Last updated on January 12, 2020
Travelling with just one carry-on bag will help you save money, time, and even the world…
Here you will find my personal minimalist travel packing list, as well as my thoughts and advice on how to travel with just one carry-on bag, even if you’re travelling for multiple weeks or months.
“Travel light. Live light. Spread the light. Be the light.” ~ Yogi Bhajan
My Personal Minimalist Travel Packing List (Carry-On Only)
I’ve always tried to travel as light as possible, with just one bag (carry-on only), even before airline companies started imposing strict baggage limits and charging us for pretty much everything and anything possible.
Even if I’m travelling for multiple weeks, or even months, going skiing or beach-lounging, I still only ever pack one carry-on bag.
It’s not perfect (yet), but I can confidently say that my little one-bag carry-on-only system allows me to travel effortlessly, comfortably and, more to the point, without the hassle, cost and stress of travelling with multiple bags and check-in luggage.
My favourite bag for Carry-on-only travel
I’ve tried many different setups but I find my 18-year-old 75-litre Eurohike backpack works best for me.
I’ve never been stopped from taking it as carry-on, even when it’s been stuffed to the hilt, and I always have a bit of extra space in case I need to bring something back with me after my travels.
I’ve had this exact backpack since I was 18 and it’s travelled around the world with me. I like having something so familiar with me when I’m in the middle of nowhere. I also love that it looks kind of retro compared to modern-day backpacks, even though it was state-of-the-art when I bought it!
It’s even got an emergency whistle on it (because my mum made me buy it when I first went to Thailand!).
My favourite bag for shorter trips
On shorter trips I always take my trusty 35-litre North Face backpack, which has also been around the world with me and literally feels like part of me. To be fair, I’ve also travelled just with this bag when I’ve been away for two weeks at a time.
My favourite bag for fancier trips
Sometimes my work takes me to more glitzy places and hotels where I don’t necessarily feel entirely comfortable turning up with a huge backpack. In these scenarios I travel with a small carry-on suitcase (I’m not fussy about the brand). I hate having to drag them around so I try to avoid them if possible, but they do the job.
Clothing and Toiletries: The Bare Essentials
- Underwear, socks and t-shirts (one for each day of trip up to a week – if the trip is longer you just do a wash)
- One or two shirts for times when I need to be a bit smarter at restaurants/hotels (I also travel in one so I have three)
- One pair of shorts (I travel in whatever trousers I’m taking, even in the summer)
- Toothbrush, travel-size toothpaste, roll-on deodorant (and paracetamol for the mornings after)
- A jacket (the type of jacket depends on the time of year, but I always wear it while travelling to save space)
Camera Gear an Laptop
One of the reasons I wanted to publish this post was to demonstrate that you don’t need all of the latest gear to get the most out of your travels.
There’s a photography Youtuber I follow who always goes on about how his dream would be to pack two of his favourite cameras and travel in South America for a month or two, but that he can’t afford it. He also brags a lot about how he owns every Fujifilm lens on the market and paid for them himself (as opposed to being gifted). Many of these lenses cost around £1k, so clearly he could actually afford to head off on his dream photography trip if he got his priorities straight. What’s the point in owning all the latest photography gear if it means you have no money left to get out there and use it? If ever there was a case for minimalism!
I write and take photos/videos for a living, so if I can travel with just one camera and two lenses…
- Fujifilm X-T3 mirrorless camera: Pretty much the perfect camera in every way. Excellent quality and versatility in a tiny package. I also shoot with a Nikon D750, but 99% of the time I depend on my Fuji.
- Lenses: I mainly use the Fujifilm 18-55mm zoom lens, which is great for shooting everything from landscapes to street photography and video. I also like the 27mm pancake lens, just because it’s so ridiculously tiny – the camera literally fits in my jacket pocket with this lens on.
- ND Filter: I use a Gobe ND filter to control my exposure when shooting video. The quality is amazing for the price and I really like that they plant trees every time someone buys one of their filters.
- Microphone: I use the Rode VideoMicro Compact, simply because it’s tiny and fits snuggly in my pocket. I whip it out and screw it on for superior audio quality when shooting videos (like this).
