10 Tips How To Travel For 14 Days With Just Carry On Luggage


June 2nd marks three years since I posted the story of my first of 30 adventures in Vancouver. Since that moment, I’ve traveled to more than 53 cities and been on 53 planes. I’ve also been in cars, buses, trains, helicopters and even rode a horse. One thing I’ve learned over these three years is that I need to pack smart and light. When I traveled to Hawaii, I was gone from home for 16 days and was on five different planes. I hopped between four Islands and stayed in eight different hotels. The last thing I wanted to do was lug around a heavy suitcase from hotel to hotel or from plane to plane. I decided it was time for me to get smart and just travel with a backpack and my carry on luggage. Over the last three years, I’ve picked up some tips and today, here and now, I am going to share them with you. I hope they help you pack smarter and lighter.

Travellers putting their carry on luggage in the overhead compartment.jpg

Travelers putting their carry on luggage in the overhead compartment

Recently it has been in the news that Air Canada is starting to crack down on carry on luggage abuse by travelers. The problem began when airlines around the world started to charge for checked bags. Who wants to pay for luggage after they have just bought a plane ticket? Travelers like me started to cram as much as they could into carry on luggage and try to avoid the extra fees. This caused a big problem because not all of these carry on bags fit on board, and now it takes forever for flights to board as everyone is shoving their carry ons into the overhead bins and the last passengers to board rarely have any space available for their bags. This causes flight delays as bags are sent back to be put in the cargo hold, passengers get frustrated with the delays and quite honestly with rude travelers taking up all the space.

jamming carry on luggage into the overhaed compartment

jamming carry on luggage into the overhead compartment

So how do we avoid this frustration of delays and still only travel with carry on luggage? Here are some simple tips to make sure you are traveling light, smart and won’t get the crackdown by the airline police for bringing too much with you.

Tip #1 Make Sure your carry on luggage is the right size. The “approved” size for a standard article is 23cm x 40cm x 55cm, this includes the wheels and the handles. THIS is really important because if your bag is too big it may be rejected and boom, you are now paying the checked bag fee. Another reason to have the right size luggage to start with is this is all you can carry so careful planning to make sure it all fits equals a successful packing job. There have been times when I remove the odd piece because it didn’t find and I realized it was just an extra piece of clothing “in case” I needed it. I never need it, I can always make do with what I brought.

Luggage sizes

Luggage sizes

Man weighing carry-on luggage

Man weighing carry-on luggage

Tip #2 Make a travel list of what you need for the length of your trip. We all know to do this but how often do we actually do it? I write out a short list of how many days I’ll be away, what types of activities I’ll be doing, and what kinds of clothes and shoes I’ll need. I always pack a clean pair of underwear and socks for each day up to 50% of the trip plus one extra. If I’m away for fourteen days I usually pack 8 pairs of socks and underwear. See Tip #10 for why.

Make a list of what you are doing while away and pack only what you need

Make a list of what you are doing while away and pack only what you need

Tip #3 Don’t pack toiletries you can get at your hotel for free. Since 9/11, the crack down on fluids in carry on bags has meant that most hotels offer complimentary toiletries beyond the normal shampoo and soap. I only pack deodorant and my travel toothbrush and small travel toothpaste. There have been times I didn’t even pack my toothbrush and toothpaste because I knew the hotel would have them available for me at no charge. Not only does this save space it saves time when you go through security. No fluids over the 100ml size will be allowed, trust me I’ve had a bottle of brand new sunscreen I forgot about in the bottom of my backpack thrown out. That was a waste of $13.

leave your toiletries at home or pack travel size

leave your toiletries at home or pack travel size

Tip #4 Pack clothes that don’t wrinkle or are very easy to iron. I’m assuming that your trip is a vacation and not for work so why do you need to pack formal clothes unless it’s you are travelling to be a part of a wedding. You are on vacation, relax enjoy yourself and let your clothes relax as well. I often pack light cotton t-shirts, shorts and one or two collared shirts. I always make sure the dressier shirts are the easy ones to iron and it’s usually the first thing I do after checking into the hotel. This way my outfit is ready whenever I need it.

Pack wrinkle free or easy to iron clothes

Pack wrinkle-free or easy to iron clothes

Tip#5 Only pack two pairs of shoes. Shoes take up so much in luggage that I only ever travel with a max of two options. I try to wear the bigger and bulkier pair during my travel day and leave the flip flops or more casual shoes wrapped in a shower cap at the bottom of my suitcase. The shower cap is far less bulky packaging that putting your shoes in a plastic bag. Plus they are easy to clean and you can turn them inside out if you need to.

shoes in show cap

shoes in show cap

Tip #6 Roll up your clothes. This is a simple way to reduce wrinkling and conserve space. Place flat, bulky items at the bottom of the suitcase and then rolled up shirts and sweaters on top. I rarely have to iron anything I roll up as the wrinkles seem to disappear within 15 minutes of putting it on.

