Erin McNeaney and Simon Fairbairn from Never Ending Voyage are digital nomads and carry on travelers since 2010. In this interview Erin tells us how they do it and presents us her book “The Carry-on Traveller”.
Erin McNeaney and her partner Simon Fairbairn are digital nomads since 2010, when they left the UK to travel the world forever. Erin runs the popular travel blog Never Ending Voyage, where she writes about slow travel, hunting down the best vegetarian eats and the ups and downs of digital nomad life.
Erin and Simon have traveled to over 30 countries with just a carry-on backpack, and they inspired me to do the same in my round the world trip. Before reading Never Ending Voyage I would have never thought that traveling carry on only would be possible for long term travel. I thank them so much!
Over the years they have mastered the art of traveling light. Now Erin has finished writing a book, “The Carry-On Traveller”, where she shares all her tips for packing light.
I’m very happy to announce that today we have Erin here to discuss carry on travel. She’s a great source of inspiration and I’m sure we can all learn a lot about her experience.
1. You and Simon did a round the world trip back in 2007-08. You came back to UK and one year and a half later, you left again, this time forever. How did you decide to become digital nomads?
We spent an amazing year travelling around Asia, Australia, the South Pacific and the US and had more incredible experiences that year than we had in the previous ten.
Returning to the UK was hard and we struggled to fit back into the dull routine of working 9-5. We had been back a few months when I discovered the world of digital nomads – people who could work and live anywhere in the world. This seemed perfect for us, especially as Simon was developing his web design career at the time (after designing websites for fun for 10 years) – an ideal location independent job. It seemed the natural step for us.
We decided to save as much as we could in nine months (as we were already experienced at saving for our previous trip we managed to save 75% of our income), sell everything we own and then hit the road.
2. You traveled with a 65 litre backpack during that first round the world trip. What made you decide to travel with just carry-on luggage after that?
On each trip we’ve taken, we’ve learnt what we really need and have been able to reduce the amount we pack. It seemed the natural step to start travelling with just carry-on luggage. We knew it would save us time at airports and just be easier to travel around with a smaller bag.
3. What are the advantages and disadvantages of carry-on only travel? Do you think it’s worth it?
There are so many advantages to travelling carry-on only. We save money on checked luggage fees. We save time at airports—if we check in online, we can go straight to security, and when we arrive at our destination, we don’t have to wait for our bags. We don’t have to worry about airlines losing our luggage. We feel more secure being able to keep all of our stuff with us on buses and trains. We can pack our bags in ten minutes. We can walk around looking for accommodation without our bags weighing us down. Life with less is just simpler.
We really don’t find that there are any downsides. There’s nothing we want that doesn’t fit in our bags.
4. As digital nomads, you need a lot of technology to work (which adds a lot of weight!). What technology do you pack?
I travel with the MacBook Air 11-inch, Olympus OM-D EM-5 mirrorless camera and two lenses (one is a tiny Pansonic 20mm f1.7 pancake lens), Kindle Paperwhite, and iPhone 5.
Simon has a 15-inch MacBook Pro, iPad Pro and Apple Pencil (for illustration and design), and the iPhone 6.
5. You state that traveling light is not only about what you pack, but how you pack it. How do you organise your things in your luggage in order to optimize the space?
Packing organisers are the key to carry-on travel. We started with compression bags, which suck out excess air and allow you to fit a lot more into your luggage. They are a bit of a pain to roll up though, and your clothes aren’t that accessible. We now use Eagle Creek compression packing cubes, which still allow you to squeeze lots of clothes into a small package, but they are easier to use.
6. Summer clothes obviously take less space. However, last year you visited Finland and managed to do it with carry-on luggage only. Which is your best advice for packing light in cold weather?
Wear your bulkiest clothes on travel days so that you don’t have to pack them. Pack lots of layers such as thermal underwear, merino wool long-sleeve tops, and ultralight down jackets, which are warm but pack down into an amazingly small package. Use compressions bags or cubes to fit more in.
7. In the book “The Carry-On Traveller” you interview several carry-on travelers from families to photographers and fashionistas. Do you think carry-on travel is possible for everyone?
I think it’s possible for everyone if they are willing to make compromises and be careful with their gear choices. For example, a photographer with four lenses could travel carry-on only, but they’d have to minimise the clothes and shoes they pack.
I didn’t think it would be possible to camp with just a carry-on, but one of the interviewees in the book often does—as he travels by bike or on foot, he wants to keep his backpack light. He chooses an ultralight backpack, tent, and sleeping bag, and only takes a few changes of clothes.
8. Has traveling light changed your view on having a lot of material belongings?
Definitely. It’s made us realise how little we really need. We now have no urge to go shopping (in fact, we avoid it for as long as possible) and buying things just doesn’t interest us. We find it liberating to live with less.
9. Do you have any funny anecdote related to your carry on luggage?
Everyone is always amazed by how little we travel with. Often we turn up at hotels and they’ll ask, “Is that everything?!” They think we’ve lost some luggage along the way. My mum packs more for a weekend away than we do for six years of travel!
10. Do you have some final advice to someone who is planning to become a digital nomad and carry on traveler?
Working on the road out of a carry-on bag is definitely possible. You just need to decide your priorities—only take the gear you know you will use regularly and don’t pack anything “just in case.”
Thanks a lot Erin!