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For the past few years, I've only been traveling with a carry-on. Recently I went on a two-week trip to Lisbon, rural Portugal, and Dublin, and I only took my Rimowa cabin suitcase and a backpack. It's a satisfying feeling to pack all my essentials in a little suitcase. I'll even call it an art form.
You do sacrifice a bit when travelling with only a carry-on, but it's not the end of the world if you make a mistake and leave something behind. I regretted not bringing a thick sweater but I just piled on the layers.
While this post can guide you in how to travel with less, I don't expect you to replicate the list because I have my own logic for what to pack.
The Carry-on Suitcase
I invested in a couple of suitcases from the German company Rimowa because they are super light yet highly indestructible. I've been travelling with my navy Rimowa Salsa Air Multi-Wheel Cabin luggage since 2015. I don't think they sell my model and colour anymore, but these are their current cabin-sized suitcases.
Each suitcase comes with a 5-year warranty, so I can bring my luggage to any store around the world for repairs. Once I had a dent in a corner of the luggage, and my Toronto store took it (even the luggage was bought in England), got it fixed, and shipped it back to my home for free.
The suitcase has four features I love:
- The wheels spin 360°. This makes life so much easier, I promise. It takes very little effort to push this thing.
- Super light polycarbonate that's flexible and has some give.
- Built-in combination lock.
- The case opens up to two empty shells that I can simply fill up.
If you're not planning on buying a Rimowa suitcase, I recommend looking for some of these features. If you do travel quite a bit, investing in a reliable suitcase from a reputable brand is a good idea, as I've seen cheaper ones break down—the handles stop retracting, the wheels break, etc. Mine does show a little wear with some minor scratches and dents after at least forty flights, but nothing that impairs its ease of use.
I like to roll my clothes for easy access. To save more space, use compression packing cubes.
The Clothes I Packed
a) secondhand Mexican embroidered dress
b) lilac vintage dress
c) Vetta Two-Piece Dress
d) Sleepy Jones Celia linen dress, which doubles as sleepwear
e) Saint James striped shirt
f) Everlane dress shirt, good for layering
g) V mesh leggings from Casey Crespo
h) Girlfriend Collective Hi Rise leggings
Tees & tanks
h) 3x white tank tops
l) 4x T-shirts for day wear, sleepwear or working out
j) Everlane Oxford PJ tunic
k) Underprotection Floral PJ set
- 5x socks, 7x undies, 2x sports bras, 3x bras
Shoes + Accessories I Packed
m) Castañer Campina wedges.
n) Maison de L'espadrilles (sold out - similar here) - You really don't have to pack both like I did.
o) black Havaianas flip flops. I always travel with flip flops because it's good to use as hotel slippers, for the pool/beach, or out and about.
p) Heritage Refashioned upcycled kimono kiss lock clutch. It has a detachable strap so I can wear it hands-free for daytime or as an evening clutch.
q) Everlane belt (sold out) to give shape to dresses a) & d)
s) Saint Laurent Bold 1 sunglasses
t) 18k gold-filled hoop earrings
u) I didn't have room for a big purse, so I'd use this organic cotton grocery bag from Credobags instead.
I also packed a tiny Fulton umbrella (not pictured).
Makeup + Toiletries I Packed
The trick is to get all your toiletries and makeup to fit into one small bag. Mine is from Muji, and I like it because it has handles and different compartments inside.
I put my sunscreen, moisturizer, toner, eye cream in the smallest bottles and containers possible, and it's a good idea to save the containers from sample products for this.
Buy travel-sized toothpaste, deodorant, and in my case, contact lens solution. I put my body wash, shampoo, conditioner in silicone squeeze tubes (similar here), which are 80ml each (100ml per bottle is the max for carry-ons). I usually bring smaller bottles, but since I was away for 2 weeks, I brought the bigger bottles to be safe. I'll replace the body wash and shampoo with a shampoo soap bar for future trips, along with a soap bag.
I like to separate my (nontoxic) makeup in another bag for easy access. I basically bring the items in my makeup capsule.
- Jane Iredale PurePressed mineral powder foundation with mineral powder brush,
- Eyelash curler,
- Hynt Beauty eyeliner in Brown,
- RMS "Un" Cover Up concealer,
- Tata Harper lip and cheek tint in Very Charming,
- Kjaer Weis lipstick in KW Red,
- Alima Pure Natural Lip Tint in Dahlia.
For hair, I brought an AQUIS hair towel, a flat wide-tooth comb, hair ties, and Goody Spin Pins. I don't like using hair products, and I didn't bring any hair tools. If I want texture in my hair, I'd braid or twist my hair up. I also brought a tweezer, nail clippers, and a face towel.
My Travel Essentials (Goes in backpack)
For flights more than 4 hours long, I bring an inflatable neck pillow so I can sleep on the plane.
I always bring keep a little pouch of essentials to keep me as comfortable as possible. It includes: ear plugs, eye mask, lip balm, filled contact lens case, peppermint essential oil (for headaches and to be more alert), lavender essential oil (to sleep better), hair tie, hand sanitizer, and Ener-C packets to boost my immune system.
I also keep my camera and sunglasses in my backpack. Books are essential for me, as well as pen and paper (notepad or thin notebook). Earbuds for listening to music or watching a movie on the plane.
My Airplane Outfit
- Loose T-shirt - Everlane Cotton V Neck
- Black Leggings - Mine are from Casey Crespo
- Sneakers - Stella McCartney Ultra Boost X Parley Sneakers (made with recycled ocean waste)
- Socks - Pact Organic Cotton Crew Socks
- Jacket - Bring a jacket even if you're going somewhere hot because the plane might be cold or the weather of your destination can be chillier than expected. My velvet blazer is second hand.
- Backpack - Mine is old.
- Scarf - I brought a super gauzy scarf (not pictured) that folds up into the size of a fist. The plan was to use it as a scarf as needed, and as a sarong/bikini coverup or towel in case I go swimming.
More Packing Tips
- Check the weather of your destination to pack accordingly. If in doubt, bring a sweater.
- Plan outfits for each day instead of packing haphazardly.
- Packing light is easier in the summer, but it's still possible to travel with only hand luggage on winter trips too. Simply wear the heavy boots, the thick sweater, and jeans on the plane, and replace the dresses in the suitcase with cardigans and pants.
- Organize and separate clothes in packing cubes or laundry bags. You can use them to separate dirty clothes from the clean ones later, or you can bring a separate tote bag for this.
- Use translucent or transparent organizers so you can easily see what each one contains.
- Bring as few pairs of shoes as possible. Don't skimp on comfortable shoes however. I always bring sneakers no matter where I'm going because traveling usually require lots of walking. Keep each pair separated in shoe bags.
- Bring only the essential beauty products, and make sure they are travel sized or transferred into the smallest containers possible so they'll make it through customs.