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Lightweight Backpacking – Travelling Carry On Only

Did you ever notice that the first piece of luggage on a carousel never belongs to anyone? – Erma Bomback

Tired of feeling like a giant tortoise? Travel Freedom feels even more free with less weight on your back, no luggage charges and less waiting around in lines – sail through airports with carry on only travel.

We did it – we went carry on only!

For around 20 months Tommo & I had carried 2 backpacks totaling around 25kgs in weight, plus jackets etc. all through Asia and Europe. Seriously that shit gets heavy and we were over it!

So we decided that by 2015 we were both going head first into the minimalist travel scene – we were going carry on only.

“Why?” I hear you ask

In the months leading up to going carry on only we took a total of 12 flights with budget airlines which added up to over $250 in checked luggage fees. Plus there is the hassle of waiting at the carousel for your luggage – if it ever arrives. Which sometimes it doesn’t.

I have had my luggage lost a few times during my years of travel (always in the USA to be honest). It is a massive pain – you have to buy additional items until your luggage shows up. And that can take days or even weeks.

I learned early on to always keep my toothbrush, toothpaste and a clean pair of undies with me at all times – it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Since we’ve gone carry on only we haven’t had to worry about this at all – our luggage stays with us.

lightweight backpacking

A few things to consider with lightweight backpacking:


  • No check in luggage fees
  • Only carry with you what you need, no excess crap. We’ve got a our luggage choice down to an art
  • Airport travel is a breeze
  • No long lines to check in your bags
  • No loss of luggage
  • No exploding shampoos in the hold
  • No waiting to collect your luggage at the other end
  • No sore backs from carrying massive backpacks around everywhere


  • Have to transfer all liquids into 100ml bottles.
  • Certain things we cannot carry i.e. alcohol (disaster) (unless in 100ml bottles!)
  • Not all airlines have the same carry on luggage sizings. You need to make sure that your carry on backpack size and weight will fit the requirements of the airline or you could pay a lot in last minute check-in fees.


Looking for more Best Travel Backpack options…not just carry-on only bags?  Click Here


What to look for in a carry on backpack

A few key things we were looking for in our lightweight backpack included:

Carry on bag Size

We needed a backpack that would fit Ryanair and EasyJet’s luggage restrictions (we are in Europe). If you are based elsewhere in the world make sure you check the carry on luggage size restrictions before you purchase a backpack.

lightweight backpacking

We also wanted bags that were…


We had been travelling around with an old backpack that I first got second hand when I was 21 (quite a few years ago, that’s all I’m willing to say). I wanted something modern & funky that suited my personality i.e bright pretty colours

Front Opening

If you have a traditional backpack you would probably have a top opening backpack. Meaning that if you need to get something at the bottom, you have to unpack your entire bloody bag to get that one item. Front opening allows us to quickly locate anything in our backpack and get it out without repacking everything.


Pocket, Pockets, we love Pockets!

We were looking for a bag that had plenty of space to shove things and keep them out of the way. Also, a few not so easily seen pockets to keep important documents etc in.

We are now also travelling with 2 laptops to keep our blog and podcast running full steam ahead – we also wanted a pocket to easily slip our computers in and out of at airport security checks.

What backpack do we use?

We decided to go with cabinzero backpacks – they ticked a lot of our backpack boxes. They are simple and flexible – which matches our minimalist travel freedom lifestyle perfectly.

Lightweight backpacking


Cabin Zero backpacks are 44 litres, weigh about 760 grams, and their carry-on bag size is  55 x 40 x 20 cms this means you can take them on Ryanair, BA, Lufthansa, and EasyJet. Easy!


Their backpacks come in 15 different colours, so there’s something for everyone. It was hard to choose just one.

Front opening

Tick! This bag almost completely opens on itself


Oh we are in pocket heaven. With a selection of both zipped and mesh pockets in the bag. And the major plus that we like is the front zipped pocket. Large enough for us to fit our 13 & 15 inch laptops in with ease.

Additional inclusions

  • Built-in Global Luggage Tracker, powered by Okoban. This is great if our bags ever happen to get stolen (let hope we never have to use it)
  • Lockable Zippers on the main compartment (lock not included). Keep all of your gear safe and secure.
  • 10 years warranty (upgradable to 25 years free of charge if you ‘like’ them on FaceBook)
  • Padded shoulder straps
  • Fully Lined
  • Outer material is made with waterproof polyester – so you don’t have to panic if you get caught in the rain.


We have managed to fit our entire lives into these 44 litre bags – and it’s awesome. The only downside is that we would really love for the backpacks to have a waist strap to help take some of the pressure off our shoulders.

Another thing we loved about these bags is the price: 45 pounds or around $66 USD. Durable, lightweight, carry on backpacks that don’t cost a fortune – we couldn’t resist

The Verdict

We have been travelling completely carry-on only since the beginning of the year, and have not missed a single thing. We find ourselves constantly looking at others, travelling with massive backpacks filled to the brim, and wonder what the hell they are travelling with to need that much space – it’s insane.

lightweight backpacking

Save yourself time, money and airport hassle – give lightweight backpacking a try.

Your back and your wallet will thank you for it.


Would you ever travel carry-on only? Tell us in the comments

Our complete carry-on packing guide and video are coming soon – Watch this space!

Note: Our cabin zero backpacks were complementary, but as always all opinions remain our own