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To celebrate the launch of my new book, The Carry-On Traveller: The Ultimate Guide to Packing Light, I started this interview series with other travellers who also travel with just carry-on luggage.
Beth and her husband Dan first caught the travel bug whilst planning a mega road trip in the States a few years ago, and in 2015 they moved to Malaysia for their jobs in higher education. They take advantage of Malaysia’s generous number of national holidays to explore the country and beyond. Beth blogs sporadically at wbethanieltravel.blogspot.com.
1) Where have you travelled with just a carry-on and how long for?
We aren’t travelling on a permanent basis, but we do like to take lots of trips away to explore new areas and we only ever take carry-on with us. The longest was our three-week honeymoon trip to Bali, Lombok and the Gili Islands. All of our trips around Asia have been just with a carry-on, and before we moved here we used to do the same when we travelled in Europe. The only time we ever check in luggage is when visiting the UK as we need a suitcase to stock up on proper Cadbury’s chocolate and real ale!
2) What are the advantages and disadvantages of travelling with a carry-on? Do you think its worth it?
I don’t find there to be many disadvantages, but the only one that bothers me is that it can be hard to pick up souvenirs. I used to quite enjoy buying small pieces of artwork or homewares on our travels, and that is much harder to do when you’re limited on space and weight. We now tend to buy only one or two very small souvenirs, but these are usually just new additions for our spectacularly tacky fridge magnet collection!
Overall though the benefits definitely outweigh the disadvantages. We save money on checked baggage, we don’t have to wait in long lines at check-in or the luggage carousels, and we can travel around so easily once we reach our destination. We can easily negotiate buses, trains and boats, and I am always grateful for our decision when I see people trying to lug huge suitcases or backpacks on and off public transport.
3) What luggage do you use and what do you like or don’t like about it?
After reading Erin and Simon’s blog, we both decided to get the Osprey Farpoint 40. I’m 5’10” and Dan is over 6 foot so the size M/L fitted us both well. We managed to find the bag in two different colours so that we don’t get confused about whose is whose. We have been really happy with them so far and I love the fact that they open up fully like a suitcase. It is also useful to be able to tuck the straps away when needed.
The only frustrating thing is that they don’t come with an integrated rain cover, so we bought foldable ones, but they can be easy to forget to pack. However the bags are the perfect size and we’ve never had an airline challenge us on the dimensions.
4) Do you travel with a day bag in addition to your main carry-on?
We sometimes take a canvas tote bag for taking to the beach or carrying shopping. However, most airlines we fly with allow you to take a personal item in addition to your main bag, so I normally take a small cross-body bag that fits our passports and some money so I don’t always have to dig into my main bag. Most of the time I use this if we’re going out for the day or evening.
5) How do you manage the limited carry-on weight allowance many airlines have? Have you ever been forced to check-in your bag?
I have only had my hand luggage weighed once, which was when we flew with Air France from Paris to Singapore. This was the only time we have ever flown premium economy and I expected them to be less strict about checking weight than the budget airlines. I was actually over the limit but fortunately they let me share my allowance with Dan, as his bag was under, so I didn’t have to pay to check it in. The rest of the time it’s been fine, but there have been a couple of times I’ve got lucky.
We often manage to avoid the check-in counter by printing our boarding pass at home or at the self-service desk, which means you don’t have to go near the weighing scales – they don’t have them at immigration and only very rarely at security or check-in gates. But in general, I do try to stick to the usual 7kg limit, as I find it uncomfortable to carry around a heavy bag for too long.
6) Have you travelled in cold weather and how did you pack for it?
Our 11 day trip to Japan was a bit of a challenge, as we were doing some hiking in the Alps and it was spring so it was still very cold. I wore my thickest jumper on the plane (as well as my hiking boots) but I always find planes to be cold so it didn’t matter too much. I only packed one or two bulky items of clothing and took a lot of thinner layers to keep warm.
7) What clothes and shoes do you travel with? Are there any particular brands or fabrics that you recommend?
We mainly travel in hot climates, so we take loose and lightweight clothing and usually one pair or flip flops and one pair of trainers or walking shoes/boots each, depending on what we are going to be doing. On travel days I tend to wear my bulkier shoes and pack my flip flops to save on space.
Neither of us has much technical clothing, but we do each have a pair of long, lightweight walking trousers as they are essential for trekking in jungles. We initially thought that being in a tropical environment meant that we could always wear shorts and t-shirts, but after a rather unpleasant encounter with some fire ants, I quickly learnt that it’s worth covering up!