- Tripod: I love the tiny Manfrotto PIXI Mini tripod and use it a lot when shooting videos. It’s ultra small and light (I keep it in my pocket) and its short stature forces you to get creative with your compositions.
- Batteries: When you’re out shooting photos and video all day you need plenty of batteries (especially when you shoot Fuji). I typically make sure I have at least four spare fully-charged batteries when I go out for the day.
- Laptop: My main computer is a 15-inch Macbook Pro, which I adore. It is a little bit heavy though, so I often take my old 11-inch Macbook Air when I travel, which I also love to death.
- External Hard Drive: I hate spending money on these, but they’re essential when you shoot upwards of 100GB a day. I use 4TB LaCie hard drives. They’re not the cheapest but they are among the toughest, which is essential when they’re getting bashed about in your bag all the time.
- Power Bank: I hardly ever use it but it has proved to be a life-saver when I’ve needed to charge my phone out in the middle of nowhere to be able to navigate. I can also use it to charge my camera batteries, which is always reassuring.
Note: Unless you’re a full-time blogger/photography nut like me, you could replace all of the above simply by taking your phone.
Tip: I typically keep my camera around my neck while travelling. This keeps it safe and takes up less space in my bag. If and when I put it in my bag I wrap it in a couple of t-shirts and place is securely in a padded pocket. I’m sure there are million photographers out there who would wince at the thought of this, but they’re the suckers paying a fortune to check-in a bag of clothes so they can carry on a huge camera bag stuffed with multiple cameras and lenses!
- Books: I do have a Kindle and iPad and really love them. However, there’s something about paper books that gives me a greater sense of comfort while I’m travelling. I think, like all of use these days, I spend so much time look at my laptop, camera of phone screen that it’s nice to just hold and stare at a paper page when I get the chance to relax. I also like to keep a pen and Moleskine notebook handy.
- Headphones:I use bog-standard Apple headphones and think the quality and durability is excellent. I have yet to buy wireless AirPods and do not plan to. Firstly because I know I’d lose them in a matter of hours and secondly because I don’t want to be worrying about charging headphones when I should be immersed in the travel experience. This is as much about minimalism as the idea of packing light is.
- Sunglasses: An absolute essential for me as my eyes can’t even handle the brightness of an overcast day in the UK. I wear Hawkers sunglasses because they offer great quality, comfort, style and UV-protection at a very reasonable price. I typically wait for the buy-1-get-1-free offers. Again, I lose or break sunglasses at an embarrassing rate of knots, so I don’t like to spend too much money on them.
Reasons to Pack Light and Travel with Carry-On Luggage Only
1. You can travel and move more freely
This is the big one for me. Having everything I need is in one bag means I can get from point to point without stressing about how I’ll carry all my stuff.
It also helps in those inevitable situations where you have to leave your hotel but still have a few hours to explore before heading to the airport…
It’s just easier to travel without lugging around a load of bags – especially if, like me, you travel with a backpack and keep your hands free (to take photos, nibble delicate tapas and tip back a few vinos en route to your next destination).
2. You don’t have to worry about lost luggage
Only once in the last decade have I travelled with a checked-in bag. I was flying home to the UK for my brother’s wedding and had a few gifts to transport, as well as a suit, some fancy shoes and all the other gubbins that goes along with such an important event (a small selection of dicky-bows, a range of aftershaves and a few pairs of novelty socks).
Naturally, Sod’s law being what it is, my bag was lost by the airline (Vueling) and I had to go through the heart attack-inducing process of finding a new suit, bowtie, shoes, wedding gifts, underwear, toothbrush, deodorant, aftershave and novelty socks in the space of a few days (because Vueling couldn’t give me a timeframe and I couldn’t risk turning up at my little brother’s wedding in my travel comfies). And let me just add that I am most definitely not the sort of person who enjoys shopping (especially for clothes and toiletries).
After a spending a small fortune and ruining what should have been important catch-up time with friends and family, I received an email from Vueling explaining that my suitcase was ready to be collected from the airport (the day before the wedding).
