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Best carry on luggage: The perfect minimalist packing list!

One tends to overdo it on the first big backpacking trip, bringing loads of clothes, often the wrong ones, endless cosmetics and medication and even things that were never used at home. Just in case.

The second trip usually is a lot better, you pack a lot less and by the third one you only carry half the weight you used to and the once big backpack has shrunk to a medium sized one.

Nowadays many go even further and reduce clothes and equipment so much that they can travel with a carry on – like Line and I do. You really don’t need to make great sacrifices, in fact, with the right packing stragegy and a good backpack you can take along quite a lot! 

I will tell you how to pack, what you are allowed to take in your carry on and what to leave at home! Because Line and I have been travelling with only a carry on for a year now and we have been to the most diverse places: from Thailand to Hong Kong to Singapore, to Bali and even on to Australia and New Zealand!

And we do bring along a good deal of stuff, we have to take our entire office: two laptops, three large cameras, a GoPro, a 360 degree camera, two external hard drives, big headphones, various cables and SD cards… And you would be surprised how much clothes we also manage to fit!

Best carry on luggage: The perfect minimalist packing list!

Why you should definitely travel with a carry on!

I have been traveling with only a carry on for two years now and even Line has stopped checking baggage a year ago. You will not believe what a difference that makes!

I sat down and did the math, guess how much time and money I have saved in a year thanks to my decision to only travel with a carry on – ready?

⁃ 27 hours
⁃ 850 Euros

You save time and money!

This means I had almost 27 hours more time for other things since I, first of all, did not have to spend so much time queueing to check my luggage, and second of all, didn’t have to wait by the luggage belt to pick up my bag again upon landing.

On average you wait around 20 minutes at check in and another 20 minutes at the baggage claim. Those are 40 minutes of waiting every time you fly!

I do around 40 flights a year, most of them short flights on cheap airlines. If I calculate 40 minutes per flight that amounts to 1,600 minutes a year, so around 27 hours. I win an extra day every year by simply travelling minimistically!

Most discount airlines also charge between 20 and 30 Euros for a 20 kg checked bag. With most larger airlines this is included in the airfare. But since Line and I only take around 6 long distance flights (for me these are all flight longer than 6 hours) a year, we would have to pay extra on most of your trips. So counting 34 flights without checked baggage I saved around 850 Euros *34 flights x 25 Euros)!

And these are only the figures for me alone. Together Line and I save two days and 1700 Euros a year by travelling with a carry on only. Crazy, isn’t it?

P.S.: The best part however is the airline staff’s face when you check in to your long distance flight and they ask you if you want to check in baggage as well and you tell them you are only traveling with a carry on. Priceless!

How large and how heavy may the carry on be?

With some airlines you are allowed to bring a small bag like a purse, a laptop bag or any kind of duty free shopping bag or fabric sack along with your carry on. Only a few airlines still have the strict one bag only policy. Even Ryanair grants you two bags nowadays!

Also, there is not really a standard size for carry ons, every airline defines their own sizes. In general one can say that the main carry on cannot be bigger than 55 x 40 x 25 cm! It should not weigh more than 7 kilos, 10 at the very most. And the weight limit includes all bags you carry on board.

There are also a few airlines that really put your carry on into those measuring boxes or weigh them to see if it really fits the requirements. And as long as airports don’t check with Google Glass nobody will notice if your bag is a centimeter too long or weighs a bit more than is permissable.

A few tips on how to get by with your carry on

I always stick to the required measurements but to be honest I always – really always – surpass the weight limit. With all the technical stuff I bring along (my laptop, my cameras and lenses easily amount to 5 or 6 kilos!) my bag often weighs around 12, sometimes 15 kilos, so a lot more than they allow.

My trick is that once I proceed to boarding I coolly carry the backpack over one shoulder so it doesn’t look that heavy. It may not be comfortable and I really have to force myself to smile and look relaxed but I never use all the straps to fasten the backpack to my body.

Because if you are all strapped in it will really look like that bag you are carrying is a load. You also shouldn’t push it along on the floor in front of you and then pick it up right in front of the person checking your ticket and passport. Because to put on the heavy backpack without it looking like it that is hard. The airline staff might become skeptical!

With these simple tricks Line and I have always made it even if our shoulders hurt for a while after boarding!

The same applies if you have to go to the check in because online check in for some reason was not possible or did not work. You should pretend your bag is super light. If you, like Line and me, don’t travel alone you can also check in seperately from your girlfriend or boyfriend while the other one waits with the bags.

This is how we saved the baggage fees on a flight with Tigerair from Chiang Mai to Singapore, they weighed the carry on at the check in counter and everyone who had too much had to check the carry on for a lot more than a regular bag would have cost. Luckily we saw that fast enough and checked in one after the other!

