How To Travel The World With No Check-In Luggage

How To Travel The World Stress Free, Saving Time And Without Checking In Your Backpack At The Airport…After having experienced the pain and hassle of traveling with a 65L backpack, I’ve become really into light weight traveling. At first I laughed out loud at the idea of traveling with a pack the same size as a schoolbag, but now I don’t want anything other than that. In 2008 Nathan gave away his 90L backpack and bought a 20L pack instead, and my backpack hasn’t been filled up completely for a long time now. I also love turning up at an airport, and having the ability to walk straight through customs with our calling cards and onto the plane with all my stuff still on my back, I know where it is and once we arrive at our next destination there is no waiting at baggage claim to make sure our stuff made it to the same place as us – traveling made easy! To me the advantages of light weight travel and using free phone cards out-weigh the ‘normal’ way of traveling, but there are some problems that come with it, and here is how I solved them:

1. How To Fit It All In?

You will need to bring less to fit it all in, obviously, and your packing itinerary needs to be more thought through. When you have a big backpack you tend to pack it until it’s full, and then ending up with a lot of things you’re not sure why you even brought (the answer for me was: because I could).

When you have a smaller backpack there is less space for ‘mistakes’, and you can’t bring a bunch of things just because you think they look nice.

Try to make as many items have a multi-purpose. Bring light weight clothing and clothes that take up less space. By rolling your clothes you will also be able to fit more in, they take up less space that way.

2. What To Do With Liquid Stuff?

Shower gel, shampoo, conditioner, make up, perfumes – the list goes on. All this liquid stuff you want and need to bring with you. I never understood how you could possibly bring a carry- on with all that when you’re only allowed 100ml (3.4 ounces)?

I recently realized that you actually can find all of these things in solid forms – a solid shampoo bar the size of a yo-yo and weighs close to nothing lasts you 3 months, as long as 3 normal sized shampoo bottles!

Many girls might get suspicious when I mention using solid soap for face and body, but forget about that cheap dehydrating stuff – there are some great choices out there now, so natural you can almost eat them!

Lush is a company which has great soaps, perfumes, conditioners and shampoos in solid form, and I love them. By avoiding liquid stuff you won’t only be able to bring it in your carry-on pack but also won’t have to worry about breaking the bottles or having them leaking in your bag – believe me with liquid stuff it’s doomed to happen…

3. How To Get The Good Support?

There are more and more smaller backpacks that offer really good support – so this isn’t really a problem but many cheaper models don’t. They count on you not making it very heavy since you can’t stuff much in it, but wearing a backpack for a long time will still make your back hurt even if it’s not too heavy.

Pack your backpack the same way you would with a large backpack. Keep the heavy items close to your back in the hip area, putting the weight on your hips and easing the weight on the shoulders.

4. Organization?

A problem I’ve found with smaller backpacks is that there weren’t many compartments, but you sort of had to stuff it all into one main compartment.

This made it difficult to have some organization in your bag. I solved it by putting it all into smaller ‘bags’. It could be everything from bags I sew myself to professional pack bags, but something to separate the camera cords from dirty socks.

Do you like traveling light and have any tips, or is this simply nothing for you and you don’t mind checking in your backpack at the airport every time?

44 Responses to How To Travel The World With No Check-In Luggage

  1. Globetrooper Todd June 21, 2010 at 9:03 am #

    Hey Sofia, great post.

    Lauren and I are both doing a RTW with carry-in only. My bag is 33L and hers is 36L. It's definitely possible and provides so much more freedom. It goes beyond the airport too, such as when you're moving hostels or to longer-term accommodation. Even now in our short-term apartment, it's so much easier (especially mentally) to keep track of our gear.

    Neither of us were under the weight restrictions for carry-on (7kg), both bags just under 10kg. But this is our second trip with carry-on and we've always been allowed on planes with 9-10kg bags. It's our laptops that weigh the most. I have a 15 inch Macbook, which I'm downgrading to a 13 inch very soon. Laptops are vital for us, but it would be even easier for someone to do carry-on only without them.

    We have a whole category on our blog dedicated to carry-on only .

    All the best, Todd

  2. Ali June 21, 2010 at 6:30 am #

    I wouldn't travel any other way, I'm all about carry-on only. I actually bought an awesome backpack at REI that has tons of pockets & different sections that help me organize everything. I'm totally with you about avoiding the hassles of checking bags & I love getting off the plane & being out the door within a few minutes. Good article showing people it's not hard to do!


