Why Solo Female Travelers Should Travel Carry-On Only

solo female travelers should travel carry-on only

When I was 28, I took my first solo trip. I spent a week and a half in Greece by myself because I was sick of waiting around for a friend or a boyfriend to travel with me. While I was planning my trip, I decided taking only carry-on luggage was the way to go. I thought it would be one less thing to worry about while I tested out solo travel.

It turned out to be one of the best decisions I made. Here’s why I think solo female travelers should go carry-on only.

It makes you less of a target

Hopefully you won’t ever have to deal with being mugged or pickpocketed while you’re traveling, but the possibility does exist. You will stand out more and be more of a target if you’re dragging a huge, heavy suitcase behind you. Dealing with all that luggage can distract you, and you might miss the red flags of a potentially bad situation. Reduce your luggage and reduce your chances of becoming a victim of theft.

>>Read more about safety tips that are worth the splurge.

It’s easier to deal with bathrooms

When you have a travel partner, one person can watch the luggage while the other goes to the bathroom. But you can’t do that when you’re traveling alone. You’ll have to bring your luggage into the stall with you, and those stalls are usually cramped enough without dragging a giant suitcase in there. By traveling carry-on only, you and your backpack will have a little more breathing room in the bathroom stall.

Your luggage will fit easier into lockers

Staying in hostels is a great way to meet other travelers when you’re solo. I recommend giving the dorms a try for this reason. But sometimes the lockers are small, and having less stuff means you won’t have to worry about fitting it all in. Having a large suitcase that doesn’t fit in the lockers will leave you constantly nervous about your belongings while out exploring.

It’s easier to manage without help

It’s always important to be able to manage your own luggage, but even more so when you’re traveling by yourself. Having to depend on someone else to lift your suitcase leaves you vulnerable, so you’re better off with a smaller bag. You’ll meet lots of friendly people as you travel, but you shouldn’t have to rely on strangers to help you with your luggage. Traveling alone can make you feel nervous, especially if you’re new at solo travel, and juggling too many bags will add to that.

>>Her Packing List has tons of helpful reviews on carry-on sized backpacks for women.

Why Solo Female Travelers Should Go Carry-On Only
Solo travel and traveling carry-on only are great for boosting confidence.

It’ll give you more confidence

In general, solo travel is an amazing way to build confidence. It shows you that you can do so much more than you thought you could. Traveling carry-on only when you’re by yourself adds to that confidence even more. Suddenly you realize you can get by with fewer things, and you can rely completely on yourself without a bunch of unnecessary back-up items. And I’ll admit, it’s kind of awesome when people say to you, “That’s all you’re traveling with?”

You’ll enjoy the moment

There’s a freedom that comes with having less stuff. You can really be in the moment and enjoy the experience of travel without worrying about heavy luggage. You’ll have fewer decisions about what to wear, so you can get out the door faster and explore the city. It doesn’t matter if you’re wearing a different outfit in every picture, or if your hair and makeup are perfect. You’re there to see the sights and taste the food, and you don’t need tons of luggage to do that.

Traveling by yourself comes with many rewards but also a few stresses. Don’t let luggage be one of the things that causes you anxiety while you’re exploring new places on your own.

Are you a solo female traveler who travels carry-on only?

solo traveler carry-on luggage

Written by Ali

Ali Garland is a freelance writer, blogger, and travel addict who made it to all 7 continents before her 30th birthday. She enjoys travel planning, encouraging others to see the world, and packing carry-on only. She and her husband are expats living in Berlin. You can find Ali at Ali's Adventures and Travel Made Simple.

Add your voice & leave a comment!

Gear We Use

Organization

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.


Clothing

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.