8) How do you manage the liquids rule on flights? Does it limit the toiletries you pack?
The only thing it really limits us on is suncream, which is annoying because it can be quite expensive in Asia. For the rest of our toiletries, I tend to take the little bottles when we stay at nicer hotels and then refill these with our own products. Occasionally we will also buy a larger size bottle of shampoo or something once we reach our destination if needed. I don’t take much makeup, normally just a mascara and tinted moisturiser with SPF, and I often don’t end up wearing it most of the time.
9) What technology do you pack?
As we don’t travel long term we take very little technology with us, as we try to avoid working much when we’re away. We have a Nikon SLR camera which we take on some (but not all) trips, and we each have a smartphone so we can access email if needed. I do put scanned copies of all our essential documents on Dropbox so that I can access them anywhere if needed via my phone or internet cafe.
10) Do you travel with any luxury items?
I probably still pack too many clothes, so I guess that is a bit of a luxury. I always end up coming home with clothes I haven’t worn, so I still need to get a bit better at picking out the essentials.
11) Did you pack anything that you regretted or got rid of?
Up until recently I always took an inflatable neck pillow, as I find it hard to sleep on planes, but I’ve never managed to find one that actually stays inflated for the entire flight so I’ve given up! I also had a nice big sun hat that I really liked, but it was just too impractical and I would always have to wear it on the flight like an over-enthusiastic tourist, so I now opt for a less stylish but more practical foldable cap for sun protection.
12) How do you organise your things in your luggage? Do you have any tips for maximising space?
We use eBag packing cubes and they are so useful. Dan was sceptical when I suggested them (“why do you need a bag to go inside a bag?!”) but even he will now admit that they make packing so much easier and you can fit a lot more in because they help to compress your clothing. We got three medium bags and three small bags to mix and match (in different colours so you don’t get confused) and they work brilliantly.
13) Do you have any other tips for packing light? Any other useful items you recommend?
As I said, the biggest difficulty for me is clothes – I used to enjoy planning my holiday outfits so I have found it difficult to limit myself to just a few. A tip that helped me is that you need to base your clothes around a specific colour palette. This enables you to mix and match different items easily and stops you from getting bored of outfits if you’re travelling for a long time. I try to find a skirt or top that I like and know I will wear a lot (or for colder climates, perhaps a jacket or even a scarf) and use that as a starting point, and then find other items that will work with it.
You can follow Beth’s travels on her blog.
If you’d like to learn more about how to travel carry-on only (and read more interviews like this one), see my book, The Carry-On Traveller: The Ultimate Guide to Packing Light, which is available for the Kindle or paperback on Amazon US.
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Interesting article, nice to hear how others travel, even for short trips, which makes going carry-on only much easier. I’m down to a carry-on. But I carry a computer and camera gear, so I have to have a fairly good-sized other bag, which I carry on, and check in the other carry-on. I’m impatient, so don’t like waiting for bags, or lord forbid, lose one, but I’ve been lucky so far (in decades of travel). I’ve always carried a blow-up neck support, it never deflates…don’t know the brand, but it folds to flat, and is not cumbersome. Also, I like to have the piece I carry on have wheels, because I usually travel alone, and must take it with me everywhere in the airport, like to the john where you don’t want to sit your pack on the floor.
Great article and interview. I would agree with the disadvantage of a carry-ons and souvenir shopping. When my wife and I were traveling everytime we thought of purchasing we realized we would be carrying “x” item for the next 6-9 months. A few things added up quickly.
I definately prefer to go with one bag and a smaller sack for food. Such an easier way to move around.
The carry-on weight allowance never really seems to be enforced especially compared to the 7kg limit. A trick I’ve done was just to carry an extra tote bag and hold behind the counter. If I needed to take anything out I’d just stuff it in the bag. Never been questioned on this.
Overall great article. Appreciate the insight and will keep these tips in mind.
We’ve never had a problem with the weight limit either – our bags are just never weighed.
When we travelled on our first year around the world (before we were permanent digital nomads) we just posted souvenirs home. Easier and probably cheaper than checking a bag.
Thanks. This was useful. I have an osprey 55 and i been thinking to downgrade to the 40 for quite a while.
The 55 is an amazing bag but is more space than i need.
The Osprey 40 is ideal if you want something smaller. Everyone I know who has tried it loves it.