6 Years of Carry-On Travel: Our Packing List Update

It’s Packing Light Week on Never Ending Voyage to celebrate the launch of my new book, The Carry-On Traveller: The Ultimate Guide to Packing Light.

We’ve been living out of a carry-on backpack for six years now. We love the freedom that travelling light gives us—we can pack our belongings in 10 minutes, walk around easily with all our luggage, and breeze through airports without queuing at check-in desks or baggage carousels.

It has become so normal to us that we can’t imagine travelling any other way. We honestly don’t know what people have in their big suitcases. We aren’t depriving ourselves for the sake of packing light—we just don’t need anything else.

Living out of a backpack for six years is very different from travelling for six months though, and we’re certainly not ultralight travellers. We have a ton of electronics to run our online business, whereas many travellers could manage with just a smartphone. We’ve also added a few extra clothes so that we only have to do laundry once a week. You can see what we’ve added and got rid of in the last few years at the bottom of this list.

My backpack weighs around 8-9 kg and Simon’s is 10-11 kg. We travel with just one item of luggage each, with our day bag packed inside, as we find it easier and can travel on airlines that don’t allow an additional personal item. We are often over the allowed carry-on luggage weight, but our bags have never been weighed—read my tips on dealing with airline weight restrictions.

Our last packing list is three years old, so it’s time for an update. Here’s what’s in our backpacks in 2016.

Contents:

Our Packing List

Summer 2016 Update: I’ve added new items in red. 

Luggage

Carry on travel packing list - bakcpacks

Our Osprey Farpoint 40 and Tortuga backpacks

Erin’s Clothes

Carry on travel packing list - women's clothes

My main clothes (left) and workout gear (right)

Carry on travel packing list

Everything in my backpack

Carry on travel packing list - packed backpack

My packed backpack. My three packing cubes fit in the bottom half and everything else is towards the top.

Bottoms

  • Jeans – I look for lightweight summer jeans.
  • Linen trousers – For hot weather and light hikes.
  • Skirt

Tops and Dresses

  • 3 dresses – I usually travel with two but added an extra recently as I live in them in hot weather.
  • 3 short-sleeve tops – I sometimes add an extra top in colder places when I’m not wearing dresses.

Outerwear

  • Cardigan
  • Fleece (The North Face) – Lightweight with pockets and a hood.

Workout Gear

  • 2 tank tops – For running I love the Athleta Chi tank made from their amazing Unstinkable fabric (it really works!). For yoga I used to wear a cheap H&M tank, but I’m now experimenting with a Clever Travel Companion tank. It has two zipped pockets so I can wear it under a shirt on travel days to keep my passport and cards/cash safe. So far it is working out well and is much more comfortable than a money belt. 
  • Capri leggings (Athleta Be Free Knicker) – For yoga or running in colder places.
  • Shorts (Brooks Sherpa 6-inch) – For running in hot weather.
  • 2 sports bras (1 Victoria’s Secret Incredible)
  • Runderwear running underwear
  • Running socks

Underwear and Swimwear

  • Tankini swimsuit (PrAna Lahari)
  • 7 underwear – 1 pair are ExOfficio, which are very light and quick drying.
  • 2 bras
  • 2 socks – I don’t wear socks often. In cold places, I buy more as needed.

Shoes

Accessories

  • Sun hat
  • Sunglasses and travel case
Carry on travel packing list - Tieks ballet flats

I walked 10 miles a day in Rome wearing my comfy Tieks

Simon’s Clothes

Carry on travel packing list: Men's clothes

All Simon’s clothes and underwear fit into one packing cube

Carry on travel packing list - Simon's stuff

Everything in Simon’s backpack

Simon's packed backpack

Simon’s packed backpack

Bottoms

  • Jeans (Levis 511)
  • Bluffs trousers – Smarter than normal travel trousers but still lightweight, quick drying and with hidden zippered pockets for security. He’s worn them on hikes, horse riding, to fancy restaurants, and even to weddings! Read our detailed Bluffworks review.
  • Shorts (Craghoppers Kiwi) – Simon always looks for lightweight fabrics and hidden zippered pockets.

Tops

Outerwear

  • Fleece

Underwear and Swimwear

Shoes

  • Hiking shoes (Scarpa Margarita GTX) – The best travel shoes Simon has found. They are attractive enough to wear to dinner but rugged enough for hikes.
  • Sandals (Teva Terra Fi Lite) – Very comfortable and durable.

