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How to travel for a month with only carry-on luggage (and still look cute!)

Here’s how I travel (for up to 30 days with only carry-on luggage) without compromising my personal style!

Are you about that carry-on only life? I am. I do it because it’s practical– I hate waiting for my luggage after I get off the plane.  

I also do it because after being stranded for 48 hours without a change of clothes in both Buenos Aires and Berlin due to my checked baggage vanishing into thin air, I prefer to have all my accoutrements with me at all points of my journey, if possible. 

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There are other benefits to travelling only with a carry-on bag. Having less space means you pack fewer items, which in turn means you travel with less weight overall. Furthermore, you can avoid those pesky checked baggage fees many airlines have made common.

And you know what? The plain truth is that most of us are chronic overpackers. I think it’s entirely possible to travel with carry-on only (especially in the summertime!) if you pack effectively, efficiently, and get a little creative. 

You can also still look chic, even with a deficit of clothing and accessories. Here are my tips for how to travel for up to a month without checking a bag.

Never pack more than a week’s worth of clothing

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About that carry-on life in Norway

This first tip is probably the most important rule of travelling with carry-on luggage only. Whether your trip is a week or a month, pack no more than 7 days worth of stuff. Trust me on this. With the exception of undergarments, you can wear most items more than once without washing in between (despite what your mama may have told you), and you can either handwash your other garments, pop into a local laundromat, or have them laundered by someone else (especially in Asia, where it’s dirt cheap to do so). 

Select a colour scheme

When you choose complementary colors, everything matches. Your outfit options thus increase exponentially without lugging around extra weight. When I travelled around the world last summer (25 days, 8 countries, 4 continents, a wide array of climates) I mostly stuck to a palette of yellow, green, and orange. Not only do all these colours work well with each other (peep a colour wheel if you don’t believe me), they also “popped” in my photos.

CLOTHING TRIP COLOUR SCHEME

My outfits from my RTW trip: looking like a creamsicle in Toronto, Beijing, and Muscat, Oman!

Pack a mix of solids and prints

Clothing in solid colours is easy to match while printed clothing  hides stains and scuffs (meaning you can get more wear before washing). Style-wise, prints create more visual interest and are an easy way to “level up” your outfit. I’ll admit that I’m a little obsessed– most of my clothing has some sort of pattern! Again, here are a few outfits from my RTW trip last summer to show what I mean. 

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How I mixed solids and prints in Ethiopia, Switzerland, and Oman

Ditch the heavy accessories

Give that weighty jewelry the heave ho! I rarely travel with earrings or necklaces any more and this goes a long way in terms of me being able to travel with only carry-on luggage. Instead, I use lightweight scarves, headwraps, and headbands to spice up my travel wardrobe.

St Basil's Cathedral, Moscow, Russia

With my bright scarf in Moscow, Russia

Salar de Uyuni Bolivia

With my bright red scarf and a leopard headband in the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Pack items that serve multiple uses

About those scarves: in addition to draping them around my shoulders or neck, they double as headwraps (great for when you’re travelling in a conservative Muslim nation) and beach sarongs. They can also be used as a picnic tablecloth, or a towel for drying off at the beach. Getting creative can save you space (and hassle). Can you see why they’re my favourite travel accessory?

On Saturday in Toronto, Canada; the following Wednesday in Chamonix, France. RTW travel for the win!

Restrict yourself to 3-4 pairs of shoes

Footwear is clunky and weighs down your luggage, so it’s rare I bring more than 3 pairs of shoes on any given trip. I typically bring a sporty shoe (no excuse not to work out!),  a “cute” shoe (boots in the winter, ballet flat/embellished sandal in the summer), and a flip flop (perfect for the beach, shower, or walking around in the hotel room). Above all else, comfort is key!

IMG_8177Boots from Zara, flip flops from Havaiana, Adidas sneakers

Boots from Zara, flip flops from Havaiana, Adidas sneakers

Leave your heavy electronics at home

I’ve been downsizing the amount of electronics I bring on my trips in a big way, especially when I’m not on assignment for a publication, tourism board, or brand. I used to lug around a heavy DSLR camera but now I shoot on a (smaller, lighter) mirrorless camera. And when I do personal travel, I often leave the camera gear at home and take pictures exclusively on my phone! It’s all about making the best choice for you. For example, do you need your laptop and e-reader, or will your smartphone do the trick? 

sony a6300 samsung galaxy 6

I’m obsessed with my new mirrorless camera!

Bring minimal, but impactful makeup

I love playing in makeup but when I travel I stick to basics that will make the most impact. My absolute musts are concealer (hides bags and blemishes) and lipstick in really bold colours. Lipstick in particular immediately upgrades and varies my look with minimal effort, so I’ll typically bring 2 to 3 colours.  If I have still have space in my carry-on bag I’ll bring along liner and mascara for a little extra oomph.

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Ditch the toiletries

If you’re staying in a hotel there’s really no point! However, if you have allergies or must simply travel with your potions, get them in carry-on friendly travel sizes.  Also try to “double up”: fellow Black girls might know that argan oil is not only a great moisturizer for skin, but also for hair. And your shampoo? It might also be a good body wash.

