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I recently returned from a 10-day adventure that started in Corfu Town, incorporated seven days in Albania, and ended in Ohrid, Macedonia. As we were reluctantly flying out with Ryanair, and we were determined not to pay for any extras on top of the basic fare, this meant that we had to fit everything that we needed for 10 days into a bag that measured 40 x 20 x 25cm (see below).
Yup, we were travelling with carry-on only for 10 whole days!
I cheated a little, because my Cabin Zero 28L backpack is 4cm (well, 3.5cm to be exact!) larger than Ryanair specify it should be (it actually measures 39 x 20 x 29.5cm), but it still fits neatly under the seat in front of me.
I surprised myself, not only by fitting everything I took into a bag that size (bearing in mind that I still travel with a bulky DSLR camera which takes up a huge chunk of space!), but also by finding that I’d made really smart choices in terms of what I actually chose to pack. I didn’t need anything I’d had to leave behind and I used or wore everything I brought with me. So, when I returned I felt inspired to write this post, in the hope that I can help others avoid Ryanair’s additional charges, too.
Keep reading to find out how travelling with carry-on only is still possible, in spite of the fact that many airlines are tightening their restrictions on cabin baggage.
I’ve also packed for six nights in Helsinki and Tallinn (three in each) using only my Cabin Zero 28L backpack, and I regularly use it for long weekends away – most recently Warsaw, and a coach trip down to Devon with mum.
My favourite feature of the Cabin Zero 28L backpack is that, even in spite of its diminutive size, it opens like a suitcase – allowing easy storage of items and access to them. It makes it so much easier to pack and unpack compared to a conventional top-loading backpack.
I also swear by packing cubes for easy organisation and storage of my clothes. They really help to make travelling with carry-on only easy and hassle-free!
Travelling with carry-on only | Things to consider when packing for a 10-day trip with only hand luggage
There are essentials I pack regardless of planned activities or destination, but you will also need to consider the following.
- The climate, season and weather forecast for while you’re there. We were visiting somewhere with a Mediterranean climate, in the Summer season, and the weather forecast was mostly warm (between 30 and 35 degrees) and dry with occasional thunderstorms.
- What activities you’ll be doing (hiking, cycling, swimming etc). We were hiring a car to get around, but we’d planned some short hikes at a few of our destinations (mostly up to castles) and a bit of swimming along the Albanian Riviera.
- Whether there’ll be the facility to wash clothes (and more importantly, get them dry). We were staying at a combination of hostels, guesthouses and apartments, and although some of them offered laundry services, many of them were purely overnight stops so we did not have time to take advantage of such services. Anything we needed to launder would have to be hand-washed in the bathroom wash basin, and hung out to dry on a terrace or balcony overnight.
Travelling with carry-on only | My packing list essentials
- Camera. I travel with a Canon EOS60D and an 18-135mm lens and these two come everywhere with me! Aside from my clothes, my camera and lens take up the most room in my Cabin Zero 28L backpack.
- Toiletries. I have a clear zip-closure bag for these, in order to comply with current regulations. I use a solid shampoo bar from Lush, which lives in a tin that I keep separate to this bag, but in the bag itself is always a couple of bottles of conditioner, an exfoliating face wash, Moroccan oil (for my hair), tinted SPF50 moisturiser, a small bar of soap, toothpaste, toothbrush and my razor.
- Travel hairdryer and straighteners. Stu keeps telling me how much space I could save if I jettisoned these (and he’s right), but I do like to have the option of making an effort with my appearance – at least when I go out in the evenings.
- Waterproof backpack cover. Even when rain is not forecast, there’s always a chance that Mother Nature has other ideas. I’ll dry out if that happens. My electronics, however, won’t. The one I use by Outad has, unfortunately, been discontinued, but this one by Licqic is very similair and is available in various sizes.
- Portable battery charger. We rely on our phones so heavily these days, especially where navigation is concerned. Carrying one of these ensures that I don’t get caught out. I use this one by Anker.
- Basic first aid kit. Plasters, ibuprofen, imodium and antihistamines pretty much always live in here.
- Worldwide travel adaptor with multiple USB ports. I use one similar to this one.
- Underwear. Obvs.
Travelling with carry-on only | Everything I packed for my 10-day trip
This (pictured below) is everything I packed inside my 28L Cabin Zero backpack for my 10-day trip.
The items pictured are as follows (excluding those already mentioned in the ‘Packing List Essentials’ list above):
- 2 x short sleeve tops. A grey Rab Topo Tee and a v-neck Salomon tee in teal/blue. I don’t think either of the ones I own are available to buy anymore but I love the gear both these brands make. The t-shirts I own are both quick-drying and require minimal ironing, whilst at the same time not looking like outdoor gear. I’m pictured wearing my Salomon t-shirt in the photo below (together with my black harem pants, mentioned later in this post), at Ostrog Monastery in Montenegro.
- 3 x sleeveless tops. A black one by Sweaty Betty, blue one by Ayacucho and grey one by Animal. Again, I’ve owned these for some years but they pack small and don’t crease easily.
- 2 x pairs of shorts, both Mountain Hardwear Dynama. As I’m petite (5’1 and 7.5 stone) I struggle to find ‘outdoor’ shorts that actually look good on me. All the ones I tried were either too baggy around the thigh or too long in the leg, but these are fantastic. So fantastic I bought two pairs – one in black and one in khaki green!
- 1 x pair of black jersey harem pants. Mine are Eileen Fisher petite ones from Ebay. I like the viscose material because it falls well, and again, doesn’t crease easily. They also look great paired with a simple semi-fitted t-shirt.
