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Carry-on bags: tips for travelling light

To the point Here are tips on the art of carry-on: leave strictly with your carry-on luggage and avoid lost or delayed luggage!

Delayed checked luggage is part of the tidal wave of inconveniences currently being experienced, so it is strongly suggested to travel light with only a carry-on bag.

Personally, in the last 15 years, I have always travelled with just a carry-on bag, even with a baby. The only exception was during my trip to Antarctica since I had too much-specialized photography equipment.

Free Baggage with Air Canada

Update on checked baggage issues

What we see in the media is true; checked luggage will likely be delayed or lost this summer. But why? As often said, staffing shortages and Revenge Travel have exacerbated this problem.

When a plane arrives at its destination, a team must unload incoming luggage and fill it with outgoing luggage. However, the lack of human resources at the airport means that these tasks are not completed promptly or adequately.


Airlines face tough decisions;

  • Do they wait for the baggage people and therefore delay the flight?
  • Will they hog a gate waiting for luggage while passengers on another plane wait to disembark?
  • Will the pilots expire (work time) due to this delay?
  • Is it possible to call other pilots to avoid flight cancellation?
  • Do they put their limited human resources on preparing for the next flight or on people waiting for their luggage at the carousel?
  • etc.

What’s up? Checked baggage is often sacrificed at this time in favour of a flight that takes off on time to avoid a cascade of delays and, ultimately, flight cancellations.

You can see that you must rely on yourself and your carry-on bags as much as possible, at least until the situation changes.

Why travel with carry-on luggage only?

The main advantages of traveling with a carry-on bag are:

It is true that there are now a multitude of credit cards that give a free checked baggage as the TD® Aeroplan® Visa Infinite* Card or a travel credit from the National Bank’s World Elite Mastercard® or the HSBC World Elite® Mastercard® allowing for reimbursement of baggage fees, but the benefits of the carry-on bag are not insignificant.

Plus, you could use your travel credits on different travel components like an upgrade or lounge access when you only have a carry-on!

How to choose your carry-on luggage?

First, it is essential to respect the dimensions and the weight allocated for a carry-on bag by the carrier. These criteria can change from company to company, and just because all your flights are on the same ticket does not mean that the rights are the same.

As for the carry-on bag at Air Canada, it can be accompanied by a personal item; please read here, one carry-on bag and one personal item (a pillow, a bag, a camera bag, etc.) and not two carry-on bags.

bagage de cabine AC
bagage de cabine AC

The wheels of the carry-on luggage are taken into consideration for the calculation of the size. The big carriers generally don’t check and weigh the carry-on, but the low-cost ones do. Standard measurements are 55 cm x 40 cm x 20 cm with a weight of 7 kg or 10 kg.

It is not the flight attendant’s job to help you lift your carry-on bag to stow it. In fact, during boarding, they are not even paid.

Then, choosing carry-on luggage that you can use easily would be best.

For example, when the weight of the carry-on bag is essential, as, on low-cost airlines, a duffle bag is convenient since there is no frame, making the bag light. So we have more space to put our personal effects.

However, I would much rather pull on a 10kg wheeled suitcase or backpack than have it on my shoulder the whole way to the hotel!

Maximize your carry-on space

Is it really possible to travel with only a carry-on bag? Even with a baby? Yes! Here are my tricks to get away with carry-on all the time.

The use of a storage system with packing cubes

In my experience, I can fit all my clothes into three packing cubes, and my husband can do it with two cubes. Since the arrival of our child, he has taken a cube.

The clothing allowance is the same whether you travel for 1 week, 2 weeks or 3 months. The piece is left behind if it does not fit in a cube.

cubes - bagage de cabine
cubes - bagage de cabine

Then we play Tetris to fit all the cubes into our two carry-on bags. Each of us has his colour cube, so we don’t waste time finding them in the carry-on.

Roll or fold? While many support rolling clothes to increase available space, we have never had a problem folding our laundry. However, rolling them avoids wrinkles! Try it out for yourself with what you choose to bring!

If space is limited, don’t forget to use all the corners of your carry-on bag; there’s room in your shoes to stuff several pairs of socks!

Choosing the right clothes for travel

Some pieces of laundry are beautiful, but they are not necessarily practical for travel. If you want to travel only with carry-on luggage, you will have to select clothes:

  • that do not wrinkle easily
  • that wash and dry quickly
  • that are not too thick so as not to take up too much space
  • which can be worn alone or in layers depending on the temperature

For example, I have dresses made of different materials; some dresses will take up more space than others.