Accommodation

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

Comments

  1. LJ says

    Oh being able to manage your own luggage is insanely important.
    Example 1: Was in Germany & had to transfer trains. Escalator was broken so had to lug suitcase & carry on up stairs. Someone was nice enough to help me but would’ve been great if it wasn’t necessary
    Example 2: In China, checked into hostel, found out my room was on the top floor & no elevator. Lugged suitcase up & down. Checked into student accommodation. Again, my dorm was on the top (-_-*)
    I got real sick of that suitcase at the end of my trips!

    • Brooke says

      YES – those experiences will definitely make you hate your suitcase! How have those experiences influenced how you pack now (or will for future trips)?

  2. Kiley says

    I’ve always travelled carry on but after being inspired by Brooke, I’ve recently traveled to 1 different countries with only a 13L backpack and a small canvas bag for odds and ends. It feels more secure that everything is on me at all times, and the size is perfect so that I don’t stick out too much and become a target for thieves. The only place where I may bring a larger backpack/roll on suitcase would be Japan and that’s because of all the souvenirs I’d buy. Even then I’d pick a size that would fit into a locker that’s available at the train stations.

  3. Jolene says

    After going on a few domestic trips carry on only, I’m a big believer. I was trying to do that for study abroad but unfortunately bringing winter clothes and boots made it so I had to get a 24 inch suitcase instead of a 21 inch to fit my stuff. But one 24 inch suitcase and a backpack is fairly light for a semesters worth of stuff!

  4. Jennifer Chan says

    I’ll be moving abroad soon and I’ll be flying alone with only a backpack. I’m packing everything from liquids (e.g., toothpaste, face creams, etc.) to powder makeup to painkiller into a single, clear 1 quart bag. The items I’m packing are things I might need for the flight as it would last for 20hrs+. My question is — do they allow you to pack everything into a single bag? Liquids and non-liquids? Thanks!

    • Brooke says

      I’ve done it like this before and it hasn’t been a problem, but you can never be sure. I’d keep a spare ziplock bag with you in case they ask you to separate the items. Otherwise, you can simply remove the non-liquids and put in your main bag. I think as long as what you put on the scanner is no bigger than a 1 quart bag, no one will care.

      • Jennifer says

        Thanks for replying!

        Another question I have is what kind of wallet do you use when traveling internationally? I need something that can hold my passport, ID, debit and credit card, checkbook, money, boarding passes, and possibly custom forms. I tried looking on Amazon but I’m kind of overwhelmed by the options. Do you have any recommendations? I don’t need something that is super fancy as I won’t be needing it as soon as I land. Thanks!

        • Brooke says

          I personally don’t use one, but if you do, you could look for one with RFID protection. Besides that, whatever looks appealing to you. You’ll want a longer one if you plan to use it to hold your boarding passes.

  5. Justine says

    Hi Jennifer, never put money, cards and documents in one wallet. It’s a bad idea, if you travel with hand luggage only it’s better to have a small purse for coins and notes plus one card. Another small one for other cards. And the documents separately in different parts of your backpack or suitcase.

    Hi Brooke,
    I always travel with hand luggage when I’m traveling for such a short time as 1-2 weeks. One does not need much stuff to enjoy holidays. The problem is when you want to go for one month but I need to try it once,
    I went to South America for 4 months with 8kg in my big backpack. I’m sure I could challenge myself and make a hand luggage out of that.
    Cheers

  6. Kay says

    I’m studying abroad in France this summer for about a month and have decided to only take a carry-on and personal item. I’m generally pretty minimalistic, but people keep looking at me like I’m crazy when I tell them I don’t plan to check any bags… I’m terrified of losing my luggage and I only weigh 100 pounds! Checking sounds like a nightmare. This article gave me reassurance that I am not the crazy one. Thank you!

    • Ali says

      No, you’re not crazy! Sounds like a great plan to me. It’s not like you can pack enough clothes for an entire study abroad trip anyway, you’ll have to do laundry, and if you plan on doing laundry once a week, you’ll be fine. Plus, you might want to buy a few things in France!

  7. chanteuse says

    Carry on size and weight limit is great at keeping the perspective as a solo female traveler. If I can’t lift my bag into the overhead bin, I bring too much with me.

