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The Carry-On-Only Philosophy

by Globetrooper Todd | 26 Responses
Carry-On Baggage

Global travel is somewhat of a religion. But within this religion, there are many other ‘faiths’. One of these is the carry-on-only philosophy. And as the name suggests, it’s a philosophy to travel the globe with nothing but carry-on luggage.

But why would anyone relinquish their airline-given rights to cart 20, 30, or even 40 kilograms of luggage through airport terminals and around the globe? Read further to find out why…

Firstly, ‘carry-on’ refers to luggage that airlines allow you to take into the cabin of a plane. The restrictions depend on the airline and airport, but size and weight restrictions are becoming somewhat standardised (the emphasis being on the word ‘somewhat’). Consensus is that a safe size/weight is:

55cm (22in) x 35cm (14in) x 23cm (9in) and ~7kg

Some airlines have smaller/lighter restrictions, but if you don’t have checked baggage, they’re usually a little flexible. We travelled through Africa and the Middle East with carry-on bags of 10kg+ and didn’t have any issues when we said we had nothing to check in.

Okay, so why carry-on only?

1. Waiting

You don’t have to wait for baggage handlers after a flight, which seems like a non-issue at home, but it’s akin to winning the lottery after a 14-hour flight. You simply grab your bag from the overhead locker, exit the plane, and walk straight out of the airport (also see ‘agility’ below).

2. Reliability

You may think, ‘oh, airlines don’t lose luggage these days’. But they do, and it’s actually quite common on smaller airlines. We’ve heard estimates of a 1 in 7 chance of losing your luggage on certain smaller airlines. Of course, it’s close to impossible for them to lose your carry-on bag, which is especially important if you have irreplaceable items (E.g. mountaineering boots that you’ve spent 6 months wearing in).

3. Access

How many times have you thought, ‘darn, I left it in my checked-in bag’. When you carry everything into the cabin, you have immediate access to everything. You’ll have all of your books (Kindle or iPad), your laptop charger, all of your toiletries, and even your clothes.

4. Agility

Whether it’s in the terminal, on the plane, in a taxi, on the streets, in a hostel, through the jungle, or absolutely anywhere… a smaller, lighter bag is a godsend. Everything is easier and quicker. There’s a lot less to think about and you just feel free.

5. The Challenge

Everyone loves a challenge. And this challenge helps you to enjoy your time away even more. Have you ever heard anyone say, ‘I wish I brought more with me’? Probably not. But almost everyone has said at some time during their travels, ‘I wish I brought a lot less’. Even if you miss something, you can buy it anywhere in the world and probably for a lot less.

So what are the downsides of the carry-on-only philosophy?

You may forget something or need something that you couldn’t fit in. And it’s not always available locally, especially if you’re travelling to Antarctic or similarly remote regions. Also, you may find that you enjoy your travels more with the luxuries of home. And that’s okay (don’t let anyone tell you you’re less of a ‘traveller’ because you like luxury). But given all of the potential benefits of travelling light, it’s at least worth a try.

Stay tuned for a write-up of our full kit-list, which fits entirely in a carry-on bag. We’d also love to hear of your adventures with carry-on only.

Posted in Adventure Travel, Gear & Gadgets | April 12th, 2010

26 Responses to The Carry-On-Only Philosophy

  1. I just enlisted in this religion by getting a couple of Tom Bihn bags including the Aeronaut. No more waiting or checked bag fees for me. Unless the disease of Spirit Airlines spreads.

  2. Guess what Keith??? My Tom Bihn Tri Star arrived by UPS today. It’s sitting here right next to me.

    To be honest, when I first saw it, I thought, ‘maybe I should have bought the Aeronaut’. :)

  3. For those interested, here’s the Spirit Airlines story. http://bit.ly/dyZaz1

    They’re looking to charge up to $45 for carry-on bags. We’ll just have to wear 5 layers of clothing and put our toiletries and electronics in our pockets if it becomes a trend.

  4. Having experienced lost baggage while travelling, I always try to with on a carry-on when possible. The thrill of just being able to walk off the plane and not have to wait around for your bags is the most enjoyable part of the trip.

  5. Thanks for visiting Henry. I haven’t lost anything before, but I know what you mean about the feeling of walking straight out of the airport after a 14 hour flight. It’s even better when you have a lot of connections; you have all of your baggage with you for those ‘unintended’ 8 hour stop overs. We spent 43 hours getting from Sydney to Kilimanjaro and it was made just a little better by only having carry-on.

  6. I subscribe each and every point you.
    The only drawback that can be experienced is that – sometimes – you cannot bring with you that nice present for a special someone, that you found lost in a middle-east cellar… just becouse it’s 120ml liquid !!!

  7. I love the carry-on only philosophy. The problem, for me, is that I only travel, I have no home base. So I take what I need and what I like with me. So no carry-on only, except when I make specific trips from a temporary base. Thank you for your comment that being carry-on only your are not more of a traveller, or with 27kgs you are less of a traveller.

