Is It Possible to Do a Two Week Vacation with Only Carry-On?

Travel tips

Young woman packing suitcase

Several years ago I sat at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, waiting impatiently for 60 long, agonizing minutes for my bags to appear on the baggage carousel – dead tired after a long overnight flight from South America. I looked enviously at the scores of commuter travellers whisking past me with their smart little carry-on suitcases. They got to stroll right through the exit doors towards waiting taxis, shuttle buses, or family, while I continued to watch for my bag to arrive. It was at that moment that I started to ponder the possibility of doing an international-flight trip with a carry-on. Could it be done? Could I, the woman who had 4 pairs of shoes with me, possibly fit it all into one bag? Then I started to think… if I had done this trip with a carry-on, I’d actually be at home right that very moment. It was then that I made a lifelong travel-altering decision – I was going to travel with carry-on baggage only!

My first step was to head to the luggage store to buy the lightest and biggest bag that the average airline will allow on board. (Please note that this does not apply to those low-cost online-only carriers that make their money in fees). China was my next international trip, and I was off to Beijing, Xining, Lhasa, Chengdu and Shanghai. The trip was in June so the weather was warm – meaning no need for bulky sweaters and pants. In other words, the perfect first trip for a carry-on novice.

Luggage-carousel-airport-153920459So how to do this? First thing’s first – it is imperative to wear as much as possible on the flight. If you need hiking boots or clunky runners, you have to wear them. Same with jeans, shirt, hat and a light jacket. Next is to research where you’re staying.

If it is a 3-star or more, they are going to have a hairdryer, toiletries, and laundry service. Yes, you have to indulge in laundry service when working a two-week trip into one suitcase. Armed with this knowledge, you can pack bare minimum toiletries, and remember, they all have to fit neatly into see-through plastic containers that hold less than 100ml. Plus, if you need something, I have discovered after many years of travelling, you can get pretty much anything you need locally, and while it might not be quite what you are used to, consider it part of the travel experience. Once you’ve paired down the toiletries, ditched the hairdryer, and committed mentally to only two pairs of shoes, you are ready to start packing. You should be able to fit enough socks, undies, t-shirts, shorts, and a pair of pants – with a little bit of room to spare for a souvenir or two!

Here are some fantastic bonuses for traveling sans checked baggage!

  1. Your bags never get lost
  2. You never wait at the baggage carousel
  3. You have all your stuff with you on the flight if you need anything
  4. There are no checked baggage fees to worry about

That trip to China was in 2009, and I have since managed carry-on about 80% of my trips. Multiple-weather destinations and winter trips are a bit more challenging, as are business trips requiring dressier clothes, but I have to say, there is nothing better than landing back home and rolling my carry-on right past those baggage carousels!

  • ross deamel

    my wife and I travel carry on only and one of the greatest benefits of this being, on connecting flights, which we usually leave ourselves lots of time, we sometimes manage to get an earlier flight home. usually at no extra cost.

  • jaymart

    We always travel with carry on. We travel independently and only book first and last night close to airport. We always keep soap/shampoo from previous accommodation and hand wash our clothes individually as we need to, using hair shampoo. Never keep dirty laundry to accumulate. We share toiletries (hair brush, face cream, toothpaste, sun screen etc.) and some electronics, while we each have a Tablet in our day pack.

    What you need for one week should be enough for a month or more (so far our longest was 6 weeks travel in Japan). You don’t need different clothes for each day, who cares. Jeans are not a good idea as they are not washable by hand and take long to dry. Beige pants in the Summer, black/brown pants in Winter. If weather allows, a good walking sandals are great (no socks to wash). Always wear jacket and heavier shoes on your flight. Never leave home without cheap plastic slippers to use in accommodation after a long day, in the shower (needed in some countries) or during your flight. If we get tired of same clothes, we buy new top to refresh our wardrobe.

    Travelling with carry on makes you independent traveller. Of course, a small back pack is even better. You don’t need anyone to carry your luggage, you don’t have to take a taxi, but can use public transportation and you can relocate on whim.