International carry-on travel with kids: Marie Kondo style

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PART 1: International carry-on travel with kids: Marie Kondo style



Marie Kondo has taken the world by storm with her life-changing tips on decluttering the home. Well I can tell you first hand, it’s totally possible to use the same philosophy when travelling internationally with your family. I’ve done it.

Last year our family of four (children aged 6 and 9) travelled to Japan for 10 days with nothing but carry-on luggage. A daunting task when travelling to an unknown country for the first time. However, cutting the luggage down was the best decision I’ve ever made, especially as we used the public transport system (which is brilliant by the way), to explore Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka.

Motivators for carry-on only

My motivator for carry-on only was really just logistics. I’d heard horror stories about kids almost being left on train platforms because the parents were loading luggage onto the train and the doors started to close. My brother, after a trip to Italy, spoke about how difficult it was to transport big bags when the footpaths were cobbled streets. We’d also previously travelled to New Zealand when our daughter was just a toddler and I remember explicitly how frustrating it was to lug big bags around with a screaming 2-year-old. So, with this in mind, a de-cluttering attitude and some hot tips from a cousin who had just successfully travelled through Canada with carry-on only, I started planning.

Mapping out the travel gear

First thing you need to understand about carry-on only, it is not a ‘pack the night before’ gig. Careful planning is required, especially for the first trip. To get started I focused on 3 main things:

  1. Carry-on bag size for the Airline travelling with (they do differ)
  2. Allowed weight (most Airlines are capped at 7kg)
  3. Climate of holiday destination

These became the corner stone of our travel gear.

Choosing the right carry-on bags

When it came to the selection of the carry-on bags, I did a LOT of internet research and identified a few key things I wanted from the luggage:

  1. Needed to be approved carry-on size. I chose soft casing over hard casing bags, knowing that they would be easier to fit in overhead compartments in the plane.
  2. Needed to have good travel reviews. I looked at comments on wear and tear, nothing worse than a zip failing halfway through a trip or a wobbly wheel that might fall off at any given second.
  3. Needed to convert to a backpack. This was essential for me, I wanted a bag configuration whereby my husband and I could be carrying a bag on our back, one in hand and a child on the other side. Again, logistics of travelling public transport with kids in Japan.
  4. Needed to be light weight. This is REALLY IMPORTANT, your bag weight cuts into your 7kg weight allocation. The lighter the bag, the more things you can pack!
  5. Kids luggage needed to have wheels.
  6. Needed to be priced under $200.

Based on these points, I purchased Caribee Carry-on bags.

Kids: Caribee Fast Track 45L Wheeled carry-on backpack

Specifications: 54 x 36 x 30, 45 litres, 2.6kg with 3-year limited warranty

My Post Travel Review: My kids loved these bags. The wheels and extendable handle make it easy for them to pull around on smoother surfaces, whilst the handles top and side made it easy for us as parents to carry when needed. I also liked having the option to convert to a backpack if needed. On departure there was still plenty of room in each bag, we were able to fit their travel pillow, puffer jacket and iPad in the front zip section for easy access during the flight. The only negative of these bags is the main compartment requires packing cubes, which add weight to the carry-on and as a parent, you only use them on the flight over.

Purchased: Wild Earth for $120 (on sale, old design)

Parents: Caribee Sky Master 40L carry-on backpack

Specifications: 54 x 33 x 18, 40 litres, 1.2kg with 3-year limited warranty

My Post Travel Review: LOVED these bags, they are the perfect carry-on backpack. The mesh compartments on both sides mean that packing cubes are not required. You can see everything easily and open the bag at customs without clothing falling all over the floor. There are several different strap options, so numerous ways to carry this bag and at 1.2kg, you have 5.8kg of gear you can pack! My husband is 6 foot 9, so his clothing is bigger and bulker than the rest of the family. He had the same amount of gear as everyone else and came in under the 7kg weight limit.

I love these bags so much, that as my kids get older, I will be looking to swap out their Caribee Fast Track to one of these.

Purchased: Snowys for $107 BARGAIN.

Other bags taken on trip

In addition to the carry-on bags, each of us had a small, personal bag as allowed by the airline. Again, I spent some time thinking about what these bags needed to be used for, the end result was:

  • ME: A largish leather handbag with secure clip, that could fit a drink bottle, wallet (with passports, more on that later), travel documents, phone, small first aid kit and my rain coat
  • HUSBAND: Leather laptop bag to carry the various tech needs, his jumper and water
  • KIDS: Packable Daypacks that could crush down to tiny size and could fit in my handbag as a backup on day trips to carry jackets if it got hot. On the flight, these had an activity book and headphones for each child, easily slid under the seat in front.
  • BACKUP BAG: I also purchased a Gonex 80L Packable Travel Duffle Bag, to be that little extra space we might need on the trip home, with all our extra holiday purchases. The bag fit nicely in the bottom of the kids’ suitcases and weighed only 590 grams. This bag had great online reviews in regards to the zip quality, essential as being a check-in item on the way home, needed to be reliable to deal with being tossed around by baggage handlers at the airport.

These bags worked out really well, my only changes to future trips would be a slightly bigger leather bag for myself and the Gonex 60L Packable Travel Duffle Bag to replace the 80L. We found it a little oversized for us, as we didn’t purchase as much as expected. However, would have been perfect if we’d went on a massive shopping spree!

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