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Travel With Carry on Only: International Travelling

Last Updated: April 14, 2024

If you're a heavy packer, you may wonder how it is possible to travel by plane without checking a bag.

These days, with airlines nickel and diming travelers over everything, packing light is more important than ever.

But how can you fit a weekend's worth of stuff, let alone more than that, in a carry on?

We challenge you to try it the next time you take a trip.

It's possible. Contrary to what most believe, you do not need to bring so much with you when you travel.

How many times have you thrown something into your suitcase because you "might" want it? Because you might need options?

Those shoes need to go with this outfit, these earrings go with this handbag and so on.

Most of the time, those last-minute additions don't even make their way out of the luggage at all ... making you wonder why you brought so much in the first place.

It can be hard for some to reduce to the bare necessities.

We're not all minimalists, no matter how trendy it might be these days.

But if you consider all the benefits of traveling with a carry-on bag only -- not the least of which is not having to worry about what to do when your luggage is routed to a different continent -- you may be motivated to give it a try.

It’s all about creativity and minimalism - and of course, about having the proper bag.

If you need more reasons to convince you that carry on only travel is the way to go, look no further than the myriad airline restrictions and upcharges that have surfaced in recent years.

That's a compelling enough reason to save weight and take advantage of our travel tips for lightening your packing list and going carry on only.

Versatile Must-haves

Versatile Must-haves

If you are traveling with only a travel carry-on and have to fit everything in the overhead bin, the first rule of thumb is that everything must do double-duty.

There is simply no way around this. Luckily, it's not as difficult as you think, and we have lots of ideas and packing tips for the most important workhorse items that every minimalist traveler must-have.

Pack a scarf

A scarf is a very versatile piece for both men and women. It's a stylish accessory.

It keeps your neck warm.

If it is large enough and the climate is warm enough, a scarf can be wrapped into a stylish top or a skirt. Creating two garments out of something that is commonly used just as an accessory.

A scarf can sub as a hat to keep sweat out of your eyes and sun off your face. It can be used as a stylish belt.

It functions as a blanket to keep the chill off in the air-conditioned cabin.

In short, a scarf is an absolute must on your packing list.

Invest in a good-quality travel piece

If you're a woman, this would be a dress that can easily be dressed up or down.

Something in a ponte knit or similarly non-wrinkling fabric that can be worn with flip flops, boots, and tights, or heels and fancy jewelry.

This is your carry on only travel bread and butter. For a man, a pair of pants that can be dressed up or down go a long way.

Choose a packable outer layer

If you travel a lot and you prefer traveling carry-on style, a lightweight, packable outer layer is an investment you won't regret.

Lots of outdoor retailers carry technical gear designed for thru-hiking, where every gram counts.

These pieces roll up into virtually nothing and are equally suited to traveling with carry-on bags.

A packable puffer jacket like the Lorena will keep you warm while packing down to a tiny package (especially if you use a compression bag).

This jacket comes in a range of colors and is a good choice for travel to a cool climate if you're trying to save weight on your next trip.

Silk long underwear

If you are traveling in winter, having a good-quality set of insulating silk long underwear will go a long way towards saving space.

These pieces can be worn under any of your garments, boosting your warmth and allowing you to pack things that take up less space and weight.

Plus, they just feel great to wear.

Versatile shoes

You should never take more than two pairs of shoes.

Wear one, pack the other.

If you can get away with one pair of shoes, do that. Shoes take up a lot of room, and they are heavy.

Observe a hard two-pair limit without fail to save space and weight in your travel carry-on.

Make your personal item count

All airlines, even the budget airlines, will allow you to take on a personal item.

So if you're traveling carry-on only on your upcoming trip, you actually get to take one personal item too. Make that one item count.

Find the largest bag or backpack you can that will fit within the parameters of the personal item and make sure that it contains enough space to pack some of your stuff in.