The only time we did not get by with our tricks was a long distance flight from Sydney to Berlin via Abu Dhabi. Virgin airlines’ staff at the check in counter was really persistant and we had to check part of our carry in. Luckily this was included in the price of the ticket so we just used our daypacks to rearrange.

Best carry on luggage: packing lists for minimalists

What can you not take on board in a carry on? A lot!

Towel, blowdryer, a second pair of shoes, lots of books, SLR camera, sleeping bag, a complete travel pharmacy and much more… You see yourself in this?

This is what I used to pack as well.

Nowadays I look at travellers and tourists and am amazed at how much they bring along. Almost half their closet, a small shelf of drugstore supplies and lots of unnecessary things!

If you decide to travel with minimal luggage and only bring a carry on you will have to separate from a few things for your next trip. I looked around what kinds of things people usually bring and what can really stay at home – here’s the list:

These things really should stay at home and do NOT belong in a carry on

⁃ ¾ pants (really?)
⁃ thin khaki pants (no way!)
⁃ fleece jacket (is warm but a pullover and rain jacket is much better)
⁃ evening wear (you are going packpacking, not on a business trip)
⁃ sneakers and running shoes (get a good pair of running shoes with profile – one pair is enough!)
⁃ trekking shoes (exception: if you really go mountain climbing but not if you just occasionally want to go for a hike!)
⁃ pyjama (a simple tshirt will do!)

Cosmetics and medication:
⁃ stuffed cosmetics bag (as a man you only need a toothbrush, deodorant, a small shampoo and nail clip – small transparent bag for the airport is fine. And as a woman small amounts are enough as well – you don’t always need to be fully made up when travelling!)
⁃ travel medication (something against diarrhea and some headache pills – the rest you can get wherever you are!)

⁃ money belt (nothing screams tourist like a money belt around your waist)
⁃ portable safe (most accomodations will have safes, if not the packsafe backpack is a great solution – more on this backpack later)
⁃ day pack and dry bag (get a SeaToSummit backpack, it is both in one and only weighs a few grams)
⁃ buffy cloth (get a Kufyia (Arabic scarf) – it is a blanket, headscard, sleeping mask and emergency towel in one)
⁃ microfibre towel (there are towels at every hostel, hotel and AirBnB)
⁃ sleeping mask (most long distance flights will provide one, if not the Kufyia will do!)
⁃ travel pillow (just use the pullover you have with you anyway!)
⁃ SLR (if you are not a professional photographer then there are a lot smaller and better alternatives now)
⁃ iPod (smarphone does the trick)
⁃ blowdryer (no, no!)
⁃ travel alarm clock (again, your phone can do that!)
⁃ travel guide (download it onto you tablet, laptop or smartphone)
⁃ books (tablet!!)
⁃ pocket knife (how do you explain that to the security at the airport?)

The right packing list for minimalists
What can go into a carry on? A lot!

In the last year I was in many very different countries and by now I know pretty well what I need to be comfortable in warm as well as in cold places. This list will not be suitable for everyone. Maybe you don’t need certain things as much like all the tech stuff I lugg around but take more other things, Line for instance has more cosmetic supplies than I do.

Carry on list:

⁃ 3 pairs of shorts
⁃ 1 pair of long trousers/jeans
⁃ 3 pairs of socks
⁃ 7 panties
⁃ 4 tshirts
⁃ 1 tank top
⁃ 1 pair of swimming trunks
⁃ 1 sweatshirt/hoodie
⁃ 1 rain jacket
⁃ 1 functional winter jacket (in winter)
⁃ 1 pair of Birkenstocks and/or flip flops
⁃ 1 pair of Nikes

Tech and other:
⁃ 1 laptop (13’’)
⁃ 1 compact camera
⁃ 1 external hard drive (optional)
⁃ 1 tablet
⁃ 1 SeaToSummit backpack
⁃ 1 Moleskin notebook

Cosmetics (everything under 100 ml):
⁃ 1 mini travel supply of pharmaceuticals (somethings against diarrhea and pain should be enough for emergencies)
⁃ 1 electric toothbrush
⁃ 1 toothpaste
⁃ 1 roll-on deodorant
⁃ 1 shampoo

As a guy this should be enough. I don’t take more than that and I am constantly travelling!

