Traveling The World With Only A Carry-on

Traveling with a limited amount of clothing can be challenging at times. For the past 18 months, I have been living out of a carry on and a backpack and have done very little shopping. Sounds ridiculous right? Well, my love for fashion says it absolutely is but my desire for ease of travel says it’s practical.

Before I get into what I carry, here are a few reasons why you should consider lightening your load on your next trip:

  1. No waiting for bags - Airports can be stressful, to say the least. On the list of things to worry about the last thing I want to think about is my luggage. Since I don’t have to wait on a bag, once I clear immigration and after a quick stop at customs, I am out of there. Also, waiting or joining a separate line to check on your bags is none existent as well. This is a serious time and stress savior.

  2. Fewer or no baggage fees - I love saving money! Baggage fees can add up when bouncing from country to country (especially when using budget airlines). I say leave all the hassle behind and skip the checked bags when you can.

  3. Mobility - The easiest way to travel is probably with the double backpack model. A small pack in front and a larger on your back. But I can’t manage all that so I still rock with a rolly carry-on. Either way when bouncing from plane to train and to the bus, the lesser the better. Also, it’s easier to keep an eye on your valuables when you only have two bags.

Ok back to the main reason why you are here. How do I do manage to look cute and travel light? Well, let me tell you!

  • Basics, basics, basics

I believe in the power of basics!. The bulk of my wardrobe is made up of the simplest, most basic clothing I could find. These are the items that are the foundation of my wardrobe. They are solid colors, (usually black, white, grey, and navy blue), classic silhouettes and timeless pieces. And more importantly, they are quality items that can be washed and worn again and again without fear of falling apart. Investing in great basics is essential for long wear life. Not everything will cost a lot but items like a dress shirt or a great little black dress are worth it. You can also pick up great denim at thrift stores and vintage shops. Honestly, I’ve had some of these items for almost 10 years and they are still going strong. Here is a breakdown of my most basic basics:

  1. Denim (Dark & Light)

  2. 2 little black dresses

  3. Plain T-shirts

  4. 1 Camisole

  5. 1 black blouse

  6. 1 versatile dress shirt

  7. A jean jacket

  8. Black shorts, navy blue shorts

  9. Fitted hoodie

I will do a full breakdown of everything in my carry-on in a later post.

  • Versatile clothing

If and when I buy clothes, I make sure it can go with heels, sandals or cute sneakers. If I switch around how it’s tied and accessorized, even the dress I wore to my friend’s super elegant wedding can be worn with tennis shoes. This makes shopping for items take longer but if you are spending wisely you will get a longer life out of them. This also helps with saving the planet by not filling up landfills with clothing that you only wear a few times then never want to touch again.

  • Can it be layered?

There is no rhyme or reason to how I travel, so one of the main things I asked myself when I started deciding what to leave and what to carry was can I also wear this in the cold? Obviously, I am not talking blizzard temps but if I need to go to a chilly city and then a warm country, I ask myself, “Can most of my clothing work?” Crazy right? This is where a great denim jacket, jeans and at least one hoodie comes in handy. When I was in Europe, I layered all those pieces with my basic shirts or dresses. Admittedly I did buy one sweater but hey I didn’t say this carryon thing is foolproof. In Bali, I stripped down and wore the layers separately. My jacket and hoodie did come in handy on bike rides and during chilly jungle nights though.

  • Scarves

Light scarves save lives. I have four now. Lol I know that doesn’t make sense but I picked up three in Bali that I can’t part with, so judge me if you want. They are great to layer with, they become blankets on planes and mats or sarongs on the beach. Scarves can dress up a simple outfit, become a dress or top when needed and can be used for covering up in modest countries! Even though my scarves are not solid colors or simple, when purchasing them I still asked myself, “How versatile is this pattern?” If I wouldn’t wear it often or the pattern and colors were too crazy for my wardrobe then it was an instant no. But because my the foundation of my clothing is built on neutrals and basics, I get to have way more fun with the designs of the scarves. So will I part with my four scarves? Not any time soon.

