No Checked Bags Required

“We are a family of three and will go on a two week trip with just two backpacks.” Whenever I say that, people look at me like I have two heads and question me to make sure that what they heard was correct. It is! We pack all of our stuff for a two week trip into one backpack per person, or two for the whole family. How do we do it? Let’s find out.

The Luggage

We use 45L travel backpacks. Believe it or not, the two travel backpacks pictured below meet airline carry on requirements and are enough room for our family of three to travel for two weeks. Our bags are the Eagle Creek Caldera 45 Liter Travel Pack (now discontinued) and the eBags Mother Lode.

Why a backpack and not a regular carry on suitcase? Easy. Backpacks allow you to travel hands free and increase your mobility. It’s so much easier to hop on a train, walk down a cobblestone street, or up and down a flight of stairs if you’re not dragging a roller suitcase behind you. On our trip to Prague, we were dragging a giant roller bag from the train station to our hotel on cobblestone streets. Not one, but both wheels cracked and broke off. I had to then carry a cumbersome 50lb bag the rest of the way. This was the moment I realized I was doing it wrong.

The key here is to get the largest bag possible that still meets carry on bag dimensions for airlines which is 22″x9″x14″. 45 liter bags tend to be right about that size. Look for bags with an expansion option; these are usually in the form of a zipper that unzips and allows the bag to get an extra 2 inches or so deep. An expanding bag could make your bag exceed carry on dimensions, but most airlines are pretty relaxed when it comes to enforcing those sizes anyway. The ability to expand the bag could be just enough room to allow you to pick up a few extra souvenirs along your way.

You’re going to be carrying 30ish pounds on your back. Look for a backpack that has straps that wrap around your waist and chest to support the backpack and weight.

Two travel backpacks is the only luggage we bring for a 2-week family vacation.
Juggling airstairs, a toddler, and luggage is much easier when your luggage is strapped on your back.

Packing Cubes

Keep it organized, confined, and dense. Packing cubes help accomplish this. Packing cubes allow you to essentially pack bags within a bag making your suitcase more organized and easier to pack and unpack. They also condense and compress the contents so you can squeeze more into less space. Some people claim that clothes arrive less wrinkled and creased if packed into packing cubes.

There are different strategies for packing; some people pack by article type (shirts in one cube, socks and underwear in another, etc), some people back by outfits or days. Your preference. If you’re moving around to several hotels or apartments during your trip, it might make most sense to pack by outfits or days. That would mean less unpacking required at each stop.

There are several types of packing cubes. The most common type are a mesh style rectangular bag that zips open. There’s also compression cubes that zip shut, then have a second zipper that compresses the content tighter and down into less space. I do not like compression cubes. We have this exact set compression cubes. They tend to compress the edges near the zipper, but not the middle. The creates a rounded bag instead of a squared off bag that doesn’t pack as well in your suitcase.


Making a plan to do laundry during your trip is the key to packing less and traveling lightly. Typically we will pack enough clothes to only last 5-6 days knowing that we will do a load of laundry every few days. No one wants to sit in a laundromat for hours while you’re on vacation, so the tips below will show you how we get our laundry done without wasting time.

Our first priority is to stay in Airbnb’s that have a washing machine. This is great because we can start a load whenever we like and as often as we want. Do keep in mind that European washers are much smaller than American washing machines. Do not assume that you’ll have a dryer just because there’s a washing machine. On more than one occasion we’ve checked into an apartment that had a washer, but no dryer. Some appliances are a washer and a dryer in one machine.

To aid in traveling lightly, we always bring laundry sheets along with us. Laundry sheets, like the ones here from the Sheets Laundry Club, resemble thick dryer sheets but are actually a liquid-free laundry detergent that dissolves in water. They’re small, lightweight, and won’t make a mess in your bag if they get crushed. We’ve never had an issue with them being incompatible with any kind of washer. It sure beats buying a whole bottle of detergent to do one may only be one or two loads of laundry.

A “Scrubba” is a brilliant little gadget that allows you to wash your laundry yourself if you don’t have a washing machine or access to a laundry service. The Scrubba is essentially a dry bag that a camper or hiker would use, but with a clear window and a plastic scrubbing pad. Simply insert a dirty outfit, a 1/3rd of a laundry sheet, and clean water, then seal the bag and scrub away. This is great for freshening up your clothes and getting another day of use out of them. After washing your clothes with the Scrubba, layout a bath towel, lay your wet clothes on the towel, then roll the towel up and squeeze. This will get them mostly dry and allow them to air dry the rest of the way. There’s two more advantages of a Scrubba: It can be used as a separate sealed bag to keep your dirty clothes in so they don’t stink up your clean clothes. And, if you buy a few too many souviners on your trip, you can use it as a second piece of luggage and carry it on to the plane as a “personal item” free of charge.

