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Travel Light and Love It With These Proven Carry-on Luggage Tips

Packing for a vacation can be a laborious task, never knowing if you have enough or too much and trying to find the right clothing combinations to suit any occasion in addition to ancillary items. It would be crazy to think that people can comfortably pack all they need into a carry-on suitcase and jet off on an international holiday for a few weeks –  or is it? Read on to find out our carry-on luggage tips. 

CTM’s Global Content Specialist, Tanya Rose, spent her Christmas and New Year with her husband, galavanting around Europe. When we heard she was traveling with only 7kgs of carry-on luggage for 3.5 weeks during a European winter, we couldn’t believe it and wanted to find out why and how. We sat down with Tanya to learn her tricks for traveling carry-on only.

Chris and Tanya Rose collage

What was the general reaction to you taking only carry-on luggage?

When I mentioned we were traveling from Australia to Europe over Christmas with only 7kg of carry-on luggage and a backpack each, the general response was, “How can you possibly do that? You know it’s cold in Europe; how will you fit all your warm clothes in?”

It might sound crazy, but when you put logic into your packing, it is quite easy and makes for hassle-free travel.

I will make a disclaimer, though, and say traveling carry-on only would not be for everyone, but for those who are up for the challenge or the freedom of a seamless travel experience, I recommend it.

Why did you choose to travel internationally with carry-on luggage only?

With both of us working in the travel industry, we were aware of some of the challenges airports and airlines are still facing with limited resourcing, thanks to the undesired legacy of the pandemic. Unfortunately, for some travelers, this has meant their luggage occasionally took the scenic route to their final destination.

To avoid luggage mishaps, we decided early on in our planning to try and travel with just carry-on luggage, so we would not need to worry whether our luggage would go missing. The other reason is that our trip involved a lot of train travel between Munich, Salzburg, Vienna, and Prague, and having only carry-on luggage would be much easier to contend with rather than lugging overflowing 20kg suitcases on and off of trains. Another reason was dragging heavy suitcases around snow and ice-covered streets to get to accommodation was not our idea of a good time. The last reason for carry-on is that we knew traveling to a cold climate would mean all our holiday photos would be us in the same jacket and beanie, so who was going to know what we were wearing underneath?

What difference did traveling with a carry-on make to your travel experience, and why?

We knew it would make things easier, not lugging around a big heavy suitcase. Still, we didn’t realize just how easy and seamless the whole experience would be, especially when it came to airports and traveling by train around Europe.

Our check-in experience at Brisbane airport was second to none. We arrived, used the self-service kiosk, printed a boarding pass, and went off while everyone else was queuing to check bags in. When we arrived at security, we were ahead of the pack and the only ones clearing Customs – unheard of. I would estimate the total process took less than 15 minutes.

Arriving at Munich, we simply got off the plane and walked straight out of the airport; no waiting at luggage carousels for lengthy periods with hundreds of other travelers. We purchased our train ticket and made our way to our accommodation.

As for train travel between countries, having luggage that was easy to lift on and off the trains and fitted comfortably in the narrow luggage racks was bliss. Witnessing fellow travelers battle their hefty bags in full trains was a timely confirmation that our decision to travel carry-on was the right choice.

Female traveler on train in Europe traveling light with carry-on luggage only

In fact, on our train from Prague back to Munich, believe it or not, we were seated alongside two CTM customers and their wives, who were both traveling with a lot of luggage. It is such a small world. We helped them play ‘suitcase Tetris’ to ensure they could fit everything into the carriage. Even when on vacation, CTM staff are still providing personalized service!

The other difference it made was limiting what we purchased during the trip. It made us focus more on enjoying our travel experiences and making memories.

There are many different brands and styles of carry-on luggage. What was your method in selecting the right one?

Not all carry-on luggage is the same, so this was an important part of the planning. We wanted to ensure we were getting the maximum capacity within the airline’s approved luggage dimensions/weight. Not all airlines have the same carry-on luggage allowances, so it is important to check this.

We then looked at the weight of the suitcase as the second feature to ensure we were getting the lightest one for maximum capacity. This is important because the heavier the suitcase, the less you can pack. There were a couple of brands similar in their offering, but in the end, we opted for the brand, July, for our luggage.

