Travel With Only Carry On Luggage: Here’s How


After two back-to-back international flights where different airlines on each lost my luggage, a new strategy was called for. Bred an overpacker, a side effect of being married to cruising as a preferred travel mode, this was going to be tough but it had to be done. I needed to operate out of only carry on luggage. Moreover, it had to be a nearly flawless plan or worrying about it would eat me alive. I wanted it all and formulated a plan to get that and more.

Putting the cart behind the horse, where it belongs
When we plan a cruise vacation, the first step is to book the cruise. After the ship and sailing date are locked in, we can start thinking about transportation to and from the port of embarkation, what we will wear, what we will see, do and more. To maximize the amount of available luggage space I had to work with, the first stop was airline regulations on what size bag/personal items I could carry on.

The Luggage
Tumi 250Using carry-on bag sizing rack at the gate of most airlines as a guide, I found a Tumi bag (left) just the right size plus a TravePro personal item-sized bag (right) that maximized the amount of under seat storage.  Now that I had the maximum-sized luggage allowed for carry-on, decisions had to be made on what to bring along.  Thinking along the lines of those who stock NASA space flight missions, I looked at everything. TraevelPro Personal 250

“Do I really need two pens, a highlighter, stapler and tape dispenser?”  “What about duct tape?” – Yes one pen will do, they will have tape on the ship, should you need it.  You have never used duct tape once but have brought it every time.

“Can I really function without my own coffee maker, clothes steamer and bag full of cables for every imaginable device I or someone else on the ship might have?”  – Yes, you are not Wal-Mart, but those you travel with know you have brought along just about everything they might possibly run out of. 

That sort of thinking went a long way.  The Tang had to go.

Modified Packing List
On one of our first cruise vacations we had 14 pieces of luggage between the then four of us in the family traveling together.  It was so much luggage that I had to call a friend who ran a limousine company to send a car at 3AM so we could make it to the airport.  (This was in the days when there were no fees for checked luggage)  I have come a long way since then but, on this test trip, could have easily filled the maximum size luggage allowed with clothing for a 10-day journey.  No problem. Making the smaller size luggage work took some sacrifices in the wardrobe department.

Again with the knowledge that this one small bag is all I have to work with, miracles happen and choices get made.   Did I really need extra pairs of shoes?  How formal do I need to be prepared for?  Thinking back to previous trips, what did I really wear and what did I just bring along?   The answers to those questions provided divine guidance and whittled down the packing list rather quickly.

I still had travel gear to think about though.

The Secret Weapon
Vest 250 336I have been wearing a travel vest for years.  That’s an article of clothing that holds my cell phone, wallet, passport, loose change and just about anything else that might set off a metal detector at airport security checkpoints.  Wearing a travel vest makes getting through security a snap; just take off the vest, run it through the scanner and put it back on.  Easy.  I was already sold on the idea, so when vest manufacturer SCOTTeVEST asked me to test a new version, this one with Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) protection, I jumped at the chance.

What I found was a travel vest like no other I had ever used or seen others use.   Bottom line:  This vest could hold everything I had in my personal item bag and more; if I wanted it to.  That it will hold 2 computers, an iPad, a camera, two smartphones, passport, identification, travel documents, small children, miles of cables and more is good to know but not all that comfortable to sit with on most commercial aircraft.

What I did carry that worked comfortably for me was my iPhone, passport, wallet, cables for backup power and the power itself concealed in the vest, a Nikon D-5000 camera, hand sanitizer, KIND bars, guidebooks, tissues, a wash cloth and loose € coins.  There was room to spare and the weight distribution system incorporated into the garment made it comfortable to wear.

The SCOTTeVEST proved its worth and will be with me on all trips in the future too.

Post-Testing
The only part of this plan that I will do differently on the next trip, an 8-day Viking River Cruise in France, is to substitute a backpack for the TravelPro personal under-seat item.  On the ground with Abercrombie & Kent in Germany, I often wished I had brought a backpack for those items I can’t entrust to anyone (computers, cameras, medications), freeing my arms from carrying anything other than a camera.

Allowing Wiggle Room
I never want to max out any luggage or travel plan as the proforma way it works.  In this application,  I wanted to allow space for if I bought something along the way and wanted to bring it back home with me.

I already knew I would accumulate a pile of literature, maps and brochures from the places we visited and from the cruise line.  That plan worked out well, allowing me to bring home the volume of information I had anticipated but not bloat my luggage to where I would be forced to check it, admitting defeat.  I was victorious

Still, to save space, I could have captured images of all that paperwork as I received it, sent it up into the cloud, saved more space and be sharing it with you right now.

A built in safety net, just in case I do not pack enough clothing: the cruise ship or hotel laundry service.  I did not use it on this test run but it was nice to know that the service was available.

Knowing I had not totally filled up my SCOTTeVEST also provided a last-resorts way of bringing something home that would not fit in the other elements of my packing system.  Not that I would have wanted to fly 8,000 miles with ten pounds of cheese from the Netherlands in my back pocket, but I could have.

Solid Time-Saving Benefits

  • No worries- Another big bonus is no waiting for luggage to be delivered from the aircraft to the bag claim area, all the time crossing my fingers, hoping it did not get lost.
  • Globally Wonderful- As a member of the Global Entry Program, on returning to the United States I walked right through the U.S. Customs checkpoint, stopping only a minute at the Global Entry Kiosk to answer a few questions.  I was off to other business well before the mob of others even reached the bag claim area.
  • No Outsiders- At hotels and other places where luggage might get handled by others, it doesn’t. In fact, that took some getting used to; not allowing helpful people to have it.  Still, when in my possession 100% of the time, it’s not going anywhere I don’t want it to be.
  • Time Packing- One of the very best parts of traveling with all carry-on luggage is repacking to go back home.  It takes little time to do one of the most unpleasant parts of any cruise vacation; saying good bye to our lovely accommodations on the cruise ship.

So take that, unknown person in Barbados who is wearing the polo shirt that you stole out of my luggage which mysteriously disappeared!  Here’s to you, Air France luggage handler who left my bag behind in Paris!

You’ll never get me again!