  8. Thanks for heading over Graham. We’re actually in the same boat as you: “”of no fixed address”". We’ve left a couple of boxes of personal keepsakes with family, but other than that, we only own 10Kg each of “”stuff”" (which needs to become 7kg within the next few days). I have a feeling that the novelty will wear thin after a while, but let’s see.

  9. i’m sold on the philosophy! i want a checklist with numberals beside the item. haha.

    i love you photo of white, gray, and black. do u get bored? in 2007 i went to europe with 1 bag, by the 3rd week, i am so darn bored with my wardrobe, i went shopping for colors! haha. i’m hoping now that i’m older and wiser. :p

    i also travel with a macbook pro 13″ and a nikon dslr with 2 lenses. i suppose i have to carry these on a separate bag.

    • Funny you mention that wanderlass, I actually have a checklist. I’m planning to publish it once I’ve “consolidated” a bit. :) My bag holds my laptop too. In the picture of my gear (here: http://globetrooper.com/notes/category/emotional-baggage/) you can see a separate laptop bag. But that actually fits into the middle compartment of my Tom Bihn Tri Star. But I need a bag that’s more suited to be worn as a backpack. Once you walk more than 15 mins with 10Kg, I think you need waist support.

  10. I did this in one year rtw. I had some issues with more domestic flights that had smaller limits. Worked out real well though on all international flights. I’m very minimalistic so this philosophy I take outside of travel as well.

  11. I love carry on only! I totally agree about the thrill of getting off the plane & not having to wait for luggage, it always feels like such a relief. My female friends especially don’t understand how I do it, but hairdryers, curling irons, big bags of make-up & dozens of alternate outfits & shoes are just not necessary. I’d like to think I’ve gotten pretty good at wittling everything down to the bare essentials. Glad you’re spreading the word!

    • Thanks for dropping by Ali. Do mind me asking what bag you use: a backpack or suitcase? I’m shopping for a new bag now because we’ve been walking much more than expected (between hostels, apartments, etc) and the Tom Bihn just wasn’t up for long hikes. I’m thinking maybe a 30-35L backpack designed especially for trekking.

    • Have to agree. I am of the carry on only philosophy. I save those precious moments of my life standing and waiting. I once read you spend on average 26 days waiting in lines in your life, gotta cut down on that and see more of the world!

  12. Great post, but not only small airlines lose luggage, we’ve had luggage lost/delayed/misplaced countless times this year on our Grantourismo trip and most of the times it was big airlines like American Airlines.

    Carry-on is the only way to go if you’re on holidays for pleasure, but unfortunately for a professional travel writer-photographer team it’s impossible. I have been carrying a bag of research materials around the world for the last 5 years that weighs 20 kilos (the materials are gradually discarded and replaced by others as we move around the planet) while my photographer husband has a 21-kilo camera kit that goes on board. You don’t want to know what our Samsonites that go under the plane weigh! We’re constantly asking airline PRs for excess baggage waivers.

    • I’m sure there are worse airlines that AA, but I havent flown with them yet :)

      We’re getting to a similar stage with climbing gear. We’re still with our carry-ons, but our next two trips need a truckload of alpine gear. Maybe we can ship it home of find storage afterwards.

      21kg of camera gear, wow. I think we have 210g of camera gear. But the more we see great photography, the more desirable a bigger camera becomes.

  13. Nice idea. The only problem I can see is that first aid kits often contain scissors. You may have problems carrying these — and other “blades”, e.g. a shaving razor — on board a flight. But if you’re happy to use an electric razor (or grow a beard) and do away with the scissors, I imagine you’d be fine.

    • Hey Faraz, we’ve had no probs with safety razors, but scissors are usually caught. I think we’ve gotten through once with scissors, but generally need to buy a cheap set wherever we land, which is usually sub $1. Walking poles never get through either.

  14. After my luggage being lost twice last year by the airlines (but eventually found), I’m spending this summer traveling with only a carry on!!

  15. My husband and I (plus size travelers) started the carry-on only philosophy a few years ago. Yes, it’s true that you can buy what you forgot at your destination, but when you’re plus size, the options become slimmer (pun intended). Try going on a beach vacation and your $120 plus-size swimsuit is lost, chances are there isn’t a store in Mexico that will sell your size. Our first major carry-on challenge was a 12 day trip to Italy, in November, (so not just shorts and tshirts folks, we took sweaters and pants and big heavy socks.) And since we implemented the “mix and match” idea, it was easier than we thought! We haven’t checked baggage since. If we can carry-on pack for winter in Europe, then any beach vacation will be a cinch!

    • Glad to hear it worked for you Tara. We’re still travelling carry-on-only too. I mostly like that it restricts us from buying too much ‘crap’ and carrying it around.

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