12 Items That Make Carry-On Travel Easy

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After over eight years of full-time travel with just a carry-on backpack, we couldn’t imagine travelling any other way. We save time at airports, save money on checked luggage fees, and reduce the stress of lugging heavy bags.

Most importantly, we’ve gained freedom—we can pack all of our belongings in ten minutes and head off on the next adventure.

I know packing light is daunting to many people, but it honestly doesn’t have to be difficult. Here are some items that we love that make packing carry-on only easy.

1) The Right Sized Backpack

Carry on travel is easy with the right carry-on backpacks

To travel carry-on only you’ll need a bag that airlines will allow you to take on board. The most commonly allowed size of carry-on luggage is 56 x 36 x 23 cm (22 x 14 x 9 inches).

Some budget airlines are a bit stricter, but we’ve found that as we travel with backpacks that don’t look big, our bags are never checked for size and weight. Suitcases are more likely to get noticed by airlines.

I love the Osprey Farpoint 40, which easily fits the requirements for almost every airline. Simon travels with the Tortuga backpack, which is slightly bigger, but he has never had a problem taking it on planes, even on airlines like Ryanair.

Read our detailed review of the best carry-on backpacks.

2) Packing Cubes

How to use packing cubes -Eagle Creek Pack It cubes review

We have converted many people to using packing cubes and everyone loves them! Packing cubes are zippered fabric containers, usually in a rectangular shape. I use a large Eagle Creek Specter compression cube for my main clothes, a small cube for my workout clothes, and another small one for underwear.

Packing cubes not only keep your things organised and make them easy to find in your bag, but they also allow you to fit more clothes into your luggage by squeezing them into a smaller package.

Read more about how packing cubes are the secret to carry-on only travel.

3) Lush Shampoo Bars

Lush solid shampoo bars

Toiletries are a big concern of many new carry-on travellers, as all your liquids must be in containers under 100 ml and fit in a single ziplock bag.

The way to get around this is to take as many solid toiletries as possible. My favourites are Lush shampoo bars, which are small and light, work as shampoo and soap, last for ages, smell lovely, and you don’t have to worry about leaks like with liquid shampoos.

4) Solid Deodorant

It’s easy to switch to a solid deodorant. We use Salt of the Earth deodorant, which is made from potassium alum, a natural mineral salt.

It’s all natural, works amazingly well, and lasts forever—we share a travel-sized stick that is still going after a year of use!

5) Shaving Oil

Unlike shaving foam, shaving oil comes in tiny bottles—a 15 ml (0.5 oz) bottle lasts Simon nine months shaving every two or three days. It’s miracle stuff.

6) Once-a-Day Suncream

Once-a-day suncream only needs to be applied once and is water resistant, so you use much less. We buy a 100 ml bottle of Riemann P20 when we’re in the UK and it lasts us months.

7) Mooncup

Ladies, if you haven’t already switched to Mooncup (or DivaCup), now is the time. It’s a reusable silicone menstrual cup that takes up far less space in your bag than tampons or sanitary pads. It’s also better for the environment, your body, and your wallet (it lasts for years).

8) Kindle

Kindle Paperwhite

Books are heavy, so pack a Kindle (or other e-book reader) instead and fit thousands of books onto a device smaller than one paperback.

You could also read on your smartphone or tablet. I like these for guidebooks, but for general reading, I prefer the Kindle Paperwhite’s paper-like screen (especially for reading in the sun) and long battery life.

9) No-Stink Clothes

Odour-resistant clothes mean you can wear them more often before washing. Merino wool is fantastic for this—long-sleeve Icebreaker tops and SmartWool socks keep us warm in winter. 

I also love Athleta’s Unstinkable workout gear for running and Ably t-shirts for general wear.

10) ExOfficio Underwear

ExOfficio is the best travel underwear. They boldly claim, “17 countries. 6 weeks. One pair of award-winning underwear. (Ok, maybe two.)”

While I wouldn’t go that far, they are ideal for travel as they are comfortable, lightweight, quick-drying, odour-resistant, breathable, and durable. They come in many styles for men and women. 

