Are you wondering how to travel with carry on only? Or if it’s even possible?  Here are 11 tips to help you pack light and travel with only carry on!

The thought of packing light and traveling with carry-on only is becoming more appealing to many people. 

Whether you’re worried about your luggage arriving with you on the flight, you want to avoid extra fees for checking your bags, or you just want to get through the airport more quickly, it is possible to travel with carry-on only. 

Having travelled quite often with only carry-on luggage only, I can tell you that it is possible to do – even with kids! 

It may be a bit more challenging, but with a little planning, it is doable. 

Here are our best tips on how to travel with carry on only:

  • Invest in a good carry-on bag
  • Pack 4-7 days worth of clothing
  • Plan to do laundry if travelling longer than a few days
  • Pack travel-size toiletries
  • Wear heaviest or bulkiest clothing on the flight
  • Use packing cubes
  • Roll clothing instead of folding

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What Does it Mean to Travel with Only Carry on?

When we talk about travelling with only carry on, we mean travelling with only the items that you can bring on the plane with you. 

It means you don’t have any checked luggage to worry about. 

Depending on the airline you are flying with and which type of fare you’ve selected, baggage allowance will vary. However it usually includes a personal item, such as a purse or laptop bag, and a carry-on bag.

Each airline may have different requirements on the size of carry-on bag that you are allowed to take on board, but a general guideline is 22″ x 14″ x 9″

It’s best to check with the specific airline before you fly though. 

Now let’s look at some tips on how you can pack light and only bring carry-on luggage with you on your next trip!

Tips for Travelling with Carry On Only

1. Invest in a good carry on bag

The first step to being able to travel with only carry on is having a good bag to put everything in. 

There’s plenty of great carry-on bags out there, from rolling suitcase-style bags to travel backpacks. 

Whichever style you find works best for you, you want something that’s the right size for carrying on the plane, and that has enough pockets and compartments to keep you organized. 

You also want something that’s durable, so it can stand up to the rigours of travel. 

Here are some of our top picks of the best carry-on luggage for families, to help you find the perfect bag for you. 

2. Pack 4-7 days worth of clothing

When you’re trying to travel with carry on only, one of the best ways to do it, is by only packing enough clothing for the number of days you’ll be gone. 

If you’re only taking a short trip, that means you can pack light and get away with bringing just a few days worth of clothes. 

Even if you’re travelling for longer than a few days, you can still manage to do carry-on only travel, by doing laundry while you’re gone. 

Decide what type of clothing you will need for your trip and plan to take 4-7 days worth of clothes. 

You can see our carry on only packing list here, as well as more carry-on packing tips, but basically, we try to pack 4-5 tops, 2-3 bottoms, a sweater and enough underwear and socks to get us through a week. 

If you’re travelling with young kids, you may want to pack an extra set of clothes,  just in case. 

3. Plan to do laundry if travelling longer than a few days

If you’re planning a longer trip, you can still travel with only carry-on by doing laundry while you’re gone. 

Many hotels will offer a laundry service, or you can find a laundromat nearby. If you are planning to stay in an Airbnb or apartment, try to find one that has laundry facilities included. 

We love these laundry sheets that are easy to pack – and there’s no liquid to worry about when going through security.

Or if you only need to wash a few things, bring a bit of laundry detergent to hand wash them in the sink and then hang them up to dry.

4. Pack travel-size toiletries

When it comes to toiletries, you want to stick to travel-size items. 

All liquids and non-solid food must be 100ml/100grams (3.4 oz) or less and they must fit in one 1L/1 quart clear bag. You’ll need to pull this bag out to get through security, so make sure it’s easy to access. More details on what’s allowed in your carry-on can be found on the TSA website or the Government of Canada website

You can usually find small bottles or tubes of most items that you need, such as shampoo, conditioner, soap, toothpaste, etc. 

Or you can decant your favourite products into empty travel containers. 

This also includes things like sunscreen and aloe gel, or anything else that is non-solid.

Another option is to purchase solid toiletries, so you don’t have to worry about the liquid size requirements.

There’s everything from solid shampoo bars to body soap, as well as solid toothpaste (I haven’t tried this yet!) and even solid sunscreen

5. Wear your heaviest or bulkiest clothing on the flight

If you have any items of clothing that are particularly bulky or heavy, wear them on the flight instead of packing them in your carry-on.  

This could include items like a heavy coat, boots or hiking shoes. 

Wearing them will save you space in your bag and can help keep you warm on the plane. 

6. Use packing cubes or compression bags

Packing cubes are an amazing way to save space in your carry-on and keep everything organized. 

