Attention travelers: 7 Days with Carry-on? Here’s how to make it work

Can a solo woman traveler, fussy about style, travel with only carry-on luggage for a week? Is the carry-on manageable on/off airplanes without incurring  arm/shoulder injury or the mortification of asking for help? The answer is yes.

I had held a near-religious conviction that a 7-day, fashion-conscious travel wardrobe required a bag exceeding carry-on size restrictions. Awkwardly wrestling with a large two-wheeled bag, I was always relieved to relinquish custody to the airline and watch the thing slip away into the netherworld of baggage handling.

The moment of truth came when a bag didn’t make the plane to Florence. While there are worse places than Italy to buy fill-in clothes, I knew I had to take a second look at carry-on travel.

The upshot is that carry-on only does work for me, for 7 days. No upper body trauma, and little stress.  Here’s what I found….

You need the right carry-on

It’s got to have four (4), multi-directional wheels. Not two wheels. You need to walk proudly alongside your belongings, not drag them behind you in something that’s akin to a wobbly donkey. Beyond wheels, the options are dizzying and at every price point.

With disclosure that I paid full price ($225 US), I offer an unequivocal recommendation from a new entry in the market,  Away Travel.  Their exceptional carry-on bag is compliant with most domestic and international size requirements and is exactly what we carry-on skeptics have waited for.

A snazzy, techie feature – an embedded battery with easily accessible connections to charge gadgets – won my heart.

Never heard of Away Travel?  IMG_0864You will – these folks have done their homework and their line of solid, hard-case luggage, available in three sizes, is reasonably priced, roomy, attractive and lightweight. It is sold exclusively online, through their website (there is an Away Concept Store in New York City).

Optimize the “personal item”

Essentially, airlines allow two carry-ons. All too often the second one, the “personal item,” is not optimized by travelers. A lifetime habit of traveling with a use-specific briefcase or purse needs review. The personal item, usually a large satchel to keep valuables and other things, like shawls,  close at hand, is now the second bag, on equal footing with your primary suitcase.

So re-think what goes where. Maybe your travel jewelry goes in the carry-on suitcase, not the carry-all/personal item bag. Same for that extra sweater, any meds you don’t need en route, etc.

To keep things organized and integrate the functionality of a purse/briefcase, you may want to use a small bag as the “purse” inside the carry-all.FullSizeRender

Once at the destination, I like Tumi’s wide array of nylon cross-body bags as an every-day purse.  It’s very roomy, secure, wears like iron and lies flat or rolls for packing. IMG_0846

 Wardrobe Organization

My  7-day carry-on experiment occurred during the summer, but I stand firm in the belief that it works for cooler weather clothes,too.  (Stay tuned for the follow-up post this fall on an extended “carry-on only” trip to Europe).

Many pixels and much ink have been devoted to packing tips and “capsule wardrobes”.  For me, the idea of “capsule” feels restricted.  I’ve got plenty of clothes but not all can go with me. So, some hard decisions have to be made.

So here are my tips on winnowing down the options:

  • List each planned event during the trip,  especially fancy occasions; assign a theoretical outfit to each event.
  • From that list of clothing, what items can be repurposed?   Can a “beach cover” serve as a robe as well as a light dress or blouse?
  • Everything should “go with” at least 3 other articles of clothing, except a single item such as a dress or jumpsuit
  • Go through the same process with your travel jewelry, accessories and shoes.
  • Wear/carry your bulkiest clothing

On my recent week-long trip, I packed (in my new Away carry-on):

  • 3 pants: khaki, black, white
  • 6 T-shirts/blouses : white (3), red (1), black (1),  multi (1)
  • swimsuit
  • 2 pairs of shoes
  • simple knit dress
  • nightgown
  • book project
  • laptop
  • 2 small hostess gifts
  • underthings, cosmetics, hairbrush

I wore black/white pants, black t-shirt, white linen jacket, black sandals. Carried a raincoat/hat. Everything went with everything, and I had more clothes than I could wear. One of the blouses served triple duty.  It all worked.

Destination considerations

  • Will you be taking any side trips that require special clothing?
  • Will there be a washer available?  Laundry service? A dry-cleaner?
  • Will you be able to buy things you need?  (e.g. sunscreen)
  • Research weather at the destination; rainy season?
  • What can be bought on site, as opposed to packing?  Suntan lotion, for example?

Pride, meet Reality

I was fearful of not being able to lift a carry-on into the overhead compartment and too proud to ask for help. I needed to get over it. I’m reasonably fit, tall and strong but if I can’t lift 25 pounds (about 12 kilos) over my head, that’s o.k. This isn’t Marine training, it’s pleasure travel.

(Hint: Often an option on smaller planes, leave the bag at the last-minute for gate side baggage check, and pick it up right away. You can be reasonably sure it will be on the plane with you, safe and sound.)

Finally, there’s karma: After years of lending a hand to moms traveling with young kids, recalling my gratitude for such assistance, I’ve found there’s plenty of unsolicited help out there.  At three score plus, I’m grateful once again.

Please join the conversation on the pros/cons of carry-on travel and tell us about your “must have” bag. Would love to hear from you in the comment section below.

– Jane

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© 3 Score & More 2016

Photo Credit: Jane Trombley


10 Replies to “Attention travelers: 7 Days with Carry-on? Here’s how to make it work”

  1. I am going 4 weeks to Europe leaving next week. I’m gonna use the Away carry on . I have multiple little dresses to wear along with one pair of pants, swimsuit, etc. We are staying at a few apartments along the way so we will be able to wash. I can’t wait! Thanks for the article


  2. Love the point about four wheels not two. My wrist gets really tired lugging the two wheeler – especially when I’ve parked my second carry on on top of it. My two cents about the second “personal ” item is that it should have a zipped top because you will likely have to shove it under the seat in front of you and things fall out. I’ve found stewardesses are quite firm in NOT helping me lift my larger bag to the overhead, but other passengers seem willing to pitch in- especially young men. Duh!


    1. Good point on the zipper. I agree that flight attendants (male and female) are generally not helpful in getting the bag placed in the overhead, but, like you, I’ve fellow passengers very helpful.


  3. I enjoyed reading this!
    I’m a fan of using scarves to “change” an outfit and. to add a little bit of warmth, if needed.


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