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September 19, 2018

How to travel carry on only

Are you planning for an upcoming trip and looking for ways to keep your costs down? If you travel carry on only, you might be able to even save hundreds! As full-time Digital Nomads and travelers, we know a thing or two about how to travel with only a carry-on. This post is going to give away our sneaky secrets on how we travel carry on only and never pay for a checked bag even though we travel full-time. Because we are also YouTubers, that means we carry about 30lbs of electronic equipment in addition to everything else! How do we manage to get over 70 pounds of crap onto an airplane and never get stopped? Read below and learn how to never pay for checked baggage again and travel with only a carry-on!

Short Answer: Travel Carry-On Only

“That’s great, Daniel, but you don’t understand… I have a lot of stuff.” Well, we carry EVERYTHING WE OWN in three backpacks and we’ve never had to check a bag at the airport. How do we travel carry on only?

First: Downsize your Crap

To travel carry-on only you have to take less stuff. Plain and simple. We weren’t kidding when we say that take everything we own on a carry-on, so we know it’s possible. If you don’t know where to start, download our FREE printable Carry on only packing list below!

Also, we’ve mastered the art of minimalist travel. If you’re curious about exactly what we take on our full-time travel adventures, check out our gear here!

Know the Allowed Carry On Luggage Size:

The maximum dimensions for a carry-on bag are 9 inches x 14 inches x 22 inches (22 cm x 35 cm x 56 cm), including handles and wheels.
What to bring traveling and travel carry-on only

Get the Right Backpack

This is pretty much the most important part to ensure you’ll walk on that plane with luggage in hand. When selecting a backpack there is one key element you HAVE to take into consideration; size. Airlines, like United and AirAsia, push very specific carry on luggage dimensions that they allow. But have you ever seen airline staff pull out a tape measure and check? Chances are, they place a metal crate at the beginning of the line for YOU to place YOUR bag in; verifying the carry on baggage size. Don’t incriminate yourself! As long as the bag is proportionate to your size, your chances of having an unscathed wallet are high. However! Before I can get into that…let’s talk dimensions.

So How Big Should Our Carry-On Be?

In these situations, you want no girth and all length!  Have you ever seen paintings where there is an object at the forefront of the image and another way off in the distance but both images are the same size? You have to create that illusion for the airline staff. Since no one actually checks your carry on bags that means airline staff eyeball everything. They search for what LOOKS heavy and not what actually is. Do NOT get a fat backpack!

So What’s the Best Carry On Luggage for traveling carry-on only?

If you’re into rolling luggage, the best by far is this Samsonite beauty! “Amazon’s Choice” will try to make you get the cloth one, but if you’re going to be spending this much on a bag, you want something that’s going to last. Also, the last thing you want is to be caught in the rain and all of your stuff gets wet.

If you’re a backpacker, like us, we LOVE our Osprey Farpoint 55L. This baby really proves our theory. We have not been stopped once, and this backpack technically doesn’t fit the hand luggage criteria for all flights. We got a bag that was slightly bigger than what we needed because it needs to look empty, even though it’s not. Don’t believe us, ask the other dozen travelers who we’ve casual said “nice bag” because they have the exact same one! Here’s how we get away with it:

Cinch It!

If you want to increase your chances of spooning that carry on during your next 5-hour flight, get a backpack that cinches! Alright class, what did I say was most important at the beginning of today’s lesson? SIZE MATTERS! Don’t listen to those people who try telling you otherwise simply to make you feel good about yourself. Oh! Uh…sorry wrong topic.

Anyways, cinching is crucial because the skinnier you can make the bag, the better. You need something, that in comparison to your body size, looks normal. Chances are your bag could way 14+ kg and if it looks proportionate to you, they’ll never be the wiser. For example, I am a 6 foot 1 man with pretty wide shoulders. I use an Osprey Farpoint 55 liter backpack which is proportional to my size but engulfs my wife. The funny thing is, her bag (Lowepro Flipside 500 AW 2) is about the same weight as BOTH of my Osprey bags put together. But, since the bag fits her size no one ever checks the weight.

