Blog, Travel

Why I’ve gone carry-on-only, and why you probably should too

When I was still going to an office everyday, I was known for bringing with me a whopping three bags: my messenger bag, office (or computer) bag, and lunch bag. Even on weekends, my messenger bag was still full (I barely remove the contents, actually) and my mother would – and does – always scold me for bringing so much things. Although I was touted as Mr. Always Prepared (chargers and toiletries, among others, were part of that arsenal), it was, I believe, not so much a compliment than a euphemism for the reputation I eventually earned among my friends: that of “bringing my whole house” wherever I went.

Not so minimalist, you’d think. High-maintenance, others would quip. Kind of goes against the grain of Truly Best Living, right?

Call it such, I call it preference: The contents of both messenger and office bag could just as easily go inside a backpack, then I wouldn’t be holding anything, as I’d be slinging both backpack and lunch bag. But I choose a messenger bag as it lets me easily transition between lifestyles, from work to social to travel and everything in between.

So it wouldn’t be a surprise that I’m also chided for supposedly not traveling light. Due to my strict policy of using only all-natural or harmful chemical-free personal care products (except in rare cases), I stopped caring for the free ones available in hotel rooms, choosing the comfort of my own Dopp kit and its contents. Because I wear exclusively leather shoes and boots, which should not be worn all day on consecutive days, to allow moisture to dry, I always bring a second pair of shoes (in addition to flip-flops), an idea that’s foreign to most of my family members. Oh, and did I mention that said shoes have shoe trees? (I did start using a light, travel-friendly, hard plastic pair from IKEA though, last year.)

I like to believe I do travel light. If I filled in a check-in with all my possessions before a trip, they’d take up barely half the space.

Not that having check-in was such a hassle for me, especially since for all the criticisms, my baggage was always light. But there did come certain points in my trips that holding three things at the same time – my messenger bag slinging across my shoulder (which I count as holding, anyway), a carry-on suitcase, and a full-sized one – became more of a burden, and the negatives were outweighing the positives. Try pushing two suitcases at the same time, with a bag slung over your shoulders: It’s a hassle. Especially on carpeted floors and train stations.

That, and my avid surfing of the Internet for nice articles to read – travel among them – led me to reading about the lives and lifestyles of travel bloggers, frequent fliers, and full-time globetrotters. Many of them – mostly Westerners whose travel styles are vastly different from ours – claimed that once they’d seen the light and tried going carry-on-only, they’d never turned back (I even spied upon an article asking how they could upcycle their full-sized check-in, since they didn’t need it anymore – I can’t find it anymore, though).

Slowly but surely, I fell in love with the concept, to the point that during a family trip last year, I proudly declared that my just-concluded trip to Australia would be my first with carry-on baggage only. (I did return with a check-in, however, on behalf of my friend’s family, for their purchases.)

Some of those travel virtuosos are a little more relaxed and bring a carry-on suitcase with them. Others, however, were more radical and chose the backpacking route, whether or not they actually intended to go on a backpacking trip. I sincerely believed that I stood a chance with the former, but not the latter – even when I examined more closely their packing lists, which I am happy to report are quite similar to my own, and in fact are still a little bit more extravagant!

Still, while they are all legit brilliant (I do have some personal favorites I like to read every once in a while, as a refresher), they don’t always pass off as relevant or practical in my life, at the moment. But there’s a lot I could learn from them.

For instance, though I would love to be a full-time digital nomad, managing my business from wherever around the world, the reality is that my combined travel time in a year is usually only a month or less, and I’m usually based here at home or nearby. I do not, and at this point have yet to be able to afford to, travel full-time and solo. Also, more often than not, my trips are family trips, which means we go shopping a lot, which means I will still need to bring a check-in suitcase for those occasions – though I do still exert effort in minimizing my own things. Which means that, among others, I can’t escape the baggage claim waiting time, still.

But for trips I take with friends, or semi-solo trips (I have yet to completely go on a trip by myself, but I’ve already had trips where one part was solo, such as a flight), I do join the dark side and do what I hitherto thought unimaginable. And, after having mock-packed for this trip weeks prior, to practice, it was as if the heavens had opened and a multitude of angels were singing glory.

Screen Shot 2018-04-10 at 16.43.52
Aloy Chua / Instagram

Yep, that’s my actual baggage for the trip. The suitcase, Envol S, a Delsey that was designed in partnership with Air France, has the maximum dimensions that will be allowed in most cabins – I bought it specifically for my carry-on lifestyle, as my only other carry-on is smaller and won’t do.

The black Pacsafe, Vibe 40L, is a carry-on that doubles as a travel backpack – not the hiker’s type of rucksack, but the type that opens on the side, like a suitcase. My messenger bag is stowed inside, so I can feel more normal when I arrive at my destination. And since it’s soft-sided, I can slightly squish and stow it under the seat in front of me, leaving the Delsey to the overhead bins.

And it’s liberating.

It felt so good to be wearing a backpack and pulling just one trolley (or putting said backpack on top of said trolley) in the knowledge that that was all I was bringing. I was, literally, not weighed down by my things, and it released me from the burden of carrying all these baggage, freeing me to focus on actually traveling and enjoying my trip.

Kondo Marie, better known as KonMari, the Japanese professional organizer who focuses on minimalist living, believes that emotional baggage is tied to and perhaps even caused by physical baggage – not necessarily baggage on the go, but even baggage at home. By opening up all the nooks and crannies in your home and freeing it – and your possessions, and yourself – of un-joyfulness, you also release whatever personal demons are plaguing you, and that sense of lightness I mentioned earlier rushes in like a powerful wind, figuratively bearing you aloft in a newly invigorated spirit.

Some airports and airlines allow you to bypass the check-in counter altogether, if you have only carry-on, through mobile check-in kiosks – I was able to do this on a domestic flight in France some years ago. On the tail end, you get to skip the baggage carousel entirely and just breeze out of the airport onwards. It feels so empowering that you don’t have to get bogged down by long queues, except for boarding.

There’s also a positive environmental impact to going carry-on-only, minuscule it may be: In any vehicle, the heavier the load, the more energy required to make it move. As in pushcarts, so on planes: The fuel burn difference between a theoretical carry-on-only flight and an all-check-in flight would probably be not insignificant.

(Read more: Reflections on responsible traveling fashion)

And there’s also a relational aspect to going carry-on-only: As you don’t get bogged down by heavy physical – and emotional, we can argue as well – baggage, you won’t slow down your companions as much, so it’s an exercise well done in awareness right there. You can make the most of your trip – and each other’s company – better.

I’d also say that having less space also means less temptation – because you have only so much space, you can’t go overboard shopping, forcing you to cut down on your spending, and thus hoarding of possessions that might spark joy to for you only momentarily. It saves your wallet and your home.

In conclusion? Travelling light is a multi-awareness philosophy, practice, and lifestyle with so much positive implications for you and others. Unless you do need extra baggage for a shopping trip, or other important things you need to bring, I encourage you to try it. I’ve gone that route, and I’m not looking back.

To your Truly Best Trip!

(Read more: What is to truly travel?)

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