Firstly, I am one of those overly organised people obsessed with lists, so I am excited to share my packing list tips today. Over the past three years, I have always tried to travel exclusively with carry-on only. Even when I travelled around North America for three months, I only took a small carry-on suitcase with me. Why? Well, you honestly don’t need that many clothes. It also makes life a lot easier when getting on and off buses and changing hostels every few days.
However, I will admit that doing carry-on only in Australia is much more difficult. I only recently realised in the United States that on most airlines your luggage can weigh about 16 kilograms. On five flights so far this year no one has weighed or batted an eyelid at my two bags. Whereas in Australia, you can only have 8 kilograms on most flights. Some airlines will even weigh your carry-on luggage and charge you. This has happened to me on Tigerair before.
Nevertheless, taking carry-on makes you rethink every single piece of clothing and toiletry item. I think it makes everything easier, including choosing outfits every day. Here are my tips and packing list suggestions for carry-on travel.
Packing cubes are life
I think packing cubes are the best travel invention. Every time I travel, I always roll each item of clothing and place them into a packing cube. When I am doing carry-on only, I usually take one for all of my clothing, which fits perfectly in my backpack. I will then put my underwear into a smaller one, to make life even easier. I linked to a similar version above, but I actually picked my current pack up at Walmart.
Pick your bag
Because Australian airlines are extremely anal, I only use the backpack I have travelled with since 2014 (this is a similar version today). This baby wins because it fits my too-long laptop and everything else snugly. My toiletries go in the front and everything else in the back. I was contemplating upgrading a little when I saw my limits in the United States, but instead I just took a larger personal item.
For example, in Hawaii I used a cheap tote from Old Navy and for Los Angeles I used my smaller day backpack from Forever 21. For now, this works for me, especially as I’ll eventually be moving home and buying a small suitcase to go carry-on doesn’t seem plausible. But, if you are based in North America (I am unsure how strict airlines are in Europe), I’d invest in a smaller suitcase. Think about your future travel plans and find the suitcase or backpack that works for you!
Always downsize toiletries
I don’t take anything full-size with me when going carry-on these days. I usually stock up on the smaller toiletries available in drug stores and pharmacies for items like shampoo and conditioner, cleanser, and body wash and lotion. I then buy the clear containers you can also purchase at these stores for my makeup, like foundation and moisturiser. Toiletries and makeup take up so much room, it’s amazing how much downsizing helps. The only thing I don’t downsize is my straightener. Fortunately she’s pretty thin and fits snugly between my packing cube and the zipper. I sound like such a pro 😉
Look into laundry facilities
When I was booking my accommodation in Hawaii, I did ensure there were laundry facilities onsite. I spent my final morning in Oahu doing a load before heading to Maui, as I was sweating up a storm in the tropics. It doesn’t cost a lot and it prolongs your carry-on capsule packing list.
Don’t be afraid to post things home
When I was travelling for three months, I began to accumulate some keepsakes and clothing about halfway into my trip. I knew I didn’t need them until I returned home and they were just wasting space. So I sent a parcel home that didn’t cost a lot, and it saved me room. I also felt better knowing I wouldn’t misplace them, which inevitably happens when constantly travelling from place to place.
Choose your shoes wisely
Choosing the right pairs of shoes to take on holiday is seriously the hardest part of a packing list. Contemplating the right choice actually keeps me up at night (I wish I was joking)! However, I always think three pairs is the perfect amount. I always wear my heaviest/biggest pair — whether that is runners or boots — and usually pack flats for at night and another pair of trainers or sandals for during the day. This method hasn’t failed me yet. My current shoe collection includes runners from Skechers (their memory foam is SO comfortable) and sneakers from Keds.
Plan outfits in advance
This is only a solution when travelling for a week or two. But for my trips this year, I had an idea of what I would be doing most days. So I tried on outfits and organised my packing cube so no space was wasted. For my longer holiday, I was ruthless. You honestly need to be. I was travelling during fall through a warmer climate, so I only included one pair of jeans, one pair of footless tights, two pairs of shorts, one skirt and two dresses. There were obviously a few tops included as well, but I felt my list was on point.
There is so much information online about the average climate in every city for every month, so do your research beforehand. If you happen to be in Calgary in September and the temperature drops 20 degrees in 24 hours (true story), just go to H&M and buy the cheapest sweater possible. It’s always better to under than overpack.
Bags are your best friends
I am an organised person in general, so I love to use cute coin purses, bags and pencil cases to separate my travel gear. I use them for my “first aid kit”, electronics and makeup mostly. I highly recommend finding some inexpensive ones when shopping to make your life easy. Mine are from Kmart and Typo, a.k.a the shopping loves of my life.
Do you need a towel?
I always ask myself this question before a holiday. Most hostels include a towel, or will allow you to rent one for like $1. But if your trip is going to include some beach time or camping, then it will probably be beneficial. I have heard many bloggers talk about those quick-dry towels that I remember using on school camps. For a longer trip, I would choose instead to pack a thin, small towel in case of emergencies.
There you have it. My nine points to a successful carry-on packing list. I hope you find this helpful, as I know I struggled downsizing in the beginning. Who am I kidding, I still struggle to not pack everything every time I travel. But a lighter load has many benefits, trust me!
Please share your packing list pointers in the comments.
This post contains affiliate links, which means I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.