Why (and How) I Went Carry-on Only for a Year of Travel

Kristin and her luggage.

This packing inspiration has been brought to you by Kristin Addis.

“Where’s the rest of your luggage?” the taxi hawker asks me.

“This is it,” I reply.

Perfect, I can take a motorbike taxi instead of a car. This cut the cost of getting to my guesthouse in half. Not to mention, I didn’t have to check my bag on the flight I just took – savings of another $25 or so.

For the past 9 months, I have traveled all over Southeast Asia with nothing more than a 35-liter backpack, ensuring that I never have to check my bag, am less burdened by it when looking around at guest house options, and usually can keep it with me in the bus cabin instead of having to stow it in the luggage compartment, which helps with peace of mind.

>> Search for your own 35-liter backpack here.

I know what you’re thinking. This probably means that I don’t pack much clothing and must not have many electronics with me. Surprisingly, I still travel with about 8 different outfits, 4 cameras, a computer, and two pairs of shoes. I still have lotion, conditioner, some makeup, and a year’s supply of razors and deodorant from home (the good stuff is not so easy to come by in Southeast Asia).

How is it possible?

It’s all in the arranging, my dah-ling.

The backpack
Front-loading backpack.

First thing’s first, a front-load backpack

Rather than a top load, it makes packing quite a bit easier. I obtained mine at REI, where the helpful saleswoman helped me try different brands with weight in them, just to make sure I chose wisely.

Second, packing cubes

…have been hugely helpful. A lot of space can get taken up by clumsily folded clothing. Though it’s always a squeeze, I roll everything and stack it side-by-side in my packing cube, creating space and keeping everything organized in the dirty and clean compartments.

packing cube and toiletries
Packing cube on the left, toiletries bag on the right.

Third, toiletries

…seem to take a lot of space. Smaller containers are essential for carry-on regulations, as well as keeping weight and space down. Squeeze shampoo from home into the smaller tubes and refill on the road. Most places I’ve seen in Southeast Asia sell travel-sized shampoos and conditioners. Pantene does exist here, so there’s no need to bring a year’s worth from home. Leave the straighteners and hair dryers at home unless you want to blow a fuse and add unnecessary weight. Embrace your hair’s natural state and life will be that much easier.

Lastly, electronics

…usually accompany me in my smaller shoulder bag. For the cords, I tend to roll them up and stuff them into my running shoes so that they are protected, and so that I have a little extra space.

Separating everything into these compartments helps quite a bit, and ensures that everything is organized and easy to reassemble and pack.

*Travel like this is made possible by always being in a warm climate, like that of Southeast Asia. My clothing is smaller and easier to compress. I was helped out a few times by people who had jackets when I was in colder places, as traveling with a smaller pack means I don’t have space for such items. There are certain luxuries I do without, but it is worth it for the savings in money and my back.

* * * * *

kristin addisAbout the author: Kristin Addis is the Chief Blogette at Be My Travel Muse – a website geared towards independent women travellers who like to head off the beaten path in Asia and Australia. She is a former investment banker and now travels and shares her budget plans around the world, exploring off-beat destinations. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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Gear We Use


Packing Cubes – Organize your luggage with the lightweight, durable and compressible Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Compression Cubes.

Backpacks + Daypacks

Pacsafe – Since they come with extra theft-resisting features, Pacsafe bags make you a more confident traveler. We especially love this bag.

Sea to Summit – Of all the Sea to Summit products, our most recommended is the fits-in-your-palm, super packable Ultra-Sil Daypack.

Personal Care

Nalgene Toiletry Bottles – These leak-free toiletry bottles and tubs come in all sizes – even super tiny, helping minimalists pack it all without bulk.

Turkish Towels – They’re thinner than most travel towels, and they actually cover your body! We can’t get enough of Turkish towels for travel.


Speakeasy Supply Co. – They make the awesome hidden pocket infinity scarves that are perfect for stashing secret cash, lip balms, and passports.

Anatomie – Anatomie travel pants come with luxury prices, but they offer many benefits for travelers. See our review of the famous Skyler pants.

Travel Resources

Booking Airfare

Dollar Flight Club – Get flight deal alerts for your preferred departure airport. There is both a free and premium version (recommended for more sweet deals). Members save on average $500 USD per flight!

Skyscanner – Skyscanner is our preferred site for searching flights. They offer unbiased search results and are free from hidden fees. You can also book your hotels and rental cars.


Airbnb – Airbnb is the best place to book out apartments around the world. Sign up using this link to get $37 USD off your first stay booking + $14 USD towards an experience booking!

Booking.com – Search for hotels, hostels, and apartments using this one resource. Use it for flights, car rentals, and airport taxis as well.

Hostelworld – For hostels, Hostelworld remains our number one source for booking stays. Choose from straight up hostels, budget hotels and bed and breakfasts.

Trusted Housesitters – Save money on travel accommodation by becoming a housesitter. Housesitters often have extra duties, like caring for pets and gardens.

Reader Interactions


  1. Georgie says

    Hey, This is cool! Travelling in cubes, good idea!. Just thought i would add to this. Lush do convenient travel shampoo and conditioners in a bar! And they are equivalent to 3 shampoo bottles they last really well. Perfect for travel.

  2. Alyssa says

    Wow – I am very impressed. I mean, not only does this take skill, it takes some serious courage. I would feel so naked leaving so many things behind!

    Yours in Travel,


  3. Tine says

    nice post! I’ve done the same on my Asia trip, left my big bag in luggage storage in Bangkok and only took a day bag.
    My number 1 advice to friends who go traveling is to pack, unpack and leave half of it at home 🙂
    Good luck on further travels


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