Carry On Only Travel for Digital Nomads - Packing Lists, Backpack and Luggage

I've been training and living out of my suitcase full time since 2008 and my biggest regret was that I didn't start traveling carry on only earlier. Having less stuff and traveling more as a minimalist has saved me time, money, headaches, and has granted me more freedom. A lot of people think that it's a sacrifice, that they can't do it, or that it's either difficult or even impossible, but I'm here to tell you that it's not. I've done it myself over the last few years of testing, and have finally figured it out. Here's how to travel carry on only without check in luggage, and how to truly travel like a boss. This post has been updated for 2020 as I've done successfully traveled for an entire full year with just carry on only luggage. I'll report what I learned, what I brought with me, what I left behind and how it all went.

When I first started traveling, I made the rookie mistake of taking too much stuff. It's embarrassing to say, but during my first trip to Thailand in 2008, I had a giant rolling luggage and a backpack that weighed exactly the maximum of 23kg which is 50 lbs each! That's over 100 lbs of luggage total! To be fair, I was downsizing from having a 3 bedroom house full of stuff in Los Angeles that I had accumulated over the years, so it already felt like a big move living out of two bags. But now that I've been traveling and living out of just one carry on suitcase, looking back, it's ridiculous it took me this long to do it. In this post I'm going to share with you everything I learned about carry on traveling, the pros, cons, tips, tricks, and hacks I've learned along the way!

How to Start - Travel Carry on Only

The best way to start is with a trial run. Keep your stuff in your home base during your next short trip, and try going carry on only. Whether it's a few day to few week trip somewhere, keep the bulk of your stuff at home, with a friend, or even a hostel and give it a shot.

I've now done this hack a few times over the past couple of years before I was completely carry on only and it's never failed me. Even in Dublin, Ireland, I managed to find a hotel that would let me store my big luggage for free, while I went trekking on the Wicklow Way for just over a week. The funny thing was, I got so used to living out of my backpack that even when I reclaimed my main luggage, I didn't even open it for a few days as there was nothing I needed in it. The same thing happened again last year in Nepal when I left my main roller luggage at a hostel in Kathmandu while I trekked the Himalayas. After two weeks of not having my stuff, I got used to living without out it and felt like it was a drag to get back! 

And it's not just me, the same thing happened to my buddy Sam Marks when the airline lost his luggage during our Eastern European trip which went through Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, and Ukraine. At first he was devastated, but after traveling around for almost a week with nothing more than a few t-shirts he picked up and a couple of personal items, he almost told the airline to keep it as there was nothing he actually needed in the bag. 

So give it a try. The next time you're going somewhere, leave your stuff at a hostel, hotel, friends house or at home, and experience the freedom of going with just a small bag. Once you go carry on only and taste the freedom, you'll never want to go back. Below are videos from my Ireland and Nepal treks which forced me to go lightweight, but also gave me a taste of how free i'd feel traveling that way. Later in this post, I'll share how I travel lightweight even with a suit jacket, coffee maker, podcast setup, and digital nomad workstation. 

Traveling as a Digital Nomad

Okay so now that you've had a taste of what it's like traveling carry on only during a short trip somewhere down to the islands, by the seaside or on a trek, you get it. But what about full time travel while you work as a digital nomad? Surely we'll need more stuff and can't go ultra-lightweight right? Well, you're right, here's the compromise. As someone living out of their luggage full time, 11 months of the year, I like having some comforts and conveniences. I enjoy making fresh brewed Cafe Americanos in my Airbnb's even if they didn't come with a coffee maker. I like being able to dress a it more civilized and go to nice places once in a while without looking like a backpacker.

I also like having a full set of electronics including a professional camera, comfortable laptop setup with an eye level stand, mouse and wireless keyboard. I enjoy having a variety of clothes and not having to do laundry every other day or wear the same thing day in and day out. Being a digital nomad means that I'm working while slowly traveling and seeing the world. It's no longer a vacation, but a lifestyle. That means that I need to have a bit more comfort while traveling and have more than one pair of shoes.

But the benefits are even greater as even though it's a bit harder not being able to go home every month to repack our clothes, we now have the freedom and flexibility to travel full time and see more of the world at our own pace. Traveling carry on only has allowed me to see more of the world, save money on check in luggage, take cheaper low cost carrier flights, and save a ton of time and headache not having to deal with lost luggage or waiting around at airports. This has given me more freedom and freed up money to be able to do more epic stuff as I'm not worried about weight limits, baggage fees or the hassle of carrying things around.

