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How We Traveled for Almost a Year With Only a Carry-On

Narrative Insider Guides Airports + Flying
by Harbor & Hill Mar 9, 2018

When we started planning for our nine-month trip, we knew we had to pack light. So we did everything we could to keep our bags as lean as possible. In the end, all we brought with us was one carry on each and a small backpack. This was no easy feat, considering we visited countries with completely different climates — Japan in the winter, for example, followed by time in boiling-hot Bangkok.

A lot of people were surprised to hear how little we had with us. The funny thing is, what we thought was “light” when we first started our trip completely transformed as time went on. As we traveled, we realized we needed less and less and learned how to make sure most of what we had packed would do some multitasking for us. We wanted to share what we learned about traveling light. If you’re looking to travel with less on your next trip, here are a few ways to travel light with just a carry-on, even if it isn’t a nine-month world-tour!

1. Use a carry-on suitcase instead of a backpack.

We did the backpacker thing in the past, lugging massive backpacks around multiple cities. We thought we were packing smart, but our backs didn’t. It just wasn’t practical to lug all of our heavy junk around with us as we walked from airport to bus, bus to another bus, and then to our hotel. So after putting together a pro and con list (we actually did this), we decided to go with a carry-on suitcase with wheels — and we’re so grateful we did.

We traveled around Japan, Southeast Asia, Dubai, and Europe, and we found that the majority of the time you can roll your suitcase. Yes, it can be a pain going up and down stairs and rolling along cobblestones, but those situations are rare. The other 90% of the time having a rolling suitcase made travel days so much easier. Also, limiting yourself to a carry-on suitcase really forces you to pack smart, cutting out the excess junk from your bags. Most things can be bought locally, so we found ourselves tossing those “just in case” items as we traveled. Each of us used a different suitcase and the clear winner was the MEC Rolling Duffle. It was just the right size, had a soft and hard side to it and a steady and comfortable handle.

2. Get a 2-in-1 computer.

Though they took up a lot of space, we brought our laptops with us to make sure we could keep on top of our work. We upgraded to a Latitude 5285 2-in-1 recently, however, and found it’s a real game-changer for traveling. It’s a 2-in-1 computer with a detachable keyboard optimized for business. This lets us use it as both as a fully-functional PC for getting all our work done, while easily converting to a tablet for relaxing. We’ve found the tablet mode is especially great for days in transit since you can download Netflix shows and movies, as well as magazines, when in tablet mode (we couldn’t do this on our old laptops — first world problems!). It’s also very lightweight and slim, so it’s easy to pack and carry.

3. Use packing cubes.

These things are the best. They’re inexpensive, and make packing and unpacking a breeze. We use each cube like a drawer in a dresser. That way, it’s easy to know where to find something quickly without having to rifle through a lot of stuff, keeping you organized.

4. Wear lots of layers.

A great way to save space when you’re traveling is to layer your clothes and pack what you already wear. We ditched the chunky sweaters and brought lots of thin layers that worked in both warm and cold climates. That way, when it was cold we simply threw on more of our clothes. For our trip, we packed for about one week with extra socks and underwear.

Style-wise, we found simple clothes are better than flashy since you’ll end up wearing the same thing at least once a week. Also, be careful not to fall victim to buying “travel clothes.” Be honest with yourself — if you care about style, you won’t suddenly want to wear those “sensible” travel sandals, no matter how comfortable they are.

5. Get Google Maps offline.

This one may be obvious, but it’s so helpful we needed to mention it anyway. Downloading maps for the cities you’re visiting is especially helpful when you don’t have a SIM card in that particular country or are trying to save on data. We made sure to save all the spots we wanted to visit directly on the map as well so that we didn’t miss anything while we were in the area.

Maps can also save a lot of space in your bags — we found ourselves using travel guides less and less as we got used to planning online and saving destinations on maps offline (also, we found the internet has much better restaurant recommendations than the “local” spots touted in guidebooks).

6. Bring a portable charger.

We forgot this at first, but having a portable charger is invaluable, especially on those days when you’re wandering around from morning ’til night, or when you have a long train/bus ride.

7. Use an eyemask and earplugs.

These are key for light sleepers. We decided this was an absolute necessity after our nightmarish 9-hour overnight bus in Laos. Our driver blasted local music the entire ride. He was clearly using it to stay awake, but he kept us awake the whole time too. It can be tough to sleep in some big cities and a lot of hotels/hostels have thin walls. They’re also vital for sleeping on planes, buses, and trains.

8. Bring an e-reader.

We used to travel back and forth to Thailand a lot and would take four or five books to make sure we had enough to read on the beach. So grateful those days are gone! Having hundreds or even thousands of books available to you is great, especially when you’re traveling between destinations for months on end. We use Kindle and are big fans of the white light edition for reading when one of us is already asleep.

This article was originally published on Harbor & Hill and is reposted here with permission. NOTE: Dell provided the authors with a computer and compensation for their honest thoughts on the product.

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