  3. LifesGreatAdventures June 21, 2010 at 9:36 am #

    Oh Crikey, I'm so gonna regret buying everything I bought this weekend to fit into my 65L backpack! I do know what you're saying and I so wish that I could allow myself to truely 'travel' light, but never having travelled before I just can't! I'm sure that I will learn by my own mistakes but for my first adventure I'm just gonna have to grin and bear the back pain for my own peace of mind! Either that or chuck half of it out after about 2 weeks! In fact, I'm pretty sure I'm doing everything wrong – hence the reason I just posted this – . but I just can't help myself. Maybe one day i'll be able to practise what I preach!…

  4. Wanderlass June 21, 2010 at 7:03 am #

    this is very encouraging because i already own a 40L pack but considering a bigger one for my upcoming RTW. i've read and re-read the packing list in but that was a guy writing. so, sofia, how many pieces of clothing (shirt, jacket, short, pants, socks, shoes, dress? ) do u pack? like numerical answer only pleeeease. thank you! 🙂

  5. Adam June 21, 2010 at 5:22 pm #

    Great tips. I'd love to see a packing list from you guys to see exactly what you're packing. The stuff that took up the most room for us on our RTW seemed to be our soap, shampoo, conditioner, bug spray, and first aid kit. I know we brought too much as far as a first aid kit, and we were trying to be minimalists and cut out a lot of stuff we were initially planning on bringing. Clothes-wise we didn't bring a ton either. Electronics killed us we know, with our laptop (small–only 3 pounds), our big DSLR camera, and our point and shoot, IPods, and power cords.

    We didn't feel like we had a ton of stuff, and we usually only checked one bag between the two of us, but I can't imagine not checking anything.

  6. Erica Kuschel June 21, 2010 at 5:22 pm #

    I'm lucky that I'm already a low maintenance girl. While I say this I am still shocked that you can fit everything into a 40L. I'm going to have to go back and reevaluate what I want to do – you've set the bar high! <3

  7. Shannon Anicas June 21, 2010 at 12:16 pm #

    after my trip to China & Korea I learned less is more. I packed way too much and left alot behind at shelters to make room for souvineirs. Next trip I am investing in a good back pack and checking anything I decide to bring home. 🙂

  8. Erin June 21, 2010 at 1:06 pm #

    We travel carry on too with a 30 litre and 40 litre- it´s definitely the way to go. Not only can we take the bags on the plane but we can take them on buses in South America too (they usually fit under the seat) so we don't have to put them in the luggage hold or on the roof. It's also much easier to carry around.

    I agree about lush bars – keep them in the tin to make them last longer, and keep them dry after showers so they don't fall apart. We also use compression bags which create extra space.

    You can see the backpacks we use and our packing list We are travelling forever so the length of your trip is no excuse either!

  9. backpackingmatt June 21, 2010 at 11:48 pm #

    Solid shampoo? Sweet. Glad to hear you can pack so light Sofia!

    I first went traveling with a 85L and brought everything with me including the kitchen sink. I downsized for my latest trip with a 60L, pretty good size, yet smaller would probably be even better.

  10. Terri June 22, 2010 at 4:16 pm #

    Solid shampoos are fabulous, and I can't say enough good things about Lush products. I've been packing these for convenience long before any airline liquid bans.

  11. adventurouskate June 22, 2010 at 8:58 pm #

    GREAT piece! I would LOVE to keep my bag small on my trip, especially since I'm going to Southeast Asia for seven months and won't need heavy clothing. This shows that it's possible! 🙂

  12. As We Travel June 23, 2010 at 1:14 pm #

    Hi Erin! I can imagine you feel a bit safer as well having your bags right next to you than gliding around on top of the roof! 😉

    Compression bags do help, we have made our own ones and used that but I think I will purchase in some 'real' bags soon, which ones do you use?

    Traveling forever, that sounds so amazing!!

  13. As We Travel June 23, 2010 at 1:18 pm #

    Hello Terri!
    That's cool, I didn't know they had been around for so long! When I did find out about them it was love at first sight 😉
    Lush is great, I like it that none of their products are tested on animals 🙂

  14. As We Travel June 23, 2010 at 1:32 pm #

    Hey Kate – thanks for stopping by – yeah in South East Asia you wont need any heavy clothing, you will find its very warm every day 🙂 so a smaller pack is perfect!