Accessories

  • Sunglasses and travel case
Bluffs review - smart enough for a wedding

Add a borrowed jacket and Simon’s Bluffs were smart enough for a wedding

Toiletries

Lifeventure Ultralite Wash Holdall

Lifeventure Ultralite Wash Holdall

  • Toiletry bag (Lifeventure Ultralite Wash Holdall) – Lightweight and comes with a mirror and hook to hang it up when there’s nowhere to put it. This Sea to Summit bag is similar.
  • Small zip-lock bag – For liquids when flying. We usually fit our liquids into one bag between us.
  • Suncream (100 ml Riemann P20) – This once-a-day suncream lasts longer and is easy to apply.
  • Lush shampoo bar + tin – A must for carry-on travel. This solid shampoo lasts ages and doesn’t use up your liquid allowance.
  • Toothbrush each + head cover
  • Toothpaste (usually a 50 ml tube)
  • Solid deodorant (Salt of the Earth 50 g) – The more solid toiletries you pack, the better. This natural crystal deodorant lasts forever and works well.
  • Lip balm (small solid tube)
  • Hand sanitiser (50 ml bottle) – For washing hands without water and soap. Useful for bus journeys and hikes.
  • Shaving oil (Simon, 15 ml bottle) – Magic stuff! A tiny bottle lasts Simon nine months.
  • Razor each + 2 or 3 spare blades
  • Hairbrush (travel-size)
  • Nail clippers
  • Tweezers
  • Mooncup (Erin) – Essential for travelling women. It takes up less space than tampons (and you don’t have to worry about finding them) and is better for the environment, your body, and your wallet.
  • Hairbands and clips (Erin)

Sometimes we add these extra items in 50-100 ml (2-3 oz) bottles when needed:

  • Moisturiser (Steamcream)
  • Hair conditioner
  • Insect repellant

Medical

  • Ibuprofen
  • Loperamide (Imodium) – For traveller’s diarrhoea.
  • Dimenhydrinate (Dramamine) – For motion sickness.
  • Plasters (Band-Aids)
  • Prescription medications
  • Ciprofloxacin antibiotic – We sometimes have this on hand for severe cases of traveller’s diarrhoea.
  • Antihistamine – Simon has allergies, so we sometimes carry these.

Electronics

Carry on travel packing list - electronics

All our electronics (minus the iPhone 6 that took the photo)

Laptops and Accessories

Photography (Erin)

iPhones, iPad, Kindle, Watch

Miscellaneous

Carry on travel packing list -AeroPress for travel

Simon making coffee with his AeroPress

  • Travel towel (Simon) – As most places provide towels, he mainly uses this for the beach.
  • Sarong (Erin) – For the beach and as an emergency towel.
  • AeroPress coffee maker – Simon’s current experiment (it may or may not stay). He loves the coffee this makes, and it’s fairly small. He got rid of the funnel, stirrer, and filter holder to save space.
  • Petzl Tikka 2 head torch (headlamp) – For power cuts and unlit streets. This model is no longer available, but the Tikkina is similar.
  • Duct tape – Useful for fixing everything. Rather than pack a whole roll, we wrapped a little around a piece of cardboard.
  • BioEars earplugs (Erin) – Essential for me for noisy places and overnight bus and plane journeys.
  • Eye mask (Erin) – I use a cheap light one, like the kind they give out on planes.
  • Lifeventure mini retractable cable lock – For extra security we sometimes lock our backpacks to furniture.
  • Tiny sewing kit – Like the ones that hotels provide.
  • Pens
  • Small dry bag – For our electronics for watersports and beaches.
  • Zip-lock bags – Always come in useful for storing food or wet clothes. I take a few small and medium bags.
  • Toilet paper – We store a little folded up in the pockets of our bags.
  • Moo business cards – These are customisable with your travel photos. We rarely hand these out so only travel with a few.

