10 Tips on How to Travel with Only Carry-On Luggage

Travel with carry-on luggage only

Are you excited for your trip but fear the horrific airport chaos caused by an influx of travelers and staffing shortages? To avoid the long lines and the risk of losing your baggage, consider travelling with one carry-on and skipping the checked luggage altogether. With a bit of careful planning, you can pack lightly, reduce airport anxiety and spend more time enjoying your holiday. Read on for our top 10 tips on travelling with cabin luggage only.


1. Check Airline Size Allowance for Carry-on Bags

Before travelling, always check the maximum dimensions allowed by the carrier, keeping in mind that the size restrictions vary from one airline to another and may be different for domestic and international flights even within the same airline.

The carry-on size limit for American Airlines and United Airlines is 22 x 14 x 9 inches. These spinner suitcases fit in the overhead bin and meet the AA and UA size requirements.

 Carry-on suitcase that meets the American Airlines Size Requirements


2. Bring a Personal Item Bag

Take advantage of the personal item allowance in addition to your carry-on to increase your packing capacity. This hand luggage can be placed under the seat in front of you.

The size requirement is 18 x 14 x 8 inches on American Airlines and 17 x 10 x 9 inches on United Airlines.

It is recommended that you keep your valuables such as money, cards, tickets, passports and jewelry in your personal item bag. Electronic devices, medication, a water bottle, snacks, a travel pillow and on-flight entertainment articles should also be kept in this bag so that you always have quick and easy access to them. Keep in mind that you could be separated from your carry-on luggage in case of a forced gate check, so it's advisable to carry your essentials in the personal item bag.

A small backpack is a convenient way to carry your personal items while keeping your hands free. Or if you do not want to carry that weight, you can opt for a bag with a trolley sleeve that conveniently slides over the handle of your carry-on suitcase. The bag is securely attached on top of the rolling suitcase and can now be pulled or pushed along.

3. Pack Less but Pack Smart

Do I really need this item? Does it have multiple uses? How many pairs do I need? When space is at a premium, you need to be strategic about what you bring.

Select versatile pieces of clothing that can be worn in different settings (think little black dress or a pair of dressed up jeans) or that can be mixed and matched to create different looks.

Choose tops that can be layered for warmth instead of packing a bulky sweater or jacket.

For longer stays, plan to do laundry so that you can cut down on the number of items you have to pack.

packing light and wisely


4. Wear Bulky on the Airplane

One clever way to free up space in your carry-on suitcase is to wear your most bulky clothes onto the plane. The same principle applies to footwear – wear the hiking boots and store the pair of dainty shoes in your luggage. Most airlines permit you to take your jacket onto the plane without it counting towards the carry-on requirements.

Consider bringing along a light, packable tote bag to hold your extra layers when you get hot walking through the airport terminal. 


5. Roll, Stuff and Compress

Learn to maximize space and pack more into your luggage. All it takes is a bit of practice, some trial and error and a combination of the following techniques:

Tightly roll your t-shirts, pants, dresses, pajamas and towels. Check out this video to discover a few compact ways to fold clothes for packing.

Stuff rolled up underwear and socks inside your shoes and be amazed at how much you can fit in them! Small items can be stuffed into any gap and empty space that you can find.

Bulky items like sweaters and coats don't roll up so well. Instead, you can compress them using sturdy Ziplock bags or these practical travel compression bags

Rolled clothes in suitcase


6. Keep it Organized

Stay organized and save time with packing cubes. These lightweight zippered pouches help you keep your belongings separated, sorted and neatly stored. Spend less time unpacking, repacking and searching for items in your suitcase. What about necklaces, rings and earrings? You can store them in a cute mini travel jewelry storage box.

TSA recommends that you keep your bags organized to ease the screening process. Using packing cubes will get you through a security check faster. Not only that but inspections can be less embarrassing if your private items are tucked away in a secret pouch instead of being exposed for all to see. You’ll also appreciate how easy it is to reorganize your suitcase after the inspectors have rummaged through it.


7. Know the TSA Rules

Avoid problems, stress and delays at the security checkpoint by familiarizing yourself with the TSA rules prior to your trip and ensuring that you fully comply.

To know if an item is prohibited or not, check out the TSA website for what you can bring.

As for liquids, gels and creams, you must respect the 3-1-1 liquids rule which states the following:  

You are allowed to bring a quart-sized bag of liquids, aerosols, gels, creams and pastes in your carry-on bag and through the checkpoint. These are limited to travel-sized containers that are 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) or less per item.


8. Hard Shell vs. Soft Shell

Which is better, hard shell or soft shell suitcases? You’ll likely find many debates and differing opinions out there, but no definite answer as each type has its share of pros and cons. 

Soft side suitcases tend to have some stretch in the fabric, thus allowing you to squeeze in an extra item or two. The same flexible material makes it somewhat easier to compress the luggage into an already-crowded overhead bin.

Hard side suitcases do not offer the same yield as do the soft ones. However, they provide better protection for your belongings. In the event of a gate check, you’ll be glad to have the added protection of the hard frame.

So what's the best carry-on for you? Go for soft if you want more packing space and hard if you want extra protection.

Air travel with hard shell spinner suitcase


9. 2-wheel vs. 4-wheel

If you stick to airports and hotel lobbies then a 4-wheel spinner suitcase provides a more pleasant and effortless ride than its 2-wheel counterpart. The swivel wheels allow you to maneuver the suitcase easily on smooth surfaces and to push it through the narrow aisle of the aircraft. In general, we recommend a 4-wheel suitcase but a 2-wheel suitcase might be more suitable if you have to walk across uneven terrain such as grass or cobblestone streets.


10. Board the Plane Early

The overhead bin gets filled up quickly especially on oversold flights. It is worth boarding the plane as early as possible to secure an overhead cabin space for your carry-on bag and avoid having to check it at the gate. If you have a connecting flight with a tight layover then you can transition more quickly. If you are heading to your final destination then you can exit the airplane and airport without having to wait for your gate checked luggage.

Limited space in airplane overhead bins


Though it can be a challenge to fly with only carry-on luggage, it is definitely doable with some thought and preparation. By foregoing the checked bags, you’ll save both time and money, won’t have to worry about lost luggage and can enjoy a stress-free flight and vacation.

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