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Why Packing For Carry-on is Not the Goal

Why Packing for Carry-on Only Is NOT the Goal

When I travel, I love to go carry-on only, but, believe it or not… going carry-on only isn’t actually my goal.

Sure, I’m already planning on traveling with no checked baggage; that’s a given.

But the problem with saying that I’m packing for carry-on only starts with the fact that carry-on can be defined in so many different ways.

What plays for one airline doesn’t always play for another. One airline might go on bag dimensions only with no stated weight restrictions, while another might only allow a mere 7kg (15 pounds) for BOTH your bag and extra personal items.

It’s a vast, Wild West type of world when it comes to carry-on rules and regulations. I’ve been boarding at airports with my tiny little bags while other people are carrying on something that is MORE than I’d bring around the world. Sure, they can. They didn’t have to deal with the same carry-on rules that I did when flying over from Australia.

carry-on luggage

With that in mind, I pose the following question:

How can we give you carry-on packing lists when the definition of carry-on is so varied across airlines?

The answer to this is simple: We can’t. At least not sure-fire, guaranteed approved carry-on packing lists. At least not without focusing on another bit of criteria, like the bit that airlines love catching us all on- the weight.

If you travel frequently, you have probably become quite proficient in cramming as much as possible in a smaller space, but cramming it all small isn’t going to mean a thing if your airline’s carry-on limit is 7kg- and you’re holding 17kg in that finely packed backpack or suitcase.

So, no, packing for carry-on only isn’t my goal; packing for a predetermined weight is.

Over the past couple of years, it has been a common need to pack for a 7kg (15 pound) weight restriction, 10kg if I’m lucky. This tends to be the general rule for many flights exiting Australia, and many budget airlines across the globe (some even allow less!). So I try my best to stick close to a 7kg goal so that I’m also not caught off-guard when trying to catch flights within another country.

The beauty about packing with a small weight goal in mind is that, by nature, your bag is just going to be small, and you’ll most likely have no issues with carry-on dimensions (if your bag is not a hard case).

Of course, every trip is different, so nothing is ever going to be catch-all- but we can do our best to try.

Do you agree that packing for weight can be ultimately more important than the general goal of carry-on?

Written by Brooke

I run the show at Her Packing List and love packing ultralight. In fact, I once traveled for 3 entire weeks with just the contents of a well-packed 12L handbag. When I'm not obsessing over luggage weight, I'm planning adventures or just snuggling with my pet rabbit, Sherlock Bunz.

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Reader Interactions


  1. LauraJane says

    This. I’ve always been more concerned over the weight of my carry-on rather than the dimensions. Each time I’ve traveled, it’s been for extended study or work so I’m essentially taking everything I own (I don’t have anyone to store it with). Even with a standard backpack, it’s easy to go over the 7kg limit when you have to take your laptop, tablet, phone, portable consoles or anything that you’re not comfortable checking.
    I know it’s been covered briefly elsewhere on this site, but I would definitely recommend checking out ScottEVest’s travel clothes. I’ve been able to cram 2kg of stuff into my SeV coat & the interior pockets are great for theft-prevention.

    • Brooke says

      Yeah thanks for the reminder. I’d love to do more with ScottEVest in the future. I used to have this awesome, light jacket with pockets at just the right places so I could disperse extras (like a book, bag of Euro coins, etc.) across so it didn’t look weird but I was actually carrying an extra 2kg+ of gear! It was great… but not really in style these days. Maybe a ScottEVest replacement is in order 🙂

  2. Jaye says

    My sister didn’t understand my laughter when she showed me her “brilliant idea” for traveling carry-on only. She had a bunch of those travel space bags; the kind that you squeeze the air out to create more space in your bag. Sure she had compressed a lot of clothing but she also added more weight than she would be allowed to carry on the plane. She’s still struggling with bag size and weight but I’m confident she’ll be struck with the insight that you don’t need so much stuff … one of these days.

    • Brooke says

      Hehe gotta love those space saver bags! Throw her bag on a scale and then see how she reacts. Or, have her carry that bag up 3+ flights of stairs. That always does it for me!

  3. Brittany says

    I would love to see more posts for packing with regards to weight! For me, trying to pack for carry on only isn’t about how much I can fit in my bag but just trying to decrease the total amount of stuff I’m traveling with. I think it would be great to read more about how to cut weight when traveling.

  4. Sammi Wanderlustin' says

    I’ve actually just written one on my blog for my trip to Iceland…. I’ve no idea what it weighs, but it’s carry on only and aimed at 4 days there. Plus you can always do laundry if you’re staying longer, right?

  5. Abby Woody says

    I love this idea. Like you state, the problem is that we just might be a little *too* good at packing a lot into a small space. And too much weight on your back isn’t just a concern for airline restrictions–it can seriously affect how much you enjoy your trip. Weight-centered packing lists seem like a great idea!

    • Brooke says

      I’m with you Abby! I’ve done enough travel to know that a big irk for me is just lugging around my luggage. I will do anything to take less these days!

  6. Jessica Lippe says

    This summer, I took two major trips in the US, both by riding Greyhound. The first was backpacking around Niagara Falls. I brought a daypack and a tiny roller suitcase (it would be considered carry-on on airlines, but I chose to check it on the bus since it was free and I could get more legroom that way). I was happy to be able to walk everywhere, but it was still tiresome to walk a couple miles with my suitcase. For the days I went to Canada, I asked to leave my suitcase at the US hostel and just walked my daypack across the border. Now THAT’s how luggage should be done!

