How to travel with carry-on luggage only

two travellers standing in the snow in the Bavarian Alps

When we mentioned we were traveling from Australia to Europe over Christmas for 3.5 weeks with only 7kg of carry-on luggage the general response was – What! how can you possibly do that? It is possible and this blog is designed to provide some tips and recommendations for those that would like to do the same.

Why did we choose carry-on only?

With both of us working in the travel industry, we were very aware of some of the challenges airports and airlines are facing with limited resourcing thanks to the undesired legacy of the pandemic. Unfortunately, for some travellers this has meant their luggage has occasionally taken a scenic route to their end destination.

To avoid any luggage mishaps, we decided early on in our planning we wanted to try and travel with just carry-on luggage, so we would not need to worry whether our luggage would go missing. The other reason is that our trip also involves train travel between Munich, Salzburg, Vienna, and Prague, and having only carry-on is much easier to contend with rather than overflowing 20kg suitcases. Another reason was dragging a massive suitcase around snow and ice-covered streets is not our idea of a good time when you can just carry a bag. The last reason for carry-on is that we knew travelling to a cold climate would mean all your holiday photos would be us in the same jacket and beanie and who was going to know what we were wearing underneath?

Not all carry-on luggage is the same so do your research

Not all carry-on luggage is equal so this is an important part of the planning. You want to ensure you are getting the maximum capacity within the approved luggage dimensions/weight of the airline you are travelling with. Not all airlines have the same carry-on luggage allowances, so it is important to check this. You will find this information on their website or simply call them directly.

You then want to look at the weight of the suitcase as the second feature to ensure you are getting the lightest one for the maximum capacity. This is important because the heavier the suitcase, the less you can pack. For those curious as to what carry-on luggage we decided to travel with, it is July.

For a quick luggage allowance guide, you can refer to a comparison site to get started.

Are packing cubes really worth it?

The short answer is YES!

Do yourself a favour and invest in some packing cubes. They range in prices and sizes depending on your budget and suitcase size, but what we will say is it makes packing a dream and everything fits like a glove. The other benefit of using packing cubes is that you know where everything is. Say goodbye to pulling out all your clothes in search of one item. When you pack with cubes, you can have all your underwear in one, bulkier items in another, and lighter T-shirts/thermals in another. It also helps to keep things flat and not crumble your clothing and most importantly they help you maximise space.

Think about the accommodation you book

The reason accommodation comes into the equation of a successful carry-on luggage trip is whether you can wash your clothing. We opted to book Air BnB for all locations because they were not only more affordable and spacious than hotels over the festive season (if you book in advance), but you also had the luxury of a washing machine and in some cases a dryer as well. This means you can wash and dry throughout the entire trip and you don’t have to pack a lifetime supply of underwear to last you the trip.

If you do opt to stay in traditional accommodation, there will be dry cleaning services however you will need to budget for the luxury of this type of service – it is not cheap. Alternatively, you could always try and find a local laundry mat if you don’t mind spending some of your holiday standing around in one waiting for your washing to be done.

Be strategic with your clothing choices

Remembering your holiday won’t be a fashion parade of instagramable outfits if travelling in the winter. Most of your photos are going to feature you in your jacket. With this said it won’t matter how many times you wear the same jumper or pair of pants because chances are you are not going to be hot and sweaty in negative or single digit temps and will get more than one wear out of them. In addition, you can just wash and wear it when needed.

In cold climates, it is all about the layers and if you invest in quality thermals, you won’t then need a surplus supply of bulky items to keep you warm. We also both invested in a pair of lightweight insulated and weatherproof boots to wear for the entire trip.

You don’t need to pack all your toiletries

Have a think about where you are staying and what amenities are already supplied. Will you have access to hair dryers, soaps, shampoo, and conditioner etc? If so you won’t need to pack these. Toiletries are often what weighs our luggage down and when only travelling with carry-on you are going to need to be a little ruthless.

You will also need to take into consideration the size of the liquids, aerosols, and gels that you are packing because there are strict guidelines around this. As a guide for those leaving or entering Australia you can view these restrictions here.

These days there are travel minis you can purchase at supermarkets or chemists, however, don’t go overboard as you can buy these items when you arrive at your destination. Just pack the important things like medications and personal items you may need while transiting. For women keep your make-up and hair-styling tools to a minimum.

Do a practice pack before you go

To ensure the items you wish to take all fit in your luggage we recommend doing a trial pack. Once you are all packed you will need to grab a set of scales for the final test to ensure your luggage meets the requirements of your airline – after all you don’t want to get to the airport to find out you will have to check your luggage in.

When you pack, don’t forget you will be wearing some of it on the day of travel. We recommend wearing your bulkiest items and carrying your jacket.

Packing list

Here is a rough guide of our packing list for 3.5 weeks in Europe over Christmas.

  • 2 x pants
  • 3 x jumpers (invest in quality warm materials that don’t weigh much – merino, wool, fleece)
  • 4 x woolen/merino socks
  • 4 x undergarments/thermals
  • 1 x weatherproof/down jacket (very important to have the right jacket)
  • 1 pair of weatherproof, lightweight, insulated shoes
  • 1 pair of gloves with touch screen pads on them so you don’t have to take them off to use your smartphone.
  • 1 beanie or 2 to give you some variety
  • 1 scarf or 2 for variety
  • Essential toiletries only in travel size

Key takeaways

Travelling with carry-on luggage only is about just taking the essentials and not getting caught up in having ‘just in case’ items. Often you travel with more than you possibly need only to find you have worn the same items over and over and have not touched half of what you packed.

Should you find yourself buying gifts whilst you are away and have no room to accommodate them, then you can always post them home or just purchase an inexpensive bag and check luggage in on the way home. It is not the end of the world.

Invest in quality clothing made from materials that are designed for the cold that will keep you warm. This will eliminate packing additional bulky items.

Remember if you need anything you can always purchase in-destination. They do have shops remember so you won’t go without. And, remember to check the allowances with your preferred airline and immigration. You don’t want to get caught out travelling with too much or the wrong things.


We are happy to say that we had no issue departing Australia. To be honest it was the quickest check-in process we have ever had, including clearing customs. The entire process took no more than 15 minutes of our time and was able to self-check in and collect our boarding pass. Because we were not queuing to check-in luggage meant that we were ahead of the security. There were zero people lined up. Just us!

Arriving in Munich meant that we did not have to wait around for our luggage and could simply walk off the plane and out the door not having to declare anything. Simple.

We have successfully been able to wash and dry our clothing with no issue and if you have seen any of our pics you wouldn’t know what we have been wearing as the majority feature that same jacket and beanie we talked about earlier.

So would we travel with carry-on again? Yes!