  15. As We Travel June 23, 2010 at 1:34 pm #

    yeah check out the solid shampoo – awesome stuff! 85L ? haha yeah that is massive, 40L-50 is good, though I am not sure exactly how big it can be as carry on. Our packs are 40L and come with a tag saying they are accepted as carry on bags – which is cool 🙂

  16. As We Travel June 23, 2010 at 1:37 pm #

    haha opps :p but yeah like you say, you don't really know exactly how much you will need until you have gone and spent time on the road – which is the best teacher 🙂 haha great blog post you wrote, can't wait to heard about your adventures 🙂

  17. As We Travel June 23, 2010 at 1:38 pm #

    yeah that is the prob. for us as well – we want to buy some many amazing things, but since our bags are small we can't fit them in 🙁 we sometimes send things home…

  18. As We Travel June 23, 2010 at 1:43 pm #

    haha sorry about that 😉 what size backpack are you using now? because it really just depends on how much weight you want to carry, I hate carrying heavy bags so throwing things out becomes easy when you feel your bag is heavy 🙂

  19. As We Travel June 23, 2010 at 1:46 pm #

    thanks Adam. yeah we will share a packing list sometime soon 🙂 electronics are the worst, always add extra weight to everything, cords, laptops etc. i admit its nice sometimes to have a extra bag which you can check in just in case you need – but I prefer the ease of travel without having to worry about where all our stuff is etc. when we move onto the next city, we just put what we see in the backpack and can leave – no hassles.

  20. As We Travel June 23, 2010 at 1:49 pm #

    Hey! thanks for stopping by 🙂 I would love to share our full packing list with you, it would take up too much space in the comments section here – so if you give me your email (or send me one: then I can send you a .txt file 🙂 have a great day!

  21. Sofiavonporat June 23, 2010 at 12:54 pm #

    Thanks Ali!
    Yeah once you've experienced the easy way there is no going back 😉
    I made up my mind to never again travel with a check in luggage when I bought tickets with Ryan Air some months ago, and Nathan (who had carry-on) got his ticket for 4 Euro, while I had to pay 35 – never again!

  22. Sofia June 23, 2010 at 1:07 pm #

    Hey Todd! Awesome to hear about another couple doing this! Yeah the list of advantages with a small backpack is endless, the only disadvantage would be that you can't stock up on souvenirs 🙁

    They have never weighed our carry-on bags, I guess they think it's light enough because it's small enough to fit into the cabins on the plane.

    Good thing downgrading in size, 13 inch is perfect! Mine is 10 inch and it's ok, Nathan has a 13 inch and it works well.

    Checked out your post there, awesome!

  23. Brian G June 28, 2010 at 4:03 pm #

    When my wife and I RTW'd for 7 months, we each carried a 69L pack. I was “working” from the road so was carrying a hard-sided pelican case with laptop, phone and camera in it. She carried a DSLR with extra lens… our bags were usually not full and we never had any issues carrying on. In fact, I still primarily travel domestically with the same bag and carry on every time. We went from north to south hemisphere in the same trip so our clothing requirements were perhaps a little trickier but we love traveling light.

    Cool tip on the solids – I'm going to track some of those down for my travel bag.

  24. Shauna June 29, 2010 at 5:39 pm #

    I use Eagle Creek packing cubes for most of my stuff. My pack doens't have amany compartments either, and when I need something, I know which cube it's in.
    I love love love the Lush soap advise. I'm definitely going to try some, thanks

  25. soultravelers3 August 1, 2010 at 9:41 am #

    So true! The longer one travels the lighter one packs!

    We've been on an open ended, non-stop world tour as a family since 2006 and just use one very small carry-on each and that includes our 3 laptops and homeschool supplies! 😉

  26. Ayngelina August 23, 2010 at 8:42 pm #

    I’m wearing a 65L for my RTW and I wish I would have gotten a 45L – bigger is not better.

  27. As We Travel August 24, 2010 at 6:10 am #

    really? Usually when a backpack is that large (69L) they won’t let you bring it as a carry on luggage, maybe the design in your bag looks different and takes up less space the other backpacks that size. Lucky you! 😉

  28. As We Travel August 24, 2010 at 6:12 am #

    Yes, packing cubes is a great option when the bag doesn’t have many compartments! I look forward to hear what you think about the soap!

  29. As We Travel August 24, 2010 at 6:15 am #

    I agree, bigger isn’t better at all! It’s easy to fill a big bag with things you don’t need just because there is space for it 😛 It really is true that you always think you need more things than you really do!

  30. Anonymous September 10, 2010 at 10:58 am #

    I’m going to go super girlie on you – I tried the solid lush shampoo bars and my hair went so horrible and frizzy! You obviously don’t have that issue, Steph?? Even after dousing it with Morrocan Hair Oil it was unbearably face-sticky. I suppose that’s the joy of fine hair? I think I might shave it all off and not deal with shampoo at all!

