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On my first few international trips, Germany, New Zealand, and Ecuador, I brought along a giant suitcase that I probably could have fit in myself full of way too much stuff that I never used. It wasn’t so terrible on those trips because I didn’t really have to carry the suitcase around myself.
Once I would need to start carrying everything myself though, I knew I wanted to travel lighter and with a small backpack and I became a carry-on traveler. I try not to talk about it too much because it feels braggy, but I think when I do mention it, I end up explaining why, so why not explain it all here?
I’m not strong
I am a weak human being. I have minimal upper body strength making heaving a 70-liter bag above my head impossible. Why on Earth would you need to heave a bag over your head? To hand it to collectivo and minibus drivers to pack it onto the bus roof, that’s why. I also just couldn’t carry a huge backpack around all that long if I needed to find a hostel or something. I am not strong.
It’s also much easier to take down from the top racks in chicken buses and out of the overhead bin on planes. It can be awkward, but I can do it myself, which is what I want.
It’s easier to repack it
I think my backpack style helps with this, too. I have a front-loading backpack, not a top loading one. This means I can unzip the front and see everything in it just like that! I have the REI Vagabond 40 pack, which I was recently informed doesn’t exist anymore. This was the closest I could find to mine.
I think I got a little off track there. It’s easier to repack a smaller backpack, I think, because there is a lot less stuff to repack in the first place. Packing cubes make this a lot easier, too since you don’t always have to take every single thing out of your backpack. You just need to take out one cube at a time for what you need. I thought they were silly at first, then I saw people pulling out all of their clothes to find one thing at the bottom of their bag and having to shove it all back in and I finally understood the beauty of the cube.
I would end up overpacking
I already have a hard time not stuffing my backpack full before I leave home, and I’ve only got 40 liters. If I had a bigger backpack, I think I would end up filling it up every time and regret it immediately every time. This keeps me in check and only bringing what I really need.
I like being able to keep my bag with me
This is especially true on packed chicken buses. I like being able to keep my bag by me, just in case. And if I can’t keep it by me, it’s easy to spot on the tops racks since it’s orange. And sometimes you’re stuck standing and can stand near it. I also like being able to use it as a carry-on bag for flights. I always worry it won’t make it to wherever I’m going. I just like knowing it’s always there.
I can’t over-buy in my destination
In case I still have room in my bag when I leave home, only having so much space means I can’t buy too much stuff wherever I go. Or if I do buy things, I have to keep size in mind. If it’s too big I’ll have to send it home and that isn’t the most convenient for someone on a budget. I would consider it if I was on a longer trip, but mine haven’t been long enough to worry about that yet.
I bought quite a bit of stuff in Guatemala, but it all still fit. I got a super cute backpack there since I went without a daypack, silly me, but everything still fit comfortably in my bags until pretty much the end.
I always have everything I need
If I have a long layover, I have all my clothes and toiletries with me. I don’t have to worry about forgetting something I need in my checked bag because I don’t have a checked bag. I don’t have to worry about separating everything out, sometimes I still do, but I don’t need to. Everything is just there.
I think it’s easier
I think it’s easier than having a bigger suitcase or backpack for all the reasons listed above. Yes, something bigger would be easier for cooler climates, but for what I’ve been doing, it’s perfect for me.
I’m not saying I’ll never check a bag or use a big suitcase again, because I have had to check my backpack because the overhead bins were already full. I also haven’t gone anywhere super cold yet. That might warrant a bigger backpack or an actual suitcase, maybe still a small one, I’m not sure, to carry around all of my warm clothes and boots and things. Those just won’t fit in my backpack at this point.
Overall though, for what I’m currently doing and where I’ve gone so far, I love the convenience of carry-on only and have no plans to go otherwise at this point.
Are you a carry-on traveler? Have you ever tried it? Do you want to? What do you think of it?