9 practical tips for travelling carry-on only

9 practical tips for travelling carry-on only

It’s been a while. Having to pack again recently inspired me to write this post. Whether you are packing for a 2-week or a 2-month trip, the principles are the same. Earlier this year, I had to pack for a 2.5 month trip across Asia for the 30+ degree celsius tropical climate of Thailand as well as the below-zero weather of South Korea. All I had with me was a carry-on suitcase as well as tiny backpack. Trust me. It’s possible. But first, why travel carry-on only?

  1. Save time – We were able to bypass so many long line-ups at the airport because we did not need to check in bags. Once you get off the plane, you are good to go. No need to wait around at the carousel for your bags.
  2. Save money – Most airlines charge for check in bags now. Sure, for long international flights, there may still be 1-2 free checked bags but this isn’t the case for most domestic flights and short-haul flights between nearby countries.
  3. Save you from missing your next flight – For those of you who are planning to explore many cities in one country or to choose a flight which has multiple transfers, travelling carry-on only will save you a lot of headache. Imagine having the added stress of waiting to pick up your bag to transfer onto a tight connecting flight. Or imagine losing your baggage in transit to Bangkok, when you’re leaving for Chiang Mai in 3 days. What if it doesn’t make it here on time?

If I’ve convinced you that this a good idea, please read on for my tips for travelling carry-on only.

  1. A trusty carry-on luggage

Those who have followed me on my Asia trip adventures might have remembered that my original suitcase was not too trusty. (See post here.) It actually ripped within the first 2 weeks of my trip. I managed to purchase a better one in Vietnam, which lasted me for the rest of the trip. Lesson learned. The suitcase should be sturdy enough to withstand a long journey with multiple stops but at the same time light enough for you to carry around. I considered using a backpack for my Asia trip but then I would need to carry two backpacks and my back would not be happy. If the luggage is light enough, then it should be easy to transport, even up and down stairs in subway stations and easily lifted into the overhead cabins. I find the clam-shelled ones to be more practical and helps with organization. I got a small hard-shelled one (similar to the one below) and Aaron had purchased a soft-shelled one from MEC (no longer sold) for quite a decent price right before we left.

Hard-shelled carry-on suitcase

2. A trusty “personal item”

Check the different airlines you are flying with for the weight and size limits. Some of the more discount airlines have very strict limitations. The 9kg backpack you were allowed to carry on in Canada might be overweight for the smaller airline in Vietnam. I used a tiny little backpack for my travels but found it was very annoying to, for example, have to take out my medications, toiletries, and sunglasses, etc. to get to the headphones I needed at the bottom of the pack. If possible, get one that has many compartments so you can access your belongings easily. I really liked the MEC packpack that Aaron got for the trip. It looked really compact. You can even wear it on the side and say it’s a laptop bag. It has a lot of compartments, including a nicely padded section just for your laptop.

3. Pack for 1 week

It doesn’t matter how long your trip is. Just pack as if you’re going on a 1-week trip. I.e. only pack enough underwear, socks, outfits etc. for 7 days. You can always do laundry. You’re always on the go, so no one will know you’re repeating outfits (except for your travel companion, who should not be judging. And if they are, you need to find yourself someone else to travel with).

4. Pack versatile clothing

Don’t pack those trendy yellow jeans that only matches that one white top. Pack items you can mix and match. That racer back tank top is not only for the hiking in Chiang Mai. Layer on a cardigan for the breezy evenings in Hanoi, and add on a scarf and toque for the snowy days in Seoul.

One thing I wish I had brought on my trip was a sarong. Not only can you use it as a cover-up on the beach, you can use it for modesty at temples as well as a scarf in colder cities, or maybe even a towel or a blanket, if needed! It is a great alternative to having to wear jeans when it’s hot and humid. (Read about my struggles in my Wat Pho post.)