And since I also have a few female readers, here is Lines list for all women who want to travel the minimalist way with only a carry on:

⁃ 1 pair of jeans shorts
⁃ 1 pair of jeans
⁃ 1 pair of light, wide, long pants
⁃ 1 pair of yoga/jogging pants
⁃ 1 fleece sweatshirt or hoodie
⁃ 1 cardigan
⁃ 5 tshirts
⁃ 2 tank tops
⁃ 3 dresses
⁃ 3 pairs of socks
⁃ 10 panties
⁃ 3 bras
⁃ 1 sports bra
⁃ 1 bikini
⁃ 1 rain jacket
⁃ 1 pair of birkenstocks
⁃ 1 pair of sandals and/or flip flops
⁃ 1 pair of Nikes

Tech and others:
⁃ 1 laptop (11’’)
⁃ 1 camera
⁃ 1 Fjallraven Kanken backpack
⁃ 1 Moleskin notebook

Cosmetics (everything under 100 ml):
⁃ 1 electric toothbrush
⁃ 1 tooth paste
⁃ 1 deodorant
⁃ 1 shampoo
⁃ 1 shower gel
⁃ 1 bodylotion
⁃ 1 shaving gel
⁃ 5 one way razors
⁃ 1 facial wash
⁃ 1 facial cream
⁃ 1 eye makeup remover
⁃ 1 mascara
⁃ 1 powder
⁃ 1 rouge
⁃ 1 pair of tweezers
⁃ 1 nail file
⁃ 1 large pack of cotton pads
⁃ 1 pack of cotton swabs
⁃ 2 large packs of tampons
⁃ 1 hairbrush and/or combe

Since Line is a little smaller than me so her clothes don’t take as much space and she also doesn’t carry around as much tech gear as I do, she can easily fit all the cosmetics.

You see, Line and I both bring along quite a bit even though we only travel with a carry on!

Travelling with a carry on: this is how it works!

You still think that this is not enough? Then let me tell you how to make this packing list work and how to get by with this little clothing!

The clothes

It is sufficient to pack clothing for about a week. Take into consideration that you can wear one item several times, you don’t need to have a whole new outfit every day, not to mention change your clothes several times a day!

Even if you will be travelling for many weeks or months like us, this is not a problem! The magic words are dry cleaners and laundrettes! In most countries you can easily wash your clothes once a week. Line and I have to wash after 1,5 weeks at the latest so we always plan that.

In Asian countries such as Thailand or Bali doing laundry is super cheap. We pay 5-10 Euros for 5 kilos of laundry and we get back super good smelling, soft, freshly ironed and perfectly folded clothes. And usually this does not take long, you can drop off your laundry in the afternoon and get it back the next morning!

In more expensive contries like the most Western European countries, Australia and New Zealand you can simply wash yourself, you only need to find a laundrette. Alternatively, if you are on a road trip for example, many campsites have washing facilities with washing mashines and dryers. And just like laundrettes, they sell detergent right there. One batch of laundry will cost between 1-2 Euros, the detergent will usually be another Euro.

So this is really not expensive and the great thing is that you always have fresh clothes! Cause lets be honest… in the end you always wear your favourite clothes anyway, no matter how much you take along!

The shoes

One pair of shoes and flip flops or sandals really are enough. Get good looking running shoes with a good profile for traction like Nikes or Adidas shoes. They are great for longer walks through a new city or for short hikes, for sports as well as going out. And you can even throw these shoes into a washing mashine for a 30 degree gentle cycle and keep them clean!

When backpacking you will be travelling in warm and tropical countries most of the time so you will be wanting to wear open shoes most of the time, one pair of closed shoes wil be more than enough. Most people run around in flip flops or simple sandals, but I started wearing Birkenstock sandals this summer which are much better. Especially if you walk further distances these shoes will be a lot gentler on your feet and back! Flip flops or the average sandal don’t have any profile and you will ruin your feet in the long run.

The electronics

Naturally, as a travel blogger I carry around a lot more than most travellers. But even all my stuff fits into a carry on and I always manage to charge all my batteries. How do I do it? With its two USB outlets my Macbook serves as a hub for charging other devices. I usually charge over night and plug my camera and iPhone into the computer. This way I only need one power outlet to charge all my devices at the same time!

Your own appearance

Just like at home you can go to a barbor from time to time when travelling as well. I usually go every 6 weeks to have my hair cut and my beard trimmed. You can of course also take along a trimmer and do it yourself! Line only goes every 6 months, sometimes even less than that to have the tips of her hair cut.

If you like having well-kept nails when travelling you don’t need to take along your entire nail kit and numerous nail polishes. Just treat yourself to a manicure or pedicure from time to time, especially in Asian countries they only cost around 5 Euros. And even as a guy you should have someone look after your nails once in a while!

The best carry on luggage: backpacks for minimalistic travelling

In the last two years Line and I have thoroughly tested three pretty good carry on backpacks and can tell you exactly what to look for in a backpack and which one is right for you! We tested the Osprey Farpoint 40, the PacSafe Venturesafe 45 and the Minaal which is very popular among digital nomads.

Osprey Farpoint 40

We have had the Osprey Farpoint 40 for exactly a year and Line has been travelling with it ever since and loves it! Before she never travelled with carry on only not to mention with a backpack and she is really happy with this one.

