Keep Calm and Carry-On: Traveling without Checking Luggage

How much attention do you give to carry-on travelers while traveling? On a trip to Tahiti last year we met a wonderful couple from the Denver area who were also on a near 2-week vacation.

On the day of check out from the first resort on our trip, I was mind-blown to see they both were traveling with only carry-on luggage. Nearly two weeks in Tahiti with only carry-ons and personal bags. Holy cow!

Compared to us having both checked suitcases AND carry-on items, including computer bags, how was this possible?

Carry On “Schmarry On”

So what’s the big deal about checking bags?  Is it really that big a deal? Up to that point I couldn’t remember the last time I went on a trip with only carry-on luggage.

I had talked to folks who refused to check bags, but they seemed to be more comfortable “over-wearing” clothes and dressing more simply. Something my personal taste wouldn’t allow. My attitude was you had to check bags in order to have a suitable wardrobe, even on a shorter trip.

Something about seeing those two traveling so simply struck a chord. Perhaps it was the one thing I wanted to change most about my travel strategy…simplicity.

A Fresh Take on Travel

Throughout my years of travel, my taste has changed. Airlines sticking their hands in my pocket for luggage fees and the weight of all that luggage has worn me down. Literally.

When I saw that nice couple walking to the checkout desk I was immediately “jaw-dropping” envious of their personal freedom from dragging 50-60 pounds of items around Tahiti. Especially in a place that didn’t require an extensive wardrobe.

The competitive spirit in me began stirring and I began believing I too could one day enjoy travel freedom, being able to travel more comfortably, and enjoying the luxury, yes luxury, of not checking baggage.

The Luxury of Time

I say luxury for a simple reason. I believe time is the ultimate luxury in life and time lost planning how to fill a big suitcase and waiting at baggage carousels is about as bad as time lost at the DMV. I was done!

I’ll admit, the thought of carry-on only travel was super intimidating, but I set a goal for 2020, nonetheless, to travel carry-on only.

To do so, I would need some help. Okay, a lot of help. Not only did I need to learn new packing skills, but also needed evidence that other “savvy” travelers were living the life of travel luxury without checking bags.

Learning How to Travel with only Carry On Luggage

YouTube would be my beacon of hope. A simple search of “how to pack carry-on luggage” returned a wealth of videos from mostly women professionals who were traveling for weeks at a time with only carry-on luggage.

From a male perspective, that was impressive given that these women were packing hair and makeup products that a bald guy like me wouldn’t need. My goal of packing carry-on seemed even closer.

Carry-On Luggage Packing Baby Steps

Packing for trips regardless of whether you check or don’t check luggage is a process. It’s not just about jettisoning your large checked-luggage and setting out about the world.

The first baby step for me was first and foremost realigning my mental packing strategy. A big part of that strategy was choosing a compatible color theme. Not saying you can only wear blue or yellow shirts. What this means is that essentially all the colors in your wardrobe can be mixed and matched.

For example, if I chose the color blue as my base color, I packed only shirts that went with blue. This gave me lots of leeway because you can match blue with just about anything.

Packing Saboteurs

One of the holes I had to learn to walk around were “favorites” in my wardrobe. You know the ones, your new favorite shirt, hat or shoes. How could I leave these at home?

But they didn’t go with my general wardrobe theme so the minute I threw that item into the mix, the “need” to pull in another pair of shoes, belt, etc. became a real challenge. These types of wardrobe items can take up a lot of space.

For me, it was about packing clothes that all go with a base blue. Of course, this might not matter so much to you, it’s just something that’s been a big stress reducer for me.

Making Things Fit

The next step for me was using compression bags to pack. If you are not aware, these are bags you put your clothes into and then roll up to remove all excess air. For me, this was pretty entertaining seeing your clothes wrapped up like dehydrated food. Silly.

Point is, it helped me see just how much I could hedge against a wavering constitution during packing. Of course there are other options on organizing clothes, this is just where I’ve started, and I may end up switching to another packing aid like popular “cubes”. Stay tuned.

Luggage Travel Companion

Admittedly, I’m a quality nerd who loves to shop so I wanted a quality piece of luggage that would continue to inspire my carry-on goals.

At the top of my list were three brands, Briggs & Riley, Tumi, and Rimowa (pronounced “Rimova”) according to the German brand.

Briggs & Riley was a great choice because of their warranty for life, value and design. Tumi had some nice offerings which I liked, but they have higher warranty repair costs.

I’ve chosen to go with Rimowa for now for a few simple reasons; durability, design, and style. I may go into a deeper review in another blog if your comments suggest.

Carry-On Curious?

I was intimidated by going carry-on only, but also curious and that meant giving it the “college try”. So far it’s been great for me, but what about you?

If you’re looking for more social proof, consider the next time you travel, have a look around (Airports are such great people-watching places) and notice the facial expressions of folks with carry-on luggage vs those schlepping large suitcases through the terminal, onto shuttle and trains.

Personally, I’ve noticed a certain level of “calmness” with folks using carry-on luggage versus the old me who was belabored dragging large checked luggage to the bag check area. Ugh!

Traveling is supposed to be fun. However, we’re constantly bombarded with travel stressors, so taking steps to combat those stressors seemed like a good idea.

How carry-on curious are you? Leave a comment below with your best carry-on only travel tip.

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