Roll your clothes to make better use of eth space and less wrinkling

Roll your clothes to make better use of eth space and less wrinkling

Tip #7 Put all your technology into your backpack and make sure everything is in its own pocket. My Mac Air, all my charger cables and everything I need to “work” while I am on the road go into my backpack. I’m a bit anal about putting various pieces of my tech in the exact same pockets each and every time I travel. This helps me to find things quickly when I need them and it also keeps them close to hand on the plane. I never need access to my socks or t-shirts while I am flying, but I often need my ear buds, a charger cable or my laptop to work on when I’m in flight. Keeping the backpack between my feet keeps the overhead clear for the bigger carry on pieces and means I don’t have to get out of my seat disrupting other passengers when I need something.

Tech Backpack where everything has it's own pocket

Tech Backpack where everything has it’s own pocket

Tip #8 Wear your dressier clothes more than once. If you are going out for a fancy dinner or a concert and you want to dress up change into those clothes just before you have to and when you get back to your hotel change out of them right away. Hang them up and wear them again the next time you need to. You’ve only worn them for a couple of hours so chances are they are not dirty and you should be able to get at least one more wear out of them before they should be washed.

Tip#9 Pack clothes that are versatile and can be worn during the day or evening. Shorts and t-shirts are my usual attire, but a nice polo shirt can be worn during the day exploring around town or is perfect for dinner and a show in the evening. No changing is required at all. I usually pack some casual cargo shorts for the daytime but for nighttime I tend to wear shorts that are a bit dressier. This way I spread wearing each pair out a few days and neither one gets too dirty or worn.

Tip #10 Do laundry. This is the biggest single tip I can share with you for traveling over a week only just using your carry on luggage and what will fit inside. I’ve done laundry in Toronto, Hawaii, Louisiana, London, Portland, Ottawa, etc… It takes very little time and it really extends your traveling wardrobe. If you have the money you can have the hotel laundry service do it for you or you can do what I do and find a laundromat with drop off service close by. I drop it off and pick it up the next day. If you travel and stay at with B&B’s or AirBnb’s you may have access to on-site laundry facilities. Either way it is my #1 tip to travel light.

Do laundry

Do laundry

Now you must travel a bit. I bet you have your own tips. Are you willing to share?

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About Author

Marc Smith is a former event planner turned vagabond adventurer. He loves strong Americano's, great wine, cold beer and zip lining over tree tops. Formerly of Vancouver, most of Marc's time when not travelling is in Canada's largest city, Toronto. Follow along on his nomad adventures and discover places to stay, things to do and where to eat & drink as he explores the world one city and region at a time.


  1. Great post Marc! I have to agree that doing laundry is key and can even be fun. While we were in Italy last Sept we used the free bikes provided by our hotel in Lucca to bike with our laundry in the baskets to a cute laundromat and sat at the cafe next door while we waited. No laptops, no wifi, just chillin’ and waiting for the laundry.

  2. I draw the line at doing laundry while I’m away, Marc, unless I’m gone for more than two weeks. But I greatly admire those who do. Great packing tips – but only two pairs of shoes for two weeks??? I can’t do it . . . 🙂

  3. Great tips Marc! I just came back from Toronto and was thrilled I fit everything for a 4 day stay – including attire for a wedding – in my carry-on. My big tip is to pack things like socks and underwear inside shoes – wasted space if unused. Laundry is a must-do when travelling with kids.

  4. Marie-France on

    Great tips! And regarding laundry, ive found that most hotels I’ve stayed at in Canada and the US have guest laundry rooms with one or two washers and dryers. Some are coin operated but some are even free! They’re often not advertised and are often so well hidden that you need special permissions to access them, but they are there, and meant for guests to use, so sometimes you have to call the hotel to find out of they have them before booking and ask where to find them when you check in. I bring Tide pods in a small ziplock hard plastic container with a lid, and Fabric softwner sheets in a baggie (which also keeps my suitcase smelling nice!) but usually you can buy laundry soap and fabric softener “singles” at the hotel (in their mini store or in a machine in the laundry room). I now only pack for 50‰ of my trip plus one regardless of the length of the trip (even 4-5 days).

    Another tip I would add is to choose one colour “palate” so that different items can be work alternatively with others. An outfit can look completely different by just changing what you wear the coordinates with. Wearing a multicoloured top with a pink skirt one day and black pants another day makes it look completely different. And accessories (silk scarves, watches, jewellry, belts, etc) take up less space than clothes so neutral coloured interchangeable separates with different accessories can look like a whole new outfit each day!

  5. Great tips! What about packing for an 8 day trip and all I can bring is a carry-on that fits under the seat in front of me?? The newest policies on the cheapest flights on the major airlines have now restricted to an 18″ bag. I’m good with doing laundry but I think I’m going to have to do it every day!!! 🙁

    • then you really need to plan out your activities and pack clothes that mix and match as well as go from day to night, Pack for 4 days and then a quick laundry visit 🙂

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