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How to Travel With Carry-On Bags Alone

By Edited Dec 20, 2013 0 0

 There is nothing more annoying than getting off the plane at your destination while your checked baggage is winging its way elsewhere, maybe never to be seen again. Domestically, just a little over 3 passengers out of every 1,000 reports lost baggage, but this is misleading. Those numbers don’t include international travelers, and when you take into account the fact that a good percentage of domestic flyers only take carry-on bags, and smaller regional airlines aren’t required to report lost baggage, the picture gets a little clearer. While it may not happen all the time, it happens more frequently than the airlines care to admit. This can be a spectacularly inconvenient, especially when traveling abroad, not to mention the expense of getting on with your trip while having to buy everything you need ‘til your baggage shows up (or doesn’t). 

 The best way to ensure your bags don’t get lost is to not check them in the first place. I have travelled abroad and domestically for weeks at a time with carry-on bags only and I can tell you it gets you through the airport and onto your plane more quickly (no baggage check) and gets you out of the airport more quickly once you’ve arrived (no baggage claim). This is especially true when going through customs, because while everyone else is waiting at the carousel you can saunter up to the customs desk without delay and beat the crowd. 

 It’s not about HOW you pack, it’s about WHAT you pack. First things first:


 There are plenty of companies out there that make bags designed for this endeavor. Don’t be afraid to spend some time and money on this. It’s the lynchpin of the whole operation. Ask around, do your research and be sure you find a bag that is well laid out and STRONG (with zippers to match). Chances are you’re going to overstuff this thing from time to time and you don’t want to be standing in the airport, or worse yet on the plane, when your bag falls apart and everything comes spilling out. There is a terrific company called Red Oxx that I can’t recommend highly enough. I have their “Air Boss” model and it has been all around the world and never whimpered. I’m not saying they’re the only one you should look at, but you would have a hard time doing better. In short, make sure you have a bag that is up to the task. 


 Here’s where the rubber meets the road. My wife and daughter can’t go away for a long weekend without three suitcases. Each. Five times more outfits than they’ll ever need, makeup, blow driers, multiple pairs of shoes/boots, jackets, etc. It’s insane. You have to ditch the “I’m bringing anything I MIGHT need” mentality to make this work. Unless you’re planning on attending multiple “dress up” type events while traveling you can really pare down what you bring very comfortably. If, like me, you’re main goal is sightseeing and settling into the local scene somewhere for a week or two, here is a starter list of things to pack. It’s up to you to decide what you can do without, but trust me, you can do without a lot very easily. In addition to what you’re wearing on the plane you should bring: 


  1. One extra pair of pants. I can usually get away with one pair of blue jeans and/or one pair of khaki hiking pants that convert to shorts by unzipping the legs. Wear whichever ones you want on the plane, but only pack one additional pair of pants. I prefer blue jeans because they are acceptable pretty much everywhere and they stay clean forever. Barring mishap, I can wear a pair of jeans for a week very comfortably. Your call. 
  2. Two extra shirts. I usually go for long sleeved, high quality tee shirts for the same reasons I prefer blue jeans. They don’t last a week, but as long as you’re not doing anything sweaty, you can get two days out of each shirt with no problem. 
  3. A fresh pair of socks and underwear for a six days. Also undershirts. I don’t know about you but I gotta change the underthingies every day. Non-negotiable. 
  4. One pair of slippers. The kind that flatten in your bag. Ugg makes great slippers that will flatten out very nicely, and are light, warm and easy to pack.
  5. Toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss all in the same baggie. 

 Believe it or not, this all you NEED. This will get you through your first six days before you need to start worrying about doing laundry. Some countries are easier to find laundromats than others, but I’ve always been able to manage. Buy cheap, disposable razors when you get to where you’re going. If you must have pajamas of some sort, get the lightest ones you can get away with. Better yet, just get bottoms and wear your undershirt to bed every night. Remember, saving space is the priority here. 


 “What about my computer/camera/chargers/accoutrements?”, I hear you asking. You get two carry-ons, remember? I have a second bag that is basically a small briefcase that is thick enough to accommodate everything else I need. I put foam in it with cutouts to secure each item. When I get to the security checkpoint, I pop it open, pull out all the electronics and go. And it slides right under the seat in front of me on the plane. It takes planning and execution to make this work, but it is well worth it, trust me. So...


  1. Computer
  2. Camera w/lenses (if applicable)
  3. CPAP (for me, anyway)
  4. Assorted chargers

 If you’re going somewhere cold and need a heavy coat, wear it onto the plane. Put your beanie and scarf in the pockets. Throw it in the overhead with your first bag and you’re golden. You only need one pair of shoes (you’re wearing them), one belt (ditto) and whatever is in your pockets.  Part of my travel budget is always a couple of hundred dollar slush fund for things I might need to purchase on the road in addition to souvenirs, guide books, etc. One other tip: I throw away my undergarments as the end of the trip approaches. They’re cheap and easy to replace once I get home, and that way I have more room for the books and gifts I invariably end up buying when I travel. 

 The longest trip I’ve taken while traveling like this way was one month in Turkey. And it went great. As long as you disabuse yourself of the notion that you have to pack for EVERY eventuality this ain’t that hard to pull off. Bon Voyage!



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