I traveled to over thirty-five countries, boarded over 60 flights, all without ever having to check a bag, wait for a bag, and thankfully (knock on wood) – lose a bag. That’s right – I traveled around the world for 18 months, lived out of a backpack, and I only packed a 40-liter carry-on. To me, this meant 40 liters to freedom. With a few easy tips and tricks, you can be off on your next vacation worry free.

Benefits of Never Checking a Bag:

  • Never lose a bag
  • Quicker boarding
  • No checked bag fees
World Traveler on the Beach

Never Pack More Than You Can Carry

Miss Piggy said, “never eat more than you can lift.” For a long-term traveler (or even short-term), your anthem should be, “never pack more than you can carry.” This should be your backpacking packing list anthem. When I first left to travel the world, I packed my bag to the brim. I thought I needed absolutely everything. Within one week of travel, I gave away items. Think about that: in just one week, I parted with things that I thought I absolutely needed. My bag was causing discomfort and honestly – slowing my roll. It’s crazy how things can quite literally weigh you down.

When you’re lugging your bag from train to plane and cab to cobblestone streets, you’ll want to be able to actually carry your bag yourself. Crazy, right?

Woman Swimming at Costa Smeralda

Well after weeks, months, or even years of lugging baggage around, your back will start to ache, your traps will be tender, and you’ll begin to curse the bag that you once looked at so lovingly. Do yourself a favor and only bring what you can carry on your own back. Hey, you chose traveling long-term for a reason – to free yourself of the burdens of the 9-5, so rid yourself of the worries and pain of heavy baggage.

Choose a Soft Bag

Let’s talk about the baseline for only packing a carry-on – the bag itself. As much as I love a Rimowa roll aboard, wheeled luggage tends to carry extra weight and WEIGHT is the devil when it comes to long-term travel. While U.S. airlines only care about the size of your bag, international airlines will weigh your bags. I’m sure all of you Americans are saying, “no way,” but it’s true! Some of these international airlines will only allow bags that are 10 pounds on board. My Rimowa rollaboard luggage weighs 8 pounds. Get it?

It doesn’t matter if you only packed pajamas and a toothbrush, the weight of the bag itself matters when it comes to your backpacking packing list. Hard shell bags add weight plus wheels add weight so choose a soft side bag, preferably a backpack. Choose a lightweight (I’m talking 1-2 pound backpack), but make sure that the fabric is durable for your long-term travels.

Backpacks that Never Need to be Checked

Choose a Smart Bag

Think of your bag like a boyfriend. You want it to support you and make you feel better after you’ve spent time with it. You won’t settle for just any bag. After all, you’re going to be with it day in and day out. So what are the attributes of a perfect boyfriend bag?

This bag should be equipped with a few things: chest & waist straps as well as top & side loading. Wait…top and side loading? What is this, a moving truck? When you’re traveling for long terms of time, you want to make things as easy as possible for yourself. Backpacks can be top loading (one zipper opening – usually at the top), side loading (a larger opening on the side), or top and side loading (two openings). The benefit of a top loader is that you can use your weight to stuff things into your bag. The benefit of a side loader is that it’s easier to organize and load things into a bigger compartment. If you choose a bag with top and side zippers, you’ll enjoy the benefits of both.

Woman feeding Flamingo in Aruba

Pick a Color Scheme

If there’s one thing that will cut down on the amount of clothing and shoes you bring, it’s picking a color scheme. It’s actually quite easy – you only have to pick a brown or a black color scheme. From there, you’ll be able to limit the amount of clothing and shoes while still staying stylish.

Choose Solid Colors

While you might love that Aztec skirt or that glittery jacket you snagged on sale, it’s not going with you. Sorry I’m not sorry. You’ll thank me later. When it comes to your backpacking packing list, you’ll want to pack solid colors so that you can easily mix and match. Ohhhhh, “but I want to have a variety of outfits for my Instagram photos.” Even if you’re going to be modeling and photographing in different parts of the world, you really don’t need to pack more than a carry-on. Trust me.

If you pack a black top, white top, jeans, and shorts, you already have a multitude of outfits. Solid colors are discreet so it won’t look like you’re wearing the same clothes day after day, even if you are. In the case that you forgot to pack something or your wardrobe is missing a certain article of clothing, just visit a local flea market, souk, or even an H&M.

lightly dressed traveler on cliff


Buddha said the quickest way to enlightenment was to detach of all things. At the end of the day, remember that you’re taking this trip for the experiences and not the things. What you wore won’t matter once you’ve stepped foot on a new land, tasted the delicacies of a foreign country, and shared a meal with strangers. Detach from the very things that tie you to your home, open your mind, and get ready for the most incredible experience of your life. Get ready to travel the world and never check a bag!

traveling light with small back pack