And like you have read, she packs quite a lot, the Osprey Farpoint 40 has a deep main compartment that you can open to the side and really get a lot into. The backpack’s name tells you that it holds 40 liters – which is a lot! And since the compartment is very round and deep you don’t need packing cubes, you can fasten your things with two straps and compress them that way.

There also is a big net compartment inside where Line keeps here cables, shaver and tampons.

On the outside there is another large compartment with an extra laptop and document pouch that can be zipped up and a compartment on top of the backpack. And then you have another two net compartments outside where you can keep a small water bottle or wet swimming trunks or bikini.

The best thing about the Farpoint 40 is that it has a hardened frame in the back part and padded waist and shoulder straps and a strap across your upper torso. And you can easily tuck all these straps away and throw a cover over the backpack.

And get this: the Osprey Farpoint 40 really is not expensive! It sells for around 100 Euros and is very well crafted and of high quality. No wonder, Osprey is a well known brand for backpacks and they know what they are doing! This makes the Osprey Farpoint 40 the cheapest of the carry on backpacks we tested and in my opinion offers good quality for your money.

PacSafe Venturesafe 45

I have been travelling with the PacSafe Venturesafe 45 for a couple of months now, it holds a full 5 liters more than the Osprey Farpoint 40. This backpack too has a deep main compartment which you can access from the side. Since it is cut a little straighter than the Osprey Farpoint 40 I use packing cubes to be able to really fill it up well.

Apart from that it resembles the Osprey Farpoint 40 a lot, it is also well padded in the back and by the straps, has a mesh compartment and a pretty big compartment on the bottom. The only disadvantage is that there is no real laptop case so I have to put my MacBook Pro into the net compartment which means it is a little loose and can wiggle around a bit.

But the PacSafe Venturesafe 45 makes up for that with being extra safe, it has a eXomesh cut protection net which is an invisible wire netting which is worked into the fabric, so your valuables are safe, even if somebody tries to get at them with a knife! You also have a built in lock on top, no one else will be able to access your backpack but you.

The PacSafe Venturesafe 45 is slightly larger than the normal carry on measurements but so far nobody has noticed and I have taken it on board for around 20 flights! It might be the really good design that makes the PacSafe Venturesafe 45 look a little smaller than it is.

Next to it the Osprey Farpoint 40 always looks like a huge bag on Lines back and Line looks like a turtle when carrying it. The PacSafe Venturesafe 45 looks pretty chic even when fully packed and I really like the green, grey and yellow/brown colourscheme.

Of course this great backpack is a little more expensive, it amounts to about twice the price of the Osprey Farpoint 40. You get a PacSafe Venturesafe 45 for around 200 Euros. But with that you have a really chic, super practical and safe backpack which will fit a lot!


The Minaal is especially popular amongst digital nomads and is loved for its sleek elegant black design. Visually this backpack does not even resemble a backpack very much, it is more like a cool city pack.

I travelled with it for about half a year but I have to say that I don’t find it very useful for longer trips. First of all it only holds 35 liters and is only accessible from the top, not from the sides. This makes it really hard to fill it and you need to pack strategically to be able to take enough. You can well go without packing cubes with the Osprey Farpoint 40 or the Packsafe Venturesafe 45 but travelling with a Minaal you will need them.

Secondly, it has no padding, neither at the back nor on the shoulder straps so it will give you back pain sooner or later which really is not good on a long trip.

The only thing the Minaal has going for itself is the design although personally, I have come to find the PacSafe Venturesafe 45 even cooler nowadays. Another plus is that the Minaal also has a laptop compartment which you can easily access and it will always pass as a carry on due to its size, you can even store it in the overhead luggage compartments of the smaller plane models (like city hoppers), neither the PacSafe nor the Osprey fit into those.

But the price is the real offense! The backpack and shipping to Germany from Hong Kong will cost at least 260 Euros. The product really does not justify this price to me, especially in comparison to the Osprey Farpoint 40 and the PacSafe Venturesafe 45!

And last but not least: what definitely has to go into the carry on!
The right documents and cards!

This applies not only to trips with a carry on but to any voyage: make sure you have the right documents and cards on you!

These are the most important ones to always carry with you:
⁃ 1x passport
⁃ 1x (international) driver’s license
⁃ 2x credit cards (I recommend the DKB card as it offers worldwide cash withdrawls without any extra service charges or as an alternative the Miles & More card with which you can gather miles for cheaper flights)

Travelling with carry on only: not that hard!

You see, even when travelling with a carry on you don’t really need to restrain yourself. Try packing for a maximum of seven days and wash every 1,5 weeks instead. Get a good and practical carry on backpack like the Osprey Farpoint 40 or the PacSafe Venturesafe 45 and try a few of my tricks for boarding a plane even when your carry weighs a lot more than is permissable. You will not only save a lot of time in the long run but it will save you money as well and you can do even more great things on your trips!

Sebastian Canaves
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