush and a change of knickers or a little black dress and a lipstick – is alluring for many travellers.
But then you fret about what you might need when you get there (what if you get invited to the opening of a Broadway musical? What if Phuket suddenly gets a cold snap? What if they don’t have shampoo in London?), and end up packing a huge bag full of stuff you don’t end up using.
Travelling with just a carry-on bag is an exercise in restraint. It’s also about having the confidence as a traveller that if you find yourself caught short while overseas, you’ll be able to acquire whatever it is you need. All you really need is your passport and your phone, right?
If you’re on the fence about whether you should go the carry-on route (and if you do, remember cabin restrictions, like taking roll-on deodorant and not spray!), here are some scenarios where going with just a cabin bag is either easy, worthwhile or essential.
Scenario 1: You’re travelling for a short time
This is the moment when the majority of people would travel with carry-on only. Weekend city break? Short work trip? Too easy. A change of clothes, a day outfit, a night outfit and maybe an alternative pair of shoes and Bob’s your uncle.
Scenario 2: You’re travelling for a long time
Surprisingly, when you’ll be on the road for a long time – say, three months or more – flying carry-on only again becomes much easier than, for instance, a month-long trip. In this scenario, you’re more likely to be digital nomading or backpacking – and possibly changing locations often. Flying carry-on only means you can save cash and time spent waiting at carousels. It also means that if you’re catching a train or a bus somewhere, you can manoeuvre your luggage much more easily than with a full-sized suitcase.
So how do you make minimalist travel work? You only really need one week’s worth of clothes (3-7 t-shirts; shorts; jeans; hoodie; walking shoes; underwear and flip flops), plus a lightweight toiletries bag (many experienced travellers just use the snap-lock bag you need for your liquids as their toiletries bag), laptop, e-reader and any other handy travel gadgets. If you prefer your wardrobe to be a bit more expansive, you can always invest in some packing cubes or stuff sacks to maximise the space.
Scenario 3: You’re going somewhere hot
Too easy. Leave the beach towel at home and use a sarong instead. Swimmers, sunnies, thongs, and you’re away. Believe it or not, carry-on can also work for a cold climate – wear your coat and boots on the flight and bring a lightweight polar-fleece jacket for insulation. It starts to get tricky if you’re combining, say, south-east Asia with a European winter and need two full sets of outfits.
Scenario 4: You’re not going anywhere fancy
In it for the experience? More keen on racking up museum visits than clubbing? Flying carry-on only is easy if you’re not too fussy about what you’re wearing. If you prefer to wear something different each day and each night, are partial to certain makeup, hair products or accessories, a full-sized suitcase might be the go. But if you’re happy to wear that t-shirt a few days in a row until it starts to smell a bit funky, then carry-on travel is ideal.
Pro tip: Airlines generally accept a cabin bag plus a personal item (for instance, a handbag or laptop bag). If you’re flying carry-on only, it can make security and check-in much easier to have a medium sized extra bag to carry your passport, laptop, liquids, snacks, a hoodie and your book.
That way, they’re all within easy reach and you don’t have to rummage through your ‘big’ bag to pull out your Kindle because you forgot it needed to come out for security – in fact, you don’t have to open your larger bag while going through the airport at all, and you can pop it straight into the overhead locker once you’re on board the plane.
Whether you think carry-on only flying is for you or not, it’s definitely worth a try at least once (but don’t forget to check in on what size your airline allows). There’s nothing like the feeling of sailing through immigration and heading straight to the taxi rank after a long journey while everyone else on your flight hangs around for another 45 minutes – but at the end of the day, it’s about finding your ideal travel style.