How to Travel Anywhere with Only Carry-on Luggage

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Mastering the art of “carry-on only” travel can mean the difference between breezing through airport security and customs like a ninja or getting stranded in your destination with nothing but the clothes on your back. The goal is to do more with less by packing smarter. Here are our favorite tips for traveling anywhere for any length of time with carry-on only luggage.


The most important tip for going carry-on only is packing the right clothing. Dark, lightweight, quick-wicking materials are the way to go, as they simplify your on-the-road outfit creation, dry quickly when laundered in a hotel, and layer easily for comfort in almost any climate. Look to Under Armour for base layers like underwear, socks, and T-shirts. Arc’teryx offers an incredibly versatile line of shirts that look as good in the streets of Milan as hiking Kilimanjaro. Toss in your favorite pair of sturdy jeans – a single pair is plenty – and wash along the way if absolutely necessary.

For footwear, pack a versatile pair of black or brown boots that strikes a balance between casual and smart. With the right choice, the only other footwear you should need is a pair of outdoor adventure shoes. A pair of rubber-soled, waterproof Keen water shoes works well for almost anything active including hiking, running, wading the Amazon River, or just trekking around town.

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Repeat this mantra: “I’ll buy it when I get there, I’ll buy it when I get there …”

Even Antarctica has ATMs and sundry stores so, no matter the destination, plan to buy your most basic toiletries (toothpaste, deodorant, body wash, etc.) upon arrival. This saves space in your bag and, in the case of liquids, alleviates the need to pack everything into an impossibly tiny, TSA-approved Ziploc bag. After the basics, the only things left to pack are prescription medications and any must-have (read: absolutely essential) toiletries. Take it one step further by researching any complimentary items your hotel provides, including mouthwash, hairdryers, shoe shine kits, cotton swabs, etc.

Also consider toiletries that can pull double duty. The incredibly versatile Dr. Bronner’s 18-in-1 liquid soap, for example, is useful as a body soap, face wash, shampoo, and laundry/dishwashing detergent.


Compartmentalizing your personal effects is essential to staying neat and organized on the road. Find a pack with built-in compartments for sorting things like underwear, socks, and toiletries. Alternatively, you can opt for an open concept bag and organize your wares using packing cubes (like these from Eagle Creek) or traditional stuff sacks.

Lastly, look for a pack with a zippered main compartment that ideally expands 5” or more. This will ensure your suitcase fits within the tightest overhead compartments when fully compacted, while still allowing the versatility to add and remove personal effects along the way.

Wear It There

If your travel inventory is heavy on the gadgets, look to “wearable luggage” to cheat traditional carry-on requirements and provide a third place to stash your gear. SCOTTeVEST has long been the standard for gear jackets/vests and their entire line is designed to smartly and comfortably distribute weight throughout the garments. Their flagship SeV System 8.0 men’s jacket boasts a whopping 39 pockets and holds an entire messenger bag worth of gear, including a tablet, cell phone, electronics cables, water bottle, sunglasses, snacks, keys, wallet, and a whole lot more. As an added bonus, these jackets assure that your most sensitive and valuable gear is well concealed and literally on you at all times.

(Photo via Flickr)