Apr 13, 2014

How We Managed To Fly With Carry On Bags Only

We’re off again on another trip to SEA, this time for 17 nights.  While we have always travelled fairly light on our past smaller trips, we still used to check 1 bag at 15kg and then carry on a day bag each plus a handbag/camera bag.  As we tend to take budget carriers, checked bags also have an extra charge.  But on our last trip that we realised that the weight of our 1 checked bag could possibly be redistributed to 2 carry on bags and that our carry on bags could be more efficiently packed.  So for this trip, we challenged ourselves to fly with carry-on baggage only!  Still, could we achieve the limit of 1 carry on each not exceeding 56cm x 36cm and at a maximum weight of 7kg, plus a handbag or laptop bag?  How did we do?

Firstly it required careful, thoughtful and minimalist packing.  Luckily, except for 2 days in the city, the rest of our time is to be a beach holiday so not much clothing is required.  This is our packing list:

*Each of us has approx. 3 outfits, including the one we are wearing:  Jess: t-shirts x2, shorts x 1, pants x1, leggings x1, skirt x1, beach dress x1, singlets x2, underwearx3, jumper x1;  Maddy & Yas: dresses x2, shorts x1, tshirt x1, underwearx3, jumper x 1; Jim: shortsx2, tshirts x3, underwearx3
*We have 2 pairs of footwear each, except Jim who went with only what was on his feet. 
*We also had 2 sets of swim suits each (except Mom has 3) and a rash vest each for the kids.
*Snorkels x 2, Swim Goggles x3, inflatable beach ball
*Sarongs x 5
*Rain jackets x3
*Sun hats x4
*Sunscreen, insect repellent, shampoo/liquid soap, coconut oil, face wash, (all less than 100ml each due to carry on requirements)
*Antiseptic spray, bandaids, paracetamol,
*Travel washing line
*Laptop & charger, iPad, iPod, iPhone x2, chargers, adaptors
*Camera & charger
*Portable hard drive, card reader

And this is what our packing list looks like!

TIP:  The clear thick PVC bags that sometimes children’s pyjamas or clothing come packaged in make for handy cheap ‘packing cubes’. I’ve used one for each kid’s things, and a zip lock bag for my own.  Plastic bags will also suffice.

Secondly, traveling without checked baggage required thoughtful consideration of the type of bags that we were going to use.  The bags needed to be able to fit the volume of our packing list, weigh no more than 7kg each once packed yet be limited to the physical maximum dimensions set by the airline for a carry on bag (in this case, it is 56cm x 36cm x 23cm).  Normally the girls each have a small 12L day bag each which is filled with ‘their stuff’ such as craft materials, pencils, felt tipped pens, notebooks, and in Yasmine’s case, 2 teddy bears.  But on our last trip, we realised that this was a very inefficient use of the carry on luggage allowance as each of their bags amounted to only about half of their allowable amount.  So this time, we brought another light shopping bag in which to put their 2 bags in (for check in and boarding purposes), thus ending up with only 1 carry on between them at 7kg.  We also had 2 small bags that had handles and wheels and housed most of our other contents. Both of these ended up with a final weight of 7kg each too.  In addition, Jim had a day bag containing food and snacks while I had my ‘handbag’/camera bag (both less than 7kg).  So in the end, we actually have ‘weight to spare’.

This is what we are carrying on

So our packing preparations for this trip proved our theory correct.  We had no checked bags and carry-on bags only!  We also saved a bundle of money by not having to pay for checked bags as we have 6 flights all with no checked bag allowance on this trip. But most of all, let me tell you how great it felt to be so ‘light and easy’.  From getting in and out of the airport parking shuttle, to walking through the departure terminal, and finally to getting around at our destination—it was so nice not to be weighed down by even 1 heavy main bag. Why didn’t we do this sooner!!!

Light and easy


  1. Hello!
    I've discovered your blog during my research for our next holiday. Curious about your carry on only baggage... Would you or have you done so for a longer trip? We'll be heading to somewherein SE Asia (destination/s undecided yet!) for 5-8 weeks with 3 children - aged 6, 4 & almost 2. Less baggage would make things a bit easier to manage but I'm not sure if we're being unrealistic! I'm enjoying reading about your trips - all very helpful, thanks!

    1. hi Jackie
      Thanks for your comment!

      We loved the freedom and efficiency of traveling with carry-on only but it isn't for everyone nor practical for every trip. The biggest consideration would probably be how many different climates you would travel to. As you've mentioned you hope to go to SEA, you are lucky as you really don't need much in terms of clothing in any of the areas there, unless you also plan to do a higher-altitude destination such as Pai (Thailand) or Dalat (Vietnam) on the same trip.

      However, in our experience, moving in and out of airports and onto planes with kids and carry on can be a challenging experience. For instance, usually you do not have access to any luggage trolley's once you have gone through security and ditto after you land. Often there are great distances from the security screening area to your gate too. The kids, particularly your 4yr, might get tired from carrying his/her bag for that way, along with walking the distance. You likely will be carrying your 2yr old too.

      so based on the ages of your kids, we'd probably say to focus on checking in only 1 bag for all of you, then have a reasonable sized/weigh day bag for Mom and Dad and small day bags for your 2 older ones containing things to keep them occupied like paper, crayons, book, etc. You 2 younger kids also won't be physically able to carry too much weight in their bags anyway, and if they did, you'd likely be stuck carrying it at some point. (Ditto if they had rolling bags--the novelty of them soon wear off and you'd be stuck with them too.) Too many smaller bags isn't a good idea as it's too hard to keep track of. Also, i think you might not want to carry such a heavy day bag ( ie in lieu of a checked bag) if you also have to carry your youngest child.

      Hope this helps. We've noticed that our traveling style is always evolving as the kids physically grow and are able to handle more :)

    2. Also, laundry service in SEA is generally cheap so that's another reason not to bring too much!

  2. Having travelled (admittedly in Europe) with m two since the youngest was 11 months old, I found that a collapsable buggy/ pushchair/ stroller was invaluable - both children could sit in it at a push, bags could be suspended from handles, it keeps younger child in one place, makes them easier and faster to transport, they can have a nap in it when in restaurants etc. The last time we took it, the youngest was four, and we still found it useful. Most airlines will let you take it through security and only hand it over as you board. This means that you also collect your buggy as you get off the plane, and don't have to carry children and hand baggage all the way to baggage reclaim.