Flying with a carry on only – How to never check a bag again

EDC101 - Carry On Only

Checking bags is a waste of time and money. This is why from now on you will be flying with a carry on only.

Are you going on a trip for only a couple days?

Do you lack faith in the airlines to not lose your luggage?

Does the TSA stress you out?

If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, I have two words for you:

Carry On.

Let me tell you about the easiest way to travel. All you need is a backpack and a boarding pass. No checked baggage. No waiting around that weird little baggage claim area, wondering if your bag is coming or if it was accidentally sent to Tulsa. No more dragging 3 bags into the hotel lobby looking like you were just kicked out of the house by your wife. None of that. I just took a 4 day trip to Las Vegas for business. I took only one bag, my GoRuck GR1. The goal of this trip (besides work) was to see if I could avoid having to check a bag. So I took a chance and challenged myself to fly with a carry on only.

This is a huge cause of stress for tons of travelers each year. Bring up flying in a group of people and inevitably there will be someone there who has had their luggage lost while flying. The only thing worse than being somewhere unfamiliar is being there without underwear.

Keeping with the theme here at EDC101, we travel with minimalism in mind. With a little forethought and some ingenuity, we are going to get you there and back with just one bag. And it isn’t going to leave our sight the entire time we are on a plane.

Packing light = Packing smart

The first thing we need to do is figure out the bare minimum we need. Can you re-wear pants? Do you need pajamas? Are you there for business or pleasure? All this comes into account when we are packing. This is where we make a rule for ourselves:

Carry on only. We are only going to bring one bag. Everything that goes in there needs to count.

Going forth the with that in mind, we must start with the question of what are the most important things to bring. This would be the things you NEED. Underwear, socks, and undergarments. These we can’t really re-wear so we need to figure out what we need and get those set. I recommend a lightweight nylon style like THESE. They pack light and are super comfortable.

Tip: I suggest rolling these so that they take up almost no space once compacted and you don’t mind if they get wrinkled. This also works with shirts and pants. Another option is to use packing cubes. These compress your items down well and give you some organization in your bag. For wrinkled clothes, your hotel will most likely have an iron in the room. If not they should at the very least have hangers. Just put them on a hanger and keep them in the bathroom while you shower. The heat and steam will get rid of the wrinkles easily.

What to wear (again)?

Now when it comes to pants and traveling, let’s be honest. You can get away with wearing the same pants more than once. Dark blue or gray jeans are great because they can be both formal or informal depending on the rest of your outfit. They also can be worn for more than one day without issue.

Remember that you will be wearing clothes when you leave and on your way back so take that into account when you pack as well. T-shirts take up no room so you can pack one for each day. A zip up sweater or blazer can give you another layer for warmth but it also gives you a whole new outfit.

The idea is to try and pack things that can be re-worn and are versatile.

Remember: You can always wash some clothes while you are traveling. You don’t need two outfits a day. You can always buy an outfit while you are there with the money you saved from not having to check a bag. 

A coat can be carried, worn, or looped through your backpack straps. Depending on your climate, this may not be needed.

Bags in Bags

Another good thing to remember to bring is a small, drawstring backpack. Not only does this give you an extra bag in case you come home from your trip with more than you brought, it is also quite useful for quick excursions where you don’t want to bring your whole carry on. They roll up and will take up next to no room. If filled, tie it to your backpack on the way back. Another good reason to bring this is you can use it to store your dirty clothes. Flying with a carry on only doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t bring an extra bag with you.  Make sure that it is able to be tucked into or strapped to your bag on the way back and you wont have an issue.

Shoes – Carry them on your feet

When traveling with just one bag, we have to make some sacrifices. This means one pair of shoes. You may be able to get away with a pair of sandals as these pack flat but besides that, you really wont have room for a second set of shoes. Again this is where versatility comes in.

I recommend wearing a casual dress shoe that can look formal if the need arises but is also comfortable for a lot of walking. If you want to go for super traveler status, a pair of slip on shoes that fit the bill will make your trip through security that much easier when you have to take them off.

Tips for smooth screening

Your toiletries are limited to a small, clear bag by the TSA. When you send your bag through the TSA screening, you will want to make sure that the clear toiletry bag is right on top of everything. This way they can take a look at it without any extra effort. Check HERE for the TSA’s page on it’s toiletry policy.

EDC101 - Carry On Only


You don’t want to bring too much shampoo and make everyone nervous about how clean your hair is.

Speaking of making people nervous, don’t leave a tangle of wires in your bag. All chargers and wires must neatly bundled and placed on top where they could be easily accessed if need be. THESE work great for keeping wires together or use THESE for smaller wires and electronics. The key is too keep things organized and easily identifiable.

Laptops are another thing that requires some special consideration when you are going through the screening process. Just make sure you take the laptop out of your bag and place it in the container with your pocket contents. They may want to take an extra look at it but no worries, in my case they just put it in it’s own bucket to send it through the scanner a couple more times for good measure.

You can save money doing this.

If you are going to be gone for weeks you will need to check a bag. The reality is that you probably aren’t staying anywhere that long. The majority of flights out are for 2-4 day trips. This is easily managed with one bag. When you sit down and decide to go carry on only, you will soon realize that one bag is all you need.

Not only will this make traveling easier because you don’t have to worry about lost luggage, you will save a ton of time at the airport not having to check bags in. You wont have to wait around to pick up your bag, Just land and go.

The best part of  flying with a carry on only is that wont have to pay any extra fees to have the airline check your bag. You can use that money on more fun things like dinner and activities on your trip. Much like the everyday carry philosophy of putting careful thought into what goes into your pockets, a little thought into what goes into your carry on bag can make a world of difference. You may never travel the same way again.

Be sure to check out our article: Airport Security Everyday Carry – Our 6 Tips for Flying for more everyday carry travel tips!