And don’t forget about the tourist pants. What’s that you say? I’m talking about those thin, loose-fitting harem pants you see many backpackers and other casual travellers wearing nowadays. I know… I know… before you start judging that these will only make me stand out as a tourist, I’m sure I already have other features which make it obvious that I’m not a local. For example, my language, my mannerisms and the fact that I constantly have a confused look on my face while starting at Google Maps on my phone. In all seriousness, these pants are great for modesty in temples, just roaming the streets or even as PJs. For example, I did not want cause myself to have a heat stroke hiking in long pants in the mountains of Chiang Mai but I knew we were going to make stops at temples along the way and wanted to be respectful. I kept my tourist pants in my backpack and threw it over my shorts once we got to the temple grounds. Keep in mind these are not the best quality since mine had a big hole in it by the end of my trip but no complaints given I got it for only a few Canadian dollars from a market in Bali!

Tourist pants

5. Leave the bulky clothing at home

The best investment I made for this trip was probably my Columbia Women’s Mighty Lite Hooded Jacket. My biggest dilemma for this trip was how to stay warm in South Korea without having to lug around a huge winter jacket for the entire duration of my travels. My friend suggested I look into compressible jackets. (Thanks Vanessa!) It kept me warm and I was able to compress it down to the size of a thin sweater. It was amazing!


Compressible jacket

For those who are more risk-loving, you can purchase seasonal items en route so you don’t even have to carry it around with you. Aaron purchased this compressible winter jacket from Uniqlo while we were in Seoul.

6. Packing cubes and organizers

Organization is key when it comes to packing light. Packing cubes allowed me to create little dense packages of clothing. I rolled them up tightly and was surprised how much I can fit in each of these.


Packing Cubes

For bras, I put them in a little laundry bag and stuffed it with socks to keep the shape. This bag was handy to double as a laundry bag for delicates during the trip.


Bra laundry bag

If you have some items which seem to take up a lot of space, try compression bags. These are also great for packing away dirty clothes. These ones we got don’t require a vacuum to release the air. Just put your clothing in, zip it up to leave a small hole, push all the air out and then zip it all the way. Alternatively, just get some heavy duty ziplock bags!


Compression bags

7. Wrinkle-free

Try to avoid clothes that easily wrinkle. With all the rolling and compressing (see above), it’s best to bring clothing that is easy to care for. Leave that cute blouse at home. If you are presented with a few wrinkles, try to hang it in the bathroom while you shower. The steam can sometimes help to release some of the wrinkles.

8. Travel-size toiletries

If you are travelling carry-on only, you must adhere to the liquid rules. As such, it’s important to either shop at the travel size aisle for teeny tiny version of your favourite toiletries or just get some reusable toiletry bottles and fill them up with your products of choice! Be sure to test for leaking extensively though! Even if they spill or if you did not bring enough, that’s ok! Unless you are travelling to remote areas, chances are you can always just pick up some toiletries along the way (especially when travelling to countries known for their great skin care products – e.g. Korea and Japan).


Travel bottles

9. E-travel books

I purchased only 2 travel books for my 4-country trip. For the other 2 countries, I found that electronic resources actually handled the job quite well. I mostly relied on Mark Wien’s travel guides as well as the Tripadvisor and Lonely Planet Guides. Please refer to my previous post for a more in-depth review of some travel apps.

So those were the lessons learned from my travels. I would love to hear about any other suggestions you may have. Happy travels!

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Top 5 Useful Apps While Traveling

Top 5 Useful Apps While Traveling

Featured Image: Screenshot from Google Maps.

With one of us being in the tech industry, we relied heavily on technology during our most recent Asia trip. We spent the extra money to get data or wifi almost as soon as we landed in order to make our lives easier. Some may say this is not a true adventure and/or it doesn’t allow us to truly experience exploring a new place, but to each their own. For those who appreciate the use of technology, I thought I would share the apps I found most useful during our recent Asia trip. Please note they are in no particular order. Also, I did not receive sponsorship from any of these companies, so I have no conflict of interest to report here.

1. TripAdvisor

Those who travel with their laptops can easily access TripAdvisor on their browser but for those who travel with only a mobile device, this app provides a better interface than using a mobile browser.

Pros

I found I used this most often to check out the top “things to do” in each city we went to. It also allowed me to select the most highly rated tours to sign up for. With its review function, I was able to see what I was getting myself into, compared to signing up for random tours at a local tour agency. For example, we had an excellent experiences during our cooking classes in Chiang Mai and Hanoi, which I attributed to the fact that we selected the classes with the highest ratings on TripAdvisor. This was also great for selecting hotels and spas as well.