Documents and Money

  • Passport – We protect them with a clear plastic cover.
  • Dollars – A few hundred for emergencies and visa fees.
  • 2 debit and 3 credit cards each – We recommend travelling with at least two of each as a backup. Read more about managing your travel finances.
  • Card reader for online banking – This is issued by our bank for secure access.
  • Driving licence
  • International driving licence (when needed)
  • Photocopies of passport
  • Passport photos – For visa applications.
  • Vaccination card
  • Yellow fever vaccination card
  • Scuba diving certification card
  • European Health Insurance Card (when in Europe)
  • Money belt – To keep our passports, cards, and cash hidden under our clothes on travel days. I’m now experimenting with using a Clever Travel Companion tank top instead. 
  • Wallet (Simon) – We keep a copy of our passports and travel insurance details inside.

You can also see our favourite resources (including apps and software) that make our nomadic life possible.

Don’t forget travel insurance for your gear. The cheapest we’ve found for long term travel is with True Traveller (UK and Europe), and they allow you to purchase a policy when you are already travelling (most companies don’t). World Nomads is another very well-respected option and is available to most nationalities. Read more about how to buy travel insurance.

What Has Changed?

We regularly assess what’s in our bags, and make sure we’re still using it—everything has to earn its place. We are also happy to add new items if we have space and we’ll use them often. Here’s what we’ve changed since we last updated our packing list three years ago.

Things We Added

Carry on travel packing list - iPad Pro for artists

Simon’s new iPad Pro is perfect for drawing

Electronics

  • iPad – We added an iPad Mini a few years ago and found it useful for watching films on buses and testing our apps. Simon recently replaced it with an iPad Pro and Apple Pencil, which he loves for drawing.
  • Apple Watch – Simon bought this last summer as a curious app developer. The biggest advantage has been the fitness tracking—he is exercising regularly for the first time ever.
  • HDMI cable – This allows us to connect our laptop to a TV and watch Netflix on the big screen.
  • Plate stand – A much cheaper and lighter alternative to an iPad stand.

Clothes and Miscellaneous

  • Extra t-shirt for Simon – He went from two to three.
  • Two extra pairs of underwear – We both went from five to seven pairs, so now we can go a week before doing laundry. We finally tried the popular travel underwear ExOfficio, which lived up to the hype—they are lightweight and quick drying.
  • Extra pair of socks for Simon – He went from three to four.
  • Two extra dresses for Erin – In hot weather I prefer dresses, so I currently have three.
  • Workout clothes for Erin – I started running and doing yoga, so I added capri leggings, a tank top, two sports bras, running underwear and socks.
  • AeroPress coffee maker – Simon’s luxury item. It’s relatively small but makes superb coffee. So far he’s using it a lot—in apartments without coffee makers in Ubud, Canggu, Singapore, and Hoi An, and even in hotel rooms that provide kettles (saving him from awful instant).

Things We Got Rid Of

Electronics

  • Canon s95 point and shoot camera – I use the iPhone instead when I don’t want to take my camera out.
  • Wacom Bamboo graphics tablet – The iPad Pro and Astropad app replace this for Simon’s design work.
  • Simon’s Kindle – He reads on his phone or iPad instead.

Clothes and Miscellaneous

  • Simon’s Icebreaker long-sleeve top – As we spend most of our time in hot weather, he wasn’t using this.
  • Simon’s backpack rain cover – He rarely used it.
  • Moleskine notebooks – We use our phone instead.
  • Sketchpad, pens, and pencils – Simon switched to digital drawing when he got the iPad Pro.
  • One head torch (headlamp) – We don’t use our head torch that often, so we’ve gone from two to one. It’s still useful to have, as we discovered during a recent long power cut in Vietnam.

Things We Replaced

Other than our clothes, which we replace as needed, here’s what else has changed.

Luggage

Best carry on backpack -The Tortuga

Simon arriving in Paris with his Tortuga backpack

  • Backpacks – Simon’s first backpack didn’t have a hip belt and caused him back pain, so he switched to the Tortuga, which is much more supportive. My 30-litre backpack got a hole, so I upgraded to the 38-litre Osprey Farpoint 40. We are both very happy with our choices. See our detailed carry-on backpack review.
  • Compression bags – We got tired of rolling up our compression bags (which suck out air to save space), so we switched to compression packing cubes instead. They are easier to use, and we can still fit all our clothes in our backpacks.
  • Toiletry bag – We upgraded from a plastic cube to a better-organised toiletry bag.
  • Electronics organiser – We upgraded from a plastic cube to the Eagle Creek e-Tools Organizer Pro, which keeps our cables and accessories tidy and accessible.

