New Challenge: Travel with Hand Luggage Only for 3 Months

Fellow backpackers of the world; how much of the stuff that protrudes from your 80 litre pack, do you actually use, or need? I’ve seen many of you, with your hunchback, map in hand and a painful grimace- as that bead of sweat drips down your back in the blistering heat.

It doesn’t look very fun. In fact I know it isn’t – because I’m speaking from experience. I practice-packed a crazy amount of times before I left England and to say it was stressful would be a massive understatement. Determined to get this backpacking malarkey right, I even wore my pack on my days off work and constantly packed and unpacked after pounding my local pavements.

No matter how tightly I rolled my clothes, or rearranged my electrics – I always ended up squeezing my day sack into my bigger backpack with my foot and sitting on the top to fasten the buckles! I thought that was the only way. A necessary evil of this new life I had chosen, I told myself. And so I flew from London to Malaysia, and started my new life of being a human packhorse.

After half a year of living a semi-expat/semi-traveller life – I’ve just had enough! It’s just bloody huge and a massive inconvenience, as I’m carrying around stuff that I hardly or never use.

After travelling to Borneo with Ian from Where Sidewalks End and boarding two planes, I felt an extreme feeling of envy towards him. I’m not talking about his magnificent groomed beard, or the ability to make ‘Air Asia’ air hostesses weak at the knees with that polite little Canadian accent. No – I’m talking about his minimalistic style of backpacking.

Ian travels the world with only a day sack and as I hauled my big and bulky monstrosity through a queue and gave my worldly belongings to a stranger, Ian skipped through with his pack and only had to go through one quick x-ray. Bish, bash, bosh – no worries.

After travelling around Kuching and secretly scowling at Ian through pure jealousy every time I had to put on my pack – I decided to make the commitment of becoming a minimalist backpacker. Off I stropped to my room and opened the contents of my backpack onto my bed.

I then eliminated items that I hadn’t used in a while, or took up too much unnecessary room. I then gave my stuff away, including my big backpack. Funnily enough, I got rid of loads of clothes on my very first week of my journey! I accidentally gave the wrong bag to a refugee centre and ended up giving away my favourite shirt.

*RIP Anth’s favourite shirt*

I tell you what, there’s one proper dapper refugee walking around Kuala Lumpur right now!

Predicted Pros and Cons:



Less time waiting in airports because of checking in bags and waiting for them to come back.

My Trust Issues Won’t be Highlighted

I’m a control freak in some respects. I like to do things my way and I have always felt uneasy about waving bye-bye to my belongings and not really knowing where they go. Or who is in charge of them.


Less charges because everything I own will come on the plane with me :)


My posture will no longer have to suffer when I go somewhere new. I opted for an impressive bio-flex, spine-supporting system when I bought my big backpack. I thought it was love when I first purchased my Berghaus. It only took a test week of living out of hostels and the honeymoon period was well and truly over. It doesn’t stand up properly and even with the support, I still slouch with all my gear after walking miles in the blistering sun. Which also kind of takes the gloss of getting lost – because I like getting lost!


Less Options and Liquid Restrictions

I like wearing smart clothes on a night out, so I’ll have to choose wisely (or just roll tighter). Also, the rules on liquids are very strict worldwide for carry-on luggage. I still really miss the sacrifice of my favourite aftershave, so I’ll give a top secret to my male readers: “La Roue de la Fortune,” number 10 by Dolce and Gabanna. It turns women into beasts.

Thank me later.

That’s pretty much it. I’m committing to 3 months and I’ll see how I cope. I’m travelling with a 30 litre back pack now – I met a girl last night who has 30 litres just for her makeup and cosmetics! I may treat myself and upgrade to a 40 litre with extra volume, advice welcome! Simon and Erin write a really helpful post on the same thing, they’ve been doing this for 26 months now and they swear by it.

Have you ever made this transition? Or are you one of these crazy 8 stone, petite ladies who carry around a backpack bigger than your actual body? Any tips, or 40 litre sacks recommendations would come in very handy. Thanks :)

31 Responses

  1. Monica

    I’ve always wanted to take a big trip with just a small bag. I’m going to India later this year and I’m seriously considering it. I just think it would make life so much easier! Looking forward to seeing how you get on.

    • Anthony

      Hey Monica,

      How long are you going to India for? Awesome! I definitely think it’ll make things easier, once we let the things go.

  2. Nathan - As We Travel Blog

    FUN CHALLENGE! After 2 months into our first rtw trip in 2008, we threw out our 90L bags and since then have ONLY used carry-on bags – normally around 30L – I could prob. do 20L without all the camera gear I carry.