For me this was far more frustrating than it not turning up until after the wedding (at least all the stress and expense would have been somewhat warranted) and, what’s more, they had “retrieved the baggage” within a certain timeframe, so wouldn’t be paying out any compensation. And, yes, I had cut off all the labels.
Long story short, it’s a massive ball-ache when an airline loses your luggage and there is never a convenient time for it to happen. The only way you can be 100% sure that it doesn’t happen is – you’ve guessed it! – to not check-in a bag in the first place.
3. You don’t have to worry so much about being robbed
Another story… When I was about 26-years-old, before the days of strict weight allowances, I was travelling with a large suitcase (as well as my carry-on) that contained pretty much every item of clothing I owned, including a suit and multiple pairs of shoes.
I dragged it through Barcelona, onto the metro, sweating and almost dying of hangover. I got it checked-in and then dragged it onto a train back in the UK (from Bristol to Swansea). I hoisted it onto the luggage rack and collapsed into an empty seat farther down the carriage, promising I would never go to la fiesta the night before a flight (I haven’t kept that promise). Upon arrival in Swansea, I was joined at an empty luggage rack and a group of 5 or 6 people. There were lots of confused hand gestures and conversations in multiple languages, all of us desperately hoping what we thought had happened hadn’t. But it had. The train staff apologised. The police gave us a phone number to call. And I, for one, never saw anything in that suitcase again.
Neither my travel or house insurance would cover it, which meant I had to go out and spend a small fortune on stuff that, in my mind, I already had.
Moral of the story: if you only travel with one small carry-on bag, you only have one small carry-on bag to keep an eye on. Whether it be tucking it under your feet on the train, clinging on to it on the metro or keeping it with you while you go to the toilet at the airport, your stuff will be safer if you have less of it to worry about.
4. You’ll save a small fortune
Sorry to state the obvious (yet again), but it’s not cheap to check a bag in these days. Realistically it’s going to cost you about £25 per flight, so that’s around £50 per trip.
If you travel a lot, let’s say 10 times a year, that’s £500 a year just to travel with a bunch of extra stuff you probably won’t even use.
And more to the point, £500 is enough to take an entire trip!
5. You’ll help save the world
Air travel is responsible for something like 3% of the world’s total CO2 emissions. The heavier the load and aeroplane has to carry, the more fuel it uses to fly and the more it contributes to climate change. Just imagine if everyone travelled with carry-on baggage only? Thing how much lighter planes would be, and how much less damage travelling would do to the environment.
Disadvantages of Travelling with Carry-On Luggage Only
1. You can’t take the kitchen sink
To state the obvious, there’s only so much stuff you can take with you when you only travel with one bag. But personally I like to think of this as an advantage as it forces you to think more carefully about what you really need.
2. Liquids are problematic
You can’t take larger toiletries and/or liquids. This can be a pain as it means you must always think ahead and make sure you have travel-size smellies and things like suntan lotion and whatnot. But once you’ve got it all, you’re sorted…
3. You can’t buy stuff
It’s unlikely you’ll have enough free space in your bag to bring new items back if you go shopping (I also see this as an advantage).
Too Minimalist for you?
No, I get it. Sometimes even I wish I had a little bit more space so I could take an extra camera or an extra jumper/jacket in the colder months.
I also ‘get’ that some travellers may need to travel with additional items, whether it be for medical reasons or just down to specific personal needs, and that some people might need more than a toothbrush, a comb and a roll-on deodorant.
And if you’re going skiing or hiking up snowy peaks, well, you’ll need to think a little bit more deeply. Here’s an “ultimate check-list” by the team at New Zealand Ski Packages, which covers everything from multi-day hiking trips to beach holidays and snow trips.
But whether you travel with one carry-on bag or not, the key point to remember is that minimalist packing is more about being more conscious while putting your things together for your trip with the ultimate goal of enriching your travel experiences.
For you, being more a minimalistic packer might just mean only taking three bags instead of five. There is no right way to pack and I’m not trying to say that my way is right.
It works for me and the way I like to travel, most of the time at least.
What’s your travel packing style? Do you tend to take too much and end up stressed because you’ve got so much luggage to drag around? Or do you try your hardest to keep to just one bag?
Leave a comment below to join the conversation, or say hello on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
Like it? Pin it!