After six years on the road, many things have changed – see our updated carry-on packing list.
After three years of travelling with hand luggage only we are convinced that it’s the best way to travel. We are happy with our decision every time we whiz through an airport in ten minutes while others are crowding around the baggage carousel; every time we waltz onto a bus without worrying if our bags will emerge from the luggage storage at the end of our journey; and every time we have to walk more than a few minutes with our backpacks on our backs.
Travelling light was one of the best decisions we made when we became digital nomads. We’ve saved ourselves stress, aching backs, and money, as more airlines are charging for checking in luggage. We can pack up all of our belongings in ten minutes and have never felt more liberated.
So what has changed from our original packing list three years ago? We updated our popular packing list post with amends in December 2010 so here we’ll focus on what has changed since then.
Things We’ve Got Rid Of
It’s important when you are travelling light to make everything in your bag count. We regularly reevaluate what we are carrying and get rid of anything we no longer use frequently. We don’t keep things “just in case”.
Martin Backpacker travel guitar – Simon played his guitar every day on our first RTW trip but since we’ve been working while travelling he hasn’t had the time. Sadly it wasn’t worth lugging it around for occasional use.
Traveller’s cheques – They aren’t really necessary these days.
International driving licence – Simon didn’t renew it when it expired as we’ve never needed it.
Erin’s backpack raincover – Simon still has his and it is useful to keep the bag clean on dirty buses and when it rains, but I wasn’t using it often.
Erin’s large packing cube – Simon uses a compression bag within a packing cube for his clothes, but really that’s overkill so I got rid of my cube and just use the compression bag. We still use small cubes for underwear and electronics to keep things organised.
Tiny tabletop tripod – We bought this for our little camera but were’t using it regularly enough to keep it.
Large headphones – Simon snuck these in before we left the UK. He liked having high quality headphones but they took up a lot of space.
Digital watch – We used this for the alarm but once we bought an iPod Touch we no longer needed it.
Erin’s Icebreaker – This was a fantastic warm top for South America but we now try to avoid cold places so I rarely wore it. Simon still has his but could easily get rid of it too.
Montane Featherlight Smocks – Our tiny windproof rain jackets were great for South America but again, as we try to avoid cold and rainy places we weren’t using them. In the tropics it’s too hot for a rain jacket.
Erin’s thermal leggings – I didn’t need these after South America.
Erin’s towel – We always get towels in hotels or apartments so I got rid of mine. Simon’s kept his travel towel for the beach while I now use a sarong.
Things We’ve Changed
Macbook Retina – After three years Simon’s Macbook Pro was on its last legs. He upgraded from 13 to 15 inch and went for the retina screen which he loves. When you work on your laptop it’s worth getting the best you can afford. If you are considering one read Simon’s review of the Macbook Retina for travellers on Too Many Adapters. We bought the Retina in the US as prices are the lowest there and then sold his old Macbook using Gazelle which was really easy to use.
Macbook Air – After much procrastination I upgraded my Asus Eee PC to a 11 inch Macbook Air about a year ago and I’m so glad I did. The Eee PC is a great cheap travel laptop if you are just using it for web surfing but not for working on every day and I couldn’t use it for editing photos. The Macbook Air is much faster, more powerful, has a bigger screen, it’s unbelievably light, and it’s also so beautiful that it’s a pleasure to work on. Moving from PC to Mac was wonderful—things just worked much more smoothly.
Canon Powershot s95 compact camera – I use a compact camera when I can’t be bothered to lug my SLR around. Our last compact had been dropped from horses too many times so we upgraded it to the s95. It’s an amazing compact camera with full manual control, HD video, and a large f2 aperture which I especially love for food photography.
Things We’ve Added
iPhone 5 – We bought our first phone on the road three months ago but we still haven’t used it as a phone. We bought it because Simon is now developing iOS apps, for the camera, and to have the option of internet on the move. We are finding the GPS particularly useful even without 3G. Our app Trail Wallet has made tracking our travel expenses and staying on budget so much easier. The iPhone replaced Simon’s iPod Touch which I now use instead of my iPod nano.
Kindle – A Kindle is a must for every bookworm traveller. I bought the Kindle Keyboard 3G in our first year and it didn’t take Simon long to pick up a WiFi version. Here’s more on why we love the Kindle for travel.
Wacom Bamboo Pen Tablet – Simon uses this for design work.
Western Digital My Passport hard drive 1 TB – We now each have one of these hard drives.
USB flash drive – Comes in useful at times.
Sketch pad and copic marker pen– Simon sometimes picks up an A4 pad for his illustration and design work.
Erin’s ballet flats – With just my hiking sandals and shoes I didn’t have anything for more dressy occasions so I now have a lightweight (fabric not leather) pair of ballet flats.[Update: I now wear Tieks which are stylish, comfortable, and pack up small].
Extra tshirt – We’ve both added an extra top.
Extra underwear – We now have five pairs each.