Electronics

  • iPhone – Simon replaced his iPhone 5 with the 6. I now use the 5 and we got rid of the iPod Touch.
  • Camera – I changed from a DSLR to a smaller mirrorless camera and love it.
  • Kindle – I replaced my Kindle Keyboard with a Kindle Paperwhite. It’s smaller and has a built-in light, which I use a lot.
  • Hard Drive – I use a Seagate Backup Plus Slim hard drive, which is slightly smaller than my old Western Digital.

Shoes

  • Erin’s shoes – I started running in my hiking shoes (sort of trail runners), experimented with minimalist shoes, then finally settled on proper running shoes. I run more than I hike, so it made sense to prioritise running.
  • Erin’s ballet flats – Switching from cheap, flimsy ballet flats to comfortable Tieks was a great decision. I can wear them all day, even on cobblestone streets in Italy.
  • Simon’s shoes – He has now settled on two pairs that he’s really happy with—Scarpa Margarita hiking shoes and Teva Terra Fi Lite sandals.

More Carry-On Packing Tips

If you’d like to learn more about how to travel carry-on only, see my new book, The Carry-On Traveller: The Ultimate Guide to Packing Light, which is now available for the Kindle on Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Canada or your local Amazon store.

You can also see our other posts about packing light:

If you enjoyed this post, pin it on Pinterest!

A carry-on only packing list. After six years of full-time travel we share our updated packing list.

Are you planning a trip in 2017? See our Gear and Resources page for our favourite tools to help you plan the perfect trip. 

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54 thoughts on 6 Years of Carry-On Travel: Our Packing List Update

  1. Pingback: What NOT to Pack: 21 Carry-On Travellers Share their Packing Mistakes

  2. Pingback: The Carry-On Traveller Book is Out Now!

  3. Thanks for sharing your experience. These lists are not only useful but inspiring! There is so much to be gained by living simply with just exactly what you need and nothing more.

  4. As you’re heading to Spain soon, check out Decathlon as they have lots of quality clothing and gear for extremely good value. Eg. Quick dry, lightweight chino style hiking trousers for 9.99 Euros, T shirts for 4.99 Euros.
    We’ve been travelling for 3 years with only carry-on luggage and now most of our clothes are Decathlon.
    Your entire clothes packing list could be put together for under 100 Euros each!

  5. Sorry but there’s too much attention paid to gear. Gear is just a tool, whereas travel should be about places, people, food, experiences, etc.
    You can travel in any clothing or even better just turn up in what you have on and buy as and when you need it.
    Besides, travel with carry-on, i.e. 35-40 litre bags is old hat now, there’s hundreds of articles about it.
    Try just what fits in a 20-25L day-pack, now there’s a challenge!

    • Looks like they could pull that off without the electronics, so all they have to do is stop working. 😛

      And in theory sure, travel has nothing to do with the gear. But a pack that doesn’t fit filled with clothes that are still damp isn’t much fun at all you see. So we share what we pack, learn from others, and hopefully have a journey that doesn’t involve thinking about stuff since we’ve already taken care of it.

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  7. Really appreciate your work. Extremely detailed.

    Reading this helped me to get a clear idea on traveller’s packing list.

    Thanks a lot

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  9. Great to see Simon’s clothes list not based on ridiculously expensive gear like Outlier, Wool and Prince et al. You can travel and live without such luxury gear, I am not saying his stuff is the cheapest but is much more realistic than lists you see with $500+ spent on 3 items. Great work love the site!

  10. Commenting on this because I found your blog while looking for color accurate photos of the purple Tieks you used to have. I can’t seem to stop reading the blog — your stories are fascinating. Thanks for sharing. (and kinda delighted to hear that you are on your next-gen pair of the shoes)

  11. Many light packing travellers don’t recommend jeans, however I’ve just found that NEXT do a lightweight jean. They are a mix of cotton and linen and cost £38, much cheaper and better cut than Rohans!
    They also deliver to Europe.

        • Simon would probably choose jeans but it depends what style of travel you are doing. The Bluffs are lighter, dry more quickly, and are more suitable for hiking so would be better for more adventurous travel.

  12. Have you looked at any alternatives to a backpack? I’m just not super keen on carrying my life on my back and was looking at the different options outlined here (www.essentialpackingchecklists.com/finding-the-perfect-carry-on-suitcase/), especially the wheeler with backpack straps. Thoughts?

