How to Travel Long-Term with Hand Luggage Only

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We have been backpacking Asia for more than half a year with hand luggage only. Our backpacks weight less than 10 kilos each even though they literally contain our whole life. Before the trip, we sold all our belongings except a few bags. In the beginning of our journey, we wrote a packing list for an undefined long trip. Check our story about shifting to a minimalistic lifestyle and see our whole packing list.

We really vote for light traveling and not only on short weekend trips. From our opinion, anyone can travel with hand luggage only once you realize how simple it actually is. In this article, we summed up our experiences and listed the best tips that help anyone to travel with hand luggage only!

Why you should travel with hand luggage only

Firstly, traveling lightly makes moving around easier, safer and more flexible. Checking in for a flight goes quickly and you don’t need to wait for your luggage after the flight. You can always take your backpack with you inside the bus so no need to worry about thefts (digging through the luggage is quite common especially in Asia). When carrying a small backpack, you don’t generally need to sweat so much compared to a huge bag. And after all, if you are not able to carry your luggage more than 500 meters, you should consider if all that stuff is really needed.

Secondly, traveling only with carry-on saves money. Nowadays most of the airline companies charge extra for the luggage. That’s why a small backpack that fits in the hand luggage measurements is much cheaper in the long run. We have paid $40 on average for each of the four flights inside Asia and a checked-in luggage would have added up close to $20 every time.

Experiences of traveling with hand luggage only

In short, we can say that traveling with just hand luggage has gone very well! Traveling lightly is clearly our thing and it has made our life on the road much easier. Hitchhiking and walking around while looking for example for a cheap accommodation would have been impossible with big backpacks so we are very happy with our decision to travel lightly.

In the beginning of our trip, our backpacks weighted a bit less than 8 kilos each. On the way they have gained some weight because we bought more stuff like a laptop. Anyway, at the moment our bags are still under 10 kilos. The content of the backpacks has changed quite a lot with the travel destinations. We have given up all the winter clothes and bought shorts, hippie pants and tops instead.

Have we missed something that we didn’t pack with us to our trip? During our travels, we have only noticed one shortage: deodorant. We didn’t know that the people don’t use deodorant in Japan and Korea and that it’s really hard to find it. So we should have packed several sticks of it. On the other hand, the selection in South East Asia is good but most deodorants have a whitening effect. If you don’t want white armpits, it’s better to pack you own deodorant. Apart from that, we haven’t missed anything (except Finnish liquorice ice cream which is quite difficult to carry around anyway).

Even with such a small luggage, we do have some extra stuff that we are not using. At the moment we are carrying some long-sleeved shirts that we don’t really need in the heat of South-East Asia. We just don’t want to throw everything away because we know we will need them at some point. If you are planning to travel only in warm countries, we would say that traveling with hand luggage only is a piece of cake!


Tips for traveling with hand luggage only

We collected below the most important tips. With these instructions, you can also travel lightly even on a long trip. Traveling with carry-on only is not as hard as you might have thought!

Choose a suitably sized backpack

It’s just a fact that the bigger the bag, the more stuff will travel with you. Even if you start the trip with an half-empty backpack, more stuff will start to sneak into your bag sooner or later. Cheap clothes from Thailand, souvenirs from Vietnam and so on. Buying souvenirs is not forbidden of course but you can alternatively send the gifts per post or buy a cheap check-in bag on the way back home.

Our backpacks are 40 and 45 liters and they are a perfect size for hand luggage. Even if we pack the bag totally full, it’s hard to exceed 10 kilos. Given that you don’t fill the bag with stones or something like that of course.

Besides the small backpacks, we don’t have any separate day bags but only Johanna’s small handbag. We carry the passports and other valuables in money belts and for day trips we have small fabric bags that don’t take any space inside the backpack.

Pay attention to the size of the backpack at the first place so you won’t have the risk of having an over-weighted luggage at any point!

hitchhiking shikoku
hitchhiking takamatsu

Change the liquids to non-liquid alternatives

The liquids are maybe the biggest stumbling block while traveling with hand luggage. How is it possible to fit all the bottles in a one-liter bag?

Our trick is to change everything to non-liquid options as much as possible: shower gel to a soap bar, shampoo to a shampoo bar, roll on deodorant to a stick and foundation to mineral makeup. Did you know that you can get even toothpaste in a powder form and sunscreen as towel wipes? Of course you also need to reduce the number of cosmetics and you cannot have ten different night creams with you.

