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Our “Carry-On Bag Only” 9 Week Europe Challenge

Carry-on bag only
Image adapted from Awaiting the train, Faith Keay, 2013 

Carry-On Bag Only: The Challenge

In less then 2 weeks we go to Europe for 9 weeks. Both Chris and I will be travelling with a carry-on bag only, for the entire trip. Well, that’s the plan at least.

The Rules

Ultimately, we want to be able to get through the entire trip with just our carry-on bags. But, if for some good reason, we need to buy a small backpack half way through, we will. But we will let you know. If we cheat, you will get updates. If something doesn’t work, or we have found it difficult with carry-on only, you’ll be the first to know. That way you get the full picture, and you can decide for yourself.

(But I don’t think we will need to cheat… we can do it!)

We are also going to be doing a few “tests” along the way, such as “The cobblestone test” and “The getting from the airport to your hotel test”.

Why Carry-On Bag Only?

On my first overseas holiday I went to Thailand for 10 days. I bought the biggest bag I could find and then I bought the biggest carry-on bag I could find too. I approached the holiday, not knowing what to expect, so I thought the more I could take with me, the better. And at the time, that gave me peace of mind. So I totally understand if your going on your first trip and that’s how you’re thinking too.

I look at those bags now and feel a little silly. For my next trip I downsized to a much smaller checked bag and carry-on bag. This worked better, but I always came home from holidays using less then half of what I packed. When I unpacked, after I took the first few items out of my bag, everything would be folded (albeit a little messier) just the way I packed it in the first place… because I didn’t use them!

One of the most annoying parts of holidays was waiting at the baggage carousel for bags, lugging the bags around and fitting them in public transport.

So on our last holiday to Bali, we took carry-on luggage only. Admittedly, we were only there for 1 week. But even with carry-on only, I still didn’t use everything. And travelling with carry-on only was so much easier and allowed us to be more flexible with our plans. This convinced me I can travel with carry-on only.

One week in Bali is a little different to 9 weeks in Europe, but my rule is you only need to pack for one week, no matter how long the trip. So with that in mind, I should be fine!

Positives For Carry-On Bag Only

There are so many positives for taking a carry-on bag only.

  • Save money on checked baggage fees
  • More flexibility with travel/Ability to change to plans
  • Save money on transport (use local transport/smaller car hire/some places charge fees per bag)
  • No lost luggage
  • No waiting for bags
  • Using everything you pack
  • Lighter bags


It’s not all one-sided. As much as I love taking a carry-on bag only and this works for me, some negatives you might find are:

  • Less clothes options
  • More washing
  • Less space to bring things home

The Luggage

One thing most people will tell you if you decide to take carry-on only, is to take a back pack. I kind of agree with this, but just as some people prefer to take checked luggage, everyone is different.

After much thought and research, we decided we would take hard-case carry on bags with 4 wheels. So pretty much the opposite of what is considered “best”.

Heres why:

  • Once you go 4 wheeled you never go back: have you pushed a 4 wheeled bag? Silly question. You don’t push 4 wheeled bags. They just miraculously move. They also stand upright all by themselves. If you get tired, you can even sit on them!
  • Hard case: As we take “Almost Landing” on the road with us, we have a bit of tech stuff we need to take with us. It feels better protected in a hard case, and has better wet weather protection too.
  • Hard Case Compartments: People recommend soft case so you can fit more in. I love the structured compartments of a hard case. It forces me not to over pack, keep my things separated and easy to find. When I took a back pack with me to the Gili Islands, I loved it. The convenience of hopping off the boat on the sand with everything I needed neatly on my back. But I also found myself scrummaging to find anything I needed, and things just ended up in a tangled mess. But when I went to Nusa Lembongan Island, and hopped off the boat onto the sand with my hard case carry-on, yes, it would have been easier with a backpack. But as our bags were little, it was pretty easy just to carry them off the beach too. And everything was easy to find and re-pack on the holiday.
  • I would much prefer a few small inconveniences rather then physically carrying a bag everywhere. Where I can push my bag, it’s super easy and light. And when I have to lift it up, it’s only a carry-on, its not that heavy.

So for right now, our 4 wheeled hard case carry-on bags meet our needs. Who knows if this will be the option that we always prefer. So just as we are all different and have different circumstances, find the bag that meets your needs.

Next week

Next week we will take you inside our bags. See our luggage, what we pack and tips on how we pack for our 9 week Europe Holiday in a carry-on bag only. In the meantime, check out the site for advice on going carry-on luggage only.

When we get back, we will be sure to let you know The Verdict of our 9 week Carry-On Bag Only Challenge!

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

Have you ever travelled carry-on only? What did you think were the positives and negatives?

Are you interested in trying carry-on only?

We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below…

4 thoughts on “Our “Carry-On Bag Only” 9 Week Europe Challenge”

  1. I love my little pocket knife sooo much that I will usually pay the extra to book bags in…
    Literally as I’m writing this, I’ve realised it’s probably easier to just buy a cheap little pocket knife after every flight.

    1. haha we’ve been caught out with pocket knives before, they are so handy! But now we just make do and get what we need when we get there…

  2. Hey Mandy and Chris,

    As a pilot I only take a carry-on bag with me. I guess it’s normal because I don’t need to check in my bags beforehand. :) My good advice for keeping your carry-on luggage small is to leave your electronics at home or certainly charge them before you leave, so don’t have to take a charger with you!

    But I admire you guys to take only a carry-on bag on your 9 week trip through Europe! :)

    Keep up the nice website!

    1. HI VInce, thanks so much, we weren’t sure if it was possible before we left but we are now completely convinced carry-on only is not only possible but also has so many positives :)

      Totally agree about minimising the electronics, although we find this one hard now that we are blogging when we travel!

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