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Before our son was born, we always travelled carry-on only.

There's something liberating about knowing you have everything you need on your back, no matter the location or duration of the trip. Not to mention all the time you save not waiting in line to check your luggage or for your bags to emerge from the luggage carousel at arrival!

When Owen came along, with his diapers, stroller, carseat and myriad of infant paraphernalia... seemed our days of travelling light were over.

For our first family vacation, when Owen was four months old, we thought we had no choice but to check our luggage; we had with us a week supply of diapers, his stroller and a carseat, after all! With all that baggage, it felt like we never had enough hands. Ever since, we vowed never to travel with checked luggage again!

Owen's four now, and has been on almost two dozen flights since that first trip. They've all been carry-on only!

Eric and Owen at Pearson International Airport.

In this week's post, I'll share our tips and hacks for travelling carry-on only, even with kids!

1. Choose Your Accommodations Wisely

Airbnb is an absolute game changer when it comes to travelling with kids.

For the price of a single hotel room, you can book an entire home, complete with a kitchen, multiple bedrooms and a washer/drier.

These comforts allow you to leave a lot behind. Having a washer at your disposal drastically cuts down on the amount of clothing you need to bring.


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Our best experiences have been at Airbnbs with a kid's room, stocked with toys and books.

Owen making himself at home in 'his' room at this Airbnb in Paris.

We've even stayed at an Airbnb with a kid's wading pool in the yard. On trips like these, we get away with packing just a couple of small toys for the plane ride, which saves a lot of luggage space.

Our munchkin enjoying the wading pool at an Airbnb in Arenal, Costa Rica.

This Airbnb in Monteverde was equipped with enough games to occupy us all. It's so much more relaxing to spread out over more than one room.

It's also nice having a separate bedroom for our son vs. being in an adjacent bed in the same hotel room. When he's asleep, mom and dad can go wild and watch Netflix 'til midnight if they want!

Chillin' in our Airbnb in Joshua Tree after a long day of hiking.

As a home decor buff, one of the things I enjoy most about Airbnb is the ability to see how people live and decorate their homes all over the world!

2. Curate A Travel Capsule Wardrobe

When deciding what clothes to pack, we choose versatile pieces that can be worn individually or layered (i.e. a pair of jeans that works well with a blouse and heels or a hoodie and sneakers, a t-shirt that can be worn alone or as a base layer).

If there's a washer at our disposal, no matter the trip length, we pack just three to four outfits each. 

An example of my travel wardrobe for a two week trip:

- Three bottoms (some combination of jeans/sweatpants/shorts/skirts, depending on the weather and activities planned)

- Four t-shirts

- Two top layers (sweater/blazer/jacket) 

- Two swim suits

- Two casual dresses/sundresses that can be dressed up or down

- Two pairs of shoes: hiking shoes or sneakers worn on the plane and a sleeker, dressier pair of shoes in my carry-on

- Five sets of socks and underwear

- One bra

- One set of PJs/loungewear; these can be worn a few nights in a row and washed once or twice in between

- A hat

- A purse

- A pair of sunglasses

- A scarf or wrap

3. Wear Your Bulkiest Clothes on the Plane

This is easier to do when you're coming from a colder climate (which is almost always the case when you live in Canada!). Layers are key; when we travel in the winter, instead of lugging our coats with us, we wear layers.

We also sport our sneakers (or hiking shoes) on the plane. Not only is this the most comfortable option, but the most space efficient: my other shoes are usually flip flops or dress shoes, which take up less luggage space.

4. Packing Cubes

These are the sine qua non of packing organization. They allow you to divide one large luggage compartment into several smaller ones, organized by family member or clothing type. 

These are all the clothes I took with me for a two week trip to Costa Rica last year. They fit in one small- and one medium-sized packing cube.

All of my son's clothes fit in one large cube.


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Amazon Basics Packing Cubes - Set of 4 ($18.57, We have two sets of these between the three of us. I'd  have preferred black, but the red set is four dollars less, so Eric ordered red. True story.


5. Roll Instead of Fold

A tightly rolled piece of clothing is more compact than a folded one, especially when using packing cubes.

6. Be Lower Maintenance

You're on vacation for a limited time.

Time spent blowdrying and flat ironing your hair is time you're not spending exploring (and, time your husband and kids are griping about why it takes you so long to get ready...).

I'll admit, I'm the kind of girl who wears makeup to the corner store. I'd never give that up, even on vacation. But, I take a capsule makeup approach when it comes to travel, where I bring just one type of each piece of makeup (i.e. one lipstick, one eyeshadow palette, one eyeliner, etc.).

Not only does this save time re: decision-making (vacation makeup takes me five to ten minutes), but, it saves luggage space. I can fit my travel makeup into a single ziplock bag.

Leave the hair tools at home. There's usually a blow drier wherever we're staying. If not, I just shower in the evenings and let it air-dry before bed or wear my hair up in a bun the next day.

When it comes to accessories, I don't bring jewelry or any adornment that doesn't also serve a purpose. As for useful accessories, I'll pack just one of each type (i.e. one pair of sunglasses, one hat, one scarf, one purse).

7. Travel-Size Your Toiletries

This is crucial to travelling carry-on only. You're limited to 100 mL bottles for liquids, and all of these must fit into one, clear quart-sized bag per person.


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I bring my toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, face wash and moisturizer in travel-sized containers. For most trips, these are enough. If you happen to run out, you can pick some up where you're going. It won't kill you to use something other than your usual brand for a day or two!

I keep my liquids in my bag's handy 'TSA pocket.' This allows me to pull the pocket out as we go through the security scanners, then slip it back in when we're through. The stripe serves as a reminder to retrieve things like my laptop and cell phone from the bin before I leave security.

For more on my Pakt One Travel Bag, check out my review post:

pakt one review


8. Get A Foldable Travel Stroller

If you need to bring a stroller, consider one that folds small enough to fit beneath the seat in front of you or in the overhead compartment. This way it can be carried on the plane instead of checked. We used the GB Pockit. See my review here:

gb pockit stroller carry on

9. Kids Stuff: Less is More

You need less than you think when it comes to entertaining your kids in a new and interesting setting.

My son usually spends more time playing with toys and gadgets at the Airbnb than with the toys he's brought.

If our accommodations aren't stocked with toys, Owen's allowed one 'souvenir toy' at some point during the trip.

10. Know What to Leave Behind

Figure out what you're better off getting at your destination.

For diapers, estimate what you need for the flight and bring twice that amount, in case of flight delay, or an unfortunate fecal event. Buy the rest at your destination. No matter where you're going, they're most likely going to have diapers.

As for sunscreen and bug spray, if you're going carry-on only, there's no point bringing 100 mL bottle aliquots of either of these, unless you only need a day supply! We usually purchase full-sized sunscreen and bug spray at the airport shops once we've crossed customs (you pay a bit extra for the convenience), or at a local shop near our accommodations.

If you're travelling with a 'lap baby' or your kid's big enough to sit comfortably on the plane, you're better off ditching the car seat and renting one at the car rental or using a car service that provides car seats.

So, those are our tips for traveling carry-on only with a little one in tow! Stay tuned next week for tips on how to carve out a home office in a small living space!

Owen using our carry-ons as a makeshift bed while waiting for a redeye flight.


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