Steps to Travel Carry-On Only and Not Get Caught by Airport Security

Your bag isn’t the only one who has to look and act the part, you do, too! If you find yourself needing to get your ticket from a physical counter here are the steps you must take to travel carry-on only!

Hold Eye Contact and Start Blabbing

This has to happen the second you hear that airline staff call next. You need to be their talkative enchantress. Keeping that staffer engaged and looking into your dreamy eyes keeps their eyes from wondering to your bag. As you do this keep the bag low and place it between you and the counter.

Make It Look Effortless

As you wait in line or are walking up to the counter, you may be thinking: “Holy crap this bag is going to rip my arm off.” or “My shoulder is FIRE! Run run run! Ok, drop the bag quick!” DON’T show it! That attendant has no idea what you are thinking or feeling so keep it that way. Again, they are eyeballing the weight of every bag that comes up to that counter. If it looks light, to them it is light.

Channel Your Inner Sweetheart

You need that attendant to think you are the sweetest thing since Hostess created the Twinkie. Most likely they have dealt with rude people all day and those people have set the stage for you to be an angel. Be that person and don’t half-ass it. Genuinely care about what they have to say and how their day is going; be a good person. You would be surprised how far that goes in carry-on only travel.

Get Rid of Straps

If your backpack has a significant amount of straps, hide them. This is especially true for all of my backpackers out there who embrace the gentle caress of hip straps. Perception is reality and a bunch of loose adjustable backpack straps creates the perception you are carrying a massive backpack. Even if it fits the carry on requirements. My Osprey backpack actually allows you to zip up all of the straps so the bag is strapless and it’s perfect! So tuck those waist straps behind your back, wrap all the tiny straps up to where they don’t dangle and pretend that backpack is so comfy your 80-year-old grandma would take a nap on it.

Be Confident

Last but not least, fake it ’till you make it; be CONFIDENT! Don’t meander up to the counter eying every attendant to see if they notice your monster of a bag. Strutt yo stuff and walk up like you own the chair that lady sits in for 10 hours a day. When she asks if you have any checked luggage, tell her no while holding eye contact, a genuine smile, and without hesitation. Remember, no one is a mind reader.

Travel Carry-On Only by Checking in Online/Automated Ticket Booth

When you check in online or use the automated ticket booth, you can circumvent the counter altogether. This allows you to b-line straight to airport security without having to talk to a soul. If there is no automated check-in system just follow the 5 easy steps above. I can’t guarantee that it will work every time but so far we haven’t been stopped! Don’t feel guilty about working around the system. If they don’t do their job, how is that your fault?

Have an Escape

Just like tinder dates, there needs to be an escape plan for when you meet the crazies. Get a backpack with a removable daypack! In the off-chance someone does their job and checks the weight of your bag, step away from the counter, remove the daypack, and take the time you need to distribute the weight. Majority of airlines allow you to take one personal item along with a carry-on. That removable day pack just became your personal item and new best friend.

Related: How to Travel the World Full-Time and on a Budget

  • Adrienne Royster says:

    These are great tips. When I was Europe this summer, I paid an arm and two legs for checked bags. I couldn’t believe how much Easy Jet(first mistake) charged to check each bag!!!!!!! I felt violated! Thanks for posting this valuable information!

    • Right?! They rip you off when it comes to checked bags! That’s exactly why we’ve committed to traveling exclusively via carry-on! I’m so happy to hear you found the post helpful! <3

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  • Great tips, especially the eye contact and genuine, friendly interest in the gate agents. Also, when we do get our gate assignment, we tend to sit away from where the gate agents can study our bags. We sometimes even sit at the gate across from ours, especially if we see gate agents roaming around looking for bags to check. Works like a charm 99% of the time!

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