How To Travel With Carry On Luggage Only

How to travel with just your carry on luggage. Which backpack to buy, what to pack, how to fold your clothes, and other essential tips on one bag travel.

How To Travel With Carry On Luggage Only

Traveling carry on only means you can save on check-in baggage fees, you can skip waiting for your bags, you don't risk the airline losing your stuff. All of this and you can enjoy how light and easy it is to backpack around the world with this minimalist approach.

You can travel carry-on only if you do the following;

  • Buy a backpack that's 22" x 14" x 9" in size so most airlines will take it.
  • Organize your things using packing cubes and cylindrical folding styles.
  • Travel with the bare minimum - only the essentials.

There are a lot of other things we can do, and we'll get into those shortly, but those are the basic principles. Let's break these down.

The Backpack

Our backpack recommendation for 2020 is the Osprey Farpoint 40. Why? Because it checks all the boxes when it comes to traveling with carry-on luggage.

  • Perfect dimensions
  • Durable
  • Great back support
  • Lots of space (40L)

And more. Full review below:

The Best Carry-on Travel Bag For Backpackers in 2020 | Review
If you’re a backpacker and want to save hundreds of dollars by not paying check-in luggage fees — I’ve got the perfect carry-on backpack for you.

But you don't necessarily have to get the Osprey. You can pick through thousands of bags that'll work if you just make sure they have certain qualities to make your life easier.

What to Look for When Getting a Travel Backpack

  1. It's as big as the max size you're allowed to have, so 22" x 14" x 9" or 56 cm x 35 cm x 22 cm - this way you're making use of every bit of space you can get.
  2. It's made from, and has quality materials, zips and straps - This thing will be thrown around, squished, packed until it's almost exploding. You want it to be good.
  3. It's got an easy access design, like multiple entry points, or clam shell open - this way you can easily get things out without digging through the entire bag for 1 thing.
  4. It's got good back support. Because we're traveling carry-on only, a lot of carry on sized backpacks won't have the back support of the larger ones (waist straps). So be on the lookout for a backpack that does.

Organizing Your Things

I've met multiple people who have either had the same size, or a larger backpack than me, and in some cases the exact same one - yet I've been able to carry almost twice as much as them.

Having a good sized backpack isn't enough, you need to pack smart as well. There's more that goes into packing better and being able to fit a larger amount into your bag, but in this section, we're just going to be talking about organizing your things.

Folding Your Clothes, Backpacker Style

You'd think this would be obvious, after all, stuffing your clothes into your bag just doesn't work with getting everything in there. That being said, most of us will fold clothes in a conventional manner. But there's a better way to do it.

Backpacker Style Cylinder Folding for Shirts - Thrifty Backpacker

When you fold your shirts like this, it's almost OK to just throw them into your backpack without worrying about taking up a lot of space. These compact shirt nuggets fill up every inch of your bag and can get squished down even further as you add more in - it's also super easy to fold them this way. Full tutorial below.

How To Fold Your Shirts For Traveling | Compact Cylinder Style Fold
How to fold your shirts in a super easy backpacker style so that they’re compact cylinders and don’t take up a lot of space for travel. Step by step guide.

Using Packing Cubes

Especially if you have a bag like the Osprey, there will be one large compartment. This is perfect for fitting all your things without having built in barriers in the bag that stop you, but sometimes you want to have those barriers to sort all your things - this is where packing cubes come in.

Getting packing cubes/compartments let you sort your clothes however you want to sort them. Some people sort them into tops, bottoms, underwear, and dirty clothes. Other's just have clean and dirty - do what works for you.

But make sure the bags are breathable and have mesh. You don't want them to hold all the moisture from damp clothes.

Bagail 6 Set Packing Cubes,3 Various Sizes Travel Luggage Packing Organizers(Black Net)
Travel Packing Cubes

Here's an Amazon link for the one above:

There are other items that'll make your life easier as well. We'll talk about them in the next section.

Travel With The Bare Minimum

I cannot overstate this enough, bare minimum means as minimalist as you can go. You don't need more than one pair of shoes, a hair dryer, various creams, or multiple jackets.

A weeks worth of shirts and underwear, a couple pairs of shorts & pants, some swimmers and a jacket, is all you need in most cases.

When you travel like this, you not only save space and weight, but you're able to take a breath of fresh air and not keep track of every little thing you have.

Before we go into what's in my bag, here's a list of essentials that you should pack below.

10 Carry-on Only Travel Essentials | What to Pack For Light Travel
10 travel essentials for carry-on only travel. Things to help you pack better, sleep better, travel light and improve your whole experience.

What's in My Backpack?

Here is an example of the bare minimum I took for a long term backpacking trip in 2019. It was 10 months of travel through Asia and Europe, during multiple different weather conditions - there were a lot of changes during the 10 months, so I'll write down what I ended up with at the end.

Also, if you want to know how to get through security if your bag is a little heavier, check the article below.

6 Ways to Decrease Your Carry-on Bag Size & Weight
6 hacks to decrease the size and weight of carry-on bag so you can get it onto the plane without the airline causing any problems - a budget travel guide.


  • 7x Casual Shirts
  • 7x Underwear
  • 3x Casual Singlets/Tank tops
  • 2x Shorts
  • 2x Pants
  • 1x Gym shorts (swam with these too)
  • 1x Jacket
  • 1x All black runners (Nike Winflo 5)


  • 1x Laptop (Asus 13" Zenbook)
  • 1x Camera (Canon G7X Mk II)
  • 1x Portable battery pack (Xiaomi 10,000 mAh)
  • 1x Universal Power Adapter


  • 1x Book
  • 1x Foldable Day Pack

This isn't even the best you could do for carry-on only - we could go even more bare bones but alas, you'll have certain unique things that you need for the trip.

Some people may be photographers who need to bring a bulky camera, others may work remote and need a laptop - but if you keep everything else consistent and minimal, you'll be able to bring that one unique necessity, and keep a minimalist backpack regardless.

Full article on what's in my backpack below.

One Bag Travel | What’s in My Backpack? What to Bring?
How to travel with one bag, carry on luggage only. What’s in my backpack? What do I bring with me? A list of all the clothes, electronics, accessories.

If you have any questions, ask them in the comments below! Will be here to answer them 😎

Safe travels,