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How to Travel with Carry-On Only in New Zealand

Updated on June 15, 2011

Travel with Carry-On Only in New Zealand

So what is traveling with carry-on only? This means you are traveling only with luggage that is allowed to be taken into the cabin of an aircraft. You are not checking in baggage when boarding the plane but you have got everything you need in your carry-on luggage.

Traveling with carry-on only baggage is very well possible in New Zealand. It is a developed country and you generally do not need to take that much with you. This guide contains lots of information about traveling with carry-on luggage that also applies to other countries but it is good to have it all in one place anyway.

How to travel around New Zealand

When you are limited on time or you simply want to see as much of the country as possible, you will most likely travel around New Zealand in a coach and you will stay in one of the many backpacker accommodations throughout the country.

Some bus companies that drive you around New Zealand are Stray, Magic and Kiwi Experience and some backpacker hostels are YHA, Base and Nomads. The basic idea is that you buy a bus pass and you can hop-on and hop-off these buses whenever you like. You can book accommodation yourself or you can let it be booked by your bus driver.

Benefits of carry-on only luggage

There are many benefits to traveling with carry-on only luggage. The adage by many experienced travellers is to 'travel light' which means that taking less stuff with you is better. Everything that you take with you is weight that you need to carry around: either in your carry-on luggage or in your checked luggage. In particular when you are traveling around a country and you are therefore not staying in one place, this can become quite cumbersome.

But it does not have to be like that! It is very well possible to travel with just carry-on only luggage in many countries. In this article, I will share some insights of my month of traveling through New Zealand with carry-on only luggage.

Benefits of traveling with carry-on only luggage are:

  • Cheaper flight tickets: airlines such as Jetstar have a lower airfare if you travel with carry-on luggage only.
  • No hassle with luggage before and after your flight: this is obvious of course!
  • Your luggage cannot get lost by your airline: because it is always with you!
  • Always first to check-in in hostels: when you are staying in various accommodations in New Zealand, you can check-in in hostels right away while others are still gathering their massive bags from the bus that you are traveling with.
  • No need to use the luggage room: When you check out of a hostel you just take all your stuff with you. Just go have a drink and then go to the airport without having to pickup your stuff later - you're free to go wherever you want as you don't need to return to the hostel later that day.
  • Convenience: everything that you will ever need during your travels is in one bag or backpack. That means you only have one piece of luggage to take care of or to lock away when you are going somewhere.

Downsides to carry-on only luggage

There are certain things you need to be aware of when traveling with carry-on only luggage. The above benefits do come at a certain price but in my opinion the benefits far outweigh the downsides. In many cases, the following points are not really downsides at all but simply things that you need to take care of that you otherwise would not need to care about.

  • Make sure you understand what your airline considers to be carry-on luggage: In my case, I was flying with Jetstar airlines and they have specific details about the size and weight of carry-on luggage. If you have a backpack or if you are going to buy one, make sure it stays within those dimensions. When packing, make sure that you do not go above the specified maximum weight for carry-on luggage.
  • Do not take prohibited items in carry-on luggage: Some items that are perfectly fine in checked luggage cannot be taken in carry-on luggage. Take a nail clipper for example: this can be considered a weapon and should therefore not be packed in your carry-on luggage. You can find a list of prohibited items and other restrictions on carry-on luggage in the conditions of carriage of your airline.
  • Do not take liquids with more than 100ml in carry-on luggage: This is not specific to carry-on luggage but you should be aware of it nonetheless. If you are going to take any liquids with you, make sure they are packaged in 100ml bottles/tubes only. Do not forget to buy a transparent bag to pack the liquids.

Here is how to get around the above limitations: simply buy the items when you arrive in New Zealand. You will most likely fly to Auckland or Christchurch and in these big cities, you can surely find these items anyway. This should not cost too much and you can set aside some money of your budget for this. Call it a 'settling fund' if you like. You are spending some money that you would not have spent if you were traveling with checked luggage but I think it is well worth the money looking at the benefits above.

One last point:

  • When taking a domestic flight, check again that you meet airline requirements: In my case, I took a domestic flight from Christchurch to Wellington so that meant that I had to meet the airline regulations again. If you have bought anything in New Zealand on arrival that cannot be taken into the cabin of an aircraft, find a way to get rid of it. Give it to one of your travel mates or donate it somewhere. Please do not be wasteful by throwing it away unnecessarily.

Can I get away with bigger or heavier carry-on luggage?

I do not recommend taking risks by taking bigger or heavier carry-on luggage. It is the only luggage that you will be taking with you and you do not want to argue about whether it meets the size/weight requirements or not - you may end up getting fined.

I have flown many times with only carry-on luggage and sometimes they check the size, sometimes they check the weight and sometimes you can pass easily. I was a bit worried when they checked the weight because I had purchased some gifts like a hand-painted decorative bowl but it turned out to be only eight kilograms (maximum of 10kg).

Some airlines like Jetstar and Virgin Blue have devices at the airport in which your luggage must fit to check if it meets the size requirements. They do not check everyone's carry-on luggage but they do visual inspections and if they estimate it to be too big they will have your carry-on luggage checked for size.

Campbell Island, New Zealand
Campbell Island, New Zealand | Source

How to choose carry-on luggage

I did not have a bag or backpack that was big enough to travel with so I decided to buy one specifically for my travels. Not too big of course because that defeats the point of carry-on only travel!

