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Travel light and love it with these proven carry-on luggage tips

Packing for a holiday can be a laborious task; never knowing if you have enough or too much and trying to find the right clothing combinations to suit any occasion in addition to ancillary items.  It would be crazy to think that there are people that can comfortably pack all that they need into a carry-on suitcase and jet off on an international holiday for a few weeks –  or is it?

CTM’s Global Content Specialist, Tanya Rose spent her Christmas and New Year with her husband galavanting around Europe. When we heard she was travelling with only 7kgs of carry-on luggage for 3.5 weeks in the midst of a European winter, we couldn’t believe it and wanted to find out why and how. We sat down with Tanya to learn her tricks for travelling carry-on only.

CTM's Global Content Specialist, Tan Rose and her husband exploring a snowy landscape in Europe

What was the general reaction to you taking only carry-on luggage?

When I mentioned we were travelling from Australia to Europe over Christmas with only 7kg of carry-on luggage and a backpack each, the general response was “How can you possibly do that? You know it’s cold in Europe, how are you going to fit all your warm clothes in?”

It might sound crazy, but when you put logic into your packing, it is quite easy and makes for hassle-free travel.

I will make a disclaimer though and say travelling carry-on only would not be for everyone, but for those that are up for the challenge or rather the freedom of a seamless travel experience, I recommend it.

Why did you choose to travel internationally with carry-on only?

With both of us working in the travel industry, we were aware of some of the challenges airports and airlines are still facing with limited resourcing thanks to the undesired legacy of the pandemic. Unfortunately, for some travellers this has meant their luggage has occasionally taken a scenic route to their end destination.

To avoid luggage mishaps, we decided early on in our planning we wanted to try and travel with just carry-on luggage, so we would not need to worry whether our luggage would go missing. The other reason is that our trip involved a lot of train travel between Munich, Salzburg, Vienna, and Prague, and having only carry-on luggage would be much easier to contend with rather than lugging overflowing 20kg suitcases on and off of trains. Another reason was dragging heavy suitcases around snow and ice-covered streets to get to accommodation is not our idea of a good time. The last reason for carry-on is that we knew travelling to a cold climate would mean all our holiday photos would be us in the same jacket and beanie, so who was going to know what we were wearing underneath?

What difference did travelling with carry-on make to your travel experience and why?

We knew it would make things easier as you were not lugging around a heavy big suitcase, but what we didn’t realise was just how easy and seamless the whole experience would be, especially when it came to airports and travelling by train around Europe.

Our check-in experience at Brisbane airport was second to none. We arrived and used the self-service kiosk and printed a boarding pass and off we went, while everyone else was queuing to check bags in. When we arrived at security we were ahead of the pack and the only ones clearing Customs – unheard of. I would estimate the total process took less than 15 minutes.

Arriving at Munich, we simply got off the plane and walked straight out of the airport; no waiting at luggage carousels for lengthy periods with hundreds of other travellers. We purchased our train ticket and made our way to our accommodation.

As for train travel between countries, having luggage that was easy to lift on and off the trains and fitted comfortably in the narrow luggage racks was bliss. Witnessing fellow travellers battle their hefty bags in full trains was a timely confirmation that our decision to travel carry-on was the right choice.

Carry-on luggage fits comfortably in narrow luggage racks

In fact, on our train from Prague back to Munich; believe it or not, we were seated alongside two CTM customers and their wives who were both travelling with a lot of luggage. It is such a small world.  We helped them play ‘suitcase Tetris’ to ensure they could fit everything into the carriage. Even when on holidays, CTM staff are still providing personalised service!

The other difference it made for us was limiting what we purchased during the trip. It made us focus more on enjoying our travel experiences and making memories.

There are many different brands and styles of carry-on luggage. What was your method in selecting the right one?

Not all carry-on luggage is the same, so this was an important part of the planning. We wanted to ensure we were getting the maximum capacity within the approved luggage dimensions/weight of the airline. Not all airlines have the same carry-on luggage allowances, so it is important to check this.

We then looked at the weight of the suitcase as the second feature to ensure we were getting the lightest one for the maximum capacity. This is important because the heavier the suitcase, the less you can pack. There were a couple of brands similar in their offering, but in the end we opted for the brand July for our luggage.