The Best Carry On Luggage

I've spent years and hundreds of dollars trying to find the best travel luggage, and I've happy to say that I've finally figured it out. The trick is to start with the luggage first, so you know what you can bring and don't start over buying things out of excitement and preparation. I've learned that as humans, we'll always fill up our luggage to the max, no matter the size. If we have an 85L bag, we'll manage to fill it up to the brim even though if we had a 65L bag we'd do the same.

The trick is to start with the limits of what the least generous airline in the region you'll be flying allows, then to plan from there. Here are examples of low cost carrier airlines (LCC) and their size and weight allowances for carry on luggage.

JetBlue Airways 22 x 14 x 9"
Frontier Airlines 24 x 16 x 10"
Southwest Airlines 24 x 16 x 10"
Spirit Airlines 22 x 18 x 10"

easyJet 22 x 17.7 x 9.8" (56 x 45 x 25cm)
Norwegian 21.5 x 15.9 x 9" (55 x 40 x 23cm)
Ryanair 15.7 x 9.8 x 7.8" (40 x 25 x 20cm)
Vueling 21.5 x 15.5 x 8" (55 x 40 x 20cm)
Wizz Air 21.6 x 15.7 x 9" (55 x 40 x 23cm)

Air Asia 56 x 36 x 23
Jetstar 56 x 36 x 23
NokAir 56 x 36 x 23
Scoot Airlines 54 x 38 x 23

If not mentioned here, most likely the airline allows at least the above if not larger. The above are for LCC (Low Cost Carriers) which normally have smaller limits. For weight limits they range from 7kg (15.43lbs) to 10kg (22.05lbs) weight limits in Europe and Asia, but many airlines don't weigh and some don't have a weight limit at all. With all of this in mind, here is my pick and my favorite carry on luggage as even though it's larger than the max allowed dimensions, it's a soft bag which allows me to squeeze it into the test bins and travel my hack my way into a bit more space! Watch the video below for an explanation and review.

The Carry On Packing List

It took me years of experimenting to finally figure out exactly what I need to travel full time while working online comfortably. Here's what's inside my bag as I travel carry on only, full time around the world. Everything in the world I own fits inside this one carry on luggage!

I've listed everything below under the video with links to where you can buy the exact item I mentioned, so make sure you use my links if you want to give me credit for recommending and referring you. 

Here is the packing list in full:

Luggage -

60L Duffel Backpack -

25L Packable Daypack -

Organizers - 

Amazon Basics 4 pack Medium Packing Cubes -


Shacke Pak - 5 Set Packing Cubes -

Toiletries - 

Pantheon Toiletry Bag -

Wahl Battery Beard Trimmer -

Puff Jacket - 

Lightweight Puff Jacket with Hood -


Lightweight Puff Jacket without Hood -

Sweaters -

Meriwool Lightweight Merino Wool Sweater -


Amazon  Merino Wool Sweater -

Rain Jacket -

Marmot PreCip Rain Jacket -


Eddie Bauer Rainfoil Packable Jacket -

Pants -

Columbia Travel Pants -


Unionbay Tech Chino pants -

Layering for Cold - 

Minus33 Merino Wool Long Underwear -

Shorts - 

Hurley Dri-Fit Hybird Shorts -


Billbong Submersible Shorts -

T-Shirts -

Northface Reaxion T-Shirts -

Woolx Merino Wool T-Shirts -

Jolt Gear Stretch Polo Shirt -

Sandals - 

Luna Mono Barefoot Sandals -

Other - 

Microfiber Travel Towel -

Zealwood No Show Merino Wool Socks -

ExOfficio Give-N-Go Boxers -

Nike Dri-Fit Cap -

Buff Merino Wool -

Accessories - 

Nalgene Water bottle -

Amazon Kindle -

Audible Audiobooks -

Tech - 

Audio Technica ATR USB Mic -

Samson Go Mic -

Anker Powerbank Small -

Logitech USB Clicker -

Sony Mirrorless Camera + 135 Lens -

Rode VideoMicro Mic -

Mac to HDMI  Cable -

Amazon Fire Stick -

Sandisk 64gb USB Drive -

Roost Laptop Stand -

Bose Noise Canceling Headphones -

Don't forget your passport, camera and cards!

