Something Practical Vacation Style

Travel With Only Carry-On Luggage? Yes, You Can! Part 1

A woman sitting on the ground with her luggage.

How many days do you think YOU can travel with only carry-on luggage? I must admit, before my honeymoon abroad, I thought I could maybe go 5 days at the absolute maximum.

My shmoopy husband felt that it was vitally important to go to the three most romantic cities in the world on one’s only honeymoon. For him, that meant Venice, Barcelona and of course, Paris. Swoon! We had 2 1/2 weeks in which to hit 3 European countries. Oh, plus an overnight in London on our arrival. The weather we faced that September ranged from hot and humid to frigid with a downpour. That’s a lot of different clothes required in one trip!

A man and woman sitting on the back of a car.

We figured out that from London, we could fly between each city on flights that were less than 50 euros. The downside of these low-cost airlines is that their baggage restrictions limit carry-on to smaller-than-normal-carry-on size, with no extra room for even a purse outside your one bag. I had never packed so snug-ly and efficiently. I will never go back to the way I had packed before. Even now with a toddler, I always travel with carry-on only. Think of how great this pared-down way of packing could be for your future travels!

In this post, I’ll go over the logistics of how to bring your clothes in a carry-on only. Next time, I’ll discuss exactly what to bring (stay tuned for the Part 2 post). Packing for carry-on-only travelling requires more than throwing your favourite clothes into a suitcase the night before heading to the airport. It is most definitely worth a couple extra evenings spent planning and the time used for gathering the right equipment beforehand.

How to Bring It…

What to Bring It In

For my 3-city, 18 day honeymoon, my husband and I bought luggage specifically with this trip in mind. The bags we were looking for had to have very specific size restrictions (smaller than most airlines required maximum size) and fit our adaptability requirements. We needed our cases to have no wheels whatsoever. Wheels take up valuable space within a suitcase, as does the housing for a retractable handle. Besides, to get to most accommodations in Venice, you must traverse worn-down cobblestone streets and numerous bridges that have stairs on either side. Wheels on your suitcase just don’t work here.

A woman sitting on the couch with her luggage.

We hunted for stylish-looking luggage that had hidden backpack straps, for when we needed to walk a few blocks while hauling our own bags. Thankfully, we found amazing luggage that I know we will own forever. I have been so happy with our Tom Bihn Tri-Star Travel Bags. They’re made in Seattle and they are the best soft-sided bags we found for when you are not checking your luggage. We’ve even lent out our Tri-Stars to friends who normally take much too long at the airport, waiting in the crowd at the luggage carousel. It is a costly purchase as far as luggage goes, but you will never hold up a train because the zipper on your big wheely suitcase has busted open as you ran down the platform.

How to Maximize Space in your Carry-On


  • It is shocking how much space is wasted when you fold your clothes and stack them in your suitcase. Roll each item separately to compact your pieces while also reducing wrinkles. You will be surprised at how much more you can fit in your case this way.
  • When you are packing something delicate like a blouse, lay it on a half-folded T-shirt or sweater and roll the two pieces together with the blouse on the inside. Buttons and zippers will not rub against the blouse, and the sweater will buffer wrinkles.
  • Check out this expert packer’s video guide on rolling your clothing for your suitcase. But don’t pack your hangers, please!

Packing Cubes

  • Using soft zippered bags for your packed items allows for two things: very efficient use of space and compartmentalization. Cubes hold your clothes tightly rolled during transit. Use all of the space within each cube to fit the maximum number of items into your suitcase.
  • Find a combination of cubes that works well in your carry-on luggage. I bought mine from Tom Bihn and so they were made to fit into my Tri-Star Travel bag. Many travel companies make fantastic packing cubes in a variety of sizes. Zipper-top plastic bags also make good packing cubes in a pinch.
  • Packing cubes give you the advantage of compartmentalization. You might pack your basic, wear-every-day items in one of the cubes and your layering pieces in another. Keep your undergarments and pjs in one cube and they are easy to find when you need them. They certainly won’t tumble out in the security area when your bag is opened up for a search. (True story: the tread on the bottom of a pair of my flats was in the shape of a snake. After my bag went the scanner and caused irrational concern, airport security unpacked my suitcase for a visual inspection (!!??!). Thankfully, my underpants were contained in their own packing cube, out-of-view from my fellow passengers. It made that whole experience slightly less unnerving.)
  • Throughout your trip, put all of your dirty clothes into one of the cubes. This will keep them out-of-the-way of the clothes you need to wear. Roll each item back up again to keep everything well packed.
  • Once at your destination, take your cubes out but keep your clothes in them during your stay. Your clothes will be easy to find without rummaging through your bag or completely unpacking.

Extra Tips

  • Wear your heaviest and bulkiest items on the plane. Certainly, try to reduce heavy items as airlines want your carry-on bags to be under a certain weight (check with your airline ahead of time). Your bulkiest footwear, your coat and your blazer should all be worn on your travel days, and not packed in your carry-on.
  • Roll your socks and put them inside of the shoes in your suitcase. This keeps your shoes from getting squished and makes good use of empty space inside your case.
  • Stretch out your belt and wrap it around the inside edge of your carry-on, outside of all your packing cubes. It takes up the least amount of room this way.
  • Put all of your airline-approved travel sized liquid toiletries in a simple medium zipper-top plastic bag and pack it in the outermost pocket of your bag. Easy access to them through airport security is so important.
  • Use a small, soft-sided zippered case for your phone and tablet chargers. They will be easy to find and less likely to get tangled with your clothes.

Wherever you go, looking stylish with ease while away from home requires a little pre-planning. Once you’ve got all of the supplies you need, you’re halfway to your destination. Arrange a consultation with The Joy of Style and we will do all of your pre-travel shopping for you. Dee and I are thrilled with this kind of task.

A woman standing in front of some buildings


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