How to travel carry-on size

“Where’s the rest of your luggage?”

It’s a question we get asked frequently — for some reason, people just don’t seem to believe that my husband and I can travel around the world indefinitely with 40-litre backpacks.

The truth is, we haven’t always travelled so light: when we left New Zealand in 2006, we used the maximum allowance the airlines would permit. Yep, a huge 80-litre backpack each as well as the full carry-on allowance.

We’d arranged for a friend to meet us when we got off the bus from the airport in England, and I just assumed he’d come by car.

But no, we had a 20-minute uphill slog ahead of us, and by the end of it I was determined to cut down my luggage to manageable proportions. It took about five years, but we eventually managed to reduce our stuff to one carry-on size bag each.

Spectra 2.0 Global Carry-On

The benefits are great:

  • We save money by not having to pay for checked bags on budget airlines.
  • We never have to wait for our bags at the airport and often get out well ahead of other passengers.

  • Airlines can’t lose our luggage because it’s always with us.It’s easier to use public transport with smaller bags.

  • We can save money by walking instead of taking taxis when we have our bags with us.

  • We have less stuff to worry about.

  • Our bags are lighter so we don’t hurt ourselves by carrying around heavy bags.

So, how can you reduce your luggage to carry-on size?

1.Get a small backpack or suitcase

If you’re really sure that you want to cut down on luggage, get a small bag like one of these. I use an Aarn Backfavour bag and love it, but you might prefer a wheelie suitcase or a hybrid: consider your travel style and get the best bag for your needs.

2. Make a list

Think carefully about what you want to take with you, and make a list of items. You might find it helpful to divide the list into sections such as clothes, toiletries, and entertainment.

When planning your wardrobe, choose a colour scheme and make sure everything matches, and remember that one week’s worth of clothes is all you need — you can do laundry while you’re away.

3. Cut it down

Now look at your list again and remove everything that isn’t absolutely essential. If it falls into the “just in case” basket, cross it off! You can probably buy anything you need in your destination.

4. Go small on toiletries

Because airlines don’t allow travellers to carry liquids in containers larger than 100ml, you’ll have to get some small containers and decant your shampoo and other essentials into them, or purchase travel-sized items. Choose a small toiletries bag to limit how much you can take.

5. Lay it out

Put everything you plan to take with you on the bed and divide it into categories. Now cut again: do you really need three pairs of trousers or can you just take two? Are there two t-shirts that are really just the same? Be ruthless.

6. Compartmentalise

When packing, make sure everything has its place in your bag. I find it helpful to use stuff sacks or packing cubes to organise my clothes, and other items each have their assigned location in outside pockets or loose in the backpack.

7. Just do it

Packing light is the single best thing you can do to improve your travel experience — give it a go!

Author: Linda Martin runs the award-winning Indie Travel Podcast, and along with her husband Craig, has been travelling full-time since February 2006. She loves chocolate, wine, and all things Spanish.


  • Samantha King

    Sam, a seasoned traveler across four continents and 49 countries, is a leading authority in travel planning. Her website, Travelling King, offers tailored itineraries and expert guides for seamless trips. Sam's expertise in luxury travel, fast travel, and destination guides keeps her at the forefront of the travel community.

Similar Posts


  1. Good tips. When my family and I traveled around the world in 2012 we were relatively light (though clearly not as light as you two!) with two backpacks and a small suitcase. It was much more manageable – backpacks are especially mobile.

  2. There is no other way to travel. I went to Morocco and Spain for 10 days with a carry on only. I sure was glad when I went up and down stairs in train stations and checked in quickly at airports. There is no better way to travel!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.