**

At the end of the day,  how much you choose to pack for a trip is dependent on your comfort level.  But for those of you who have always wondered about how to pack carry-on only I hope these tips were useful! It may be a bit tricky at first but it is far from impossible!

Do you tend to travel with only carry-on luggage or do you most often check a bag?  Why?

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17 Comments

  • Reply
    Claire
    February 18, 2017 at 6:15 pm

    Yes to this, especially the value of a good colourful, lightweight scarf.

  • Reply
    Kimberly
    February 18, 2017 at 6:28 pm

    These are awesome tips! I’m gonna try to use this as a guideline when I pack for my upcoming 10 day trip to Greece and Paris.

  • Reply
    Caroline Achieng Otieno
    February 18, 2017 at 10:28 pm

    Yes! Within Europe when I’m traveling with Ryan Air, I prefer to pack light in a carry-on to avoid check-in fees!
    When I’m traveling from one continent to another, then I pack more stuff as I will presumably stay longer?
    I’m learning to ditch the toiletries and carry little make-up.

  • Reply
    Meow
    February 18, 2017 at 10:28 pm

    Mirrorless camera! Best investment!!!

  • Reply
    Jk
    February 19, 2017 at 12:04 am

    This is great. I don’t understand why so many people choose to check bags, sometimes even bags that are small enough to carry on. After becoming a (single) mom, it just took one time at the baggage carousel to learn that I really did not want to do that with a toddler! And, like you, we’ve had an experience with lost luggage (a bag I can usually carry on, but not on that plane to Tahiti)

    My “rules”
    #1: plan to do laundry
    #2: remember there are stores at your destination. Things like diapers & tampons don’t deserve the space in luggage; take enough for the first 24 hrs & buy more there.
    .
    It’s important to remember that one size does not fit all, not even those packing lists you can find online. For example, my necklaces aren’t big or heavy, and I wear less makeup than what you present as minimal. But I absolutely agree with you on the general principle of multitasking and specifically on the usefulness of a sarong/ shawl/ ground cloth for a picnic.

  • Reply
    Brooklynista
    February 19, 2017 at 2:01 am

    I’m so glad I stumbled upon this great essay before my next big trip!

  • Reply
    Susan Rowland
    February 19, 2017 at 5:03 am

    Amazing!

  • Reply
    Nina Frambuesa
    February 19, 2017 at 11:10 am

    I’m with you and only use carry-ons. I haven’t traveled for more than two weeks in a long time, however.
    For me, it’s just too much of a hassle to carry that much stuff with me. Whenever I’ve traveled with people who brought more stuff than me they never actually wore all the items they brought. I made a post about minimalist packing and mentioned there that I keep samples for traveling. That’s another way you can bring your own toiletries without carrying big, heavy bottles.

  • Reply
    Teresa
    February 19, 2017 at 12:31 pm

    Great article. I too believe in only packing a carry on. Usually I will keep my luggage with me on the way to my destination and check on the way back. Especially if I’m going to Europe. Another reason for only taking a carry on is when you are traveling on trains around Europe you can place your bag right above your head instead of back with the rest of the luggage thereby reducing the chance of your luggage being stolen.
    In addition, I too carry scarves for neck accessories instead of necklaces as I don’t want to make myself a target for would be thieves.

  • Reply
    Noelle
    February 20, 2017 at 9:44 pm

    I mostly travel with carry-on bags as well and I do similar in terms of packing – I’m currently on a ten day trip and I packed five outfits that I can mix at match with – and the three pairs of shoes you mentioned. For trips that are only a few days I try to manage on a backpack alone! It’s a lot less stressful to move around when you carry less than more.

    • Reply
      Oneika
      March 6, 2017 at 3:21 pm

      Agree! I need a new carryon backpack– it’s so much more convenient than a roller!

      • Reply
        Tiffany
        March 7, 2017 at 2:38 am

        Try the Tom Bihn aeronaut bag. I used it on a trip to Brazil for the first time and have been using it exclusively for travel since then. Pricey but well worth it.

  • Reply
    Stephanie
    February 22, 2017 at 5:18 pm

    I always try and go carry on only if I’m going for a trip that won’t span multiple seasons- I haven’t mastered winter packing carry on style because I hate being cold and get chilled very easily- a big, heavy coat, boots and warm scarves are necessities!

    • Reply
      Oneika
      March 6, 2017 at 3:20 pm

      Yes definitely! I think layering up in winter is key!

  • Reply
    Kriti
    March 8, 2017 at 7:20 am

    Luggage is the major problem during travelling specially for ladies . :p . but you made job easier. Nice use of scarf. I like it. Keep sharing more ideas.

  • Reply
    Clem
    April 30, 2017 at 4:45 pm

    I love this article! I’m always borderline torn whenever I have to pack, but I’m glad to have stumbled upon such insightful tips!

  • Reply
    Val
    May 11, 2017 at 11:27 pm

    Just what I needed, I have been travelling lighter but this will definitely help.

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