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Hauling heavy suitcases up stairs. Waiting at the baggage carousel. Looking for missing luggage.

There's a way to avoid these travel hassles and, potentially, checked baggage fees charged by some airlines. How? By traveling with only a carry-on bag.

Kabir Jaspal, who owns three Travel Style Luggage locations, including one at Mall of America, started seeing an uptick in the carry-on-only lifestyle when the pandemic began and customers worried about their belongings being touched.

A more challenging travel environment — with delayed connections and understaffed airports — has only fueled that preference. "It's very hard to sell the bigger bags nowadays," he said.

After hearing reports of last summer's travel nightmares, Kim Ehrick, manager of AAA Travel Store in St. Louis Park, took only a carry-on bag for a recent two-week trip to Italy.

"What we really enjoyed so much about that was the ease of it," she said. "It's just so nice to have your carry-on with you, especially if you have connections, and the ease of not having a lot of things to tug behind you is really nice."

We asked three experts to share their secrets for traveling with only a carry-on bag.


When it comes to carry-on bag size, airlines in the United States are often more generous than in other parts of the world.

Check your carrier's size and weight requirements and whether there are any location-specific rules.

Delta Air Lines, the dominant carrier at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, enforces no maximum weight restrictions for carry-on bags except for flights to Beijing, Singapore and Shanghai, with each having different limits.

The Atlanta-based carrier permits a carry-on bag and a smaller personal item, which must fit under the seat in front of you. Carry-on measurements must not exceed 22" x 14" x 9" (56 cm x 35 cm x 23 cm).

Travel expert Anne McAlpin of recommends a four-wheel suitcase and limiting the bag's weight to 18 pounds so you can load it into an overhead bin or carry it up stairs, if needed.


You're going to have a limited wardrobe, so make a list of what you're considering bringing, then edit out any extras.

Plan to re-wear clothes. Consider a capsule wardrobe, a limited number of mix-and-match pieces that all complement each other. REI recommends the 1-2-3-4-5-6 Rule: one hat; two pairs of shoes; three bottoms; four tops; five pairs of socks; and six pairs of underwear plus a bra. Then, customize with a swimsuit and other items. Travel expert Rick Steves offers a more detailed checklist with add-ons depending on your destination.

"My rule is 3 to 1, three tops to every bottom," said McAlpin, who also packs two pairs of shoes. "The maximum amount is nine tops and three bottoms."

McAlpin dresses around one basic color, like black. "I used to wear black and tan, the tan during the day and more black at night," she said.


Rolling versus folding was long the hot packing debate.

Now, packing cubes are becoming popular purchases to maximize small suitcases. "Once you start using the packing cubes, you aren't going back," Jaspal said. "Two or three packing cubes can take care of your whole trip."

McAlpin swears by double-zipper compression cubes.

"You pack it big and then you zip, and you zip it again," she said. "It squishes it down."

. McAlpin takes two medium-sized compression cubes and one larger one for bulky clothing like jeans as well as a longer version for socks and underwear that fits by the wheels of the carry on.

She rolls up clothes that don't wrinkle and packs them in cubes. To keep cotton items wrinkle-free, McAlpin places them on top of the cubes – a method she calls "inter-packing."

For the airport, she takes a tote bag to hold her purse, snacks and any other items to be stored under the seat during flight. She attaches this tote bag to her carry-on bag's handle.

One of the medium cubes in her suitcase is designated for a "care kit" she can put in her personal tote bag in case her carry-on must be checked at the last minute. For example, if she's going on a beach trip, she'll include a swimsuit and anything else she'll need immediately upon arrival.


Ehrick did laundry halfway through her recent two weeks in Italy. Similarly, McAlpin traveled for 21 days around the world with only one carry-on bag. "My secrets there were to pack for a week and do laundry. That's the number one tip," she said. "Wash laundry in the sink or send it out."

McAlpin routinely fills a two-gallon Ziploc bag with soap — or shampoo in a pinch — and water, adds dirty socks and underwear, lets them soak, then rinses the clothing in a sink. She wrings out excess water from the items in a towel, then hangs them to dry.

Otherwise, go to a laundromat. Or, many hotels offer laundry service. "Just budget it in," McAlpin said.


Wear your heaviest items to the airport rather than cramming them in your bag.

For leisure travel, leave your laptop at home. "Honestly, I can do everything on an iPhone," McAlpin said.

Bring a coat with a zip-out liner, especially during spring and fall. Accessorize but leave pricey earrings and necklaces at home. Find out how dressy any special occasions will be before departing.

Don't overthink what you wear for Europe, where many are adopting the athleisure trend, said McAlpin, who brings her Naturalizer sneakers.

For women, a scarf can be useful to zhuzh up outfits and in case you visit religious sites and are asked to cover your head. If traveling in a country where modesty prevails, loose-fitting dresses, with longer sleeves and hems below the knee, can be easily rolled to fit into a suitcase.

Sometimes, pants are recommended, even in tropical weather, as another barrier from bugs. When uncertain, do your research. Global travelers often post tips on YouTube.

No room for gifts? Buy at the airport. "Everyone loves chocolate," she said.

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