My personal item always contains a scarf, and sometimes I roll up another item of clothing to put in there as well.

Make sure your personal item will work as a day bag or day pack for your destination as well, in order to save room and weight.

So this means if you are going on a beach trip, your beach tote should be your personal travel item.

Plan to use a washing machine

We know you don't want to do chores on vacation.

Neither do we.

But unless you're traveling for just a couple of days, it really doesn't make sense not to.

If there is any way that you can launder your clothes while you're gone - whether it's a laundromat, a hotel laundry service, or the washer and dryer in your AirBnb, you should take advantage of it.

You can even wash underwear and socks in a sink with some soap - it doesn't take long, and it will help you save space.

Choose a color palette and stick to it

When you're packing light, you need to make sure that everything you bring works with everything else.

Unless your style is very eccentric, this means sticking to the same general color theme.

  • Black and white.
  • Camel and navy.
  • Gray and blue.

Choosing your capsule wardrobe within a theme allows you to mix and match and create more outfits than if you are packing outfits of separates that cannot be mixed and matched.

Once you get used to looking at your clothes this way, the packing will become very easy.

Packing Tips

OK, so you've assembled all the pieces you plan to take with you.

Now how do you go about fitting them all in your bag?

After you've chosen your well-organized, roomy carry on bag, you have to figure out how to pack it.

There are a few tips you can take advantage of to make your stuff fit into smaller spaces.

Packing Tips

#1. Pack it all vertically.

Even if you're not into sparking joy with Marie Kondo, her folding method is genius.

She has a very particular way of folding clothes, envelope style, where just about any garment gets folded up into a tight rectangle.

The genius, though, comes in the way the folded piece is stored. She places them vertically in the drawer or suitcase instead of flat.

You wouldn't think that this saves space - after all, doesn't the t-shirt take up the same amount of room lying down as it does standing up?

Well, no, it turns out it doesn't. Folded in this way, you can fit far more pieces into a carry on travel bag than if you packed them the traditional way.

#2. Use packing cubes.

Packing cubes are zippered compartments that are usually more of a rectangular prism than a cube.

Many retailers carry them now. They are incredibly useful for organizing items in your suitcase.

Because packing cubes create a standard shape when stuffed full of your clothing, using them actually helps you take advantage of every square inch of space in the main compartment of your carry-on.

#3. Use compression bags.

Compression bags are heavy-duty plastic bags that work as a vacuum.

You pack them full and then remove all the excess air from them, which makes the items inside take up less space.

You don't actually need to buy expensive bags to achieve this - the same can be accomplished with a 2-gallon zip-lock bag and a straw.

#4. Wear a lot of your clothes.

Seriously. The easiest way to save space in your traveling carry-on is to just not put the stuff in there, to begin with.

Any list of tips for packing carry on only will advise you to wear many layers on the plane (and shove what you can into that personal item, as well).

#5. Duty-free.

If you are traveling internationally, you can shop in the duty-free at the airport.

And you can usually take what you buy there onto the plane if it's in the duty-free shop bag along with your carry-on and personal item.

So you get to bring three bags if you buy something in the duty-free.

You can use this trick to your advantage if you layer up your clothes, buy something small like a bar of chocolate in the duty-free, and then take off your excess clothing and put it in the duty-free bag to carry it on the plane.

It will only cost you a few dollars, but the extra packing space is priceless.

Beauty Care

Beauty Care

If you are a beauty product junky, we're not going to lie: you have some tough decisions to make.

Don't pack a hair curler or straightener -- these take up way too much room.

Go natural with your hair, or find an alternative product that takes up less space.

For example, if you use a straightener to keep frizz at bay, an anti-frizz serum or oil can take care of that for you.

How much makeup do you really need?

There are so many wonderful, compact, makeup cases that have everything you need for a short or long holiday.

When you find that perfect box, you can get a concealer, lip gloss, mascara, eyeshadows, and eyeliner in pocket sizes that last you for months.