    Later, I took a cross-country bus trip that was part vacation, part moving trip. Since I was moving and had to relocate all my belongings, I decided to max out what I could take on the bus: a pillow, a coat, a blanket, the same roller carry-on, a messenger bag, and a roller suitcase that was slightly over 50 pounds. Although I enjoyed the trip and all my stops, I was miserable whenever I had to transfer my luggage. I had to get rides from friends or take a taxi whenever I was leaving or going to the bus station. Although it was a fun, adventurous way to move across the country, all that luggage weight dragged me down!

  7. juli says

    I try and pack light but never travel with only carryon because I can’t – I wear contact lenses and use a specific brand of fluid. A 100 ml bottle would hardly last a week. But still, if you pack light and travel with a normal size backpack you can shop more at your destination without having to pay excess luggage on the way back (hello Thailand and India!) 😀

    • Jaye says

      Would contact lens solution be considered a “medically necessary liquid”? If so, you can take more than 3.4 ounces but you will have to declare what it is during screening. I would check the website (and maybe print the page to show agent if a question arises). Who knows – maybe you could go carry-on.

      • Holly says

        Ooooo…I don’t know if it qualifies but it should!!! That’s a great idea!! I just ordered tiny 1.2ml “lip gloss tubes,” the kind with the little wand inside for things like foundation and concealer, where really just a dab will do ya. So much less space and refillable!

    • Brooke says

      Yes great point – much better for people with back, leg, foot, knee, hip… well any body issue! Great angle for a post, will get on it 🙂

  8. Sarah says

    It is possible for you to do an article showing how much stuff you usually pack that’s under 7kg? I often see posts showing how much you can fit into a carry-on but I’d like to see one where is shows how much stuff you packed for the airline weight restrictions.

    • Tracey says

      Seconded. It would be great to see different options too. For example, a sub-7kg packing list for the digital nomad, one for the fashion-conscious etc. I’m always amazed at how much my clothes always weigh. 7kg can be pretty tough to stick to, especially if you want to take along a laptop.

  9. Elizabeth says

    I think adding a bag weight to the end of a carry on packing list post would be great. In fact, it would be a great thing to add to any post.

    However, in my experience, very few airlines ever check your carry on weight if your bag looks small enough. In the last 5 years (including an ongoing RTW trip, yes including Australia) and dozens of cabin baggage only flights (and flights where I’ve been testing their limits, e.g. moving country), I’ve been checked 2-3 times – by Peach at Kansai (Osaka), by Philippines Airlines going from Hong Kong to Manilla and possibly once on Ryan Air. At Kansai, they were checking everyone on the way into security (Peach are the only airline in that terminal so they can – Easy Jet used to have this set up at Luton). Philippines did it at check in – if we’d checked in online, we wouldn’t have been weighed.

    Each time, I just walked out of site, put on another layer of clothes, filled my pockets (take your laptop and liquids bags out, they’re often the heaviest), showed I’d lightened the bag by a couple of kilos, and was waved through, still technically over weight. I noticed they never weighed my ‘personal item’, so that’s another sneaky space, too!

  10. Carole says

    On a recent trip, my friend and I had both our carry on and handbag weighed. Mine was ok (just!) but hers was overweight. Fortunately they let her through anyway!

  11. Henrie says

    When you travel South East Asia (Bali, Thailand, Philippines, Hong Kong, Vietnams…), foreigners in particular is singled out for random bag weight test. The good news is they will allow up to 8kg, although the policy is 7kg for most airlines.

    The reality is that 10kg, would have been the ideal weight limit for care-free packing. As consumers we are powerless because there is no international advocacy group representing the consumer when these arbitrary rules are determined.

    The overhead does have dimensional limits, so the airlines are right to restrict that. However, from a weight perspective the bins can take up to 35kg per bag of the dimensional limit. Now, it would be ridiculous to have a 35kg bag, but a 10kg can be easily lifted overhead. Although unconfirmed test conducted by the airlines indicates that an untrained adult can lift only up to 7kg above their heads easily. Maybe they need to train the cabin staff for upper body strength.

  12. Suzanne says

    When reading through many of these post & seeing some of the pictures, I notice a lot of you are smaller than a size 12. Though I’m working on losing more weight (travel being a main incentive) my clothes still take up more space then some of you, so I’m not able to pack as much variety as most of you. There needs to be a post for different weight people. Just a thought.

  13. Emily Janssens says

    I always pack light clothes and wear the heavier pieces(such as jeans) on my person. That way I can most often stay under the 7kg limit.

    I carry 4 tops, 2 bottoms, 1 cardigan, 4 pair of socks, 7 underwear, 2 bra, 1 towel, swimming gear, (toiletry bag with shampoo bar and soap bar, toothpaste and toothbrush, contact lenses stuff and case with glasses and no handle brush with in build mirror). Then a pair of flats and rubber flip flops. (also a TSA approved lock and padlock)
    On longer trips I add a pack of cards, LED headlamp, clothes line, sink stopper and some laundry powder and my running shoes.

    Then I carry a personal item (though on airlines that limit carry on and only allow a personal item I shove it in my backpack) that includes a baseball cap or beanie, sunglasses, deodorant, lip balm, notebook and pen, headphones and mp3 player, universal adapter with usb cables, battery pack and small first aid kit.

    I wear on my person my sneakers or boots, jeans, top and oversized sweater, travel wrap style scarf, and sometimes a shell jacket if I’m travelling to colder regions.

  14. Sonia Schweis says

    99% posts I read are size wise. Hradly anything showing how to keep total weight under 7kg

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