Every space counts in a carry-on bag, so make your choice accordingly. Regarding shoes and sandals, you should also try to bring the most versatile ones.

Pack your carry-on bag in advance, then use the clothes you’ve chosen over a period corresponding to your vacation to gauge if you have the right amount in your context.

This applies to both children and adults. Our 6-month-old baby wasn’t very messy, so we could get away with fewer pieces than initially planned.

Long before the Instagram era, I’ve always loved dressing up and having multiple looks on vacation. The trick to getting a lot of looks from just one carry-on is to choose pieces that ALL work together. I usually choose a palette of 2-4 colours that work well to mix and match.

Before leaving on a trip, I check the maximum number of looks I can create with the selected pieces. If I have more looks than days, I remove items from my carry-on!

Laundry facilities are widespread, and in some countries, a load of laundry costs only a few dollars. Otherwise, the bathroom sink is always available; I usually bring a two-week supply of powdered soap per person.

It’s not fun to put on previously worn clothes or do your laundry while on vacation, but the disadvantages of checking luggage (especially at this time) are even less enjoyable.

Carrying the heaviest or most cumbersome items

When you need to bring more specific items, such as hiking boots for a trip to Patagonia or a coat for a trip to Everest basecamp, these can take up a lot of space in your carry-on bag.

Carry these items on you! In addition, these items are often heavier, which can cause problems with some carriers.

Joey friends clothes

As a rule, I always wear my jeans on the plane, which take up three times more space than my shorts. Similarly, I always have my jacket on my back; if it ever gets too hot on board the aircraft, it’s easy to stow a vest between the suitcases in the compartment above our heads.

Use your coat pockets if you ever need to weigh your carry-on!

Keep your toiletry kit simple

In a carry-on bag, you are subject to a limit on liquids, creams, and certain solid products such as deodorants. You can carry liquids in containers of less than 100 mL or 100 g, totalling less than 1 L.

So, you must choose every product necessity because of the liquid constraints and space available in your carry-on bag.

I use contact glass containers to bring a small amount of foundation and other creams or cosmetics into my carry-on.

I especially recommend Lush’s solid shampoos; this lightens my carry-on luggage tremendously. I also use it as soap when not provided by the hotel or when staying in hostels.

Shampoing Lush - Carry On
Shampoing Lush - Carry On

I know it’s hard to limit yourself with beauty products, but they often take up the most space in a carry-on. A simple colour palette, mascara and foundation can be enough to survive versus dealing with baggage delays. It’s up to you.

Similarly, for most people who will be travelling for (at most) two weeks, is it necessary to bring an electric shaver? Shave before you leave and bring a single blade or disposable razor for touch-ups.

Most establishments provide a dryer in the room or in the Airbnb.

When travelling with friends or family, check to see if there are items you can share to lighten your carry-on baggage.

Minimize the first aid kit

I advocate prevention when it comes to travel health, and I always carry a well-stocked first aid kit in my carry-on luggage, but it is not necessary to bring the whole jar of Tylenol.

Indeed, the primary purpose of the emergency kit is to help you out; if you are missing medication, you can find it everywhere.

These little pillboxes are great for organizing the medications in your kit; I write the name of the drug under each compartment and keep the instructions (dosage) on my phone.

trousse pharmacie bagage de cabine

Buy certain products abroad

It was mentioned earlier that there is a limit for liquids in carry-on luggage; for a family, it is often impossible to stay below 100 mL for sunscreen, for example.

Nothing prevents you from buying them at your destination! Drugstores, grocery stores or the front desk of an all-inclusive are good places for these types of products generally. Indeed, most of the pharmacy products are available all over the world:

  • sunscreen
  • shampoo
  • soap
  • moisturizing cream
  • sanitary towels
  • baby diapers
  • etc.
Voyage tout inclus

Maximize the personal item

On most major carriers, you are allowed to bring one “personal item” in addition to a carry-on bag. This bag should be smaller and fit easily under the seat in front of you; if it feels uncomfortable, it’s too large, by rule.

In this bag, I usually put all my electronics, toys, and snacks for my baby; anything fragile or anything I need during the flight.

Traveling light with a baby

When a stroller is checked in at the gate, it is handed over to the parents when they exit the plane. However, sometimes it is transported to the carousel with the other luggage.

Therefore, it is advisable to bring a stroller that folds into a carry-on bag. This way, you can bring it on board; my husband usually takes care of the stroller and my baby boards the plane with me in the carrier.

Poussette carry on

As for the car seat, you can bring it on board and install it if your child has his bench. Otherwise, public transportation is a great way to save money and allows us to travel with only one carry-on bag!

