minimalism · travel

how packing a carry-on can enrich your vacation

Years ago, when I was probably 8 or 9, my mom and I were packing for the yearly Girl Scout mother/daughter camp-out held at the campgrounds a few miles outside of town. My mom entered my room to supervise my packing and found me surrounded by about a dozen stuffed animals of varying sizes, all of which I planned to take with me on our trip.

“No,” Mom said. “You can’t take them all. Choose one; that’s it.”

What Mom didn’t understand was that the stuffed animals I left behind would be devastated and deeply offended by my lack of loyalty (I was a child growing up in theย Toy Story era, mind you). I ended up smuggling all of my stuffed animals to camp in the bottom of my rolled-up sleeping bag. That night I ate marshmallows around the campfire with my fellow Girl Scouts, impressed by my powers of deception — until it was time for bed.

Suddenly, the mountain of stuffed animals I thought I needed to have with me became an impediment to my sleep. I laid there in the dark surrounded by eleven peacefully sleeping Scouts, afraid that the weight of the Beanie Babies in my sleeping bag would pull me off my bunk and cause me to break my neck. There was hardly any room for me in there alongside all the stuffing and brightly-colored faux-fur. I’m surprised I made it out alive.

When it comes to travel and packing, I’m sure many of us have a story or two like this: We overpacked, and it negatively impacted our trip. (Although hopefully you weren’t stupid enough to nearly bury yourself alive under a pile of Beanie Babies.)

Before I became privy to the many benefits of living with less crap, I used to pack a big suitcase whenever I went on a vacation that was longer than a few days. I would drag that sucker up from the depths of the basement, spend half a day deciding what to put in it, and then proceed to not use most of that stuff on my trip.

I, like many people, was a chronic overpacker. As a result of packing too much stuff, I:

  1. Had to pay a baggage fee at most airlines every time I flew.
  2. Inevitably left something behind because I lost track of it. Almost every time. Seriously.
  3. Had to lug a big-ass suitcase with me everywhere. Am I the only one who finds that annoying?

Once I started being more intentional with the amount of stuff I owned and the number of clothes in my closet, it makes sense that I naturally started to pack less — after all, I owned less.

When my boyfriend and I started dating long-distance last year and the amount of time I spent in airports increased exponentially, I stopped checking a bag.

Instead of packing a big suitcase, I now pack a small carry-on and occasionally a purse. On weekend trips, often all I’ll pack is a backpack with the essentials. There are so many benefits to packing lightly — here are just a few I’ve discovered:

1. No baggage fees.

Checking a bag on most U.S. airlines costs 20-25 dollars. For people who fly often, not checking a bag can save you hundreds of dollars a year. For those who fly only once, that’s still the cost of a nice dinner for one. If you can save money and stress, why not do it?

2. Your luggage won’t get lost or damaged because it’s always with you.

Having your bag lost or its delivery delayed can completely ruin a trip. (Seriously, how am I supposed to enjoy this tour around the Pyramids of Giza when I don’t even know where my underwear is?)

Keeping your stuff with you at all times means, well, that your stuff will be with you at all times. It also means you don’t have to wait for the baggage carousel, or suffer an anxiety attack when you see airport personnel slinging your suitcase around like a 50-pound bag of rice. Putting a “Fragile” sticker on your bag probably isn’t going to cut it. Protect your stuff — keep it with you.

3. You spend less time packing and unpacking.

When you pack fewer things, it takes less time to pack them. When you get home, it takes less time to unpack them. It really is that simple.

4. You spend less time managing / misplacing / searching for your stuff.

You can’t leave something behind if you didn’t bring it with you in the first place.

5. It allows you to be more flexible.

Switching subways, running to catch a bus, walking up dozens of stairs to stay in tiny Airbnbs . . . it’s all easier when you’re traveling lightly. When you cut the dead weight and only pack the essentials, you have more time and energy to focus on what’s around you, and more agility to react to it. Life is simpler and less stressful when you’re able to be flexible.