Cons

On the other hand, I wouldn’t rely on this app for food recommendations. The reviews were not as useful and their list of restaurants was not as comprehensive as some other apps, which I will discuss below. I also tried booking hotels through this app, and it saved my booking on the app; however, it only showed mostly a static page with minimal booking details. I wish it linked back to the original hotel listing for me to get more information (e.g. amenities, reviews) about the hotel after I’ve already booked it and prior to checking in. I found myself having to go back to search for the hotel in a cumbersome way when they could’ve just easily linked it back with one quick click. Of note, Airbnb has a much nicer user interface with sleek design and allows you to link back to the original listing. The “directions” function is also limited as it only links to Apple Maps and doesn’t have an option to link to Google Maps, which I prefer.

2. Lonely Planet Guides

Although I downloaded this app prior to our trip, it wasn’t until the latter half of the trip that I started using this.

Pros

I appreciated how I was able to download the “City Guides” beforehand, which allowed me to browse even when I had no access to wifi or data. Compare this to TripAdvisor, which did have a “download” button, but I realized it gave me error messages when I try to scroll through their content. Not only is their photo quality and design more aesthetically pleasing than TripAdvisor, they also had better content relating to the information presented about the points of interest. TripAdvisor just took information straight from Wikipedia, which I found more dry and less relevant. I liked their “neighbourhoods” reviews to give me a quick overview of each area, so I can decide where I wanted to visit. This was particularly helpful in big cities like Korea and Japan. My favourite function of all was the “Near this Place” list at the end of each article. I am able to group top attractions and coffee shops/restaurants I want to visit to efficiently plan my days. I can bookmark places to the “My Favourites” tab to view everything on a map. That was how I realized that Tsukiji market is close to the Hama-Rikyu Onshi-Teien which also housed the Nakajimi no Ochaya teahouse. It is also how I found out about Chihira Junco and that she is located on the 3rd floor of Aqua City.

Cons

Compared to TripAdvisor, they only had a limited number of “City Guides”. It also does not have reviews, so the rankings of the listings are based on Lonely Planet itself. I preferred to get the perspectives from different travellers, especially those who recently visited for more up-to-date information. In addition, unlike TripAdvisor, it did not allow me to easily make reservations directly in the app for accommodations or activities. It did provide a link to the company’s website though to do the booking there. Again, I wouldn’t rely on the Lonely Planet Guides for their food recommendations. For that, I would rather use Foursquare, which I will talk about next.

3. Foursquare

As foodies, this was probably the most important app for us. Aside from reading/watching travel and food blogs/vlogs from our favourite bloggers and vloggers, this was our most used app to find good food.

Pros

The reviews are concise and tips are useful when deciding where and what to eat. This was were we found out about Pizza 4P’s, where I had some of the most amazing pizza I’ve ever had. I would never have considered trying pizza in Vietnam if it wasn’t for the amazing ratings. The photos are a good overview of what to eat even if there is no menu available online. You can also use these pictures to point to when they do not have an English menu. Previous customers usually also note down wifi passwords as a tip in the app, so you do not need to ask for it everywhere you go. This was super helpful when we were working in a coffeeshop. Aaron was also really into their sister app, Swarm, which allowed me to track all the places we’ve been to for blogging purposes.

Cons

I found this particularly useful when I am already at a location and looking for food to eat by using the “Nearby” ranking option. It is more difficult to use this to look for places that I plan to go to. This app’s usefulness really relies on it being popular in the location of choice. For example, we found more people used Foursquare in Vietnam and Japan, whereas, it was less popular in South Korea and Thailand. This lead us to many places that have closed down, as well as made us almost miss out on great places which had no reviews in the app.

4. Google Maps

With the advent of GPS equipped phones, one should in theory be able to locate anywhere they choose to go to.

