Minimalistic Travel: 4 Tips for Simple Airline Carry On

Tired of hauling around massive suitcases? Waiting for your bag after a long flight? Airlines keep losing your checked baggage? Just want to learn more about minimalistic travelling?


Heres my 4 tips to minimize what you pack – even on multi-climate trips!

Recently, I had taken a solo trip in October travelling to both New York and Los Angeles for 7 days. I knew the weather would be dramatically different in both cities and I would have to pack items to work for both New York and Los Angeles plus my camera, two lenses, a laptop and charging cables:  A tall order!


Since I was changing hotels nightly in New York and LA to ensure I was seeing the most I could for the short amount of time I was there, I did not want to carry around a hard shelled carry on suitcase with me. Instead I fit everything I owned into a large tote bag and carried it with me around the city – every day!

The tote was actually was able to fit under the seat of the plane – therefore being considered a secondary carry on item!

*However, these methods and suggestions may not work for everyone. I am not a fashion first person and focus more on what is necessary, practical and will have multiple uses throughout my trip. If you like to have options, are travelling for longer than a two weeks or do not like the idea of minimalism these suggestions may not work for you.*

1. Think Essential

Think of what you need to bring and minimize it. Yes, seriously. I promise you that you will survive with the bare minimum and still be comfortable, hygienic and be able to pack lightly – stress free.

I can’t be the only one who has packed for a trip and taken several pairs of pants, shirts and clothes I never end up using on a trip, we all do it! If you want to minimize what you bring the first step to doing so is being realistic with what you actually need and will use.

If you are going to multiple cities which differ dramatically in weather bring an additional pair of comfortable shoes that pack lightly. Be sure to wear the bulkiest items you need on the plane – including boots, running shoes or bulkier shoes and your jacket . You free up a ton of space in your carry on by doing so.

Any toiletries you take be sure to bring travel sized verisons. If that is not possible, look into what items your accommodations may have and plan ahead.  Many hotels, hostels and air BnBs have hairdryers, shampoo and conditioner and many other toiletries available for your use, which can save you extra liquids space!


2. Liquids and Carry On Rules in your Country

In Canada we have a strict carry on liquids rule, anything over the specified amount has to be discarded. Be sure to keep your liquids in the bag provided at security or purchase your own airline approved liquids bag/bottle set for peace of mind before heading to the airport. Nothing is worse than having to throw away items because your over the limit!

A quick google search will provide you with the specific information that is country wide and not airline specific of how much liquids you are allowed to take with you. Remember that this includes any gels and aerosols as well. (Hairspray, deodorant, toothpaste etc.) Always take travel sized items whenever possible! This will save you a massive headache and tons of space when traveling minimalistic in a carry on.

In Canada and the United States you are allowed 1 Litre of liquids, with no bottle over 100mL of fluid for security purposes. This bag must be removed from your carry on and shown during the security screening process so be sure to have your bag of liquids out and ready to be searched!

Ladies, this may mean having to go without some hair products and some forms of  makeup for your travels. All in the name to save space, weight and time! I promise its worth it.


3. Roll It!

Roll, don’t fold! This alone will save you tons of space (and wrinkles)! Use any available space such as inside of shoes – by stuffing pairs of socks into running shoes in your carry on you will be able to utilize extra space that otherwise wouldn’t be used.

When packing minimalistic every inch of space counts, so be sure when you roll your clothing you have taken the time to roll it as even as possible – lumps or clothing that isn’t rolled well will end up taking up more space than if it was to be folded. Bulky items such as jackets should be worn on the plane and can be taken off, carried or stored when not being used.

When packing electronics in with your carry on such as a laptop or camera be sure to use rolled clothing as a protective layer of defence from being bumped around when moving your luggage, wrapping lenses or camera equipment into clothing is a great way to utilize both clothing and electronic storage.


4. Baggage

What are you using to travel with for a carry on? If you are looking for a universal carry on always opt with smaller sizes rather than large carry ons – almost all airlines have different carry on restrictions so be sure to double check your airline and measure your bag before packing.

