Are you tired of waiting for your checked luggage to come off the plane? Ever had to spend the first few days of your vacation waiting for your lost bag to show up – and then had to buy replacement gear when it didn’t? Have you had it with dragging around a suitcase, camera bag or purse plus a carry-on bag? And how do you feel about having to pay the airline to check your suitcase?

The simple answer to all these problems is to travel with only a carry-on bag. You may be used to carrying just a small bag for weekend trips, but it’s possible to fit all your gear into one bag for longer trips, too.

I recently spent 2 weeks in Costa Rica with just carry-on luggage, and I’ve put together a few tips to help you do the same on your next vacation.

Take no more or less than you absolutely need

Start planning a month before you travel, by checking what your airline allows, as well as the allowable size for carry-on baggage. Now is also the time to line up your travel health insurance.

Do some research about your destination so you’ll have the right gear for your trip. For instance, if the electrical outlets are different from those at home, you’ll need an adapter to charge your phone. And if you’ll be staying in a hostel, you’ll probably need a combination or key lock for your storage cubby.

Then go through your itinerary. Plan what you’ll need to use and wear each day, and make a list. Aim to bring only clothes you can wash, so if you pack a bar of laundry soap, you can hand-wash some outfits and wear them more than once during your trip. (Or, you could plan to stop at a laundromat, if there’s one available and you have time.)

Doing this in advance will give you enough time to add or subtract from your list as your itinerary changes, and to purchase any specific gear that would be useful for your trip, such as fast-drying clothes if your destination is humid, or water shoes if you’ll be climbing up or down waterfalls. You may also need to buy additional items, such as travel containers for liquids.

What NOT to pack in your carry-on bag

Because you won’t be checking a bag, you’ll have to be vigilant about shampoo, cologne and other liquids. All airlines limit liquids brought into the cabin to quantities of 3.4oz/100ml per container, and the containers must fit collectively into a 1L bag.

Keep in mind that some airlines are very particular about what they let you carry on. For instance, the airline I travelled with didn’t allow lithium batteries, aerosols or flammable sprays (and from what I’ve seen, all insect repellent sprays are flammable). In fact, the list of allowable items on the airline’s website actually differed from the on-screen message at the airport kiosk.

To avoid problems, try to pack as conservatively as possible when it comes to liquids and batteries, and avoid any sharp objects (that includes that tiny little Swiss army knife you might have forgotten you have in your purse). The last thing you want is to have something you need confiscated, especially when you could have packed a suitable alternative.

How to pack your carry-on bag

Try to get everything you need before you start to pack. Once you’re ready, lay out everything on a flat surface. Stack your outfits together in 3 or 4 piles, with smaller items in the centre of each. Then roll up each pile and line them up in your carry-on. Wedge shoes and other items between the rolls.

Most important, don’t forget to pack your passport and travel insurance documents in a secure but accessible spot.

Now that you’ve managed to fit all your stuff into that one small bag, what will you do if you want to bring home a souvenir or two? While packing small disposable items can free up a little space to bring back souvenirs, it’s neither environmentally friendly nor budget-wise to purchase large items just to throw them away. But if you have a particularly old and tattered bath towel that you were going to discard anyway, get the last bit of use from it: Pack it, use it on your trip and leave it behind to make some space for that hand-carved tchotchke you can’t pass up.

Besides saving time and money, I found that having everything I needed accessible and easy to carry around as I toured the country made an already-amazing trip even more perfect!

Read more about questions to ask before travelling