    Other than the far flung places where there’s NO shop at all, one thing I enjoy very much is to check out charity and 2nd hand shops at my destinations. I love to see what people had bought and then discarded. I often buy a few items, wash them and wear them. As a result, I don’t bring my everyday clothing items but items I can leave behind. The loot I bought often act as souvenir to remember a place by.

    I still remember the nice fur coats (for less than 50 euros each) I saw at a 2nd hand clothing shop in Venice Italy 2 years ago when I was there for a week. As much as I’d love to take one back, I had no room in my luggage and no reason to wear it at home when daily temp average all year round is between 60F to 70F degrees.

  8. Kelly says

    When my brothers decided to treat me to a 10 day trip to Dublin and London to attend a World Science Fiction Convention, I turned to my well traveled friend and asked her to help me avoid being the ugly american. I had never travelled internationally. She travels alone all over the world. When I took off, brand new passport in hand, I had only one soft carry-on bag (I bought a soft convertible carry-on with backpack straps from the Rick Steves site) and a personal bag (PacSafe Citysafe 400 GII). Between those I had everything I needed, including a fun costume for the convention. I learned that everything had its place, small ziplock bags are great for organizing things and packing squares are wonderful. I loved being able to handle everything myself without help (I’m quite petite). One of my favorite pics is of my brothers, both loaded down with suitcase sets and overstuffed backpacks, and I with only my convertible bag and hobo bag, waiting at a bus stop to go to our hotel. I was also proud that I never asked either brother to “just stuff this in your bag for me”. Downsizing and smart packing won me over!. My next adventure is a 3 week trip in August through Stockholm, Helsinki and St. Petersburg. I plan on doing it all carry-on too.

  9. Kay says

    I’ve been to Australia for a month at a time, traveled with just a carry on each time. I will never check luggage again. I do recommend a RFID wallet or purse. Best way to travel โ˜บ

  10. Sister Christina says

    This post reminded me of how I felt when traveling solo in Spain last summer! I had not discovered the magic of carry on only travels! I had a checked bag and a carry on suitcase AND my hand bag. For most of the trip I was going to be staying at a friend’s place, so it was okay to leave the stuff there, safely and just head into the city with a handbag. I also stayed at convents which house pilgrims in private rooms, so no need for locks! I thought I was doing great!!
    But then I had a difficult time getting TO places with two bags and needing help loading the checked bag into a taxi ! The worst part was on my return trip (even after discarding many items back at my friend’s place) I took the high speed train to cross the country and I was in the train station for several hours waiting for my next train. Well it was quite difficult to go into the restroom (that I had to pay to enter) and fit all my luggage by myself. I was always worried about my items! Even trying to buy lunch was such a hassle because I had to tote around both suitcases AND try to carry my food. I needed more arms!! Haha
    Then when I was boarding the train, they had signs that said each passenger was limited to ONE suitcase. I didn’t know what to do as these were both bags I needed!! Thankfully I was able to board with both, but then I had to find space to stow the bag and only the top shelf was available! So I had to lift the heavy bag up there and I did it on my own but was just thinking there’s got to be a better way!!
    Finally, my return flight was moved up by TWO HOURS so I had taken the one morning bus from Avila to Madrid and had to RUSH to check in on time and check my bag. Wellllllllll one of those luggage scales would have come in handy prior to meticulously packing up my checked bag. It was OVER the weight limit!!! Praise God that the attendant was so kind because I embarrassingly opened my bag at the counter and removed several items and over stuffed my hand bag (since my carry on suitcase was also full) and the big bag was still too heavy. He was kind enough to let it go through without charging me extra!!
    When I arrived at home, my checked bag did NOT. So I had to come back to the airport later for it.

