How to travel with just a carry on

If you live in Europe, you probably know how easy it is to travel based off of the endless list of flights under 20, making the world seem super accessible, and making your travel dreams easily come true. 

You may also have noticed though that a 20 flight can easily turn into one over 100 if you decide to check a suitcase; lucky for you, I’ve put together this guide on how to make sure you keep your flight at the price you buy it, and be able to bring all your essentials regardless!

Although this guide will teach you how to bring all your essentials in the most minimalistic way, it is intended for shorter trips, focusing on 3-5 days. 

Plan your outfits before hand

I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve gone away and brought so many clothes just to have the “option” to wear them while traveling, only to get to my destination and only wear ¼ of them. In these situations I always felt like I could have saved myself so much space by bringing way less items. 

Another suggestion is to plan out your outfits before you pack. Check the weather and decide what you’ll wear each day, and just bring that. Of course bring warmer/cooler items just so that you’re prepared, but don’t go overboard and bring way more than you’ll actually need. 

Likewise, a capsule wardrobe is always a great idea while traveling; this means that you bring a few items of clothing that can all be worn together, and that you get multiple outfits out of minimal articles of clothing. This being said, you definitely don’t need your entire wardrobe to be a capsule wardrobe, just choose a couple articles that go well together and work with those! 

The whole point here is to bring the least amount of clothes, but make the most outfits out of them!

Packing less than 100mL of your essentials

This one may seem like the most challenging, at least it has been for me. You may or may not be familiar with the general airport security rule that you can’t fly with liquids over 100mL in your carry on; this can be annoying because it means that if you want your toiletries with you and they’re over 100mL, it is tempting to check in a bag so that you can bring them with you. You can definitely work around this, especially if you are going on a shorter trip where you won’t be consuming an entire full sized product of what you may need.

I would suggest in this scenario to purchase some 100mL containers, which you can just fill up with your products. If you need more than 100mL, you can work around that too by bringing 2 or more 100mL containers of that same product, as long as they are separate 100mL containers. Airlines also may put a limit on how many 100mL containers you bring; I have had some who don’t mind how many you bring, but others (such as most in London, UK) are really strict and require that all of your liquids fit in a sandwich sized ziploc bag. You could risk it and bring multiple bags filled with liquids, but if you want to be extra safe I would recommend you stick to the bag, which you still should be able to fit 5-7 100mL containers. The main thing here is that you can bring as many 100mL containers as you want, as long as they fit in the airport bag.

Wearing extra layers

This one may seem like common sense, but it is honestly such a good travel hack! I find it works best with baggy items, such as hoodies, sweatpants, and jackets,  but you can honestly wear whatever you want! I do this all the time, especially when traveling in the colder months when I need more clothes to stay warm, but they obviously take up more room. If you have jackets, I would suggest wearing as many layers as you can, so that everything can fit in your carry-on at the time of check in and boarding. As soon as you board the plane, they honestly don’t care how much stuff is on you and you can take it all off to be comfortable on your flight.


I know shoes are amazing as they really enhance your outfit and are important for different occasions, such as walking around or going out, but they seem to be one item that takes up the most space. You can’t wear multiple pairs, and you can’t really fold them to fit if need be. I always try to bring the lease amount of shoes possible, and do this by bringing pairs that I can use in multiple scenarios; so many times they can easily take up half your bag, whereas that room could have been put to better use for packing more clothes!

Bag size

This is another grey area when it comes to checking in bags vs carrying on bags. Different sized planes have different requirements regarding the accepted size for carry ons, which you can find on your airline’s website. Generally the smaller planes (for example Ryanair size) will have smaller allowed carry ons than the larger planes (such as the size of a Boeing 777). The thing is, although there are specific bag check points where if your bag won’t fit in the dimension box you’ll have to check it, they rarely make people physically check your bag. I find that if you use a big backpack, it is less likely that they will make you physically prove that your bag fits the requirements in comparison to say one on wheels. 

Carry ons at check in

I’ve personally found that if you are able to get a digital boarding pass, it is the best option as you won’t have to physically go to a check in desk to print your boarding pass. This is key as the check in desks can often be the ones to measure your carry ons and may tell you to check your bag if it does not fit within the required size. If you have a digital boarding pass, you can skip check in and go straight to security (assuming you’re only bringing a carry on). It is great because you will skip one of the points where they may check your bag dimensions. 

The second point where they may check to see if your bag fits the allowed carry on dimensions is the boarding gate. Although I haven’t seen it happen and it hasn’t happened to me, it is possible that they check your bag dimensions at the gates, meaning you could potentially have to pay the charge for a checked bag. Of course if your carry-on is within the allowed dimensions you have nothing to worry about, but it is a thing to consider if your bag is slightly over the required dimensions. 

Another thing to note is that often times it is more expensive to check in a bag at the airport vs beforehand online (as you purchase your ticket or as you do online check in 24 hours before your flight), so be sure to decide if you want to check a bag or not at least a day before your flight.

What bag to bring 

Again, I would suggest bringing a large backpack. This is what I always do and I find that it makes traveling so much easier, as you don’t have to worry about wheeling something around and dealing with uneven grounds or steps, as well as getting on and off public transit. I use the largest Jansport one, which has always secured me with multiple outfits, jackets, toiletries, and shoes. As soon as I brought a backpack as my only luggage for the first time, I’ve never gone back to rolly suitcases as backpacks have been so much easier! 

Other benefits to only bringing a carry on

-you get to leave the airport so much faster as you don’t have to wait for the luggage to come out of the conveyor belt 

-eliminates the risk of your luggage being lost in transit as it will be on you at all times

-less items to carry with you and therefore less weight to be lugging around

Another hack 

One thing I always do is bring a few cloth bags with me inside my carry on. They are amazing because they are super light and fold up to be the size such that they can fit right in your pocket! They come in super handy because they let you take some things out of your carry on to make it lighter, as well as give you extra space to buy things and have to walk around with when you’re out and about, so that you don’t have to unpack your carry on to bring it with you as a day bag (assuming you’re using a backpack). You can find them on amazon, Ikea, and may grocery stores.  

Final words

If you haven’t yet tried bringing only a carry on, I would definitely recommend it for your next trip! Not only will it reduce your expenses, but it will save you so much effort and make your journey be that much smoother! 

I really hope you can benefit from this guide and don’t forget to sign up below so that you don’t miss out on more weekly travel tips & experiences!