No one needs to pack full-sized containers of half-used makeup in your luggage.

Rather than buying expensive travel-sized containers of toiletries, pick up a couple of empty plastic shampoo or cream bottles at the drug store (these are usually sold in the travel size section).

You can then decant small amounts of your favorite products into these bottles, which are reusable as a bonus.

If you are staying at a hotel or other place that will have toiletries for you, consider leaving most of your toiletries behind.

If you are going somewhere that you can buy toiletries easily on your arrival, do that.

You saved money on the baggage fees anyway, right?

Minimal Clothing

There is a pretty big difference between traveling during the winter and the summer.

Obviously, packing light is much easier when you're traveling in warm weather.

Packing for cold weather just straight-up takes more space.

And it gets even more complicated when you are traveling from a cold place to a warm place or vice versa.

Minimal Clothing

Packing for the summer can be easier.

Clothing is made with light fabrics, sandals and flip flops take little space, and there is enough room left for your beach towel if you need one pro tip: invest in a Turkish towel.

They take up much less room than a traditional terry towel, and with fun designs, they can double as a scarf and blanket for the airplane).

Winter is a little trickier. You need to make some tougher choices about which two big sweaters you will bring with you seeing as you only have room for one in your carry on and the one that you are wearing.

Maybe you can squeeze in two extra sweaters if you are lucky!

Undergarments are thicker, and instead of short shorts, you need to bring long pants that will keep you warm during the cold days.

Packing minimally for winter is much better suited for short weekends or for travelers who don’t mind washing their clothes repeatedly and wear the same outfit.

Layers are key to have options for different outfits in winter.

Organized Chaos

Organized Chaos

Packing, no matter how good you are at it, can be a chaotic endeavor.

First, you must think strategically about what you really need and lay all the items flat in front of you.

Then, get rid of half of them.

No, really, this is important.

Once you have the bare necessities, you need to pack in a way so that every item has its place and easy to find what you need it at a moment’s notice.

This is much easier when you have very few items to fit in a carry-on.

By spending a little extra time to really think about what you need to bring and how much value it adds - you will simplify your life in so many ways.

Select items that are multi-use, a sweater that is good in both cold and warm weather, and colors and clothing that mix and match to make a number of outfits.


Things have gotten a lot more complicated, packing-wise, as society has relied more heavily upon technology.

Now that everyone has a phone, a tablet, a Kindle, wireless speakers, and a laptop computer, plus a portable charging bank and all the assorted USB cords ... we need more space to lug it all.


So first things first - do you really need to take it all with you?

Can you possibly survive with only a phone?

Think long and hard about this because electronics are heavy to carry, and you really don't want to tote more than you need.

Your electronics are likely going to go in your personal item, not your carry-on bag, but you still want to use the space you have judiciously.

When in doubt, leave it home.

Luggage Choice

Luggage Choice

You will be surprised at how much you can pack when you have the right tools.

Selecting the perfect bag or luggage will bring a whole new outlook on traveling with a carry on only.

If you played Nintendo as a kid and still have mad Tetris skills, you can really do amazing things with a well-organized backpack that has compartments for everything.

This makes life so much easier when you are thinking about what to bring and where it will fit.

Do you need a place for your book, your tablet, your makeup, and your laundry?

The best backpacks out there have designated spaces that are easy to access so that you never have to open your whole bag in front of everyone, revealing all its contents, as you look for what you need.

It also makes packing on the go much easier.

When you know what you have and where it has to be in your luggage, you can collect and pack all your items in record timing.

Here at LeafySouls, we have a wide selection of backpacks that are excellent for travel.

This vintage vegan canvas backpack is our top choice for travel.

Number one, it just looks really cool.

Number two, it converts from a backpack to a briefcase-style bag with a special flap that zips to cover the backpack straps.

It's also durable and huge, with space for all your stuff.