    Needless to say, on my next trip I have vowed to pack carry on only! Even though this one is a group pilgrimage so I won’t be going solo… one, I am an “experienced traveler” so I want to show it haha and two, I am done with all of the embarrassment of too many bags!!
    Yes I am proud of the experience because I was able to overcome… and it also has given me the confidence to know what not to do which is encouraging me now as I am preparing for this pilgrimage. Btw this is a 12 day trip and people are STILL looking at me crazy for doing carry on only! Haha that’s why I keep coming to YOU this wonderful HPL community. Thanks!!

    • Brooke says

      Oh Sister Christina! Your story is exactly why we promote packing light ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m sorry you had so much drama with your luggage, but with that experience you’ll better be able to avoid overpacking in the future… you’ll remember how annoying it was and stick to one carry-on bag. Best of luck!

  11. Kat says

    I have taken the plane back and forth from Las Vegas NV to Fresno CA for about 4 years. At first I would pay extra to check a bag and I would also have a carry on and a purse. I would have to lift the lugguge overhead with great difficulty at times. I hated that. A lightbulb went off in my head. Why did I need so much. I never wore most of what I packed anyway.. I now take my backpack and I am so much happier for it. Its so simple. Why do we make things so hard for ourselves. Thank you all for sharing.
    Kat.

    • Brooke says

      Exactly – a lot of stuff generally goes unused so why burden ourselves? Happy to hear the packing lighter method is working for you! ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. Tonje Juvik says

    Iยดve always loved traveling, but didn’t have mye first solo trip, and trip outside Europe until last year. I got my backpack and set off to Costa Rica (From Norway). After working in a clothes shop for women and owning way too much clothes, its easy to see that i struggled hard choosing what to bring.

    I managed my backpack all the way, but it was a heavy struggle from time to time. Especially when going to the bathroom. And I met this awesome person from Mexico inly traveling with max 8 kg in a carry on, and I found so much inspiration in that.

    Now am I sitting in Iceland. Moved here for the summer (4,5 months) and I only brought a carry on. I have definitely learned a lot, and also what clothes I need, and which ones I dont. I am also planning a trip to California and 4 months in South America this year. With only a carry on then. Thats how I came over this awesome post! And any tips are welcomed!

  13. Lynda says

    Thank you Brooke for giving me the inspiration and confidence I need to go light! I’m 66, very petite and not very strong. I’m going to Italy (traveling solo from North to South) from Australia next May and will go with cabin luggage only. Your site is a great source of information – thank you very much for sharing!

  14. wryly says

    I haven’t travelled overseas in years. The last time I went with my sister – we each had a large suitcase and a carry-on. What a hassle! We took the train from Paris to Amsterdam. The trip was great. Juggling the luggage? Not so much. I was going to take a roll-along carry-on but then saw some posts about travelling with just a good sized backpack and decided I was going to try it.
    I’m going to London for 10 days. I bought a 40L backpack ($15). I was hoping it would be big enough but after reading several posts on this site – I’m thinking it is too big! Have to purchase packing cubes yet.
    So far I’ve decided on some dress pants (for the theatre, dinner), 1 short sleeve & 1 long sleeve base layer, 5 pairs of socks, bras & underwear, 2 jeans, and long sleeve shirt/blouse, a couple t-shirts, boxers (for sleeping in). And a pillowcase. Extra pair of shoes, flip flops for showers -and maybe a towel. Lock for locker at the hostel. A packable winter coat. Not sure about the head lamp – might just use the flashlight on my phone.
    And a smaller bag that I’ll use as a purse. It is big enough to hold my iPad, wallet, sunglasses, etc.
    Depending on how much souvenirs and/or clothes I buy I might buy a suitcase to check on the return flight. Or I just might leave some of my old clothes in a charity shop and pack the gifts in my backpack.

    • Brooke says

      Sounds like you have a great list and packing goal in mind! Well done! Remember to not overpack just because you can. Do you need a winter hat and scarf? And if there’s anything you want to pack a few more of of, underwear is not a bad one for that. Good luck ๐Ÿ™‚

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