Travelling carry-on only has plenty of benefits – no worries about lost luggage, avoiding luggage fees, skipping straight past luggage collection at the airport, being able to take cheaper public transport over private. Travel is just easier when you just have only one small bag to worry about. If you’re new to the idea of carry-on travel you might be surprised to hear that the hard part isn’t squeezing your belongings into a modest bag – it’s dealing with the weight restrictions.
While carry-on weight limits vary between airlines, the most likely scenario (at least in Asia and Oceania) is a 7kg bag + a personal item. And while I’ve seen some travellers manage to stretch the limits of the personal item into practically a second carry-on, some airlines can be very strict and will weigh it as well to make sure it isn’t excessive. Others like Easy-jet and Ryanair will only allow 1 piece of carry-on (no personal item), but they do have higher weight limits. Jetstar limit both the carry-on and personal item to a combined weight of 7kg.
So lets say you’re off on a long-term, around the world adventure. You plan to travel on a range of budget airlines to keep costs down, and to avoid baggage fees you need to travel as light as possible. One way to organise and limit your packing is to separate your belongings into sections and then see what you can cut down. Sort out the constants from the variables. Some items you’ll carry with you for your entire trip – your bag, technology and any travel-specific gear – their weight will be constant. Clothing, toiletries and possibly shoes will vary as you pick up and discard items along the way. Try to get each section down to a pre-defined goal. Here are some suggestions to get you started.
Bags – 1-1.5kg
Restricting the weight of carry-on bag itself is the first step to packing light. Rolling luggage usually weighs 3-4kg on its own unless you pick up an ultralight one, but these can be prohibitively expensive and still weigh more than an equivalent backpack. Aim for a pack that weighs less than 1kg. If you’re travelling with a laptop, the 0.9kg Osprey Nova is a good choice (it’s what I use), but any decent backpack will do if you’re carrying less than 7kg. If you are planning to do a lot of hiking, or you need more support, you can get a small hiking pack with decent suspension for around 1.3kg, though be careful to check the dimensions to make sure they fit carry-on restrictions. The lighter the bag, the easier it will be to keep under strict weight limits.
Your personal item should be light and double as a day bag when you get to your destination. I actually take two – a lightweight scrunchable backpack that I stuff inside my main pack when not in use, and a small cross-body purse that usually serves as my personal item on flights.
Technology – 1-3kg
If you’re travelling long-term or are planning to work from the road and want to take a laptop, look for one that weighs no more than 1.5kg. While I generally don’t advise buying new gear specifically for a trip, if your only device is a 3kg monstrosity and you’re intending to travel for some time, it may be worth investing in a lighter option. I like to travel with a lot of technology (laptop, hard drive, phone, camera, kindle), but I still try and keep it to an absolutely maximum of 3kg including all cables, cases, headphones and adapters (and that’s still way heavier than I’d like). If you are planning to take a laptop for entertainment purposes only and you already have a tablet, consider bringing this instead or using your phone only.
Small electronics – kindle, phone, camera – will likely be placed in your personal item for quick access. All the tech in your backpack should weigh no more than 2kg.
Clothes – 3-4kg
If you’re travelling to a hot climate, keeping your clothing weight to a minimum should be easy. Go for light, breezy items that pack small and dry quickly. Aim for 4 basic outfits, with a couple of extra tops, a light sweater and some workout/swim/sleep gear if you need it. I’m ambivalent about a rain jacket in hot, humid climates, as it may be too sticky and hot to wear it even if it’s pouring. You’re probably better off just picking up a cheap umbrella at your destination if you need it.
If you’re travelling in winter, clothing can be a bit more challenging but you should still aim for 4 basic outfits. Choose layers over bulk. Make some of the tops long sleeve and add a fleece or down jacket plus an outer layer. If you’re travelling to a range of climates, make sure your clothing can be adapted to work in both hot and cold weather. For example a light summer dress can be worn in winter by adding leggings, a long sleeve top and a fleece. Remember you can always pick up new clothing on the road, so you don’t need to pack for every eventuality.
Your clothing should weigh no more than 4kg. You will be wearing your heaviest items on the plane which should be 1kg+, so your packed clothing should weight should be 3kg max.
Shoes – ~1kg
Shoes can be heavy, so choose wisely. No matter the type or length of trip, shoes should be kept to a maximum of 3 pairs – an everyday walking shoe, sandals or boots (depending on the trip) and jandals (flip-flops). Wear your heaviest shoes on the plane.
Toiletries & Essentials – 1-1.5kg
Toiletries are a weight limit-killer, but they are the easiest to reign back. You can buy anything you need when you get to your destination, so keep your toiletries to a minimum. All you really need is a bit of toothpaste, maybe some face wash if you have sensitive skin, and deodorant. If you want to take extras, make sure everything fits into a 1L clear bag for customs. Or look for solid alternatives which usually weigh less than liquids and last longer. Ideally take no more than 500g worth of toiletries.
That leaves another 0.5-1kg for your other essentials – passport, money, packing cubes, earplugs, eye mask, travel towel, pen, notebook – all the little things that can add up to a surprising amount.
Putting it all together
If you’ve been keeping track, you’ll notice the suggested weights tally to 7-11kg, including worn items. I don’t suggest packing the maximum in each category, but choose what is most important to you. The most I suggest anyone bring is a 7kg carry-on, a 2kg personal item and 1-1.5kg of worn items. Ideally you want to take 7kg + worn items, which is absolutely possible, but can be tricky if you’re taking a laptop. If you’re slightly over weight, you can always slip things into your pockets.
Travelling light isn’t about feeling restricted about what you can bring. It’s about giving yourself the freedom to explore without being burdened by unnecessary stuff weighing you down. Pack light, take only what matters most to you and have a blast. Happy travels.