- 1 x long-sleeved cover-up/warmer layer. I picked up an Icebreaker Zoya top in the Cotswold Outdoor sale, and I absolutely love it! It’s incredibly lightweight but warm and fits really well.
- 1 x dress. I packed a really old one from French Connection. This is me pictured wearing it in Italy below, paired with a cardigan from Monsoon, which I also took on this trip (but didn’t pack as it’s on the bulkier side, so I wore it instead). It’s is my go-to travel dress because it requires minimal ironing and doesn’t crease easily (noticing a theme here?)
- 1 x waterproof jacket. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I swear by my Rab Downpour jacket. It’s seen me through some ridiculously wet hiking days in Kerala. I love it because, not only does it keep you completely dry, but you can also wear it in hot climates and it doesn’t make you sweat. I’ve got it in ‘twilight’ (a kind of darkish blue) but I now wish I’d chosen a more vibrant colour.
- 1 x bikini. As we had a couple of days on the Albanian Riviera, this was kind of an essential item on this particular trip. I’ve actually got a few bikinis but I packed one by Jack Wills.
- Socks. Although I mostly expected to be living in sandals, I needed a few pairs of socks to wear with my Keen shoes, for when we went on any hikes or long walks over slightly rough terrain.
- Pyjamas. Because we were staying in a few hostels on this trip that had shared bathrooms. I just packed a little pair of checked blue shorts and a navy vest top that I bought from Fat Face a few years ago.
I wore a pair of Keen converse look-a-like shoes (essentially more rugged and hardwearing than actual Converse) and packed a pair of Chaco sandals (also featured in the photo above). I don’t think they make the exact model I have anymore but these Chaco Juniper sandals are very similar. They’re really comfy and although they’re essentially an outdoor brand sandal, they manage to look elegant at the same time.
They also take up hardly any room at all in my backpack, so they make travelling with carry-on only really easy!
- Sunglasses. As I’ve got quite a small, narrow face, I struggle to find fashionable sunglasses that actually suit me. They need to be slightly curved at the edges or I just look like a kid playing dress-up in her parents’ gear. I love the cat’s eyes ones but simply cannot wear them without looking ridiculous. Anyway, I digress. I found my current pair at duty free in Liverpool airport some years back and I’m being very careful not to lose or break them! (because I paid rather a lot for them).
- A travel towel. I recently discovered these travel towels by Tesalate. They’re still thin, lightweight, fast-drying and pack down a lot smaller than a normal towel, but these ones by Tesalate are full-sized (160cm x 80cm / 63 x 31 inches), and are designed to repel sand – even when wet. So, they’re fantastic if you’re planning a bit of beach time on your trip. What’s more, there’s so many vibrant, colourful designs (I’ve got the ‘Rainbow Road’ design, pictured below) to choose from and they’re double-sided, so you get a cool black and white design on the reverse.
- Travel guide. I still prefer to travel with a paper version of a travel guide rather than having one on my Kindle, because I find it a lot easier to use for reference purposes. On this trip I packed my Bradt travel guide to Albania and simply photographed a few of the pages on Ohrid from my Bradt travel guide to North Macedonia.
- My laptop. I don’t take this on every single trip I take (it usually gets left at home when I head off on a long weekend – unless I’m travelling solo), but because it’s smaller and lighter than some of today’s tablets it is pretty easy to squeeze it in to the laptop sleeve at the back of my Cabin Zero 28L backpack, or in the zipped pocket at the front. I travel with a 6-year old 11-inch MacBook Air, which I desperately need to upgrade.
- Sunscreen. This didn’t appear in the photo because we bought a (larger than 100ml) bottle at the airport, obviously used it on the trip and subsequently left the remains in our apartment in Ohrid. I’m fair-skinned so I always travel with an SPF 50 sunscreen.
- Mosquito repellent. This also wasn’t in the photo for the same reason: we used it all during the trip. However I prefer natural repellents, like Incognito or Mosi-Guard.
- Hat. An important item if you’re going to be walking around in the sun a lot (which we did). I do not seem to suit floppy hats (yep, I’ll never be an Instagram girl) so I wear this Fat Face ‘Train Driver’ hat (I’ve also got a similar North Face one), which I’m pictured in below, at Lake Slano in Montenegro.
Travelling with carry-on only | Fitting everything in to the 28L backpack
When I’m travelling with carry-on only, using the Cabin Zero 28L backpack, I have to fit all my clothes into one packing cube (27.9 x 17.1 x 7.6 cm). I bought a set of packing cubes from Amazon. If I’m travelling with my larger 44L Cabin Zero backpack, I can fit two of these inside it. I’ve never actually used the third one!
Anyway, here is the full packing cube pictured before closing and then afterwards in my hand and next to my 11-inch MacBook Air, to give you some idea of size.
And here is the full packing cube and the rest of the items fitted inside the 28L Cabin Zero backpack.
I realised after I’d taken all these photos that I actually wore my Rab Downpour jacket to the airport so that wasn’t packed. However, I forgot to picture my laptop charger and cap, and the sunscreen and mosquito repellent weren’t in the photo for reasons explained above, so space-for-space, it probably works out as it would’ve done without my waterproof jacket.
And, just to prove that the bag actually closes, here is it with zips done up and compression straps tightened.
Proof that it is possible to travel with under-seat carry-on only for a 10-day trip!
I would struggle packing for cooler climes with just this, or if I required specialist clothing and gear for a difficult hiking trip or cycling holiday. But for a trip to somewhere that’s mostly warm and one where you’re mainly just going to be wandering around sightseeing and doing a few short hikes up to points of interest, then travelling with carry on only is completely doable – even with Ryanair’s ridiculous restrictions on size.
**I was provided with a complimentary travel towel from Tesalate in exchange for a mention in this post**