Hotel Laundry services. Ever use this service? I never had until I started traveling in backpacks. It can be expensive. But if you had to pay $15 to have an outfit laundered at a hotel, and you need to have 5 outfits laundered to get through your trip, that’s $75. Most airlines would charge $100 each way for an extra checked bag so you’re actually saving money by traveling lite and packing fewer clothing items into one bag instead of two.

A final tip for laundry is to look for a laundromat with wash and folding services. We used a full-service laundromat in Amsterdam and really enjoyed it. For about $12-15 per load, they will wash, dry, and fold your clothes (and provide detergent) while you’re out and about sightseeing. Just drop off a bag of dirty laundry in the morning, and pick it up later that day.


It’s no surprise that we travel with a lot of technology. Picking the right technology to bring a long is critical. Carrying around bunch of devices with all their chargers, cords, cases, etc. can quickly get out of control. We only bring technology that will actually get used, and then try to find things that can multitask as much as possible.

As an entrepreneur, I always need to be able to get online and get connected, so for me, bringing a laptop is critical. I prefer a Microsoft Surface Pro laptop. They’re about the size of an iPad but are full-blown PC. This is a must have for me.

Phones: We always have the latest and greatest iPhones (currently the iPhone 14 Pro Max). Phones are your map, your translator, your camera, your way to hail a taxi, make a restaurant reservation, a way to store electronic tickets. In my opinion it’s always worth it to splurge on a good phone.

Charger: I prefer a 65 watt USB-C PD (Power Delivery) charger like this one from Anker. It will recharge my iPhone in 20 minutes. It’ll charge several devices at once. It’s even powerful enough to serve as the power supply for my laptop. Best of all, it’s only about twice the size of a standard single port USB charging cube. We will bring one of these, instead of multiple charging cubes.

AirPods: The Apple AirPod Pros are a travel must have. The noise canceling feature makes your flight much more comfortable. Once at your destination, we find that a lot of audio guides at museums are provided on Bluetooth devices with wired headsets. We will use our AirPods instead. We also do self-guided audio walking tours on our phones and use one phone connected to two sets of AirPods to listen to the audio guide.

Bluetooth Transmitter: A bluetooth transmitter plugs into a standard headphone audio jack on an airplane or in an audio guide device that you’d find at a museum. It allows you to use your AirPods anywhere where normal wired headsets would be required. You can get them for $10-15 and they are so small, I consider this a must-have gadget to bring along.

Power Bank: Not just any power bank. This Power Bank charges your device on the go when you don’t have access to (or time) to plug in and recharge with a cord. It is MagSafe compatible so it snaps onto your phone and charges while in your pocket or purse. Back at your hotel, plug it into your charger and it will recharge itself, while recharging your phone, your Apple Watch and your AirPods ALL AT THE SAME TIME! Go to sleep and wake up knowing you’re charged and ready for a full day of tech. As if it can’t get any better, this one has a kickstand that will hold up your phone so you can watch it on the plane, train, or restaurant (for the kids).

Travel Adapter: First things first, if you’re not used to traveling oversees, you need to understand the difference between a power adapter and converter. A converter converts electricity from 120 volts to 240 volts. And adapter simply adapts the plug layout from the US standard to whatever is used where ever you’re traveling to. The rule of thumb is that if the device has a motor in it, you need to convert the electricity. If it’s an electronic device they can handle either voltage so you can get by with just an adapter. You almost NEVER need a converter. Nor would you want to bring one becuase they can be the size of a small toaster. Things that need to be converted are usually provided for you on your trip (hairdyer, coffee maker, etc) and not something you would pack and bring with you.

As for adapters there are a few kind. A universal travel adapter sounds appealing because it will work anywhere. They are bulky and work around the world… but honestly, when was the last time you were in London and Tokyo on the same trip? If you’re like me, you’re going to only one, maybe two countries per trip. For this reason, I prefer a much smaller, more compact adapter specific to the country I’m going to. One like this one which can be bought for about $1 each. If you lose it. So what.

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