  • Classic shoes

Currently, I own one pair of white leather tennis shoes, black sneakers, gold heels, nude sandals, black sandals, and one pair of flip-flops. With the exception of the sneakers (which I wear for outdoor activities and exercise) and the flip-flops, I use the same philosophy here as I do with clothing. Is this shoe versatile? All of my shoes are void of crazy colors or a dated design. You can probably tell by now I am not into trend shopping and fast fashion. Your shoes should also be comfortable and reliable. So feel free to invest a little more here as well. My gold heels were over $100 but I have worn them to everything from a wedding to partying my butt off for 6 hrs at a party.

A quick note about flip-flops: always pack a pair. They go from house slippers to beachwear to shower shoes at hostels real quick. One of the best cheap buys you can make. Trust me, I’ve forgotten my flip-flops while doing weekend trips and it’s a hassle trying to figure out how to use a shared hostel shower when you only have tennis shoes and a prayer that you don’t get foot fungus. Just saying.

  • Smart accessories

My bags are solid classic pieces and my jewelry is simple and mostly gold. That said, this is where you can have a little more fun. If you do have a little extra space for those funky earrings and bracelets, by all means, throw them in there. But seeing that I also packed a first aid kit, a mini flashlight, a Polaroid camera, a few other gadgets and emergency medication for everything from diarrhea to malaria, I had to leave those cute earrings behind. Instead, I went for my favorite pieces, which so happen to be made by my fabulous designer friend

Fun fact, each of my bags was purchased in a different country. I call this smart souvenir shopping. And this is something you can employ too, try to buy functional souvenirs, not tchotchkes! Here’s the rundown of my bags and where they are from:

  1. 1 brown leather saddle bag - London, England

  2. 1 black clutch- Brussels, Belgium

  3. Foldable Duffle Bag- Brussels, Belgium

  4. 1 hunter green leather wallet- Granada, Nicaragua

  5. Foldable shopping totes- Ubud, Bali

Ok so you’ve read this post and started packing but after looking over your things, you still have too much stuff. Here is how you can cut back even more.

  • Forget about those just in case items

It took me a long time to learn this one and I am still not a pro at it. Even though I an a longterm traveler with no home base I still take short trips during a long stay. And even with a simplified wardrobe, I can still find myself over packing for a short trip. I get caught up in the what ifs. What if I meet my future husband and I need to have the perfect look? What if I randomly end up dirt biking or hiking through the jungle? What if I get invited to something super fancy? What if, what if, what if…. If you are anything like me you can drive yourself crazy running through different clothing scenarios. Let me be the first to say that magical date or that off the charts random jungle excursion has not happened and even if they did I am sure I would’ve survived with what I packed in my overnight bag. Also, remember if all else fails and you really do need something that you didn’t pack, nine times out of 10, you will be able to purchase it.

  • Consider the length of your trip

I travel for months on end, so even if I can justify squeezing in an extra pair of jeans (many minimalist packers are probably cringing at that statement) do you really need them for a short vacation? Probably not. Take a serious look at your agenda and think about what you really need and what makes sense for the length of the trip. Don’t pack for a month if you are leaving for 4 days. You are just bringing stress on yourself.

  • Wear your heavy/bulky pieces

If you are headed into colder climates and need to pack jackets, boots and/or jeans, wear them on the plane. This will free up tons of space in your carry-on. I always wear my sneakers, hoodie, scarf, and jacket on the plane. The worst that can happen is I have to strip down if I get too warm.

After all of that, you better be able to zip up that carry-on.

One last note:

  • Laundry

For all those on Instagram wondering what I do about laundry, I do laundry about twice a month. I wash my undies after every use (as, according to my aunty, a good country girl should, lol) so I always have fresh pairs. When traveling, where I do laundry is determined by the location. Many hostels/co-living spaces and hotels offer laundry services. Where hotels might be a bit expensive, hostels usually offer very affordable rates. If in house laundry is not an option or is too expensive, I visit local laundromats and wash my clothes myself or pay for someone else to wash for me. One of the best things about central America and Bali is the cheap laundry services. They washed, dried, and folded my clothes to perfection. But I did also lose my fave shirt this way so be careful. Count your clothes at drop off and at pick up.

Traveling out of a carry-on is really a learning experience. It shows you what you really need, it teaches you to be creative and it’s humbling. If you haven’t tried it yet, I would definitely recommend downsizing. You will feel lighter mentally and physically.

Do you have any questions that I did not address? Hit me up in the comment section below.