What tips do you have for maximising space in your carry-on luggage?

Do yourself a favour and invest in some packing cubes. They range in prices and sizes depending on your budget and suitcase size, but I would say it makes packing a dream and everything fits like a glove. The other benefit of using packing cubes is that you know where everything is. There was no pulling out all your clothes in search of one item. When you pack with cubes, you can have all your underwear in one, bulkier items in another, and lighter T-shirts/thermals in another for example. It also helps to keep things flat and not crumble your clothing and most importantly they help you maximise space.

Using packing cubes inside your suitcase will allow you to optimise space

Carry-on luggage does not allow you to pack 3.5 weeks’ worth of clothing. What is your secret?

  1. Apartment accommodation

The reason accommodation came into the equation of a successful carry-on luggage trip was whether we could wash our clothing. We opted to book apartments because they were not only more affordable and spacious than hotels over the festive season (when booked in advance), but we also had the luxury of a washing machine and in some cases a dryer as well. This meant we could wash and dry our clothes easily throughout the entire trip, limiting the amount of clothing required.


  1. Strategic clothing choices

We knew our holiday wouldn’t be a fashion parade of ‘Instagramable’ outfits when travelling in the winter – knowing most of our photos were going to be taken outdoors meant we would be always wearing our jackets and beanie. With that said, we knew it wouldn’t matter if we wore the same jumper or jeans more than once.

In cold climates, it is all about the layers and if you invest in quality thermals, you won’t then need a surplus supply of bulky items to keep you warm. We also both invested in a pair of lightweight insulated and weatherproof shoes to wear for the entire trip and because we were wearing them the whole time, they were not taking up space in our luggage.


  1. Make use of your backpack

You are allowed to have one piece of hand luggage that fits under the seat, so make good use of it. We packed our toiletries and ancillary items into ours so our luggage was just clothing.


  1. You don’t need to pack all your toiletries

We knew that no matter where we stayed we would have some amenities already supplied, such as hair dryers, soap and shampoo so there was no reason to pack these items. Toiletries are often what weighs anyone’s luggage down, so we had to be a little ruthless with this.

We also needed to take into consideration the size of the liquids, aerosols, and gels that we were packing because there are strict carry-on guidelines around this.

Travel minis were handy, but didn’t go overboard as we just bought some things when we got there.  We just packed the important items like medications and personal items we needed while transiting. As a female, we always pack additional personal items such as make-up and hair-styling tools, however, I kept this to a bare minimum. After all, my hair spent much of its time in a beanie so there was no need to spend hours doing it.

Were you ever concerned that your bag was going to be too heavy and would be requested to check your luggage in?

Given this was the first time we had attempted carry-on only internationally, we were of course aware that we would need to ensure our luggage met the weight and dimension requirements of the airline.

To ensure our items all fitted in our luggage we did a trial pack. Once we were all packed we weighed the bags on a set of scales for the final test to ensure our luggage met the requirements of the airline; after all, we didn’t want to get to the airport to find out we would have to check our luggage in.

Pro tip: When you pack, don’t forget you will be wearing some of it on the day of travel. Wear your bulkiest items and carry your jacket.

What are your key takeaways from your experience?

  1. Travelling with carry-on luggage is about just taking the essentials and not getting caught up in having ‘just incase’ items.
  2. Should you find yourself buying things whilst you are away and have no room to accommodate them, then you can always post them home or just purchase an inexpensive bag and check luggage in on the way home. This is not something we had to do, but was certainly a plan B.
  3. If you need anything you can always purchase in-destination. They do have shops remember so you won’t go without.
  4. Remember to check the allowances for liquids, gels and aerosols with your preferred airline and immigration. You don’t want to get caught out travelling with too much or the wrong things.
  5. Booking accommodation with washing facilities is a must. Without these facilities, you will either be racking up an expensive hotel dry cleaning bill or wasting many hours at foreign laundry mats (if you can find one).
  6. Also, make use of your backpack. You are allowed one piece of hand luggage that can go under the seat.

Overall carry-on luggage made the journey enjoyable, less cluttered and made for a seamless travel experience.

So would I travel with carry-on luggage again? Yes!

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