11) Bluffworks Trousers

Bluffs review- best travel trousers
Simon is his Bluffs at Angkor Wat

Bluffworks trousers combine the performance of technical travel clothing with a smart look. They are lightweight, wrinkle-resistant, quick-drying, and have hidden zippered pockets for security.

If you only want to travel with one pair of trousers these are a great option as they are very versatile—Simon has worn his hiking, horse riding, and to weddings. Unfortunately, they are only available for men at the moment. Read our Bluffworks pants review for more details. 

12) Tieks Ballet Flats

Lilac Tieks and box
My Lilac Tieks and the pretty box they arrived in

Tieks are the perfect travel ballet flats. They are ultra-comfortable with cushioned non-skid rubber soles that can stand up to a day’s sightseeing on cobbled streets in Rome.

They are portable as they fold in half and compress into a pouch, so they don’t take up much space in your bag. And they look great so can be worn for smarter occasions.

Unfortunately, designer shoes are expensive, but I think they are worth it for the quality, and when you only travel with two or three pairs of shoes, you can afford to spend more.

After four years of travelling with them, I wrote an honest review of the pros and cons of Tieks and why I think they are the most comfortable flats for travel. 

While you don’t need to buy specific gear to travel carry-on only, these items make packing light easy.

For more packing tips, see our guide to carry-on travel in 10 easy steps, our complete carry-on packing list and my book, The Carry-On Traveller: The Ultimate Guide to Packing Light

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Ready to pack lighter? Here are 12 essential items that will make carry-on travel easy!


  1. In the non- stinky wool clothing category, I would love to add Darn Tough Socks, made in Vermont! I have icebreaker socks, Ibex and Smart Wool, but after I got my first pair of these, I am beyond hooked. They come in all weights, and cushioning, what I like the best compared to the others is well, they are just softer, and so far, they are holding up better. Chuffed they are made in the usa too. * You can find them on sale, year end color range close outs for almost 1/2 the regular price. They are also guaranteed for life. Complete convert on these. As the others start to age beyond repair or use, I will be replacing them all with Darn Tough socks. Great tips.

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    • I have heard such good things about Darn Tough socks (I even mention them in my book) but I couldn’t get hold of them in the UK. Will definitely pick up some pairs next time we’re in the US.

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  2. I love your travel gear posts. Over the years I’ve found that I am using more and more of the stuff you recommend! Need some Tieks I think — I typically use cheap ballet flats which, while tiny and fold up neatly, aren’t hardy enough for long term travel.

    And all hail the Mooncup! I can’t recommend it enough.

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    • I am sure you would love Tieks! Definitely a great investment for travel as they are much more comfortable and durable than normal flats.

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  3. Don’t travel much by anything but 4 wheels and motorcycles. These ideas are great for the cycle adventures and the storage is limited unless we hitch up the trailer.

    I’ve never heard of shampoo bars. WAY COOL!

    Thanks for the great info!

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  4. Nice list!I love to travel light but here are definitely some more great tips. Is there also an ExOfficio Underwear for guys ;)?Thanks for the inspirations, will have a look at these more closely.

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  5. Thank you so much for this – you mention the things others don’t (periods, smelly clothes etc). I’m off to Mexico in October/November and even if I take more than a backpack packing light is always sensible

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    • We’ll have to let you know. Simon has a pair of chinos on the way to try out. He plans to do a full review on the blog.

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  6. So many good ideas here! I have a solid natural deodorant that lasts forever. I haven’t tried Tieks but am so curious after reading many rave reviews

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  7. Ha! I’ve got almost everything on your list (except Bluffs of course)! Love it all. Haven’t tried the underwear yet – but I’m addicted to La Senza for comfy and cute.
    And as I write this, I’m busy breaking in my first pair of Tieks! Seems my feet are a bit wide at the ball for them, but I’m hopeful they’ll stretch out and mould to my foot soon. Quite a leap of faith, spending $200 on a pair of ballet flats, but I’ve ready so many rave reviews by fellow travelers (yourself now included), that I had to do it. :-)

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    • I just ordered myself a new pair of Tieks and it is a little painful paying that much, but they are also totally worth it! I just can’t imagine going back to flimsy-soled, uncomfortable flats that take forever to break in. I hope you like yours!

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