What tips do you have for maximizing space in your carry-on luggage?

Do yourself a favor and invest in some packing cubes. Depending on your budget and suitcase size, they range in prices and sizes, but I would say it makes packing a dream and everything fits like a glove. The other benefit of packing cubes is knowing where everything is. There was no pulling out all your clothes in search of one item. When you pack with cubes, you can have all your underwear in one, bulkier items in another, and lighter T-shirts/thermals in another, for example. It also helps to keep things flat and not crumble your clothing, and most importantly, they help you maximize space.

open carry-on luggage

Carry-on luggage does not allow you to pack 3.5 weeks’ worth of clothing. What is your secret?

  1. Apartment accommodation

The reason accommodation came into the equation of a successful carry-on luggage trip was whether we could wash our clothing. We opted to book apartments because they were more affordable and spacious than hotels over the festive season (when booked in advance). We also had the luxury of a washing machine and, in some cases, a dryer. This meant we could wash and dry our clothes easily throughout the trip, limiting the amount of needed clothing.

  1. Strategic clothing choices

We knew our holiday wouldn’t be a fashion parade of ‘Instagramable’ outfits when traveling in the winter – knowing most of our photos would be taken outdoors meant we would always wear our jackets and beanie. With that said, we knew it wouldn’t matter if we wore the same jumper or jeans more than once.

It is all about the layers in cold climates, and if you invest in quality thermals, you won’t need a surplus supply of bulky items to keep you warm. We also invested in a pair of lightweight insulated, weatherproof shoes to wear for the entire trip, and because we were wearing them the whole time, they were not taking up space in our luggage.

  1. Make use of your backpack

You can have one piece of hand luggage that fits under the seat, so make good use of it. We packed our toiletries and ancillary items into ours, so our luggage was just clothing.

  1. You don’t need to pack all your toiletries

We knew that no matter where we stayed, we would have some amenities already supplied, such as hair dryers, soap, and shampoo, so there was no reason to pack these items. Toiletries often weigh anyone’s luggage down, so we had to be a little ruthless with this.

We also needed to consider the size of the liquids, aerosols, and gels we were packing because there are strict carry-on guidelines around this.

Travel minis were handy, but we didn’t go overboard as we just bought some things when we got there. We just packed the important items like medications and personal items we needed while transiting. As females, we pack additional personal items such as make-up and hair-styling tools. However, I kept this to a bare minimum. After all, my hair spent much of its time in a beanie, so there was no need to spend hours doing it.

Were you ever concerned that your bag would be too heavy and would be requested to check your luggage in?

Given this was the first time we had attempted carry-on only internationally, we were aware that we would need to ensure our luggage met the weight and dimension requirements of the airline.

We did a trial pack to ensure all our items fit in our luggage. Once we were all packed, we weighed the bags on a set of scales for the final test to ensure our luggage met the airline’s requirements; after all, we didn’t want to get to the airport to find out we would have to check our luggage in.

Pro tip: When you pack, don’t forget you will be wearing some of it on the day of travel. Wear your bulkiest items and carry your jacket.

What are your key takeaways from your experience?

  1. Traveling with carry-on luggage is about taking the essentials and not getting caught up in having ‘just in case items.
  2. If you find yourself buying things while you are away and have no room to accommodate them, you can always post them home or just purchase an inexpensive bag and check luggage in on the way home. This is not something we had to do, but it was certainly a plan B.
  3. If you need anything, you can always purchase in-destination. They do have shops remember, so you won’t go without them.
  4. Remember to check the allowances for liquids, gels, and aerosols with your preferred airline and immigration. You don’t want to get caught out traveling with too much or the wrong things.
  5. Booking accommodation with washing facilities is a must. Without these facilities, you will be racking up an expensive hotel dry cleaning bill or wasting many hours at foreign laundry mats (if you can find one).
  6. Also, make use of your backpack. You are allowed one piece of hand luggage under the seat.

Overall carry-on luggage made the journey enjoyable, less cluttered, and made for a seamless travel experience.

So would I travel with carry-on luggage again? Yes!


Enjoyed reading about our carry-on  luggage tips?

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