    • Sofia September 30, 2010 at 7:05 am #

      Hi Lindsey! Just like with fluid shampoo there are different kinds of shampoo bars for different types of hair, perhaps that one wasn’t suitable to your hair type?

      I suggest you try a different shampoo bar before you go ahead and shave it all off…

  31. Shawn Brandow September 14, 2010 at 1:56 am #

    I’m facing the issue right now of whether I should bring a sleeping bag along. Even though it could be compressed with a vacuum bag, it will still take up a lot of room.
    But other than that, I’m using old sheet bags (the plastic bags that sheets and other bedding come in, the ones with the zipper around the top) to compartmentalize my clothing. It seems to be working really well, so far.

    • Sofia - As We Travel September 14, 2010 at 7:38 am #

      That’s a smart idea! Too bad I never save stuff like that, it always comes handy one day – often just a few days after I threw it away.. 😛
      About the sleepingbag, I think it depends a lot where you go and what type of acommodation you will be using the most.
      Where are you going?

  32. Donnae Bell September 29, 2010 at 5:07 pm #

    Sofia, great article. I have such a bad habit of taking too much so you have inspired me to aim for a carry on. I loath anything on my back but I can always do the roller backpack. I’ll let you know how that goes. You have got to check out Rolf’s No Baggage RTW challenge, as in no baggage, nada. Not even a fanny pack.

    • Sofia September 30, 2010 at 7:12 am #

      Hey Donna! I’m so glad to have inspired you, a roller backpack is great if you don’t want to carry it around all the time.

      I can’t wait to hear how it goes, you won’t regret having a carry on – it makes everything so much easier!

      Rolf has really raised the bar to what is possible, what he did is so inspiring, I guess I’m going to have to raise my standards too now 😛

  33. Traindiva September 29, 2010 at 5:10 pm #

    Sofia, great article. I have such a bad habit of taking too much so you have inspired me to aim for a carry on. I loath anything on my back but I can always do the roller backpack. I’ll let you know how that goes. You have got to check out Rolf’s No Baggage RTW challenge, as in no baggage, nada. Not even a fanny pack.

  34. Matt | YearAroundTheWorld September 30, 2010 at 5:55 pm #

    I’m using a 65L pack, and haven’t had any issues yet. But who knows, maybe I’ll regret it later on.

  35. Elsbeth October 2, 2010 at 7:13 am #

    When packing I simply thing about the fact that only I know that I am wearing the same clothes again!. So when it comes to the basics like , socks , tshirts, shorts etc etc, the following works for me:
    1 is clean, 1 is dirty and 1 I wear. Why would you need more than that. No point carrying your dirty washing if you take 10 pairs of socks or Tshirts. Do a small wash daily, when you are sick of wearing the same clothes donate to a good cause and buy some new clothes.

    • As We Travel October 2, 2010 at 3:14 pm #

      Elsbeth, that is so true! Nobody else knows what you wore the day before, so why care?
      I really agree with washing a little more often than carrying around dirty clothes you can’t wear.
      We seem to travel quite similar when it comes to these things 🙂


  36. Anonymous November 4, 2010 at 8:46 pm #

    very useful guys! im normally lugging around 15kgs :S

  37. Anonymous November 21, 2010 at 3:34 pm #

    So far, I’ve never traveled more than two weeks at a time, so I always brought a little duffel bag. I could fit everything in that thing, formal wear, two pairs of shoes, clothes for days (even though I wear the same thing every day anyway) with room for souvenirs. People I traveled with would marvel at my packing. BUT I’m moving to Germany for a year and I bought a 60L backpack. So we’ll see how that goes, duffel bag vs huge backpack.

    • Sofia November 21, 2010 at 5:57 pm #

      Exciting moving to Germany! I’m sure 60 L is all you need, and when you’re moving somewhere you can always buy what you forgot to bring. Good luck!

  38. Mdc November 26, 2010 at 1:02 am #

    Hi there,
    I am been thinking about what I need to take with me on my extended vacation next year. I am hoping to travel with hand luggage only, because of the advantages of getting onto planes without worrying about excess weight etc.

    I am still pondering whether to go for a backpack or a travel bag with wheels. I haven’t made up my mind which is the best yet.

    • Sofia November 26, 2010 at 6:50 am #

      Hello there,
      I think which one is better for you depends on how you will be traveling. If you know you’ll be traveling mostly in cities and not do any hiking or be out in the nature, then a roller suitcase would work great.

      However, if you will be walking down muddy footpaths and similar, then a backpack is easier.

      If you really can’t choose, then buy a backpack with wheels, that way you get both!