You can guess a backpacker’s personality by their pack. There’s the girl with the massive 75l Deuter, who has a different outfit for each day that she’s traveling. Then there’s the guy who also has a huge backpack, but carries anything you need to survive in the wilderness for a year. Oh, then there’s that person who has everything you could ever need and everything you will never need – ever. Some people have massive packs full of absolutely nothing useful. Some people have tiny bags full of absolutely everything. Ultimately, that’s the person you want to be – you want to lug around as little as possible, which gets you as far as possible. That’s what carry-on travel is about!

Why Carry-On Travel?

If you already live out of a backpack, why would you make this pack smaller than necessary? Because it makes your life much easier! Bringing along less means worrying about less. Imagine just hopping on a plane, like you would on a bus (more or less) and strolling through steamy hot Bangkok without being scared to topple over! But how do you make carry-on travel possible, while being prepared for all situations?

Stick To A Color Scheme

The first issue that comes to mind is: what to wear? In order not to lose your mind with carry-on travel you have to pack smart. My ultimate life-tip is always to wear black, but I understand that isn’t for everyone. Here are the advantages to sticking to one color scheme, though:

  • No more outfits – everything goes together!
  • You always look well-dressed!
  • Everything can go in one washing machine!

You could go with beige and white, gray and white, black and white, red and black, etc. Just make sure you can match everything up. It’s always a big plus to know what you can wear and what not. And don’t fret, a carry-on pack fits more than you think. Plus, minimalism has never hurt anyone.


In mine I fit a fit three high-necked crop-tops, two T-Shirts, two pairs of baggy pants, three pairs of shorts, two (!) plaid shirts, and, my guilty pleasures, a pair of ripped jeans and turtleneck sweater. I also carry a raincoat and a hoodie. In time coming, one of the plaids will have to go and be replaced by more tops. The fact that each of these pieces is a variation of black and gray gives me ease of mind. I don’t ever have to think about what I wear.

Toiletries: Solids over liquids

Most people that travel will tell you that hygiene becomes less of a priority when you travel longer. I’m not sure where that notion comes from, but I can only assume it’s because using ten different products every day gets exhausting. That doesn’t mean you have to become a smelly mess, though.
The fact here is that you don’t need to take anything, because chances are where you go people wash, too. I’m serious, bathing is a thing anywhere in the world.

Still, you don’t want to throw everything away every time you fly, which is understandable. The trick here is to take the solid version if possible. A block of soap, solid shampoo, there’s even paper shaving cream. But mostly, soap doubles as everything – shaving cream, body wash, and hand soap. Tip: take a plastic box for the soap. It may start melting after awhile, and it’s no fun to have soap all over your toothbrush. Another personal favorite is a Turkish Hamam glove. I find they get less gross than a scrubby and double as a bag for toiletries. Honestly, in really hot climates and when moving around a lot, I find a regular body wash doesn’t cut it anymore. That’s where soap and the Hamam glove come in.


No scissors, but tweezers and a nail clipper can be carried onto the plane. As with razors, as long as they’re in a closed plastic case, I’ve never had a problem.

A tip for all the girls: concealer and mascara will be enough, but I advise you to forget about the make-up for travel’s sake. It took me over a month to not jump at my make-up free face in the mirror. Quite sad, if you think about it! It helps to keep up your eyebrows, though, and to make sure your face looks fresh. I also smuggled a small bottle of AHA peeling on my list.

Have a system

You’ll never get all your stuff in there if you just dump it in the open pack! I combine rolling and folding with my backpacker clothes, to make sure my packing cubes are filled to the rim. Packing cubes are the ultimate tools for carry-on travel. You can get them in a variety of colors and sizes, and they help keep everything organized. I have one 36 x 25.5 x 8 cube for all my clothes, and two 25.5 x 18 x 8 cubes. One is for underwear and one for all my adapters, cables, chargers and electronic accessories. That way, when I need something, it’s easy to access. A bonus is that they fit perfectly in my Pacsafe Venturesafe 45L, which is the carry-on backpack I travel with.

Don’t leave everything behind

Just because you don’t have a ton of space, it doesn’t mean you have to take only the bare necessities. After taking everything that I absolutely need, I still have space for my massive and ancient Nikon D200 and my lightweight hammock. The latter is deemed unnecessary by most people, but without it, I can’t feel at home. And I could never leave my camera!

Your bag is too heavy!

Especially if you travel with a lot of tech, your bag is going to be very heavy, regardless of its size. Most airlines have a weight limit, but they rarely check the weight of the bag. If you’re allowed to have a personal item (a purse or laptop bag) stuff it with everything heavy. For me, that’s usually my laptop, cables and sometimes my camera. In any case, never let them see your bag is heavy! Casually swing it over one shoulder like it weighs nothing at all. This way no one will assume it’s heavy.

And there you go, these are the basic tips on carry-on travel!


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