Tomorrow I’m flying to Mexico for a media trip intending to explore the REAL Mexico — the Mexico you’ll find outside hotel resort gates! I seriously cannot wait but packing for this trip has certainly been a challenge. Especially considering how different my suitcase this trip looks to last month’s trip to the Arctic Circle. Probably won’t be needing that thermal underwear in Mérida, will I?
But it’s also hard because I refuse to check any bags when I travel… ever.
Domestically AND internationally.
I’ve traveled exclusively with a carry-on for well over seven years now.
“Why??“, I hear you asking?
Well, lots of reasons, really.
For One, my luggage has been lost TOO many times in the past for me to invite that hassle back into my life again. It’s chaotic enough without lost belongings…
Two, anytime I have ever checked a bag, I’ve found myself only wearing about 30% of what I lugged with me.
Three, it forces me to really plan my outfits in advance which in turn makes my travel significantly less stressful. As a style blogger, good travel style is really important to me, of course. But I rarely ever find myself needing as much clothing as I pack into a small carry-on, even if I’m shooting outfits! So why deal with the hassle of a checked bag?
While it may not be for everyone, I find the comfort of having my bag with me at all time (especially if you carry expensive camera gear like I do) to be well worth the hassle of learning to travel with less.
So for those of you ready to take the “Carry-On Only” plunge, here are a few of my best tips!
How to Travel Internationally With Only a Carry-On
1. Roll don’t Fold
This is a great travel tip regardless of whether or not you check you bags but is especially important if you’re going carry-on only. Rolling your clothing neatly and tightly gives you a shocking amount of additional packing space AND means your clothes are significantly less wrinkled when you unpack. And it’s very easy to do — this article has some great tips to get you started!
I generally unroll all my clothing once I reach my destination, hop in a hot shower, then hang any pieces with travel wrinkles up in the bathroom after. Several hours later they’re wrinkle-free!
2. Evaluate and Purge at least Twice
If you’re training yourself to travel carry-on only, chances are you aren’t going to be stellar at it on your first try.
If you’re a chronic over-packer like I was, you’re going to need lots and lots of practice before you really get it down pat. ALWAYS fill your carry-on with the items you think you need. Then evaluate what you have in your suitcase. Just LOOK at all the stuff you’ve justified as “necessary” — usually at this point I’m shocked at the sheer volume of things I’ve piled up. Then I purge. I aim to reduce my suitcase by at least 30%. Start with all the outfits you’re bringing “just in case”… you’ll never use them.
Then — time permitting — I like to step away for a few hours or a day to clear my head. Then I repeat the evaluation/purging process again. Remember, the second purge is almost more important than the first!
For fashion bloggers this is harder — outfits can be composed of lots of components and no one wants to miss out on shooting a great outfit while traveling. But I’ve actually never found this to be a huge issue as long as I’m clever about choosing accessories I can mix and match. While I was in Florida in January, I shot two beautiful looks (one with my favorite pink maxi and another with my favorite little white dress) and used the same bag in both. I felt stylish without feeling like my carry-on was devoted solely to my outfit shoots. I did the same thing in London, in Mexico (even with massive Christian Louboutin wedges…), and even to New York Fashion Week without any issue!
3. Less is More… and Safer
It’s a cliche saying but VERY true when it comes to travel.
The more stuff you bring with you, the more problems you invite on your trip. You’ll have more stuff to monitor and take care of (not to mention more things to lose…). I often see people packing SO MUCH with them that they literally cannot handle their suitcases on their own. Perhaps it’s just because I lived in India in 2007, moving around to quite a few towns and having to travel with all my belongings to some weird destinations, but I always think it’s best to be able to carry all your belongings on your person. You’re significantly less likely to be a target for pick-pockets and thieves and will have a far more pleasant experience than you would if you try to drag your 3-ton suitcase around on your own or are constantly having to chase down someone to help you. Carry-ons just give you so much more independence and ease-of-mind while traveling!
Remember: You can always purchase items you’ve left at home once you reach your destination. Make a list of “must pack” items (for me this always includes camera gear since it can be so hard to buy abroad) and try to eliminate as much from your suitcase that isn’t on that list as possible.
4. Cut Down on Shoes & Outerwear
Shoes and outerwear. The great space snaggers of the suitcase world.
Invariably, no matter the destination, 40% – 60% of the space in my suitcase is consumed by outerwear and shoes. To this day I still struggle the most when packing shoes — personally I think a change of shoes can change-up an outfit faster than almost any other accessory. So I tend to bring A LOT of pairs of shoes with me when I travel (except in Finland when I got by with just one pair).
But inevitably, I always end up bringing a pair of shoes I don’t wear. And a coat/jacket/shawl I don’t end up wearing either. So when I’m purging, I almost always force myself to remove at least one pair of shoes and one outerwear piece. These items also tend to be bulky so removing them instantly gives you so much more room!
P.s. how cute is this pink Pop Suki x Away Carry-On (c/o)? It has a built-in phone charger (with TWO ports) and is so easy to spot in the airport with its fun, bubblegum hue! It did great in Finland so I can’t wait to use it again in Mexico tomorrow!