rtw travel

How I Traveled Multiple Countries With 7 kg

When I told my friends I was only bringing a carry-on for my travels abroad, they all looked at me crazy. Well, 11 months later, I'm happy to report it was quite alright!

After reading tons of travel advice, one thing was clear: less is more. We tend to overpack and bring things we never wear or use. So to save time and money and to practice self-discipline, I made a rule to only travel with a carry-on.

Packing for Australia wasn't difficult. When I initially booked my flight, I wasn't sure what my travel pack situation would be, so I bought checked luggage allowance. I fit everything in my carry-on, but it weighed more than Jetstar's 7kg carry-on allowance, so I checked it. The real packing challenge came when I started my travels through Asia.

Many of the Australasian discount airlines only allow 1 to 2 carry-ons with a combined weight of 7kg. That's only 15.4 lb! Additionally, they weigh your bag when you check in at the counter, and you have no choice but to check in there because they check your travel documents before issuing your boarding pass.

So a few "things" I had to work with:

  • My MacBook Pro 15" weighs 4.5 lb (2.02 kg)
  • My Sony a6300 + 35mm lens weighs 1.2 lb (0.56 kg)

Those two items were already more than 1/3 of my allowable weight, not including all the chargers that went along with those devices...

So what did I bring and how did I manage?

The Clothes and Toiletries


1 jean jacket; 1 light jacket; 1 hat; 1 emergency duffel bag; 3 bras; 1 sports bra; 7 pairs of underwear; 7 tops; 1 small hand towel; 1 scarf; 4 bottoms: black jeans, jean shorts, skirt, running shorts; 1 belt; 1 epilator; 1 liquids bag: shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, contact solution; 1 toiletry bag: make up, earrings, comb, toothbrush, toothpaste, floss

1 pair of flip flops; 1 pair of athletic shoes

All the Other Essentials


1 laptop; 1 laptop case; 1 tote bag; 1 mini Moleskin; 3 pens; 1 sleeping mask; 1 power converter; 1 camera; 1 camera felt wrap; 1 camera charger; 1 iPhone charger; 1 laptop charger; 1 luggage scale; 1 external hard drive; 1 travel document pouch; 1 wallet; 1 pair of sunglasses; 1 watch; 2 bracelets; 1 sunscreen brush; 1 pouch: lotion, hand sanitizer, tissues, chapstick


And what it looked like all packed up!

Lessons Learned

Truth be told, damn, it was challenging meeting the 7 kg requirement! I packed and unpacked so many times to get it right. Throughout the process, I learned a few clever tips that helped me get to (and work around) the requirement:

  • Get a light carry on.
    Many carry ons or backpacks can weigh a decent amount, sometimes taking up to half of your weight allowance when empty! I opted to go as light as possible (my Samsonite 72 hours is 3.3 lb or 1.5 kg), so the rest of the weight could be dedicated to my stuff.
  • The 2-6-2 Rule
    2 pairs of shoes, 6 tops, and 2 bottoms. I ended up going 2-7-4, but it was a really good way to think of packing clothes because I had to pack tops that worked with all my bottoms, so they could be mix and matched on different days.
  • Use pockets and wear your heavy clothing.
    Since the airlines don't weigh what's on your person, I stuffed all my pockets with my heavy electronics like chargers and my external hard drive and wore as much clothing as possible like my jeans, my heaviest button-up shirt, my hat, and my two coats. That way, I stretched the 7 kg for everything else. And once I got through security, I would stuff everything into the carry on so I didn't have to carry it.
  • Get a luggage scale.
    The little luggage scale saved my butt numerous times. It's hard not acquiring souvenirs on the road, but weighing my bag before getting to the counter helped me be realistic with what I could bring and what I had to discard, which leads me to the next point...
  • Be okay with having to discard shit.
    If I weighed all the stuff I had with me, it was probably closer to 9 kg than 7, but I decided to take the risk to see if I could get through. The hardest part was mentally preparing myself that if I did get caught, I had to be okay with getting rid of things to meet the requirement.
  • Do laundry.
    The main trouble with only having a week's worth of clothes is that you run out of clean clothes pretty quickly, but in Asia, there's cheap laundry services or coin operated machines in most hotels!
  • Buy things at your destination if you need it.
    Instead of packing an umbrella or rain coat, it was much easier and cheaper to buy one at a discount store. In Asia, consumer goods are fairly cheap, so it's not worth the weight and space in your pack.

My favorite travel investments were definitely my ultra light suit case, my REI daypack that also shrunk down, and my luggage organizers. Those items made traveling easier and packing more compact.

This experience has transformed the way I travel. I find myself being able to pack more minimalistic than ever. For a weekend trip to New York, I was able to pack everything in my REI Daypack!

And the best part of this new ultra light packing strategy: feeling proud for using every item in the bag!

This Petite Girl's Reasons to "Flashpack" with a Carry On Suitcase

I'm a flashpacker.

There. I said it.

What is a flashpacker? It's the modern term for backpackers who are a little more upscale, with a slightly bigger budget, who choose to stay in private rooms at hostels or hotels instead of roughin' it and toughin' it in dorms.

Yup, that's me.

I think what truly makes me a flashpacker, though, is the fact I literally don't have a backpack. A daypack, yes, but not a full on backpack. I currently travel with a Samsonite 72 Hours Spinner carry-on suitcase.

Just like every other RTW traveler, I did a ton of research on my bag options. There are LOADS of forums and blogs that discuss the pros and cons of the backpack vs suitcase dilemma or buying considerations of this backpack vs that backpack.

In the end, what I gathered were the following:

  • If using a backpack, find a pack that fits, do a practice pack, and try it out.
  • Pack light so you don't have to check your bag.
  • There may not be roads or elevators in off-the-beaten-path areas.
  • Waiting in line at airports or train stations will be a common pastime.

Before I go into why I use a carry on suitcase, let me just mention that I initially started out with a backpack, an Osprey Farpoint 40 in fact. The friendly staff at REI found it to be the best fit for me.

I'm 5 feet (152 cm) and weigh 103 lb (47 kg). The recommended carry weight is no more than 10-15% of your body weight. Unfortunately, my practice pack didn't go smoothly. Though balanced, the backpack made my shoulders and back ache after 15 minutes. The pack was also disproportionately huge on me for my size. I returned it after the practice pack because I knew it wasn't going to be realistic for me to carry that thing for hours.

Knowing what I know now after being abroad, I'm really glad I decided to go with the carry-on. My reasons:

  1. Waiting in line is a very real thing. At the airport, I was in line for 3 hours altogether (check-in, immigration, security, boarding, etc.). I can't imagine carrying that pack the whole time!
  2. The whole "no road" concern isn't that much of a concern because I'm not walking to my hostel or hotel. Taxis and public transit are usually the most cost-efficient or the only way to get to my accommodations. I usually check in first where they can hold my stuff, so I've never had to walk far with my suitcase.
  3. My suitcase weighs practically the same as the Osprey Farpoint (1.5 kg v 1.4 kg), so it's not hard to carry it when I need to.
  4. I've been able to stuff things in quickly when moving from place to place.

Whether you decide to go suitcase or backpack, the most difficult part is getting your stuff to meet carry-on weight, which for discount airlines can be as little as 7 kg (15 lb). All because you're able to stuff your things into a large backpack doesn't mean they will let you slide. The airlines will ask you to weigh your bag at the check-in counter.

During my research, I found very few bag resources for petite women. So if you're a petite backpacker or traveler, what do you use? Is there a certain bag that you love?