Ashley Kosciolek has been a travel editor at Cruise Critic, a TripAdvisor company, for more than ten years and has written extensive reviews on voyages to dozens of cities across the globe. She serves as an industry expert and enjoys active sailings that allow her to learn while on the go. Her favourite destinations include London, Krakow, Amsterdam, Rudesheim and Dawson City in Canada’s Yukon Territory. She can found on Instagram (SlyJabroni) and Twitter (@SlyJabroni).
As a reformed overpacker who chronically brought twice as much as I needed every time I left my flat, I used to view hand luggage-only travel as something unattainable.
One coworker told me about the time she toted only a small roller bag for an entire month abroad, and my jaw dropped in admiration.
Every time I considered trying it, I’d talk myself out of the idea: “But I need seven pairs of shoes! I know it’s only a three-day trip, but what if I suddenly find myself wishing I had packed my leopard-print stilettos? I will wear every. Single. Pair.”
Spoiler: I didn’t, and when airlines started charging for checked bags, I finally decided to rethink my approach.
In addition to saving you money on baggage fees, hand luggage saves you time at the airport. If you get your boarding pass ahead of time, you can head straight to your gate instead of standing in line. Plus, you don’t have to go to baggage claim following your flight, and you’ll completely avoid the potential hassle of lost luggage.
Change doesn’t happen overnight, of course, so even now I start by choosing two outfits per day (one daytime, one nighttime), and then I pare it down. I try to go for neutral-coloured items — jeans or black trousers, for example — that can be mixed, matched and worn more than once with different tops and fun-coloured accessories, such as pashminas or jewellery.
I also opt for fabrics like jersey or other cotton-synthetic blends that are easily compressed, resist wrinkles and can function in varying weather conditions.
In terms of shoes, I limit myself to three standard pairs — flats, heels and trainers — including the pair I’ll be wearing in transit, in neutral colors (usually black). I also allow myself one wildcard pair that varies by destination: sandals or flip-flops for warmer climes or boots for cold or rainy ones. (The boots are worn on the flight, which frees up space in my luggage.)
Consider liquid rules, too. You’re limited to a single one-litre bag with a seal, and each liquid or gel item in the bag can be no larger than 100 mL. I’ve invested in miniature toiletries and empty containers that I can fill and refill as needed each time I travel. I limit myself to essentials, keeping in mind that I can buy anything else I need when I arrive at my destination.
When it’s time to put everything in my suitcase, I roll the items instead of folding them. Not only does this help to minimise wrinkles, but it also saves space.
In addition to my small roller bag, I take a backpack or large tote as my personal item for things to which I’ll need quick access, such as my boarding pass, passport, wallet, laptop, reading material and liquids.
The first time I successfully managed to complete the carry-on challenge, I was headed to my cousin’s black-tie wedding in California’s Napa Valley. By some miracle, I managed to cram not only clothes, pyjamas and workout gear into my bag, but a formal dress and heels, as well. Layers were also key, as mornings tend to be chilly, daytime is generally sunny and arid with temperatures that fluctuate by season, and evenings are quite a bit cooler than the daytime.
While I was in town, I spent some time in San Francisco, the land of Google and the Golden Gate Bridge. Here are the top activities to try … and one thing not to do.
- Visit Alcatraz. This former prison, a converted military fortress, is located on its own island in the San Francisco Bay. It’s known for having harboured some of America’s most dangerous criminals — including the infamous Al Capone — from 1933 until it closed in 1963. Anyone interested in history will find a visit to Alcatraz well worth her time, but be warned: tickets sell out months in advance, so plan ahead to grab a spot on the ferry that will get you there.
- Stroll along the Embarcadero to Fisherman’s Wharf. The main waterfront promenade, known as the Embarcadero, is home to everything from cruise ship terminals to fun shops, and it’s great for a relaxing walk. Follow it to Fisherman’s Wharf, where you’ll find all types of souvenirs, as well as restaurants and stalls selling delicious seafood and sourdough — two San Francisco staples. From there, you can also catch impressive views of the Golden Gate Bridge on clear days.
- Ride a cable car to Lombard Street. Among many things, San Francisco is famous for its cable cars — vintage-looking trolleys that run three routes through the city. Hop on, and take a ride to the corner of Hyde and Lombard streets before walking down picturesque Lombard, which is infamously steep and paved in a zig-zag pattern. (Anyone who’s afraid of heights or who suffers from vertigo should steer clear.)
- Check out the painted ladies on your way to Haight-Ashbury. Architecture buffs will salivate over these seven postcard-perfect Victorian- and Edwardian-style homes, built between 1892 and 1896. In the 1960s, they were repainted in three or more colours to showcase the intricate embellishments on their exteriors. From there, it’s less than a half hour’s walk (or less than 10 minutes by cab or Uber) to Haight-Ashbury, which was the birthplace of hippie culture and the place to be during 1967’s Summer of Love.
- Plan a day or two in wine country. Napa is only about an hour and 15 minutes by car from San Francisco, but if you’d rather not try your hand at driving on the “wrong” side of the road, public transportation can get you there in about two hours. Set up a tour of some of the area’s most well-known wine-producing locations in Napa or Sonoma, all of which use local varietals. Whether you’ve hired a car or not, it’s best to book a tour that provides transport so you won’t have to worry about drinking and driving.
Don’t: If you’re planning to walk the Golden Gate Bridge, don’t do it in the morning. San Francisco is known for fog, which can prevent you from seeing stunning views from the bridge (or views of the bridge from elsewhere, for that matter). Instead, wait until afternoon or evening, when the sun has had a chance to chase the fog away. Note: Parking is limited at the Golden Gate Bridge welcome centre, so even if you have a car, we recommend taking one of the affordable Golden Gate Transit buses instead (several routes available).