6. It helps you realize how little you truly need to get by.

Last year, my boyfriend and I went on an 11-day overseas trip to France. We each packed a carry-on that included clothes for a rehearsal dinner and wedding we were attending. A few years prior, I would have been convinced I needed to check a bag for such a daunting trip. But I’m so thankful I didn’t — we hopped from place to place the first couple of nights and also flew to Poland for a few days, so traveling light made the trip possible.

tiny airbnb room
This was our entire Airbnb in France. Seriously. My boyfriend took this picture standing in the doorway. There’s no way a checked bag could’ve fit in here!

We wheeled our carry-ons through the cobblestone streets of France, lugged them up six flights of narrow stairs to get to our Airbnb (which was in an old building with no elevator), and packed them in the back of a tiny, watermelon-pink Fiat as we explored the streets of Poland.

We purposefully didn’t pack enough clothes for the entire trip, so we used the washer in our tiny (seriously, tiny) France Airbnb and hung our clothes to dry wherever we could find room. We went to the corner store to buy detergent for the washer, but neither of us can read French and we accidentally bought fabric softener instead. It’s still one of my favorite stories from all our trips.

In contrast, my boyfriend and I just returned from a one-month trip to Asia (which was part of the reason for my prolonged absence from this blog). We spent a week visiting his extended family in central China, and since we would be gone so long and I knew we would bring gifts and souvenirs home, I made the decision to check a bag.

It was the right decision — but as we traversed the busy subways in Tokyo and moved our luggage from home to home in China, I couldn’t help but wish I had packed just a little lighter.


I’m sorry for my delayed absence in 2018 — now that my big trip is done, I’m excited to get back to regular updates! Next week’s blog post will include some of my favorite tips for packing lightly so you never have to check a bag again. See you then!

8 thoughts on “how packing a carry-on can enrich your vacation

  1. It’s good to see one of your posts again. I’m also behind packing light – aint nobody got time to wait at the baggage carousel unless necessary.

    My partner and I will be going to Japan this year too! What were your favourite places in Tokyo?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you – it’s good to be back!

      Tokyo is incredible…there’s so much to do there, and none of it’s bad! If you’re a bird fanatic like me (or if you just love cute things), I’d recommend Kotori Cafe. It’s a sweet little cafe filled with cockatiels, lovebirds, and budgies in glass cages. Their single-serving cakes are adorable and super delicious, and they have cute merchandise for sale. Tokyo is known for their bird and owl cafes, and while some are on the wrong side of ethical, Kotori definitely checks out.

      Other suggestions:
      The National Art Center in Tokyo is a beautiful piece of architecture and has free admission. The sandwiches in the cafe are also delicious.

      I’d recommend the Akihabara area if either you or your partner are anime fans. They have tons of shops and arcades we enjoyed browsing.

      Kappabashi is known as “Tokyo’s Kitchen Town” – it’s a great street full of shops where you can buy all sorts of Japanese kitchenware, from chopsticks to ramen spoons to handmade stoneware.

      I didn’t go, but I’ve heard incredible things about the Tokyo Robot Restaurant. There’s also Tokyo Skytree, of course. ๐Ÿ™‚

      If you’re looking for something outside your comfort zone, I’d definitely recommend the Oedo Onsen Monogatari hot springs theme park. I packed my swimsuit, then was VERY surprised to hear I didn’t need it, haha! Even if you don’t want to strip down for the hot springs, there are a lot of shops and food vendors inside the building, and there are other spa services offered as well.

      I hope this helps! My boyfriend and I also visited Kyoto and Hiroshima, so if you’re looking for more travel tips, please don’t hesitate to ask. Enjoy your trip to Japan! ๐Ÿ™‚


      1. Sounds like you packed alot in! I wasnt aware of Kappabashi, so I’ll definitely check that out (and probably want to buy all the things).
        I’m not too keen on onsen world, but I did consider it. We’ll be visiting Hiroshima and Kyoto too! It’s all very exciting :3

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yes, Kappabashi is dangerous — I’m a big advocate for owning less stuff, but my money was burning a hole in my pocket on that street. ๐Ÿ™‚

          Peace Park is definitely a must in Hiroshima, and I’d recommend the Sanjลซsangen-dล Buddhist temple in Kyoto — it’s eerie, but also strangely peaceful and beautiful.

          Hopefully you do a better job packing for your Japan trip than I did, because I packed way too much. ๐Ÿ˜€ Give me some pointers when you get back, haha!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s