If you are taking a carry on bag plus your personal carry item (such as a purse or a backpack) be sure to purchase a hard shelled carry on. Personally, I find hard shelled carry on suitcases far better, more durable and can often have multiple uses. I have used my hard shelled carry on for a leg rest or a chair in a busy airport before and have had no issues. Many new carry on bags include charging ports and built in security locks which are extremely convenient for the busy traveller!

As for a personal carry on item – I highly suggest using a backpack or a large tote bag as a carry on item as it is a multipurpose item and can be taken with you throughout your travels to keep essential items with you at all times, plus snacks, beverages and camera equipment if necessary.  Be sure to check your airlines size limit on personal carry on items as well. I have yet to have any issues with a mid sized backpack or tote bag.

Lastly, Be sure to weigh your bag – although I have not had my carry on bag weighed before it is still important to be aware of the weight limits of your carry on bag and personal item – Many of your heaviest items are likely your most expensive and things you do not want to part with.

What Do I Personally Take With Me?


I have been asked several times since returning from my New York and Los Angeles trip how I managed to take my camera equipment, laptop and clothes for a week in two completely different climates in just a tote bag. I had originally packed a carry on and my tote bag for the trip but decided (literal) last minute that since I would be walking all over the city I did not want to carry my hard shell carry on with me. I had to decide to leave quite a few items behind but in doing so – I learned what worked best for me to travel with the bare minimum.

I had brought my wallet with travel documents, 13″ Macbook, Sony A7II with two mid sized lenses, iPhone and all chargers for my electronics. Alongside my essential equipment was a bag including my travel sized shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, toothbrush and toothpaste and several makeup basics including mascara, eyeliner, bronzer a brush and a sample size of foundation.

For clothing I had brought a pair of crop pants, flip flops, a long sleeve t shirt, short sleeve t shirt, three pairs of socks, undergarments for each day and a toque. This was enough to get me through the entire week without any issues.

*However, I did not go to any fancy restaurants or any events requiring me to wear any formal clothing – if this was the case more items and likely a carry on suitcase would have had to be taken, but when you are doing budget travelling solo these issues rarely come up – so I never pack formal wear!

I wore a thin raincoat with a long sleeve t-shirt, lululemon full length leggings with ankle boots on the flight to New York – all of my most bulkiest items. For both practical and storage reasons – which worked out great when arriving in New York in the late afternoon!

The Lululemon tote bag I used had several compartments inside that included a laptop sleeve, a toiletries zip up and a large storage area. I was able to zip the tote up and carry it on my shoulder at all times – yes, it was quite heavy but knew that this was the better option between carrying my luggage through a massive, busy city streets while trying to sightsee so I was happy to do so, stress free!

Thank you for reading, as always please feel free to ask any questions, comment and share my posts. Your support is greatly appreciated

13 thoughts on “Minimalistic Travel: 4 Tips for Simple Airline Carry On

  1. I’ve definitely become a minimal packer, and have done a few weeks in Europe in a carry-on suitcase! I’m a big fan of rolling clothes, and my biggest challenge is always the “what am I going to feel cute/comfy in on a particular day” question 🙂


  2. Different Frame of Mind says:

    I’m in love with this post, as I am a fellow minimalist traveler. I once went on a trip for 13 days and packed everything I needed in a carry on luggage. People always wonder how I do it and for this I am thankful for my organizational skills and my minimalist skill. These are some helpful hints though! Great read!


  3. Kristin In Motion says:

    I like to consider myself a minimalist traveler but DAMN girl! You really cut it down to the essentials! Impressive! Great tips!


  4. danncastillo says:

    I soooo need to learn how to pack lighter! I try and try and I fail misserably every time! I managed to go to the Netherlands for two weeks with just a carry on, but it was a painful process. Also, I ended up buying an extra top there, but that was a souvenit. Thanks for all the tips! I’ll try my best to follow them for my next trip!


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