How to travel with only your carry-on

How to travel anywhere with only your carry-on. Ultimate carry-on packing guide from The Barefoot Angel

I love traveling and I will seize the opportunity to travel every chance I get! Because I have been fortunate enough to travel quite a bit, I like to think that I am starting to get quite good at it. One of my favourite travel talents is that I am now something of a packing ninja. So much so that I have two long (3+ weeks) multi-destination trips under my belt, across South-East Asia and a road-trip around California, armed only with my carry-on… How did I manage that? Read on for my packing ninja top tips!


Many people don’t believe that it’s really possible but there are so many benefits of only traveling with hand luggage. For us, it was necessitated by some extremely tight connections – any checked luggage simply would not have made it with us to Los Angeles (one of our connections was only 45 minutes! I like to live life on the edge…) But whether it’s ease of transportation or just less hassle and waiting around at the airport, whatever it is that motivates you to try traveling with carry-on just go for it and embrace the simplicity! 


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:: Lists – 

This style of packing only really works if you’re super organized. Because of your smaller luggage space you can’t just throw everything in and hope for the best. Lists will be your best friend. 

Think carefully about the items you want to take and how well they pair together. You’re going to want your shoes (3 pairs max – one pair trainers, one pair flip flops and one pair heels or smarter sandals) and handbag(s) to go with as many different outfits as possible, for example. Curate your travel wardrobe carefully. Think about items that can be layered, mixed and matched, worn more than once. Include versatile items that can do double duty – scarves, sarongs and kimonos are great for this.

Write a list of everything that you want to pack and then edit it down. This will better help you visualize exactly which outfits to bring. 

Remember also that you’re probably going to find a few super cute items while you’re on your travels which are always a lovely souvenir and also a chance to switch things up a bit if you’re tired of the things that you brought with you. 


:: Wear your bulkiest items on the flight – 

I like to travel in super comfortable athletic wear, which is practical for two reasons. Firstly, as already mentioned, it is super comfortable which is exactly what you need for a long flight. Secondly, they are usually the bulkiest items that I am taking, my trainers, my sweatshirt, my jacket (if I’m taking one), my big scarf. By wearing these instead of packing them all it saves some serious packing real estate in my luggage. 


:: Luggage – 

Choose your luggage carefully. I like to use a structured cabin-sized wheelie case and then a duffel bag. The case is my hand-luggage and then the duffel is my personal item. My little handbag will then go inside the duffel when we board the flight. (Bonus: the duffel bag doubles up as an excellent large day bag/beach bag once I reach my destination.)

This system works for me because I can rest the duffel bag on my wheeled suitcase and I don’t have to carry it everywhere. To make this even easier I use my super dorky, but infinitely practical, bag bungee. (Note: this might look like it came straight out of an infomercial or an irritating sponsored post on Instagram, but people actually come up to me in airports and ask where I got it from, it really is useful!

Always research your airlines luggage policy to ensure that your carry-on will comply and that you won’t be forced to check-it at the gate (totally defeating the point of the whole exercise!)


Traveling with only your carry-on. The Barefoot Angel shares her 7 golden rules to help minimize your luggage and maximize your travel experience.


:: Packing Cubes – 

I’m only going to say this once – you need to invest in some packing cubes, or use gallon ziplock bags as an alternative. I am a packing cube convert (and I will try to convert everyone else!) I now cannot travel without packing cubes. My favourites are these ones because they are super durable, and these ones because they have a  cute cactus print. Not only do they help save a ton of space when you compress down all your clothes, but if you’re super organized when you pack them they mean that it is really easy to find whatever you need without tearing your bags apart at every destination.

I use one cube for active wear and casual day-wear, one for dressier items, one for underwear and swimwear, one for toiletries (more on that later), one for dirty laundry and one for tech items. When I’m looking for something I just grab that cube and leave everything else neatly in it’s place. It’s life changing. I also recently came across these compression packing cubes and it’s like all my packing cube dreams have come true!! I absolutely had to invest in some. These should make it even easier to squeeze everything into your carry-on! 

I also have little bags for jewelry and prescription meds – it’s like a Russian doll for bags inside my case… 

You Might Also Enjoy Reading: 10 Tips for Affording Luxury Travel on a Budget
:: Roll – don’t fold – 

Speaking of packing, make sure that you are rolling your clothes instead of folding them. I am sure that you are aware of this already but rolling your clothes reduces the space that they take up as well as minimizing wrinkles – win, win! 


Traveling with only your carry-on. The Barefoot Angel shares her 7 golden rules to help minimize your luggage and maximize your travel experience.


:: Toiletries – 

Just don’t take ‘em! I hate traveling with toiletries, apart from the fact that they take up a huge amount of space, I also then worry about bag explosions. I try to take as few as possible with me. This is especially important when you are traveling with hand luggage since (a) you have limited space and (b) all your liquids need to go through security separately in their own clear bag. I carry a few travel-sized mini essentials (toothpaste, moisturizer, sunscreen, perfume, face wipes etc.) along with my day-to-day make up (7 items) and then I rely on the fact that either my hotel will provide the necessities (shampoo, conditioner, body wash, body lotion) or that I can pick them up when I reach my destination.

Note: I carry all of my travel toiletries in my smallest clear packing cube and have never (touch wood) had any trouble taking them through security. But, for that one TSA agent that I will likely one day cross paths with, I make sure that all my liquids will fit inside one of their baggies should they need me to. 


:: Minimize your electronics and tech gear – 

I am probably still guilty of taking more tech gear than I need but I am getting better. One of the things that has saved me on recent trips is my travel charger (I have it in white) – with multiple usb charging ports it enables me to charge all my devices on the one interchangeable plug. 

