a man and woman standing next to luggage

There’s something extremely satisfying about traveling without luggage. No worries about lost bags, no waiting at baggage claim and not a worry in the world about increasingly sharp baggage fees. Unless you’re on a world tour with endless costume changes, going “carry on only” is easier than you think. Here’s how to make the most of what you got, and forget the rest…

a row of seats in an airplaneAllowance

Make the most out of what the airline allows. Invest in a quality carry on and maximize the space of your “small personal item“. This second bag could be a rucksack, duffel or tote bag, allowing you to squeeze in some extra items. As long as it fits under the seat in front of you you won’t get the evil eyes from your fellow travelers. Use your full sized carry on as “luggage” and your personal item for iPads, headphones and other things you may want to reach in flight. 

Hand Wash

Sure, it’s a bit of effort, but you can re use clothes while traveling fairly easily, without steep hotel laundry fees. A quick wash in the sink, hang up to dry on the heated towel rack and you won’t need to worry about running out of clothes. You can even find mini washing powders and detergents to give you the fresh “just like home” smell. 

a group of luggage on wheelsWear

Wear your largest and clunkiest items. If you need to take a coat, boots, chunky jumper, scarf, try to plan your outfit accordingly. Just don’t be like this guy. Any bulky items that take up a lot of space should be a part of your new airport outfit, even if it just means carrying them in hand. 


Don’t bring them! Toiletries take up a lot of room and weight. Most places you stay will provide shampoo, shower gel, conditioner, moisturizer, towels and sometimes even more by request. With that in mind, save space and weight by taking advantage of the freebies at your destination. Worst case, you can buy small versions of whatever you need on arrival. 

a man and woman standing next to luggageShoes

This may seem random – but it’s not. You want to find the most functionally flexible shoes. You know, the ones that are comfy to travel in, but look cool enough to go out in as well. Shoes are the clunkiest item in most carry ons, so eliminating the need for an extra pair can make all the difference.


Think bendable, posable. It’s scientifically proven that rolling your clothes can save space and prevent wrinkles. Start with big items, and then save the socks, undies and other things to maximize the tough to reach corners.  And of course, when it comes to shoes, do your best to find the right space. 

a glass of beer on a ledgeRuthless

Let’s be honest – how many times have you come back from holiday and realized you didn’t wear 1/4 of the things you packed. It’s always nice to have options when you’re away but try and be realistic, only packing the things you truly need. Plus, if you’re going somewhere exciting, you may find something you’d love to buy, and you’ll have extra room to take it back. 


Some people are surprised to learn that many luggage forwarding companies exist. Essentially, they’ll send your bags anywhere in the world – ready for you when they get there. If you don’t mind shelling out, this can be a great way to take the hassle out of baggage, while enjoying a wardrobe fit for a king or queen.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Good advice. I almost never check a bag and loathe it when I have to.

    One note, though… I’d say consider where you’re going when skipping the toiletries. Some international destinations won’t have easy access to what you need.

  2. Sound advice, particularly on short hops for business, or when you need to transit quickly though the airport.

    However, when I am travelling in the front of the plane on long haul international trips, checking a nice big piece of rolling luggage just seems to add to the allure. After 10 – 15 hours in the flying tube, it seems a shame to frenetically dash through the airport and into a cab. I like to stretch a bit, loosen up, check out the architecture of the terminal, welcome myself to my destination. Meandering to the baggage carousel is my circuit training. Traveling with a packed suit, dress shoes, several sets of fresh clothes, lots of underwear makes the on ground tripping easier.

    Then again, when I land back in the Bay Area after a long trip, I just wanna get home! Rolling straight from the plane to my car is nice. Decisions, decision, decisions …..

  3. On a recent trip to Krakow via Vienna I was called out at the gate for having a personal item, a carry on and a duty free bag. I told the guy I was allowed these bags and it’s insane when people bring on HUGE wheelie bags that barely fit in the overhead bins. I made sure to stay behind as everyone disembarked and told my concerns to the stewardess.

    Also if you lug a huge suitcase onto the plane and then ask others to help you put this into or remove it from the overhead bin you have no reason to be bringing that on board.

  4. I would also say throw in a packable bag (i.e a backpack or duffel or tote that folds neatly into an envelope sized package) for those that might wanna do side trips but not want to carry on a second full-fledged bag. Or for those that anticipate buying a lot of gifts overseas. Tumi and Urban Outfitters make a duffel and backpack for men, while Longchamp makes the very popular Le Pliage line of nylon bags for women.

  5. Tip for men particularly. – look at your choice of underwear. Packing briefs instead of bulky boxer shorts you can save a ton of space.

    Additionally, important to get exercise when travelling frequently but a challenge for packing without checking a bag. Gym gear takes up a lot of space (extra footwear usually too). Use the pool instead, as you only need a pair of swimmers. If you can carry off a speedo instead of board shorts, then better still.

    1. Great ideas chris. For a recent week trip, packing five pairs of boxers, a pair of trainers, a pair of gym shorts and t shirt literally filled my carry on bag so had to check in a larger one. Larger bag was lost by airline so never want to check one in again!

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