What about the sleepers? When travelling with a baby, it’s easy to find accommodations with playpens or cribs; search accordingly.

Our stroller serves as a high chair when restaurants, hotels and AirBnBs don’t provide one!

How can we avoid checking our carry-on bag at the gate?

Some planes do not have enough storage space to accommodate everyone’s carry-on bag or particular suitcases.

Indeed, space in the overhead compartment is often too small on some aircraft like the CR-J or the Embraer. Otherwise, there is not enough room on single-aisle aircraft if the flight is full.

Of course, you are probably following the dimensions and weight stated by the airline to the letter, but these criteria are general, while there are exceptions.

Before raising your voice to the airlines, it is essential to remember that not all planes are the same; on a flight between Montreal and Vancouver, you can find a big car and a single-aisle aircraft.

Therefore, airlines cannot allocate different carry-on sizes from one flight to another, especially since they are subject to change at any time. There will be more room on a large aircraft so you can choose your plane accordingly.

Therefore, the gate agent will often ask if there are any volunteers to check in their carry-on baggage for free. Generally, they can be checked in to the final destination or picked up at the gate after the flight.

With the saga of lost and delayed luggage, your fears of having to check your carry-on are well-founded.

Keep a small tote bag in your carry-on bag; if you need to check it, you can remove essential items such as your computer or medication.

First of all, if you know in advance that your camera will be small (like the CR-J), it can be wise to opt for a duffle bag which is moldable compared to a hard case.

Then try to get on board first! Did you know that specific credit card holders have access to priority boarding with Air Canada? For example, with the TD® Aeroplan® Visa Infinite Privilege* Credit Card or the American Express® Aeroplan®* Reserve card, you can not only cut in line when you go through security, but you board with business class passengers (zone 2) even if you are travelling in economy class!

Plus, these cards have generous welcome bonuses that can help you save on your next trip!

Business-class passengers, holders of certain credit cards (giving access to boarding in zone 2 at all times), persons with disabilities or requiring assistance, and families with children under 6 years of age generally board first.

Then you can politely refuse to check in your carry-on bag. However, if there are not enough volunteers and seats, you will have no choice but to check in your carry-on (or not to board the flight if you insist on not leaving your suitcase).

Finally, while waiting for your flight to board, stay away from the gate and the counter agent. This person will circulate around the flight gate to find and tag the carry-on luggage that needs to go into the hold. If the agent is satisfied with the number of carry-on bags checked, you have a chance of not being intercepted during boarding.


The current situation is very chaotic, with frequent baggage delays and an increased risk of losing one’s luggage.

Travelling with only one carry-on bag has many benefits, especially this summer.

Frequently asked questions

How do I travel with just a carry-on bag?

You have to get organized and choose what you need and can buy at your destination.

Is there a maximum weight for carry-on luggage?

There is no maximum weight on major carriers such as Air Canada or Air Transat, but you must be able to lift your carry-on bag yourself to stow it.

How much carry-on luggage can we bring on the plane?

Usually, it’s one carry-on and one personal item such as a briefcase or computer bag.

Can I bring food in my carry-on baggage?

Yes, no problem, but remember that spreadable foods (peanut butter, jam, Nutella, etc.) and liquid/semi-liquid foods such as compotes count towards the fluid restrictions.

Can we bring liquids in the carry-on or our hand luggage?

Yes, but you must respect the limit of 100 mL per container and a total of 1 L.

Are children entitled to a carry-on bag as well?

It depends on the airline; you can usually bring a baby diaper bag, and each child over two years old is allowed one bag. However, you should check with your carrier.

Can I bring milk and baby food in my carry-on baggage?

Yes, bringing a reasonable amount of liquids and food when travelling with a baby under two years old is possible.

How do I board first to have room for my carry-on baggage?

Holders of certain credit cards such as the TD® Aeroplan® Visa Infinite Preferred* Card can enjoy priority boarding, regardless of their class of travel!

Can we be forced to check our carry-on baggage?

Yes, if there is no more room in the compartments and you cannot put your carry-on bag at your feet.

Do companies measure carry-on luggage?

Sometimes yes, sometimes no. If space is limited, they are entitled to measure the carry-on bag and check it in if your bag is too big.

Come to discuss that topic in our Facebook Group!
I'm Aline, an experienced traveller, a foodie at heart, an Avgeek, a photography enthusiast and an expert on credit card programs. I use Reward Points to travel on a budget and to save money on everyday life; writing about these topics allows me to share my passion and help you. ~ 7 continents and 75 countries ~

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