15 Tips for Traveling with a Carry-On

Hey fellow travelers! Can we just take a moment to appreciate the beauty of traveling light? As a 30-something travel blogger, I’ve noticed a significant rise in the number of short-haul travelers opting for carry-on luggage only. It seems like we’re all embracing the freedom and flexibility it offers, not to mention avoiding the hassle of lost baggage. Speaking of which, did you know that recent statistics show a rise in airlines mishandling checked-in luggage?

Picture of packing a carry on suitcase
  • In 2022, the rate of mishandled baggage almost doubled globally, with 26 million pieces of luggage delayed, lost, or damaged.
  • Of those 26 million bags, 80% were delayed, 13% were damaged, and 7% were lost or stolen.
  • The rate of mishandled baggage was highest for international flights, at 19.3 bags per 1,000 passengers, compared to 2.4 bags per 1,000 passengers for domestic flights.
  • The worst airline for lost luggage in 2022 was American Airlines, with a rate of 850 bags lost per 100,000 passengers.

The inconvenience of lost luggage can be significant for travelers. It can mean having to go without essential items, such as medication, toiletries, or clothing. It can also mean having to spend time and money replacing lost items.

In light of these statistics, it is understandable why some travelers are choosing to travel with only carry-on luggage. This can help to reduce the risk of lost luggage and the inconvenience that comes with it.

Here are some additional tips for reducing the risk of lost luggage:

  • Pack your luggage clearly and neatly.
  • Label your luggage with your name, address, and phone number.
  • Inspect your luggage carefully before checking it in.
  • If you are traveling internationally, pack a copy of your passport and other important documents in your carry-on luggage.

Considering the above, it’s no wonder more and more travelers are opting for carry-on only trips. So, today, I’m sharing my top 15 tips for successfully navigating the world with just a carry-on in tow.

1. Research Airline Carry-On Restrictions

First things first, familiarize yourself with the specific size and weight restrictions for carry-on luggage on the airlines you’ll be flying with. Different carriers may have varying limits, so it’s crucial to know the rules before packing. Trust me; you don’t want to end up frantically repacking at the check-in counter while the line behind you grows impatient!

2. Invest in a Quality Carry-On Bag

Let’s talk about the unsung hero of carry-on travel: the bag itself. Don’t settle for just any bag; invest in a sturdy and well-designed carry-on bag. Look for one that meets the size requirements, has multiple compartments for efficient packing, and is durable enough to withstand the adventures that lie ahead. After all, your bag will be your constant companion throughout your trip, so choose wisely!

3. Utilize Packing Cubes

Packing cubes are the travel gods’ gift to organized travelers. These nifty little cubes not only maximize space within your carry-on but also keep your belongings neatly categorized and easily accessible. You can have separate cubes for clothes, accessories, electronics, and toiletries. Trust me, they’re a game-changer.

4. Stick to Versatile Clothing

When it comes to packing clothes, versatility is key. Pack versatile items that can be mixed and matched to create different outfits. Choose neutral colors and basic pieces that can be dressed up or down, allowing you to create various looks without overpacking. Pro tip: choose clothes made from wrinkle-resistant fabric so that you can look fresh even after hours of traveling.

A pair of black jeans can be worn with a t-shirt and sneakers for a casual day of exploring, or dressed up with a blouse and heels for a night out in the city. Versatile pieces like this save space and provide endless outfit possibilities.

5. Roll, Don’t Fold

Ah, the eternal debate of rolling versus folding. When it comes to packing clothes, rolling them instead of folding not only saves space but also minimizes wrinkles. Plus, it allows you to fit more items into your carry-on while maintaining an organized suitcase. I’ve embraced the rolling technique and never looked back. Bonus: rolling your clothes allows you to see everything at a glance, so you won’t have to dig through your bag searching for that elusive pair of socks.

6. Layer Smartly

If you’re traveling to a destination with unpredictable weather, mastering the art of layering is essential. Instead of packing bulky sweaters or jackets that take up valuable space, opt for lightweight clothing that can be easily layered for warmth. For instance, pack a few long-sleeve shirts that can be worn under a light jacket or cardigan. Layers not only keep you cozy, but they also allow for more outfit options without sacrificing space.

