Personal disclaimer: I have traveled to the far corners of the globe, often for extended periods of time, with nothing more than carry on baggage. In the ever evolving process of packing light, I have come to the conclusion that what you decide NOT to bring makes all the difference. I want to suggest four reasons for traveling light (= with carry-on bag):

  1. Your luggage will arrive at your destination at the same time as you do!
  2. Time at baggage claim is time away from trip enjoyment.
  3. Avoid large crowds at the baggage claim carousel.
  4. Avoid the fees for checked bag

Here are a few tips to help you ditch the checked bag:

  • I am yet to stay at a hotel that does not offer complimentary shaving or toothbrush/toothpaste kits as a courtesy for those who request them. Even many Airbnb’s offer shampoo, conditioner, hair dryers and body wash as standard in rooms, and that’s a whole lot of liquid and space not to worry about.
  • A toothbrush might night make or break needing a checked bag, but all those tubes for toothpaste, hair products, and beyond certainly can. Before you commit to packing all your toiletries, fine out what you can absolutely get at your destination. You might even get free slippers too!

Now the cost of a checked bag fee. A typical fee for domestic trips is $30 for the first bag, each way, so the question is this: what should I just buy when I get there to avoid checking a bag? The answer: pretty much anything that costs the round trip baggage fee. Even if you spend $30 on cosmetics, snacks, or any other products, that is still cheaper than checking a bag.

Reality: With few exceptions (such as European low cost airlines), most economy tickets allow both a full sized “roller” carry on bag as well as a “small” personal item. In practice, this typically means a roller bag and something the size of a backpack, or anything else that can fit under the seat in front of you, like a purse. Now taking this even further, if there’s one larger item, why not wear it? I see nothing wrong with dressing like an eccentric country club person, or 90’s grunge act, and wrapping a heavy sweater or hoodie around you for flight and boarding.

Practicalities: In my experience, rolling clothes is more space efficient than folding. I manage to bring more than one pair of shoes and still go carry-on only. And I think strategically about my attire. Flexible layers – also known as things which I can work both as formal and casual wear – are travel gold. This allows me to be prepared for any occasion, without redundant items. When it comes to shoes, it’s the same. What pair of shoes solves more attire situations on a trip? Is there a paid or workout shoes that are suitable for running and gym, work?

Wisdom: Travel light and travel happy. No fees, no lost luggage, no waisted time at the airport.


For more information on what to pack, check out our packing lists!

Darek’s Packing List

Women’s packing tips


NOTE: The US airlines track and delivery times for checked bags; domestic average is 20 minutes. International delivery times depend on the airport and start at 30 minutes. For the latest report on mishandled baggage see this US Department of Transportation report.