Dual-head charging cables are also really useful – this one charges my iPhone, my kindle and my Apeman underwater camera

Lastly, my kindle is one of my favourite travel companions enabling me to take my whole library with me, while taking up hardly any space! 


Traveling with only your carry-on. The Barefoot Angel shares her 7 golden rules to help minimize your luggage and maximize your travel experience.


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Travel anywhere with only your carry-on with a comprehensive packing guide from The Barefoot Angel

Duffel BagBag Bungee | Clear Packing Cubes | Cactus Packing Cubes | Kindle | Travel Charger | Apeman Camera | Dual Head Cable


So there we have it – my 7 golden rules for traveling with only your carry-on. Totally do-able! Do you think that you would be tempted to give it a try? Which top tips do you have for me to try next time? And, most importantly, where are you off to on your next adventure? 



  1. mrhappywork
    August 7, 2018 / 1:10 am

    The rolling tip for clothing is so helpful! I started doing that a few years ago and found I had SO much more space!

  2. August 7, 2018 / 1:23 am

    I’m really into camping, so I usually have a tent, sleeping bag, camping stove, etc. with me when I travel, but I love the trips where I only need to take a carry-on!

    I’ve always used plastic bags instead of packing cubes, but I’m trying to cut down on the plastic I use, so I think I might be trying those cubes out! Thanks for the nudge 😉

  3. August 7, 2018 / 1:35 am

    Yup and yup. I’ve mastered the carry on vacations 🙂 Great guide!

  4. August 7, 2018 / 2:27 am

    These are such great tips! I’ll definitely have to look into the packing cubes.

  5. Lauren P
    August 7, 2018 / 12:21 pm

    As an fellow island dweller who often wants to take a practically empty suitcase (to fill with shopping!) these are really useful. I do the scarf trick a lot: a few scarfs (also big earrings) help switch up the basics you take but take barely any space. There’s something liberating about traveling light!

  6. August 7, 2018 / 12:30 pm

    I love to travel with just a carry-on! Ziplocs have saved me more than once and I will look into the packing cubes. Great tips!

  7. August 7, 2018 / 3:13 pm

    Great tips I always travel with just a carry on it makes life so much simpler.

  8. Jasmin
    August 8, 2018 / 1:49 am

    Ah the less stuff I carry with when I travel, the better it is! Absolutely loving these tips of yours 🙂

  9. August 8, 2018 / 2:14 am

    Travel is always tricky. While I’ve master pack lighter and smarter, I’m still a woman and always overpack haha.

  10. August 8, 2018 / 3:15 am

    Great tips, girl. Carry on all the way! Thanks for sharing.

  11. mjndiaye
    August 8, 2018 / 4:43 am

    Traveling with only carry-on luggage is such a luxury! I managed to do so this past April on a girls trip to SoCal for a friend’s wedding. Made connecting flights a breeze and so much less stress and time at the airport! However I wasn’t as lucky when we traveled as a family to Senegal last month for 2 weeks. There was just too much I needed for myself and my toddler.

    Great organizational tips! I bet I would’ve done better packing with a more structured list.

  12. August 8, 2018 / 4:50 am

    You are a master at packing ! For as long as I have been traveling, I am terrible at it. I overpack and still forget something!

  13. August 8, 2018 / 12:10 pm

    I only *ever* travel with a carry on. I’ve lost enough of luggage on holidays to make me want to never put anything into hold. Also, it almost forces me to really think what I actually need, not just pack random crap for a weekend getaway. It’s a win-win!
    Katja xxx

  14. mary yowell
    August 8, 2018 / 1:02 pm

    Great tips! Another great tip is depending on where your going leave some extra room to bring things back! Like if you know your going to be shopping don’t pack too many outfits. You can wear your new stuff if need be!

  15. August 8, 2018 / 1:06 pm

    I love this tips, so I don’t usually travel light but recently I just managed to travel light with just a medium carry-on bag for my short getaway. Now that I’ve done it for 4-day travel period, wonder if I could survive for a trip longer than that. 😛

  16. August 8, 2018 / 8:12 pm

    Packing just a carry-on makes air travel SO.MUCH.EASIER!! (and packing cubes + rolling is the ultimate game changer!) A couple weeks ago when I had to take an Uber to the airport for a flight, my Uber driver was like “Are you SURE I’m taking you to the airport? You don’t even have a SUITCASE!” Oh yeah…I’m sure! I felt like I’d finally arrived as a true minimalist traveler, haha!

  17. August 8, 2018 / 11:03 pm

    I love the tips about wearing the bulkiest items! I always try to do that!

  18. August 9, 2018 / 4:39 am

    Earlier on, I never could fit my stuff in a carry on and always ended up paying for baggage. Now, over the years, as I have started traveling more often, I have really learnt to pack well and pack less. The one trick I always swear by is carrying multi-use items – versatile clothes, beauty products that can be used in different ways, etc. Your tips are bang on.

  19. thiscurvylife
    August 15, 2018 / 2:23 am

    I love to travel with carry on only, and I also love to shop so when i get where I am, I send my things back via Fedex or UPS this way I buy what I want and only spend to send it back instead of trying to cram it all into my bag! YAY

    • thebarefootangel
      August 15, 2018 / 2:24 am

      Top tip!! I definitely struggled a little coming back from Asia with all my purchases! 🙂

  20. Marquita
    August 15, 2018 / 4:01 pm

    Packing cubes are the best things ever! I started using them at the beginning of this year and was quite impressed. They also keep you organized as your travel.

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