The rest of the liquids travels with us in 50 or 100-milliliter bottles. Cosmetic samples are also great to take with you. Remember that you can buy the basic cosmetics in almost every country and toothpaste or shampoo don’t normally cost crazy amounts. Johanna’s contact lenses brought an additional challenge but she ended up taking a small bottle of contact lens solution and lenses for six months. It has been easy to find both in every country in South-East Asia.

Maybe the best individual travel product has been coconut oil. It works at least as a makeup remover, lotion, hair mask, after sun, after shave and in many other functions.

Pack clothes for one week’s needs

As we mentioned in our previous packing post, you should pack clothes for one week’s needs. Going for a long trip with hand luggage only might sound impossible but eventually, packing for one year is not much different compared to packing for one or two weeks. You can do laundry almost anywhere or in an emergency case at least in the sink with soap.

Clothes can be packed compactly in vacuum bags that spare a lot of space and protect them from getting wet. You can buy cheap vacuum bags on eBay where we ordered them along with other travel gear (a direct link to the vacuum bags here*). We couldn’t live without these!

If you are not planning to do any special activities, two pairs of shoes should be enough. At the moment we have flip flops and sneakers and Johanna has additionally nicer-looking sandals that are a bit “unnecessary extra” but don’t take much space in the backpack.

Be ready to give up stuff

Traveling lightly eventually requires minimalistic thinking. This might feel difficult at first but few things are really irreplaceaple when you think about it more. You should consider your clothes as travel gear and not create too much emotion towards them.

We gave up all our winter clothes when we flew from cold South Korea to the warmt of Vietnam. It’s natural that the content of the backpack changes with the travel destination so you should consider this already while packing. It’s better to leave your most expensive favorite clothes home if giving them up feels difficult.

If you get bored to your clothes and do some shopping, the main rule is to throw old clothes away accordingly. This prevents your bag to gain weight. The clothes that are still usable can be left for example in the hostel where some lucky person can pick them up.


bye winter clothes
Goodbye to the well-used winter clothes.

Sometimes it’s good to check through your backpack carefully.

Choose light electronics

Professional cameras and big laptops can easily double the weight of the backpack so you should think twice what kind of electronics to take with you. We started our trip with our phones only but realized soon that blogging and trip planning is impossible without a computer. In Japan we invested in a compact laptop that weighs only about one kilo. It has been our faithful friend ever since.

Viihteenä meillä toimii fyysisten kirjojen sijasta Bookbeat-äänikirjat, joihin ollaan hurahdettu ihan täysin! Tämän linkin* kautta voit tutustua äänikirjojen ihmeelliseen maailmaan ilmaiseksi kahden viikon ajan. Palvelun voi irtisanoa koska tahansa ilman sitoumuksia.

As entertainment, we use Bookbeat audio books instead of physical books and we have totally fallen in love with them! You can listen to audiobooks for free for two weeks via this link*. You can cancel the service anytime without any notice period.

At some point, we started regretting that we don’t have a camera. Anyhow, in Thailand we got a new travel buddy Eken 4K action camera. This Chinese version of GoPro costs only about $50 but has worked very well. And the camera basically weights nothing. We have been quite excited to be able to take pictures also under the water! If you are looking for a cheap waterproof travel camera, you can find a similar one here*.

travel electronics

Additionally, we have a tablet that we haven’t really used though and that is quite useless to be honest.

Traveling lightly requires some self-discipline and sacrifices but it will also make you feel very free! At its best, light travel can inspire to live a minimalistic life also outside the travels and help to eliminate excess stuff at home too. We will probably never get back to our old lifestyle where moving to a new apartment required several car rides, but better not to swear anything…

Do you prefer to travel lightly or with a big backpack?


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2 thoughts on “How to Travel Long-Term with Hand Luggage Only

  1. Hey!! Just wondering how you find travelling on the low cost airlines in Asia? I am planning hand luggage only for a trip but I’ve read the limit is 7kg and they weigh all hand luggage at boarding. Have you found this to be the case? My luggage will be nearer 9kg I think. Thanks 🙂

    1. Hello! We only had good experiences so far. We mainly used VietjetAir and AirAsia and the weight limit is very low indeed. Most of the time we also had about 9 kg each but the staff never said anything even though they weighted or luggage at the check-in counter. As long as your bag doesn’t look too huge it should be fine. Always try to wear the heaviest clothes and shoes when you fly and be prepared to put on all the clothes on if they complain about the overweight 😀

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