10 Days of Travel with Just a Carry-on Bag? Done!

The Challenge of Packing Light

Ever since my trip to San Francisco/Santa Cruz last September, I’ve become a bit obsessed with traveling light. The first to-do in traveling light according to the experts is to find a bag that works for you and still qualifies as carry-on.

For most U.S. airlines (and don’t hold me to this), that generally means a bag that’s no bigger than 45 linear inches (22″ x 14″ x 9″) including wheels and handles and weighs less than 40 pounds. Some international carriers have stricter requirements.

Most of the light-travel experts seem to prefer non-wheeled convertible bags. Losing the wheels means the bag weighs less and you have more capacity for your goods. A convertible bag typically has backpack straps tucked away into a pocket, giving you the option to carry it with a handle, shoulder strap, or as a backpack.

Wheels or No Wheels

I initially purchased a wheeled carry-on bag from Eagle Creek’s Ease collection (discontinued). The bag is beautiful, but after a test run packing for a mock trip, I realized that I would drastically need to reduce what I would bring for it to fit in the bag. I didn’t think it would be feasible for me to do a ten day trip to Cyprus with just that bag. Someone else could probably do it, but not me…at least not yet.

For my Cyprus trip, I opted for the eBags Mother Lode Weekender Convertible. The appeal to me was more capacity. In exchange, I had to give up wheels. I took the bag with me to Vegas as a test run and I really liked it. I should note that the bag fit a TON of stuff and it’s organized nicely. I particularly liked the handy zippered pouch at the top for my liquids bag – made it easier to get through security. The compression straps locked things down to manageable dimensions.

However, once I had loaded it to the gills for my trip to Cyprus and had to carry it on my back, along with my “personal item” bag (my loaded laptop bag), through four airports, it became very heavy and man, did I wish for some wheels. So, the search for the Perfect Bag continues. I’m looking at the Eagle Creek Morphus, but I’m not quite convinced I should shell out the money for it. I’ll have to work on bringing less on my next trip or getting some wheels if I plan to travel carry-on only again.

2014-01-22 13.02.11
Behold! A miracle! Here’s my carry-on bag, fully packed for a 10-day trip. Believe me when I say that I couldn’t have fit so much as a piece of lint in here without the bag exploding.

I also brought my WordPress Timbuk2 laptop bag for my laptop of course, my Kindle, camera and cables, iPod, earbuds, purse, and a pair of sneakers that wouldn’t fit in my other bag. I wore my hoodie and jacket on the plane, mostly because they wouldn’t have fit in either bag.

What I Packed

For those who are curious to know just how much I fit into my eBags Mother Lode bag, here’s a list of what I packed as far as I can recall:

  • 3 pairs of jeans
  • 2 pairs of capris
  • 2 lightweight long sleeve shirts
  • 4 short sleeve shirts
  • 3 heavier long sleeve tops
  • 2 sweaters
  • 3 scarves
  • 1 bathing suit and coverup
  • 6 pairs of socks
  • 3 tank tops and 3 camis
  • 1 exercise outfit (top, bottoms, sport bra)
  • bras and underwear
  • 2 pairs of lounge pants (doubled as PJs and comfy pants to wear on long flights)
  • 1 belt
  • 1 pair of flip flops (sneakers went in my laptop bag and I wore boots on the plane)
  • Travel power adapters
  • Toiletries
  •   In my 3-1-1 bag, I packed hair gel, liquid makeup, saline spray (sinus trouble here), face wash, toner, hairspray, and toothpaste
  •   Other toiletries exempt from the liquids requirement: contact lens solution, lens container, and spare lenses; hair brush and comb; meds (like whole pharmacy’s worth since I was recovering from a nasty cold); and non-liquid makeup items

2 thoughts on “10 Days of Travel with Just a Carry-on Bag? Done!

  1. Hi Wendy,
    First off, thanks for the prior mention about LadyLightTravel. I always appreciate the comments!

    I’m looking over your list, and I see you doing the same things I did when I first started one-bagging. So here are my comments for lighter travel:

    You won’t need a wheelie bag if you travel really light. It gets harder when you have to bring a computer. That makes things heavy fast. I just tried the Rick Steves backpack/wheelie bag for a bunch of business trips where I had to take a lot of heavy paper. I’m happy with it. The bag is smaller than regular wheelies, but that forces you to pack right.

    I looked at your 10 day Cyprus list, and notice that you probably took way too many clothes. That’s killing your back. So here’s some comments on that:

    * ONE pair of jeans maximum. Better, jeggings if you have the body for it. Think about bringing a pair of travel pants for the 2nd pair of pants. They are way lighter and work for dressier situations. Better, bring 2 pairs of light pants missing the jeans altogether (they are heavy and take forever to dry)
    * One pair of capris for a total of 3 pants. 3 bottoms for 10 days is easy with all those tops. If your light weight travel pant is convertible (roll up legs) then you have 2 capris.
    * You have a total of 12 tops – way too many. I’d take one long sleeve button down shirt, one long or 3/4 sleeve top, and 2-3 short sleeve shirts, 1 tank, and one cami.
    * Reduce the number of socks. If you sink wash you can get away with 3 pairs.
    * Don’t bring an exercise outfit. Bring clothes you can exercise in that also fit into your wardrobe. My favorite exercise outfit is a short sleeve top with my “Whatever” skort. They both dry quickly so I can use them later in the day.
    * How many bras and underwear? You already have an exercise bra so bring just 2 others. Stick to no more than 4 pairs of undies and sink wash.
    * You only need one set of lounge pants. These could double as exercise pants.
    * The hoodie counts as one of your tops.

    On electronics – think about a laptop sleeve that goes into the outer pocket of your carry on. Then you may not need a laptop case. Laptops are so heavy – can you go lighter with a netbook? If you can go on to a system that charges by USB then a lot of your electronics issues go away. All USB devices except Apple charge via a micro-USB cable. So only bring 2 of those, plus a plug (a 2.1 A dual USB charger is wonderful). For your Apple products buy an micro-USB to Apple connector. Use the same cable as you would for your Kindle. USB devices are dual voltage, so you only need a plug adapter for your USB plug.


    1. As always, I’m happy to learn from people who have much more experience with this than I! 🙂 I’ve enjoyed reading your site (in fact, I combed through it rather thoroughly) and you have a wealth of great info there for anyone who wants to travel light.

      You’re right – I did bring too many clothes, but the weather was at that awkward (for me) temp where it could be warm or chilly depending on the day, cloud cover, and wind. I confess….I overpacked. But I have historically been a terrible overpacker, so this is progress. Baby steps, right? 🙂

      I did bring about 1/2 the bras and underwear for the trip – the room was somewhat cold and it took forever for those items to dry so I wonder how long it would have taken jeans. I sink washed a tank top too and ended up hanging it on the heater rack and then taking a hair dryer to it after 3 days of air drying.

      Alas, I wish I had the body for jeggings, but I will have to opt for lighter weight pants next time in lieu of some jeans. I do love my jeans though – indestructible and comfy.

      I do have to bring a full laptop since most of my travel will be work-related, but I’m switching over to a 13″ Mac so that should lighten the load quite a bit. Other than that, I bring one cable/cord to charge my cell phone and Kindle and one for my camera because it’s not the same connection as the other two. This being my first overseas trip, I brought two voltage converters since I wasn’t sure which I would prefer.

      Again, thanks so much for stopping by and reading my blog. I’ll continue in my quest to travel light – someday, I might just get the hang of this! 🙂


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