    It is so much better and easier without having to checkin or wait for bags once you arrive – plus your bags are always with you so no worry about losing it – nice beard in that last shot! you are catching up! 😉
    Nathan – As We Travel Blog recently posted..Impressions Of Sri Lanka – What You Need To Know!My Profile

    • Anthony

      Hey Nathan,

      Yeah man! :) It’s so liberating; looking forward to getting on that plane and just skipping through! Ufff, I think 20L might be a stretch for me – that’s hardcore!! Bahaha, I’m blatantly winning the beardathon! 😉

  3. Tim Richards

    Another convert! I’ve travelled with cabin luggage only for many years now – I had a similar revelation to yours on my first visit to the UK over 20 years ago, when we had an embarrassingly huge suitcase which would fit nowhere but across two seats in a local commuter train.

    I write for Lonely Planet now and swear by my small backpack. I wrote a recent blog post explaining what I’ll be taking on a 6-week trip through Europe this year, might be of interest:

    • Anthony

      Hey Tim,

      Well – for at least 3 months haha 😉 See how I get on! That’s another good point – when travelling on trains and bus – a big pack can be a right pain in the arse! Cheers for the link!

  4. Erin

    Yay! Glad you are giving it a try. I promise you won’t look back. We’ve been travelling with our small packs for over 26 months now and still no regrets. It just makes life so much easier.

    • Anthony

      Hey Erin,

      I thought you’d be impressed :) Woops, I better change that – I write 18 months. What type/brand is Simon’s 40 litre? Is that like, the max of hand luggage on most airlines?

  5. Ryan

    Like you, after sweating through the jungles or Borneo with a 70L beast on my back, I vowed never again. Not being able to part with the beast I hid it in e deepest, darkest cupboard and brought a 40 litre replacement. I am now two months into a RTW trip and have so far hauled it to the top of Mt Kenya and hiked it to the top of Kilimanjaro (it was so light I was able to carry it myself and take one less porter). My bag is only half full, with a tent and sleeping bag taking up most of the room as – I am spending a lot of the year hiking (this also stops me from taking the bag as hand luggage). After nearly missing a bus the other day as our luggage was delayed on the carrousel, I am wishing I could find a way to reduce the load even further to carry on (maybe if I use sticks to hold up the tent I could).

    Best of luck with yours travels.

    • Anthony

      Hey Ryan,

      Haha funny that it was also Borneo where you had the same revelation. Probably because it’s so bloody hot over here!! What model of 40 litre do you use, matey?

  6. Christine

    This is impressive. Now, can you become THE ultimately fashionable male travel blogger with only hand luggage? That is the question.

  7. crazy sexy fun traveler

    That is amazing! I say so many times to everyone that sometimes I wish my backpack got lost somewhere so I could travel with just my small bag … My things get bigger during my trips, I start always with cca 13 kg of a backpack and max 10 kg of the small bag which is actually the only things I need 😀

    • Anthony

      Crazy, Sexy, Fun, Traveller (Feels victorious for adding Britsh English version of traveller)

      I’ve amazed myself, I’ve gotten rid of so many stuff! Maybe you should try the challenge too :)

  8. Alison

    I like the idea of this, after nearly doing my back in with just a 55litre last week! I seriously wish I’d brought a wheelie suitcase. It will be interesting to see how you get on :-)

  9. Ayngelina

    I used a 65L for South America and then a 45L for Europe. In Maui I just took a tote bag that was 25L I’m still finding what works best for me. I’m heading to Mexico Thursday and am going to try a carry-on suitcase which is 35L.

    If I weren’t a blogger with so many electronics I think 30L would be easy.
    Ayngelina recently posted..Moloka’i’s ghost townMy Profile

    • Anthony

      Hey Ayngelina,

      That’s some pretty impressive downsizing you’ve been doing there. I agree, if I didn’t NEED a laptop, it’d be a world easier. Looking forward to seeing how you get on :)

    • Anthony

      Thanks Fred….Oooooh tell me more. Which airlines have you used? Do you have a articular brand/model to share? Mine’s maybe a little too small (that’s not what she said).

  10. Alouise

    I usually only try to do carry on, but then again I’m usually only travelling for a week or two at a time. Good luck.

  11. Brum brum brum

    Do I get any cash for usage of one of my pics here??????
    I’ll speak to my lawyer and he will most likely be in touch 😉

    I think there is a certain freedom that comes with only having the things in life that you REALLY need, I do think it is easier for chaps than chapettes though.

    • Anthony

      Hahahaha! Pretty sure that was my camera, Alix.

      Actually, I’m not sure at all. But that’s the story I’m sticking to.

      SEE YOU IN COURT!! 😛


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