7. Choose Travel-Friendly Toiletries

We all have our favorite skincare and beauty products, but lugging around full-sized bottles is a big no-no when traveling with just a carry-on. Invest in travel-sized containers and decant your essential products. Alternatively , consider using solid toiletries, such as shampoo bars and solid perfumes. These compact and mess-free alternatives not only save space but also comply with the liquid restrictions for carry-on luggage. Just imagine the freedom of not having to worry about leaky bottles ruining your favorite outfit!

8. Downsize Your Makeup Bag

Ladies, let’s be real—do you really need five different eyeshadow palettes for a week-long trip? Simplify your makeup routine by choosing multi-purpose products and packing only the essentials. Opt for a versatile BB cream that combines moisturizer, sunscreen, and foundation in one. And don’t forget the power of a good mascara and a versatile lip color that can take you from day to night. Embrace your natural beauty and give your skin some well-deserved breathing space.

9. Wear Your Bulkiest Items

When it comes to packing, think strategically. Save valuable space in your carry-on by wearing your bulkiest items while traveling. Whether it’s a chunky sweater, sturdy boots, or a coat, layer them on and wear them on the plane. Not only does this free up space in your luggage, but it also helps you stay cozy during the flight. Just be prepared for some envious glances from fellow travelers who wish they had thought of the same genius move!

10. Minimize Electronics

As millennials and Gen Zers, we’re attached to our gadgets. But when it comes to packing a carry-on, it’s time to streamline your electronics. Consider using your smartphone for multiple functions, such as a camera, e-reader, and entertainment device, rather than carrying separate gadgets. And remember to bring along the necessary charging cables and adapters to keep your devices powered up on the go. After all, who needs a bulky DSLR camera when your phone can capture stunning travel moments?

11. Pack a Portable Charger

Let’s face it—our devices are like extensions of ourselves. So, to keep your gadgets juiced up on the go, invest in a portable charger. It’s a lifesaver during those long layovers or when you’re exploring a new city without easy access to power outlets. With a portable charger in your bag, you won’t have to worry about missing out on capturing breathtaking sunsets or staying connected with friends and family.

12. Research Laundry Facilities

If you’re embarking on an extended trip, doing laundry may become a necessity. Before you go, research the laundry facilities available at your destination. Many hotels and hostels offer laundry services, or you can find local laundromats or laundry services that cater to travelers. By planning ahead, you can pack fewer clothes and do laundry along the way, ensuring you have fresh garments throughout your journey. Plus, it’s a chance to immerse yourself in the local culture and meet fellow travelers while waiting for your socks to dry!

13. Leave Room for Souvenirs

We all love bringing home souvenirs from our travels, right? It’s that little piece of the destination that holds memories and transports us back to those cherished moments. So, when packing your carry-on, leave some extra space for those unique finds and treasures you come across during your journey. Whether it’s a handcrafted trinket, a locally made piece of art, or a traditional garment, having room in your carry-on ensures you won’t have to cram them into an already full suitcase or purchase an extra bag at the last minute. Trust me, your future self will thank you for the thoughtful planning.

14. Pack a Lightweight Day Bag

While exploring your destination, you’ll need a lightweight day bag to carry your essentials. Opt for a foldable backpack or a crossbody bag that can easily fit inside your carry-on when not in use. This way, you’ll have a convenient and compact bag for your daily adventures. I remember one time when I was exploring the vibrant streets of Tokyo, and my foldable backpack came to the rescue. It was perfect for carrying my camera, water bottle, snacks, and even a light jacket. Plus, it allowed me to navigate crowded subways and bustling markets without feeling weighed down. So, don’t forget to pack a versatile day bag that can be your trusted companion throughout your travels.

15. Pack a Versatile Scarf or Sarong

Here’s a bonus tip that can add a touch of style to your carry-on packing list: pack a versatile scarf or sarong. Not only do they take up minimal space, but they also serve multiple purposes during your trip. A lightweight scarf can be used as a fashion accessory to elevate your outfits, as a wrap to keep you warm on chilly flights, or even as a head covering for visits to religious sites. A sarong, on the other hand, can be used as a beach cover-up, a picnic blanket, or a makeshift towel.