Today, over 20% of travellers pack carry on luggage only for a two week holiday.
Unfortunately, airlines have strict regulations about the size and weight of your hand luggage, and nearly 35% of people are charged extra because their baggage exceeds the limitations.
But for the experienced traveller, packing carry on only is the smart choice.
In this guide, we’ll share the secret of how to pack carry on luggage, and you’ll discover that you can travel the world with nothing more than the bag on your back.
The Benefits of Travelling Carry On Only
It’s Faster: Forget waiting around at the baggage reclaim area. Travelling with hand luggage is faster, giving you more time to enjoy your holiday.
It’s Safer: When flying with carry-on luggage, you’re bag is within arms reach throughout your journey. There’s no chance your bag will go missing in transit, or get thrown around by ground crew in the hold.
It’s Cheaper: Most low cost airlines charge for hold baggage. By learning how to pack carry on luggage, you’ll avoid those frustrating charges and have more money to spend on fun.
It Gives You Freedom: A smaller, lighter pack means you can travel faster and further without dragging a heavy suitcase behind you.
To discover even more perks, check out our complete guide to the Benefits of One Bag Travel.
Carry On Luggage Dimensions
There is no standard carry on luggage size. As such, each airline creates its own guidelines on size, weight and the number of bags you can carry on board.
Always check your airlines carry on luggage guidelines before you fly.
Choose the Right Carry On Luggage
We suggest choosing soft-sided case for carry on luggage.
Hard cases can be useful, but if you want to maximise packing space then a soft-sided packs let you squeeze in even more. While rolling cases can be convenient in the airport, we find that a carry on backpack is easier to carry, and more comfortable in the real world.
Interior pockets for organisation are great, and look for a pack with versatile carry options to suit different modes of transport.
Our Storr Carry On Backpack is weather resistant, features plenty of pockets and has stowable straps so you can carry it like a backpack or a briefcase.
Travel tip: Pack a Lightweight Tote Bag.
We always take a lightweight packable tote in our main carry on bag to use as an everyday bag on arrival. Perfect for carrying groceries, souvenirs or your beach towel!
Make a Capsule Wardrobe
When you’re choosing your clothes, pick colours and styles that all work together. For example, if you take three t-shirts, three pairs of trousers and a couple of jumpers, you will have 18 potential outfits from only eight garments.
A good capsule wardrobe works in any situation, so make sure you have a mix of comfortable, casual and smarter clothing. Layering your outfits will make your capsule wardrobe more versatile, whatever the season.
Remove 'Just in Case' Items
It’s always good to be prepared, but it’s very easy to get carried away and pack things that you might use, or pack ‘just in case’ something happens.
Try and kick this habit. Typically, you rarely use these ‘just in case’ items.
Everything in your pack should earn its place because you use it regularly.
In the unlikely event that you end up needing something that you didn’t pack, you can usually buy it at your destination.
Use Packing Cubes
Packing cubes are a great way to save space and stay organised. Pack your clothing in one and your underwear in another. You can also use them to pack shoes to stop your bag getting dirty. We take a spare for our dirty laundry too.
Our Foulden Packing Cubes come in a range of sizes and you can check out our ultimate guide to packing cubes to learn how to make the most of them.
Travel tip: Don't Fold Your Clothes. Roll Them
Rolling clothes can save space and prevent creases. Check out our essential packing hacks to discover even more packing tips.
Pack the Dead Space
Don’t forget to fill all those dead spaces in your carry on backpack. Protect fragile items like sunglasses by stowing them inside your shoes, and try reorganising your bag to find the best possible fit for your things.
Travel tip: Wear your bulk.
Don’t pack bulky items like heavy knits or jackets. If you need them, wear them to the airport and save precious space in your carry on luggage.
Pack Solid Toiletries
You can still fly with liquids in your hand luggage, but airlines limit you to 100ml per bottle and you have to remove them from your bag at security.
If you travel often, we’d recommend ditching liquids altogether to save time and remove the risk of a messy spillage in your bag. You can buy solid alternatives to most cosmetics You can even buy solid toothpaste!.
Find out more in our guide to How to Pack a Plastic-Free Toiletry Bag.
Travel tip: Travel Towels Don't Have to Suck.
Does anyone like those clammy synthetic travel towels?
That’s why we made our natural Linen Travel Towel. It feels much more luxurious than microfibre travel towels, but it’s still lightweight, packable, super-absorbent, odor resistant and, best of all, plastic-free!
Breeze Through Security
When you’re packing, make sure your washkit and electronics are at the top of your bag and easy to access so you can whip them out in a flash and get through security with minimum fuss.
Keep Essentials Close at Hand
Pack anything you’ll need during your flight in a bumbag, crossbody bag or travel accessory pouch.
Keep it on your person while you board the plane to avoid blocking the aisle while you unpack your essentials at your seat.
Don’t forget to download all your favourite books, music, podcasts, tv shows and films before you fly. If your flight gets delayed, it helps to have something to pass the time.
Travel tip: Go Paperless.
Help the environment and avoid carrying excess weight by going paper-free. Switch out your paperback for a kindle, and download your boarding pass onto your phone.
No data? No problem!
Roaming charges in Europe have just been dropped, but that doesn’t guarantee you’ll have signal everywhere you go. Luckily, you can save whole regions on the Google Maps app so you can use them offline. Just type in the area you want (e.g. Scotland), click on the place name at the bottom, and select ‘Download’.
Travel tip: Put It On Plastic
We are discovering more and more banks that don’t charge international transaction fees on their debit and credit cards. Our favourite is Monzo. They won’t charge additional fees, and they automatically create a handy tally to tell you how much you spent in each country you visit.
Pack, Unpack, Edit, Repeat
This is the golden rule when learning how to pack carry on luggage. Pack your bag once then unpack it. Lay it all out on the floor, and work out what you can do without. Then repack, and do it all over again until you achieve a packing list that’s right for you.