How to travel with only a carry-on backpack 

August 15, 2018

My first time packing with only a carry-on bag was for a month-long trip to Peru. It involved six flights, four car rides and many different activities and climates. By travelling with a carry-on only, I saved money on flight check-in fees, never had to worry about lost luggage, skipped the wait time in airports and was able to get dressed, pack and move locations quickly. Packing light allowed me to focus more on the experience of travelling. Want to give it a try? Here are 10 ways to ditch checked luggage once and for all.

1. Research and plan

Before anything goes into your bag, spend some time thinking realistically about the day-to-day of your trip. Will it be active or relaxing? Will it be mostly in urban or rural places? Will you buy groceries or eat out at restaurants? How will you get around? Knowing your trip itinerary is key for deciding what you need to bring. Check the weather in each location you plan to visit, research questions that you have, such as, “Do I need hiking boots for Machu Picchu?” and write out a rough packing list.

Hicanada Backpack 1

2. Build around your favourites

Quick-dry pants are only practical if you actually wear them! The first items to pack are the clothes you love to wear most. Then, fill out the rest of your travel wardrobe with neutral, versatile basics that can be easily mixed and matched. Darker colours like black, navy and grey will look fresh longer. For Peru, I brought my favourite red blouse, blue sundress and printed scarf, but otherwise packed basic black items.

Hicanada Backpack 2

3. Visualize your items

Using your packing list, pull out every single thing that you plan on bringing—clothing, accessories, toiletries and gear—and lay it all out at home. Taking stock in advance like this can be tedious, but it will help you notice if you’ve packed too much (or too little) of one item.

Hicanada Backpack 3

4. Ruthlessly edit

A week’s worth of clothing is plenty. To edit further, make sure every item matches at least one day or activity and with the expected weather. Remove anything obviously unnecessary, duplicate or bulky. If you’re on the fence about something, leave it behind. Don’t be afraid to ask a friend for help at this stage because sometimes a second set of eyes is all you need to realize you have a weak spot for lounge pants. Revise your packing list.

Hicanada Backpack 4

5. Skip the fancy stuff

Everything you bring on your trip has to be wearable in many different situations. If you’re travelling on a budget, fancy restaurants aren’t likely to be on the itinerary so leave the silk blouse and heels at home. Instead, pack a pair of your favourite earrings and a bright red lipstick to dress up a simple black outfit if necessary.

Hicanada Backpack 5

6. Laundry is a light packer’s best friend

For longer trips, research in advance which of your accommodations have laundry facilities and plan on washing everything midway through the trip. In between, soak smaller items in the sink and hang them to dry overnight.

Hicanada Backpack 6

7. Keep toiletries to a minimum

Even off-the-beaten-path places will usually have a pharmacy, and most toiletries can be bought in a pinch. Put your most important lotions in small 100 ml bottles and keep an eye out for pharmacies to stock up on basics. Multipurpose toiletries, like Dr. Bronner’s castile soaps, which can be used as shampoo, body wash and laundry detergent, are great for saving space.

Hicanada Backpack 7

8. Make use of your personal item

In addition to your main carry-on bag, most airlines allow for a small personal item. Take advantage of this extra space. I brought a Fjallraven Kanken backpack, which held my camera gear, a book, passport, wallet, water bottle and scarf for the plane. This small bag also served as my daypack throughout the trip.

Hicanada Backpack 8

9. Wear bulky items on the plane

Save space by layering up for the flight. Planes are typically cold anyway, so cozy up with your sweater, scarf, jacket and boots for the journey.

Hicanada Backpack 9

10. Get organized

Packing cubes are a game-changer for keeping your belongings organized. Pack each one with a different type of clothing (tops, bottoms, pjs and underwear), and roll individual items separately. The cubes make it so much easier to access items and to quickly repack your bag during a trip.

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