    • I included some reviews of suitcases from other carry-on travellers in my book. The Osprey Ozone 22″ is a popular option amongst long term travellers wanting something rugged but light.

    • We usually wear t-shirts more than once. Simon doesn’t wear socks every day as we are usually in hot places and he wears sandals. Socks are pretty easy to wash in the sink if necessary between big washes too.

  13. Hi there,
    LOVE the list – super helpful. Very interesting about your Tieks – I’ve been on the fence!

    I’m interested in Simon’s Bluff’s trousers. My husband has a similar body type – tall and lanky. So it’s a struggle to find pants that look stylish and not baggy. Simon’s look great! What style of bluff’s did he go with?

    • Simon has the original pants in regular fit. If you get a smaller waist size they are more fitted. For his second pair he went up a waist size and they were a bit looser. They still aren’t too baggy though – so much more stylish than normal travel trousers.

      I’ll be writing a detailed review of the Tieks soon. I’m on my third pair and couldn’t travel without them now.

  14. Pingback: Simon Fairbairn & Erin McNeaney of NeverEndingVoyage - nomadkits

  15. Pingback: Erin McNeaney of NeverEndingVoyage - nomadkits

  16. Really inspirational! 🙂 I might not quite be there yet, although I tried traveling with carry-on for the first time this year. I noticed that there were even things that I could have left at home (and some that I forgot to bring). I guess it’s a process of finding your own list…

  17. Great to see, I travelled for years like this too. I’m about to head back out on the road after selling everything and convincing my wife life on the road is better than the corporate grind…Thanks for sharing a great site! Question do you guys own a base anywhere? We are thinking Central America for our base…

    • We don’t have a base anywhere. Lots of our nomad friends have found a base after travelling full-time for a few years and rent it on Airbnb when they are away.

  18. Pingback: Inner Vision for the Weekend of November 25, 2016

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  20. Great post, thanks for all the useful info! Just wondering, do you not use soap/shower gel/moisturiser, or do you buy it in the place you’re visiting? I really struggle to cut down on toiletries, and I’m not even someone who wears make-up etc. Any tips? PS. Looks like the link for your USB Lecxci adaptor isn’t working.

    • We use our Lush shampoo bar as soap when we need to or if we’re staying for somewhere for a few weeks we buy shower gel. Most places we stay also provide soap. It looks like they’ve stopped selling the Lecxci but this one is similar: http://amzn.to/2g9VcnY

  21. Hey! I really like your blog guys. Very insightful & eye-opening! Gotta use your rips in travelling. Thanks for this. 😊😊

  22. Really great post! I’ve spent the past ten years of vacations using my beloved Gregory Deva 60L pack, and I’m trying to downsize to a carry-on only bag to avoid the hassles of checked luggage. I’ve looked at the Osprey Farpoint 40 like you have, Erin, but, at 5’1″, I find it really doesn’t fit me very well, even in the S/M size. So I’m still on the hunt for the perfect bag. I also REALLY struggle with keeping my liquids under 100ml … especially sunscreen, since I burn so easily and I’m really picky about what I use. Any advice?

  23. Thanks for this post! Im treating this post almost like a blueprint in some places.

    One thought thought: Instead of an HDMI cable why not a chromecast? does the same thing plus more, is lighter and takes up less space?

    Just a thought

  24. This is an awesome list, I’ll definitely be taking tips for my trip at the end of the year!
    A little bit unsure about the lack of smart clothes though when looking for the likes of teaching jobs in South America!

      • I’m gonna say that it’s a good idea to bring one smart outfit with you. You can buy more on the road if you need them, but having one nice outfit — that you know fits and flatters — is important, especially if you plan to job interview. Especially if you anticipate having trouble being able to buy clothes that fit off the rack — a frequent problem for taller or larger people in Asia, for instance, or for anyone who doesn’t wear standard sizes. (E.g. I’m a petite 5’1″ woman and I can almost never shop without significant alterations anywhere). Pack wrinkle-resistant fabrics, roll vs. fold, and use the age-old traveller trick of hanging it up in the bathroom while taking a shower to steam out the creases.

      • Won’t need anything for the first few months but I’m thinking ahead to applying for teaching jobs in Chile next February. From what I gather teachers in South America are expected to dress quite professionally. Might just have to get a suit and tie shipped from home at that point!
        Love those packing cubes though, definitely adding those to the list!

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