Pros

I prefer Google Map’s interface over Apple Maps. It is more robust and provides more information on nearby attractions and restaurants. I sometimes find great places to see using the other apps mentioned above then save all my favourites onto my Google Maps, which gives me an overview of the city I am visiting and allows me to group my visits to several points of interest. I really appreciated it telling me how long it will take and how much it will cost to get somewhere by foot, public transportation and Uber. I can even book an Uber directly on the app! The bus/train route function, which has colour coding for different subway lines (see Featured Image), allows me to navigate the public transportation systems of a foreign city. For the points of interest itself, it provides reliable opening hours, for the most part, and well as some reviews, although not as extensive as TripAdvisor’s reviews. I particularly appreciate the graphs of the busiest times to visit the point of interest, based on historical and live data, so we can plan our visits and change our plans accordingly. This was how we were able to avoid a ridiculous line at T&K Seafood in Bangkok.

Cons

Google Maps has an offline function but this was not available for most of the places we visit this trip. From what I read, as long as there are non-alphabet characters used on the maps, the map cannot be downloaded offline. In addition, when searching for points of interest in Thailand and Japan, we found that just using the English name may lead us to the wrong location. It was much more reliable to use the actual Thai or Japanese characters to locate places. Of note, even the online version Google Maps is pretty useless in South Korea. The train routes were not available at all and the locating of points of interest is very unreliable. For hiking and more remote paths, Google Maps is again not too useful. We relied on Maps 3D Pro to keep us on track for our hiking trips. I also noticed that in a recent update, there are now multiple options when trying to save a point of interest (i.e. “favourites”, “want to go”, “starred places” or your own customized list). For my purposes, I preferred the simple star vs. no star before.

5. Google Translate

It was pretty much impossible for us to learn and be fluent in 4 new languages prior to our Asia trip, so we needed a way to communicate other than hand gestures. Here was where Google Translate came in handy.

Pros

The camera function available in Korean and Japanese was very helpful in understanding menus, labels and instruction sheets. This is a lot more effective than trying to write out the characters myself. It allowed us to translate specific characters as well as whole labels. When trying to search for one word translations, I feel more comfortable using this, as grammar is less of an issue when it comes to just a noun I want to use. In times of desperation, e.g. when talking to the employees at Def Dance in Seoul, it actually was able to allow me to have a reasonable conversation with others who did not speak English. There is also a mic function which I have not made too much use out of. Has anyone tried this? Let me know if it’s useful.

Cons

As someone who reads/writes another language (Chinese), I understand that Google Translate has its flaws and the translations can be comedic most of the time. Don’t rely on it being absolutely accurate. I.e. don’t make any business deals or do important negotiations based on this. The “live” camera function was not good. It often did not pick up on characters and display the translation properly. It was just floating psychedelic characters which made me nauseated. I also did not appreciate how there is a reminder for me to download this function every time I use the camera function. I knew I didn’t want this feature and was not interested in downloading it. I wish there was a way to stop this message from popping up!

So those are the apps I found most useful during my travels. Again, this is just my opinion. Let me know if you have any other apps you prefer or if there are any other functions of these apps that I have yet to discover!

Tips for flying out of Incheon Airport, Seoul

Tips for flying out of Incheon Airport, Seoul

This is our first experience flying out of Incheon Airport and we had quite the adventure, almost missing our flight. Here are the lessons we learnt and would like to share in hopes that your journey will be less stressful.

  1. Travel carry-on only, if possible. This will save you from an insane line up at the check-in counter at the airport. See featured image.
  2. If not, check-in at the City Centre Terminal at Seoul Station. You should do this at least 3 hours prior to your flight. We think it is for them to get your luggage there on time.
  3. Even if you don’t have bags to check in, just check in at the City Centre Terminal anyway to avoid the crowded security area lines at the airport.
  4. If you have tax refund slips to claim, try to do that in the city. There are specific kiosks and service windows to do this. Click here for details. At least that will save you one step from having to collect your refund at the airport. Note, you still will need to go through customs to declare your purchased goods. Do a cost and benefit analysis. You will only get less than 10% back from your tax free eligible purchases, so do the calculations and see if it is even worth you time.
  5. If you must do it at the airport, please give that extra time. Who knows how long that line is. We did not see it but this is based on others experiences that we’ve read.

Overall, just give yourself extra time! Lots of extra time. Gates may not be in the same area as the main terminal and may require a train to shuttle between the areas. So plan ahead! Arrive 3 hours prior to departure, especially if you have not pre-checked in at the City Centre Terminal.

Have you ever had a close call or entirely missed a flight? I would love to hear your stories!