I Spent 3 Months Travelling the World With Only Carry-On
Holidays are the best, but do you know what is not the best? Waiting 40 minutes for your suitcase at the baggage carousel, after travelling 23 hours in a dehydrating, pressurised flight cabin (because no amount of spritzing Caudalie Beauty Elixir and applying SK-II sheet masks can put back in what that recycled air takes out).
But there is one way you can avoid wasting all those precious holiday making minutes—travel with just a carry-on bag. You might’ve nailed the interstate weekender carry-on, or even one week in Seminyak (because bikinis don’t take up much room), but the kind of carry-on I’m talking about is multi-month and continent hopping effective—in my case, two months road tripping across America, a week in the Middle East, then onto Italy and Greece. Is it possible? Totally. Will you shed a tear for all the shoes you have to leave behind? Definitely. But trust me when I tell you, it’ll change the way you travel for good.
Keep scrolling to discover the essential rules of carry-on packing.
BUY THE RIGHT BAG
Don’t be one of those all-the-gear-no-idea chumps. This could be the only carry-on bag you buy for the next decade so shop smart. On a friend’s recommendation, I invested in the Osprey Farpoint 40 Backpack ($180) in small/medium size. It’s just compact enough to fit in the overhead compartment, but roomy enough to feel like Hermione Granger’s enchanted handbag. The straps can be zipped out of sight if you’d rather carry it on your shoulder like a duffel bag, and the tough black material is about as inoffensive as a traveller's bag can get (the same cannot be said for the lime green interior, but you get used to it). If the thought of a backpack makes your skin crawl, or you have limited upper body strength, Away makes chic, compact (pink!) suitcases too.
DON’T FORGET THE ACCESSORIES
Your new and improved travel-self is organised AF (or at least you will be when I’m through with you). Packing cubes are lifesavers and you can squeeze a lot in them. When you’re on the road, you don’t need to disrupt the precious equilibrium inside your bag to grab a clean T-shirt. Plus, the less time you have to spend repacking your bag, the happier (read: more sane) you will be. I would have had a breakdown were it not for my Eagle Creek Pack-It Cubes ($45).
LEARN TO PACK LIKE A GROWN-UP
It’s not acceptable to just haul your dad’s old Samsonite out of storage and toss half your wardrobe inside. Patience and practice is key. I bought my backpack and packing cubes about a month before my trip. That gave me plenty of time to see just how much I could fit inside, the best way to maximise space, and also figure out what I actually needed (additional beach reads and the straw hat I thought would make primo Instagram fodder were the first to go). Bulkier items are best folded on the bottom of the bag, while jumpers and dresses fold nicely into a large packing cube. That leaves the medium and smaller sized cubes for rolled T-shirts and underwear.
MAKE A LIST & CHECK IT TWICE
With two months to go, write down all the things you’d like to take with you. Then put that list somewhere safe and forget about it. Once you have your bag, look at the list again. Then look at the bag. Then back at the list. Do you think everything you’ve written down will fit? No chance! (Sorry about that.) Lay all the list items you already own out on your bed, or living room floor, and see how they look together. Does anything stick out as being so fabulously memorable that you’ll probably only wear it once? Ditch it. You’re looking for multi-purpose pieces in durable fabrics. A black silk-poly blend slip is good because it won’t wrinkle too much in your bag, and looks fancy on its own but casual over a T-shirt. A lightweight grey knit will go the distance, as will your favourite pair of jeans, and a few cotton T-shirts—one each in black, white, and navy. As for shoes, welcome to the two-pair-club: Sneakers and sandals. (I never said this was going to be easy.)
STREAMLINE YOUR BEAUTY ROUTINE
If I’m being honest, I found the hardest part of minimising to be saying goodbye to a 12-step, Korean-influenced beauty routine. I’d invested a lot of time and money into the products populating my bathroom shelves (all six of them, sorry housemates). I am not one of those people who just washes their face with “whatever” and slaps a bit of moisturiser on. Just typing that sentence caused me physical pain. I did, however, discover the delightful world of travel-sized minis (I don’t feel so guilty springing for Eve Lom’s Rescue Mask ($65) when it’s pint-size). The process also made me reassess the importance I place on some of the items in my makeup bag. There was something really liberating about just having a couple of items to work with.
REMEMBER, YOU CAN SHOP ON THE ROAD
I had a friend’s wedding in Greece at the end of my trip, but couldn’t justify lugging a party dress and heels around for two-and-a-half months when I knew I wouldn’t need them hiking Yosemite or sunning myself on an Italian beach. A week before the wedding, I found a very cute pair of shoes in Zara, and had a dress from Matches Fashion delivered to my hotel room in Rome (allowing enough time to buy a backup if the one I ordered was a bust, but without having to waste valuable bag space for more time than was actually necessary). In 2017, unless you’re going to Antarctica, it’s not going to be that difficult for you to grab something you realise you need and didn’t bring.