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.
- Erin’s Clothes
- Simon’s Clothes
- Documents and Money
Our Packing List
Summer 2016 Update: I’ve added new items in red.
- Tortuga Outbreaker Backpack (Simon) – The perfect carry-on backpack if you want plenty of space. See our Outbreaker backpack review.
- Osprey Farpoint 40 (S/M) backpack (Erin) – An excellent option if the Tortuga is a little too big. See our review.
- Combination locks – To lock our backpack zips.
- Cotton crossbody shoulder bag – Our day bag. It fits inside Simon’s backpack on travel days. We don’t use this exact one but buy local textile bags in countries like Thailand, Guatemala, and Bali. We make sure they zip closed for security.
- Cotton tote bag – We added this in 2016 and find it useful for shopping, beach visits, and storage of water and snacks on journeys. Otherwise, it folds up small in my backpack.
- Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter full and half compression cubes (Erin) – For my clothes. Packing cubes are essential to fit more in your carry-on. I love these as they are ultralight and squeeze my clothes down small. Read how to use packing cubes.
- Eagle Creek Pack-It half packing cube (Erin) – For my underwear and accessories. I’ve travelled with this for over six years and it’s still going strong.
- Eagle Creek Pack-It full compression cube (Simon) – For Simon’s clothes and underwear.
- Jeans – I look for lightweight summer jeans.
- Linen trousers – For hot weather and light hikes.
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.
- Fleece (The North Face) – Lightweight with pockets and a hood.
- 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.
- Running shoes (Asics Cumulus 17) – I really wanted lightweight minimalist shoes but they didn’t work out for me.
- Sports sandals (Merrell Enoki) – Practical for hikes but nice enough to wear in cities.
- Ballet flats (Brentwood vegan Tieks) – I love these! Stylish, comfortable, and they fold up small.
- Sun hat
- Sunglasses and travel case
- 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.
- 3 t-shirts including one odour-resistant Ably t-shirt and one Icebreaker Tech Lite.
- Short-sleeve shirt
- Long-sleeve shirt
Underwear and Swimwear
- Swimming shorts
- 7 underwear – 1 pair are ExOfficio, which are very light and quick drying.
- 4 socks – 2 pairs are quick drying Bridgedale Coolmax liner socks and one SmartWool liner socks.
- 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.
- Sunglasses and travel case
- 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
- 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
- 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.
Laptops and Accessories
- MacBook Pro Retina 15-inch laptop + Incase neoprene case + charger (Simon) – Powerful enough for all his design and development work.
- MacBook Air 11-inch laptop + Incase neoprene case + charger (Erin) – The perfect travel laptop. Very slim and light but powerful enough for my writing and photography.
- Western Digital My Passport 1 TB hard drive (Simon) – Small, light and durable. Read more about our backing up strategy.
- Seagate Backup Plus Slim 1 TB hard drive (Erin) – Even smaller than the Western Digital.
- Small mouse (Simon)
- International USB travel power adapter – We updated to one with two USB ports and it has made charging all our devices so much easier.
- USB flash drive
- HDMI cable – For connecting our laptop to a TV so we can watch on a big screen.
- Eagle Creek e-Tools Organizer Pro – Perfect for keeping our cables and accessories organised.
- Olympus OM-D EM-5 mirrorless camera – I switched from a DSLR a few years ago and have never looked back. I think mirrorless cameras are the best choice for serious photographers as they are small but take high-quality photos.
- Olympus 14-42 mm kit lens
- Panasonic 20 mm f1.7 pancake lens – A fantastic, tiny lens that’s great in low light and for food photography.
- Tamrac 3440 Rally Micro shoulder bag – This fits all my gear but is small enough to pack in my backpack.
- Charger + 3 batteries – 2 of the batteries are cheap generic ones.
- Sandisk Extreme 16GB SD cards x 2
- USB cable – For uploading photos.
- Lens pen – For cleaning.
iPhones, iPad, Kindle, Watch
- iPhone 6 128 GB unlocked + Apple EarPods (Simon) – See our favourite apps and how we buy SIM cards abroad.
- iPhone 5 64 GB unlocked + Apple EarPods + Shocksock neoprene sleeve (Erin)
- iPad Pro Wi-Fi 32 GB + neoprene case (Simon) – It’s huge, but Simon loves the beautiful screen, especially for drawing.
- Kindle Paperwhite 3G + USB cable + neoprene sleeve (Erin) – I couldn’t live without my Kindle. It fits thousands of books on a device smaller than one paperback.
- Apple Watch Sport 42mm + USB cable (Simon) – Great for fitness tracking. Read Simon’s review.
- Apple Pencil – For drawing on the iPad Pro. Perfect for travelling artists as it replicates a real pen or brush. Simon now does all his artwork digitally.
- Plate stand – Much cheaper and lighter than an iPad stand. Along with the Duet app, it turns the iPad into a second monitor.
- Apple lightning cables x 2 + 1 USB power adapter
- Headphone splitter – So we can listen to music or watch films together on one device.
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- Carry-On Travel in 10 Easy Steps – The basic principles you can use for any trip.
- How to Pack Carry-On Only for Cold Weather – Our packing list for a trip to Finland that included snowboarding.
- The Best Carry-On Backpack for Digital Nomads – Our reviews of the Tortuga backpack and Osprey Farpoint 40.
- The Secret to Carry-On Only Travel: How to Use Packing Cubes to Save Space
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