You can read more about how to use packing cubes here, but essentially you just put your clothes into the packing cubes, and then pack the cubes into your suitcase or backpack. 

It’s a great way to organize your luggage, or if you’re travelling as a family, it can help identify different family members’ clothing.

There are also compression packing bags you can use. We love these ones by Gomex, but any compression cubes will work the same way.

7. Roll your clothes instead of folding them

Folding your clothes is the traditional way to pack, but it’s not always the most space-efficient. 

Instead, try rolling your clothes. This will help you fit more into your bag and prevent wrinkling.   

And it’s not just shirts and pants that you can roll, but also dresses, skirts, jackets and even shorts. 

When packing the kids’ carry-on, I find it helpful to roll outfits together. Place the shirt on top of the pants or shorts, add in a pair of underwear and then roll it all as one piece. Then I roll the remaining shirts and underwear separately. 

8. Pack only what you need

This may seem like an obvious one, but it’s worth repeating. When travelling with only carry-on, you won’t have the luxury of packing everything you want. 

You’ll need to be more selective in what you bring and only pack the essentials, not all the what-if situations.  

And remember, you can usually purchase anything you need once you’ve reached your destination. 

9. Use every inch of space

Once you’ve packed all of your clothes and toiletries, take a look at your bag to see if there’s any extra space that you can utilize. 

This could include filling up empty shoes with small items, such as socks or underwear. 

Or rolling up a scarf or sweater and placing it in the space between items of clothing. 

10. Stay within the weight limit

While many airlines currently only weigh checked luggage, some airlines do weigh carry-on luggage as well.  

The weight limit for carry-on bags varies by airline, but is typically around 7-22kg or 15-20 lbs.

If your bag is overweight, you’ll either have to repack or check it, which kind of defeats the purpose of travelling with carry-on only. 

And even if your bag doesn’t get weighed, you still need to be able to lift it into the overhead bin. 

Consider buying a small luggage scale before you leave, so you can be sure your carry-on bag is light enough before you leave for the airport.  

11. Make use of your personal item

Most airlines allow you to bring a personal item in addition to your carry-on bag. 

This personal item can be a purse, laptop bag or small backpack. Again, some airlines will have different size requirements, so it’s best to check with your specific airline

A purse, small backpack or laptop bag can be great for storing things like snacks, books or electronics. It’s also a good spot to store things that you’ll need easy access to, such as passports, boarding passes and other travel documents. 

Just remember that you will need to be able to carry this bag with you through the airport as well as your carry-on luggage, so don’t make it too heavy or bulky. 

Tips for Travelling with Only Carry-On Only AND Kids

While this might seem daunting, it is possible to travel with kids using only carry-on luggage. 

If you’ve purchased a ticket for your child, they are allowed the same luggage allowance, meaning they can bring a small personal item as well as a carry-on bag. 

You are also allowed to bring a car seat or stroller, in addition to the carry-on bags. 

For younger kids, a small backpack is a great option to use as their personal item. This can hold a change of clothes or pjs, as well as activities and snacks for the flight. 

A 6L backpack is a good size for kids under 4, and a 10L backpack like this one is great for school-age kids.  

Older kids may be able to carry a larger backpack as a personal item, as well as a small carry-on bag. These 15L Osprey backpacks are a great size for older kids. 

Lightweight rolling suitcases are a good choice to for kids to use as a carry-on bag.  These are easy for kids to maneuver through the airport and can be packed with enough clothes for a few days, as well as some activities to keep them entertained while away. 

Helpful Tips for Packing a Carry On

Size requirements:

Requirements for a carry-on will vary by airline, but a general rule is 22″ x 14″ x 9″

What you CAN’T take in a carry-on

  • liquids over 100ml/3.4oz
  • pocketknives
  • corkscrew or other sharp object
  • straight razor blades
  • more than 350ml of powder (baby powder, bath salt, sand, etc)
  • snow globes, unless they can fit in the 1L/1 quart bag for security

What you CAN take in a carry-on

  • liquids under 100ml/3.4 oz
  • disposable razors
  • nail clippers
  • knitting or crochet needles
  • small scissors (must be under 4″ from the pivot point)
  • sewing needle

Here’s a full list of what you can bring on a flight, both in checked or carry-on luggage, as per the TSA guidelines. 

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Final Thoughts: How to Travel with Carry On Only

Packing for a carry-on only trip can be daunting, but it’s definitely doable with a little bit of planning. 

Use these tips in this article to help you plan and pack for your next carry-on only adventure. 

Do you have any other tips on how to travel carry on only? Share them in the comments below!

For more family travel packing tips, be sure to check out these posts:

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