How to pack carry on only…Travel light for any length of trip!

When travelling with budget airlines such as Ryanair one of the major ways in which you end up paying over the odds is luggage. On some routes the price of both taking a suitcase on a return trip can cost more than the price of the flights… which is ridiculous!! But all airlines allow carry on luggage and often this is more generous than you might imagine, with a bit of creative packing you can easily skip the charges and have a true budget trip by travelling carry on only… for any length of trip! Here’s how!

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Bags:

First things first, get some bags which come well within the limits for your chosen airline and also study the fineprint. Wheels, handles etc all count, but we have also found that in practice most carriers, even Ryanair, have never actually measured or checked the size of our bags… but you know, be sensible and stick to the rules. The last thing you want is to have to pay even more at the airport than you would have if you just pre-booked checked luggage!

We have a small suitcase to act as our main carry on bag. just bear in mind that we usually travel with just one between two of us for a week long trip, but we could easily take a case each… this means that we would be set for two weeks easily.

We both have a standard day pack size rucksack and a small wheeled suitcase measuring just under the 55cm x 40cm x 20cm Ryanair limit (Double check other airlines). If you are looking for luggage that you know will be suitable for the cabin then it is best to buy from a range specifically designed for this. For example at House Of Fraser they have a handy selection tool so you can make sure which ever piece you choose will be suitable. We have found this to be really useful and it means we can just go ahead and pick a suitcase or bag based on design and features whist knowing it fits cabin requirements!

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Any length of trip though??

Essentially what this means is that if you can pack for two weeks you can travel on that for as long as you want. No one packs a fresh t-shirt for a 6 month stint travelling so this much room should be enough to wash as you go. Add in some flip flops, laptop and a few accessories here and there and you are set – and as you will see we still had room in our bags for a few extras needed for longer term travelling, many things can be bought as you need them too rather than dragging it all along with you!

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Why carry on only?

It may seem that bringing half your wardrobe with you and every travel accessory known to man gives you peace of mind, but really, travelling light and having all your stuff together with you is a liberation. No more charges for one, but also no more lost baggage, no more carting massive suitcases as you try to find your accommodation. Nope! Having it all on your back or in a small case is a real stress buster when travelling, getting in and out of the airport is so much quicker too!

┬áTravelling should be about simplifying things in order to appreciate the complexity of the world too. Don’t bring everything you own with you, anything you forget will be on sale in your destination if all else fails, if you travel light and free and you realise how little you need to enjoy life. Travel is about leaving the material things behind in exchange for experiences… so it follows that you should always try to travel as light as you can!

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Colour co-ordination in Dublin airport!

Ok, so how do I do it!!

Pile your clothes up and then count them out for each day, most often all you will need is enough clean clothes to last you a week (The case below has a weeks worth for two people) at a push two weeks if that’s the total length of your trip, and that should easily fit into a small case for one person. Any thing past that and you will need to wash your clothes, most hostels and even hotels have pay per use facilities as well as local launderettes… or rivers!

Be strict with yourself:

Lay it all out and then think again if you really need it. Most of the stuff you put out will be unnecessary. Try to take a smaller bag to force yourself to travel lighter, think about how likely it is you will ACTUALLY use something compared to the room it takes and if you will be able to get hold of it at your destination. For example, we never take towels as they can be rented/ borrowed or are provided at most accommodation and take up lots of room and weight.

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Fold or even better ROLL:

Make sure you get the most out of very nook and cranny of those bags, at the very least fold your clothes properly. Even your dirty ones when you are coming home otherwise that bag won’t shut again. But the best way to maximise space is to roll your clothes. There is this great way where you can fold your t-shirt and your underwear together and each one is good to go for each day. It also means less creases! Even better is if you have some of those vacuum pack bags… but make sure you can repeat on the way back though!

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Don’t just shove it all in!

Once it is all rolled or folded don’t just throw it all in and hope for the best, put your socks in your shoes, lay your charger cables out flat. Sometimes the key to getting everything in is rearranging it all a few times and organising the contents!

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Leave some room to play with

If you can, always try to leave yourself some spare room for either last minute travel changes/ rule changes as well as the additional stuff we all seem to pick up whilst travelling! This way you are not heading out at your limit and setting yourself up for an expensive return leg!

You will notice that one of our backpacks is quite empty, this is for that exact reason and on our recent trip to Ireland we travelled with two different airlines. The second only allowed one piece of hand luggage per passenger… so we had to fit that backpack into the other – good job we had some spare room!

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Shortys backpack: Spare paperwork, entertainment, portable phone charger, guidebooks and EXTRA SPACE!

Remember your liquids

Remember that aviation rules stimulate that you can’t take more than 100ml of liquid (any one piece) on board with you. This isn’t as bad as you imagine as a tube of toothpaste for example is usually small enough. The biggest pain is Shampoo and Conditioner, this is usually too big. You can buy travel sized empty containers which are great. We have also often bought some once we arrived if we have been in a cheap region such as Eastern Europe or used whatever is provided in the showers in the accommodation. Soap is also a good idea as it can be carried on, is cheap and lasts a long time!

 Remember to put all your liquid in a clear sealable bag for inspection and at the top or front of your bag as you will have to pull it out!

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Consider what you travel in

Ok, so you don’t need to travel in all your clothes to make this work, but just bear in mind if you are taking a coat or some boots, wear them to the airport instead of your flip flops and vest. You can take them off once on the plane but it will save space in your baggage. When on a short trip we usually only take one pair of trousers and travel in them, then shove the shorts in the bag, same with shoes!

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Valuables

I always put my cameras, laptop, passport etc in my backpack and not the case. Occasionally your suitcase will end up checked for free if the flight is too full and you want to make sure your valuables stay with you.

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Nic’s bag: Documents, Passports, Portable phone charger, notepad, Cameras, Money, Earphones… and Zubat of course!

The bottom line…

Is that it is easier than you think to pack carry on only, much like swerving the hidden fees with a budget airline travelling carry on only is about common sense but also being honest about exactly what you need. Sure, you might have to make the odd compromise here or there, but if you want to travel light and save money this is a great way to do it. Our trips have never suffered because of it, but in fact have been much less stressful.

Our Bags:

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Our suitcase: Piles of t-shirts and underwear for each of us. Warm layers which could be replaced with swimming clothes, shorts and flip flops, chargers and toiletries for a week.
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How easy do you find it to travel carry on only or are you skeptical to try. It took a few trips for us to try it out and get it right, but it saved us so much money!

Nicola Hilditch-Short

Nic is one half of the Roaming Renegades, a passionate traveller, climber, adventurer, photographer and artist who has a B.A in Fine Art and M.A in Design & Art Direction.