You have several options, including a bag, a backpack or wheeled luggage. I have decided to use a backpack as I think it is more convenient when you are moving to different places often: simply put it on your back and you are good to go. Most of the people I have seen here were also traveling with a backpack rather than wheeled luggage.

The very light backpack I am traveling with.
The very light backpack I am traveling with. | Source

Selecting a backpack

My backpack is about the same size as a school bag and it contains everything I need during my travel in New Zealand and in Australia afterwards.

Things to keep in mind when buying a backpack:

  • Think practically: Buy a backpack that can contain as much as possible but still remains within the limits of the airline regulations. Look at the liters that the backpack can contain and do not care too much about other aspects, such as color. You will want lightweight carry-on luggage that can fit as much as possible.
  • Taking a laptop with you? If you are going to take your laptop with you, select a backpack that has a compartment for it. This makes it easy to grab your laptop and it keeps it separate from the rest of your luggage. Whether you are taking your laptop with you or not, you will be paying for the internet in both cases anyway. Many backpacker hostels provide internet facilities and you can also access the internet at other places in town.
  • It can contain more than you think: Do not be worried that the backpack that you are buying will be too small. Smaller is usually better. I was able to fit a sweater, three T-shirts, two long sleeve shirts, shorts, a towel, a swimsuit, several pairs of socks and underwear in it. Other things that I had with me were a laptop, a wall socket converter, shaving device, cables for my camera, my phone and my laptop and my travel documents. I even kept some space because I like to buy T-shirts from places around the world!

    Before buying the backpack, I gathered everything I thought I would need and I folded and stacked it very neatly together. This gives you an idea of how big the backpack really needs to be and it is not that big really. Also, the clothes you are wearing on the day of flying are part of your travel clothing.. and they do not need to be packed.
  • Pack smart for electronical equipment: Many electronical equipment can be recharged using USB. If you are bringing your laptop and you can access your camera's photos using a USB cable, simply connect the camera to your laptop with the USB cable and let it recharge through there while you are using your laptop.

    Secondly, you do not need to bring a separate alarm clock because most mobile phones already have a built-in alarm feature.

    Lastly, wall socket converters in your home country may be very sluggish with many pins (i.e., they have pins for many regions of the world). That is inconvenient so it is good to know that in New Zealand, they sell wall socket converters that allow you to plug in devices from many countries and that convert to the New Zealand wall socket. These are sold in Australia as well because the wall sockets are the same in Australia and New Zealand.

AJ Hackett Kawarau Bridge Bungy, Queenstown, New Zealand
AJ Hackett Kawarau Bridge Bungy, Queenstown, New Zealand | Source

Other tips

Here are some other tips when traveling in New Zealand:

  • Buy gifts and souvenirs last: You may be tempted to buy something nice for yourself or others soon after arrival in New Zealand (and granted, many things look nice to have). But consider that you are traveling with carry-on luggage and you will need to carry it with you all the time. You cannot put it in your checked luggage and you are already limited in what you can take with you.

    Many items in gift and souvenir shops can be found in any city in New Zealand (in particular your start or end points Auckland and Christchurch) so do not buy anything until you leave. I did make an exception to this rule by buying a T-shirt of AJ Hackett bungy jumps in Queenstown as that is pretty much a location specific item but for many other things, it is not necessary.
  • Lock your stuff when you are away: Take care of your stuff and lock it up somewhere when you are away. In Base backpacker accommodation, you can simply buy a padlock to lock your stuff in an in-room locker. New Zealand is a modern country and although my stuff was not stolen, I have heard from several others who lost all their valuables because their bag or backpack went missing. Other than that, I think the risks in New Zealand are low as long as you take care of your belongings.
  • Pack again when it does not seem to fit anymore: After a while, you may notice that your backpack becomes harder to pack and close. Have you accumulated too much stuff during your travels? Possibly, but you may be able to solve the problem by taking everything out of your backpack, folding your clothes neatly and packing them again. As you travel and take things in and out of your backpack, your clothes are no longer folded as neatly as they should to make the most of the space in your backpack. By packing again I was able to pack everything into my backpack and still have space for some more!
  • Apply sunscreen: Seriously, I got tanned here so quickly that it is worth stressing this: apply sunscreen regularly as the sun is quite strong over here!
  • Free internet in Christchurch: If you are in Christchurch and you have your own laptop, simply go to the public library and enjoy the free internet over there. In the rest of the country, you will be paying for it so enjoy it while it lasts.
  • Free internet in Auckland: There is free wireless internet in the entertainment center next to Civic Theatre.

This article was written by Simeon Visser. I am earning money online by writing here at Would you like to earn money online as well? Read the success stories and sign up today to get started!


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    • services4all profile image


      6 years ago from U.S.

      Nice post it will help us while packing our bags, before starting to travel to new Zealand.

      I also have some similar post, which can we helpful to all, so Visit my post and please comment on it.


    • profile image

      Lily (Backpackers Australia) 

      7 years ago

      One bag travel is a challenge but I learn something new everytime that I travel. I would say the toughest thing is having to size down to the lowest airline requirements. As you mentioned, budget airlines allot you almost nothing! It's also quite tough to only pack liquids

    • simeonvisser profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Sure, just let me know if you have any questions on things to do or where to go in New Zealand.

    • onegirlfactory profile image


      7 years ago

      Love the hub! The tips will definitely come in handy for my upcoming trip to New Zealand (still in the planning process! :D).


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