It contains multiple compartments to help you organize everything you need for your around the world getaway.

The Berk bag is similar to our previous choice in that it is convertible.

This kind of versatility is really key when you are going to travel with only one bag.

A large, durable canvas bag with pockets and multiple compartments will help you keep your stuff organized and maximize your packing space.

Another large backpack well-suited to carry on only travel.

The Ezra features multiple sturdy handles that aid in hoisting the bag up to those overhead bins (this can be difficult when you're maxing out the weight allowance for a carry on bag).

With multiple compartments and durable straps, this is a great choice for the world traveler.

If you're looking for a stylish yet functional choice for your personal item, look no further than the Ares.

It's smaller size means you won't want to choose it as your carry-on, but it is a great option for your personal item with many compartments for organization.

It's made of sturdy, durable materials, too, so it will hold up to years of use.

The Myro is a larger bag that is probably as big a personal item as you can get on an airplane.

It comes in a million colors and includes a bonus travel pouch that can be used to organize your smaller items during travel.

Made of rugged canvas with thick straps for comfort, this is a bag that looks cool but is comfortable to wear.

If you prefer tote bags, we have got you covered there, too.

The Jaya bag is huge and colorful.

This is a great choice if your travel is for a beach holiday, as the bag easily doubles as a beach bag, both in function and style.

The bag doesn't have much organization on the inside, but you can easily remedy this with packing cubes.

If you're just going away for the weekend and you've really embraced the minimalist packing ethos, this could be the only bag you bring period.

The Rosemary is another very hip bag that is well suited to be used as a personal item and day bag if you are going to a metropolitan destination where you prefer to look polished.

A large tote bag that can easily serve as a personal item on your next trip, the large size of the Cleo is stylish and functional, with interior pockets that help you organize your things for your trip.

The Cleo is available in a range of colors.

A Few More Tips

Our tips are focused on helping you cram as much stuff as possible into your bag, but there is one problem with this.

The bag can get quite heavy, as you will see the first time you try to carry it.

Most major airlines don't weigh your carry-on bag, but they all have posted weight limits.

A Few More Tips

If you are flying one of those bare-bones budget airlines, though, they are going to weigh your bag, and if it's over the weight limit, you're going to get charged.

How to avoid this?

Some travelers have reported that, by doing all the checking in online and avoiding the check-in counter attendant at the airport, there is no opportunity for anyone to weigh the carry on travel bag.

If you get to boarding, and it looks like the gate attendant is weighing bags, try this sneaky tip.

You can position yourself to board behind someone with a larger, bulkier bag than yours.

When they get hauled off to the side to be weighed, position your bag to block the attendant's view of it and quickly proceed through the gate without looking back.

And don't feel bad about not warning the guy with the bigger bag - there was nothing that could be done about it anyway.

Is that enough tips for you?

Packing light doesn't have to be stressful or difficult. It just requires strategy and advance planning.

Once you begin to travel like this, you'll never want to travel in any other fashion.

Packing only a carry on is beneficial in so many ways.

You can skip waiting at the baggage claim and get to your destination faster.

No waiting in line to fill out claim reports if your luggage goes missing, or having to emergency shop because your bathing suit did not arrive.

Less stuff in your suitcase means less time keeping track of your possessions and more time in leisure travel activities.

Not to mention the baggage allowance fees that you save by not checking a bag.

Carry on travel is really the best, and once you take a trip with only a carry on, we are confident that you will agree.

What are you waiting for?

Hit up our shop, choose your carry on, plan your trip, and enjoy that weightless feeling that comes with traveling light. You won't regret it.

About the author, Leafy Souls


This is the staff-writer's account for Leafy Souls' blog.

We aim to make ethical consumerism simple with helpful guides, tips, and recipes to inspire you to make the best decisions.

And, you can trust us to select, test and present to you the most beautiful vegan apparel and accessories, to help you look (and feel) your best.

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