Moisturiser and hair conditioner – I sometimes carry small bottles of these (around 50ml).
Sarong – Great for the beach.
Our Current Packing List
Here’s our up to date packing list for both of us.
A few changes in the summer of 2013 have been made in red, you can read more about them including the switch from DSLR to mirrorless camera and getting an iPad mini here. Also see the changes we made in 2014 including new technology and clothes/shoes. Also see our updated packing list for 2016.
- Debit and credit cards
- Card reader for online banking
- Driving licence
- Spare passport photos
- Photocopies of passport – also stored on laptops and emailed to ourselves
- Scuba diving logbook
- Vaccination card
- Money belt
After three years our backpacks are still going strong with no real signs of wear and tear, so it’s always worth investing in a quality bag. [Update 2014: We now both have new backpacks, the Tortuga and Osprey Farpoint 40. See our full review].
- 40 litre North Face Overhaul 40 backpack (Simon)
- 30 litre Vango Transit 30 backpack (Erin)
- Backpack raincover (Simon)
- 1 small combination lock each – to lock our backpacks
- Light cable lock – for locking our bags to things
- Cotton shoulder bag – for a daybag
- Packing cubes – 1 large for clothes, 1 small for underwear and 1 for electronics (cables, chargers etc)
- Compression bag each for our clothes – saves lots of space.
- Macbook Retina 15 inch laptop + neoprene case + charger
- Macbook Air 11 inch + neoprene case + charger
- Western Digital My Passport 1TB Hard drive x 2 – for backup, very small and light. Read our backup strategy.
- Small mouse
- Wacom Bamboo Pen Tablet – for design work.
- Travel power adaptor
- USB flash drive
Canon EOS 400D SLR camera + caseOlympus OM-D EM-5 mirrorless camera + Tamrac 3440 shoulder bag Tamron 18-200mm lensOlympus 14-42mm kit lens
- Panasonic 20mm f1.7 pancake lens
- Charger + 3 batteries
- 2 x 16GB Sandisk Extreme SD cards
- USB Cable
- Cleaning brush
Canon Powershot s95 camera + 8GB SD card Charger + 2 batteries for s95
- iPhone 5 64GB unlocked + headphones (read our favourite apps here)
- iPod Touch 64GB + headphones
- iPad Mini WiFi 16GB
- Wacom Bamboo stylus – for drawing on the iPad
- iPhone and iPod cables
- Headphone splitter – so we can listen to one iPod at the same time
- Kindle Keyboard 3G
- Kindle Keyboard WiFi
- North Face hiking shoes
- Sports sandals (waterproof) – useful for watersports, river crossings, rocky beach walks etc
- Light Fleece
- Icebreaker bodyfit baselayer top – made with Merino wool these keep you warm and never smell
- Travel trousers – light weight, quick drying, zipped pockets. Simon now wear stylish but practical Bluffs.
- 2 x shirts (1 long sleeve, 1 short)
- 2 x tshirts
- 5 x underwear
- 3 x socks
- Swimming board shorts
- Sunglasses + travel case
- Merrell hiking shoes
- North Face sports sandals (waterproof)
- Tieks ballet flats – stylish, comfortable and they fold up small.
- Light Fleece
- Linen trousers
- Summer dress
- 3 x short sleeve tops
- 1 x tank top
- 5 x underwear
- 2 x bras + sports bra
- 2 x socks
- Tankini swimsuit
- Sun hat
- Sunglasses + travel case
- Clear storage cube
- Riemann once a day suncream (2 x 100ml bottles)
- 2 x Lush shampoo bars – for hair and body. We have run out but will pick up new ones when we can
- Toothbrush each + small cover for end
- Small tube toothpaste
- Travel size hairbrush
- Deodorant (small roll-on)
- Lip balm
- Nail clippers
- Razor + 2 spare blades
- Shaving oil – a tiny bottle lasts 6+ months
- Moon cup – I think this is 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.
- Insect repellant – when needed
- Hand sanitiser (small 50ml bottle) – sometimes
- Moisturiser – I sometimes carry a small (around 50ml) tub
- Hair conditioner – I sometimes carry a small (around 50ml) bottle
- Dimenhydrinate travel sickness pills
- Few plasters
- Prescription medications
- Ciprofloxacin antibiotic – really useful to have on hand for stomach illnesses. It can be bought cheaply in many developing countries without a prescription.
- Moleskine – we each have one of these small notebooks
- A4 sketch pad – for Simon’s illustration/design work
- Biros, copic marker pen, pencil & rubber
- Moo business cards
- Travel towel
- Small roll gaffa (duct) tape – fixes everything
- Head torch each – really useful for places with no electricity or power cuts
- Earplugs – essential (for Erin, Simon sleeps through anything)
- Eye mask
- Tiny sewing kit – a few needles and some thread
- Few ziplock bags – always come in handy
- Toilet paper – it’s useful to have a little on hand
More Carry-On Travel Resources
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 or your local Amazon store.
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.
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