Things I Left Behind

When I left Chiang Mai, luckily instead of throwing away everything that I didn't want to carry with me for the entire year, I ended up leaving a large suitcase with my friend Shayne. This is something you can do at your parents house, a friend's house, or in my case a long term expat. But going through it all a year later, I wish I would have just sold, gave away, or even threw away a lot of the items as a year later opening the bag, I had completely forgotten what was inside of it and obviously didn't need any of it.

Below is the video of me unboxing, or in this case, unpacking my bag of regrets. Some of it are things that I had gotten enough use out of where I didn't actually regret buying it, while others are things I never should have spent money on in the first place. Either way, my goal for 2020 is to sell or give away most or all of this bag, including the luggage itself, so I don't have to bother Shayne or anyone else with it again for another year. Here's the video.

One Year Update

It worked as well if not better than planned! I had one of the best years of my life in terms of low stress, easy travel and at no point did I miss any of the things I didn't have, or wish I would have brought more with me. I ended up buying a few sleeveless t-shirts and a beach towel when I was in Playa Del Carmen,  Mexico and had to rent a dive computer for $50 when I did a 10 day liveaboard in Socorro, but overall I wasn't lacking anything and didn't wish I had carried more with me. My original plan of downsizing even more to fit my laptop daypack into the duffle never ended up happening, but mostly because I didn't need to. I flew a couple of budget airlines in Europe that only allowed a single carry on at 7kg (15lbs) so I had to pay $20-$30 a few times to carry the bag, but it was still cheaper and easier than having check in luggage.

After talking to a lot of carry on only friends I found out that none of them meet the weight limits and only worry about fitting everything into the roller bag size limits. But i'm still glad I went the lightweight duffle backpack route as it's easier to walk around and carry up and down stairs with. But if you choose to travel with a carry on roller luggage and risk being overweight, it does make it easier to roll around in airports than needing to carry it or use a luggage cart. At the end of the day having less stuff makes your life easier and better as a whole and I highly encourge everyone to travel carry on only.  

Make sure you subscribe to my email list and to my youtube channel as I'm constantly experimenting and upgrading my life and travel hacks with the latest and greatest. But after all of these years and this last trip from Thailand, down to the islands, the big city of Kuala Lumpur, throughout Sri Lanka, the Canary Islands, Nomad Cruise, Portugal, and now Ukraine with just the carry on luggage and kit I mentioned above, I'm quite confident that this is the best setup for most people. Comment below with your current setup, what you like about it, what you want to change, and with any other tips, tricks, or travel hacks you've picked up along the way. Share this post with your friends who want to travel with carry on only, be more minimalist and enjoy the freedom and flexibility of being a lightweight digital nomad!

Traveling Carry On Only in Sri Lanka!

My two carry on bags for all of last year

Warm Regards,

Johnny FD

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Post a Comment

  1. What's in your bag that is a must have that wasn't on my list? Also what did you pick up from the post above that you want to add to your travels?

  2. This post needs photos of all the items you're listing.

    1. That's what the videos are for. But, I'll take a mega photo as well next time I pack/unpack =)

  3. Thanks for the information you shared.

  4. This if a full list of things we need to have before summer comes. Thanks for sharing the detailed guide.

  5. Nice post - I'm inspired to cut down further and travel with less. How much does all your stuff weigh? If it's in one of the videos, I haven't watched. If overweight, have you had any issues with LCCs? If so, what were the fees?

    1. Watch the videos, I explain it all in there. =)

  6. Sorry if this posts multiple times. I tried a few times but it wasn't showing up, maybe a lag?

    Can you please post a link to the zip up bag you use for your ATR mic? I currently have a hard shell case and it's a bit bulky. I think your sheath/soft bag it a great way to lean down.


    1. Hey Nate, it was the Peavey Padded Microphone Bag but they discontinued it. But this Auray one looks similar just a little bit larger.

  7. long sleeve quick dry shirts with spf protection- they can be used for layering and worn on sunny days to prevent sunburn. and super easy to rinse and wash in the shower.

    1. Good tip. I like those as well. I had a northface one that i loved, but I don't know where it went.


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