The Verdict: Our 9 Week “Carry-On Bag Only” Challenge

Carry-on bag only

So back in May we set ourselves our “Carry-On Bag Only” challenge for 9 weeks in Europe. We hadn’t been to Europe before, had only done carry-on bag only in Bali for one week, but we were feeling pretty confident we could do it! You can check out why we did the challenge and what we packed if you want a little background.


But now it is August, we have been back from our Europe trip for 1 week, and the verdict is in…

The Verdict: Luggage Choice

We both chose to take hard case, 4-wheeled carry-on cases.

Carry-on bag only

Pro’s

  • When we could push them they were so easy and light
  • Hard case meant the wet weather protection was great – never had to worry about our electronics etc.
  • Two main compartments were easy to pack, unpack, see everything you had
  • TSA approved combination locks on the cases – no need for keys!
  • Size was perfect – we could fit them on all our different modes of transport the entire trip

Con’s

  • Terrain – Obviously some cobblestones made it more difficult to push/pull the bags. I was surprised that my bag ripped through the cobblestones pretty well, but then I felt like I was ruining my bag, so sometimes opted to hold the bag.
  • Stairs – Being carry-on size it wasn’t too much of a problem, you just had to hold them whilst doing stairs and due to their size, they were pretty light. Obviously, with a backpack, you wouldn’t even need to think about stairs.

Final Verdict

Overall, I’m happy with my choice of bag and feel I made the right decision. The size and weight definitely made things easy. The wheels, most of the time, were great, and when we couldn’t use them carrying the bag wasn’t too bad either. Ultimately they gave us great flexibility. A great example of this was hiring cars. Hiring cars for just a day or two in Europe can be expensive. But with carry-on only, we were able to hire a smart car (which was a huge cost saving compared to other car models)!

Smart Car Boot

The Verdict: What We Packed

When we left home, I still had some space available in my bag. Did I pack too little? In a word… no! At least not for me.

I ended up actually not using all of my clothes that I packed, more so because I made a couple of bad choices rather then not needing too. For instance I packed a few tight singlet tops that I just didn’t feel the need to wear and weren’t as comfortable as t-shirts. In hindsight, I still would have packed a few items less, and replaced a singlet top with another t-shirt.

Other things I didn’t use… high heels! Although they took up precious space in my bag, depending where I was going I may still pack them in the future, as it was nice knowing I had them if needed. And there were a few times I could have worn them, but opted for comfy flats instead. Jury still out on this one!

Otherwise, everything I packed met all my needs for the 9 weeks, with some washing involved of course. I didn’t need to buy anything overseas except for some toiletries (although surprisingly lot’s of my toiletries lasted the 9 weeks too).

The Rules: Did We Break Them?

Technically, yes! We admit it! But it wasn’t necessary, we made a choice to do so. About half way through, we made a choice to buy 500ml of Limoncello as a gift for Chris’s family. We could have bought 100ml, or something completely different, but this one came in a cute little glass barrel. So we bought it. And we packed it in our carry-on the remainder of the trip (we bought it at a stage we had no further flights until the final one). But we knew when we bought it, that it was over the limit for liquids on board. Simple Solution: spent a few euro on a small box, and checked it in on our final flight home from Paris to Sydney.

So we figured we still did our 9 weeks in Europe Carry-on only with no problems, and could have done it easily without this one little cheat! But the whole point of going carry-on only was to be flexible, not restricted, and by this stage we had already experienced most of the benefits of travelling carry-on only.

So Did We Complete the Carry-On Bag Only challenge?


Yes! We may have added a small box to the mix at the last minute, but the only benefit of travelling carry-on only that this broke, was that on our final leg, at Sydney Airport, we would need to wait for a box (see “the box saga” below for more details!).

Final Nail In The Coffin: The Box Saga

The box. The box we broke the rules for. That little tiny box, actually gave us a fitting end to the “carry-on bag only” challenge. It was the only thing we checked in, for the last 9 weeks. The holiday was over, we thought, so we’ll have to wait for maybe 30 mins at the airport, so be it.

Wrong! We waited, and waited, then asked, and asked again, and after what seemed like a good hour (it might have been more), it came down to this: Our box was lost. It was not in Sydney. And not only that, but despite us having a record and a number of the box, there was no record of it in the system at all.

After moments of sadness and frustration, we went home, just me, Chris and our little carry-on bags, just the way we started 9 weeks ago. And I was happier then ever with our choice to go carry-on bag only (and fortunately the box did turn up a day later!).


Carry-On Bag Only Vs Checked Luggage: What We Think Now

Firstly, can I start by saying I thought carry-on only for 9 weeks would be do-able, but it was so much easier then expected! Now that I have gone carry-on only, for 9 weeks, I don’t see my self ever waiting around for some massive checked bag (what would I put in it?). But it’s also made me want to have a big clean up at home… if I can live out of a carry-on bag for 9 weeks, what is all this stuff we have at home? Sure, for ongoing living I want a little more then what I packed with me, but it really helps you realise what you actually need to live off.

Now as for checked luggage, I’m not a carry-on luggage snob! If I need to go checked luggage for some reason, I will. But it would have to be a good reason. The benefits of carry-on only far outweigh the need to pack more stuff (for me, at least). And having less luggage made the holiday that much more enjoyable.

Here is a universal Printable Packing List to help with your packing!

Would you ever go carry-on only? Or have you already… what was your experience?

4 Comments

  • Jessica says:

    Wonderful website and guide, thank you! Am hoping to do the same for my upcoming five week trip. Was just wondering how much your suitcase weighed in the end as the variable 7kg/10kg limit might be what trips me up!

    • Hi Jessica,
      Thanks so much, we are glad it has helped!
      We had a 7kg limit for most of our flights, and have to admit we were slightly over the entire time. Fortunately, the airlines did not mind, however, I know it’s now getting very strict. With a few minor adjustments, we still could have packed roughly the same and been within the weight limit, so it is possible! We also packed a lot of tech gear which can quickly add on weight.
      We would recommend wearing your lightest clothing/shoes on the plane to your destination, and then wear your heaviest items on the way home to free up some weight. I also pack my bag with some free space, and try to avoid bringing home toiletries. So our bags weighed very close to the same weight by the end of the holiday, as we got rid of toiletries and didn’t buy too much along the way.
      Where are you going on holidays? Let us know if you have any other questions, we’re happy to help.

  • Awesome post! :-) Jocelyn and I travel a lot, I try too travel light as well. Thanks for sharing!

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