This carry-on travel packing list was originally written in 2016 to celebrate the launch of my book, The Carry-On Traveller: The Ultimate Guide to Packing Light, and was updated in August 2017.
We’ve been living out of a carry-on backpack for over seven 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 seven 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.
Here’s our 2017 carry-on only packing list:
- Our Packing List
- What Has Changed?
- More Carry-On Packing Tips
Our Packing List
- 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, affordable option if the Outbreaker is too big. See our Osprey Farpoint review.
- Combination locks – To lock our backpack zips.
- Gonex Ultralight Packable Daypack – A light and packable day bag that fits inside Simon’s backpack on travel days. Read our review of the best packable daypacks.
- Reusable shopping bag – This is useful for shopping, beach visits, and storage of water and snacks on journeys. It folds up into a tiny pouch when not in use.
- Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter small and medium 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 small packing cube (Erin) – For my underwear and accessories. I’ve travelled with this for over seven years and it’s still going strong.
- Eagle Creek Pack-It medium compression cube (Simon) – For Simon’s clothes and underwear. These cubes are heavier than the Specter cubes but they open up fully for easier access.
- Jeans – I look for lightweight summer jeans.
- Linen trousers – For hot weather. I don’t wear these often any more so will probably get rid of them after Oman (where they’ll be useful for dressing modestly). In colder weather I replace them with a second pair of jeans.
Tops and Dresses
- 2-3 summer dresses
- 3-4 short-sleeve tops – I add an extra top in colder places when I’m not wearing dresses.
- Clever Travel Companion tank top – This has replaced my money belt as it has two zipped pockets to keep my passport and cards/cash safe on travel days. I do have to wear it under a top so the pockets are hidden, but it’s much more comfortable than a money belt. I also use it for yoga.
- Fleece (The North Face) – Lightweight with pockets and a hood.
- Tank top – For running I love the Athleta Chi tank made from their amazing Unstinkable fabric (it really works!).
- 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)
- Running socks
Underwear and Swimwear
- Tankini swimsuit
- 7 underwear – 3 pairs are ExOfficio, which are very light, quick drying, and odour-resistant.
- 2 bras
- 2 socks – I don’t wear socks often. In cold places, I buy more as needed.
- Running shoes (Asics Dynaflyte) – 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 (Silver lake vegan Tieks) – I love these! Stylish, comfortable, and they fold up small. Read my detailed Tieks review after four years on the road with them for more information on the pros and cons and whether they are worth the price.
- Sun hat
- Sunglasses and travel case
- 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 – Simon looks for lightweight fabrics and hidden zippered pockets.
- Billabong submersibles hybrid shorts – These are fantastic as they work as swimming shorts or regular shorts. They are lightweight, quick drying, and look smart.
- 4 t-shirts including two odour-resistant shirts—one Ably t-shirt and one Icebreaker Tech Lite. He’s also a fan of Uniqlo’s supima cotton t-shirts.
- Long-sleeve shirt
- 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 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 2 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 – A power adapter with two USB ports makes charging all our devices so much easier.
- Portable battery charger – We have a tiny one that’s enough to give our phone an extra charge.
- USB flash drive
- 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 memory card reader – For uploading photos to my laptop.
- Lens pen – For cleaning.
iPhones, iPad, Kindle, Watch
- iPhone 7 128 GB unlocked + Apple EarPods (Simon) – See our favourite apps and how we buy SIM cards abroad.
- iPhone 6 128 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.
- Yoga Paws Skin Thin – Little yoga mats for your hands and feet. A much smaller, lighter alternative to a yoga mat. I now practice every day wherever we are with Yoga with Adriene videos. Read my Yoga Paws review.
- AeroPress coffee maker – So that Simon is never deprived of good coffee. It’s fairly small and he got rid of the funnel, stirrer, and filter holder to save space. See our AeroPress review.
- Vapur Element water bottle – It folds flat or can be rolled up when not in use to save space.
- Petzl head torch (headlamp) – For power cuts and unlit streets.
- 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.
- Zip-lock bags – These 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
- Travel insurance – We’ve used True Traveller for the last five years.
- 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 – Simon wears one to keep his passports, cards, and cash hidden under his clothes on travel days. I wear a Clever Travel Companion tank top with zipped pockets 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. The best value we’ve found 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 four 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.
- Plate stand – A much cheaper and lighter alternative to an iPad stand.
Clothes and Miscellaneous
- Extra t-shirts for Simon – He went from two to four.
- 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 and socks.
- AeroPress coffee maker – Simon’s luxury item. It’s relatively small but makes superb coffee. He uses it a lot in apartments without coffee makers and even in hotel rooms that provide kettles (saving him from awful instant).
- Yoga Paws – So I can do yoga anywhere without slipping or having to carry a heavy mat.
- Vapur water bottle – To reduce the plastic we use.
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 and the new Outbreaker backpack is water resistant.
- 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 and later the Outbreaker, 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.
- Packable daypack – We use the Gonex backpack instead of a cotton shoulder bag.
- 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 and later the 7. I now use the 6.
- 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 book, The Carry-On Traveller: The Ultimate Guide to Packing Light, which is available for the Kindle or as a paperback on Amazon US, Amazon UK, 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.
- How to Pack for 4 Months in Europe from Summer to Winter – How we adapted our packing list for a summer-winter trip.
- 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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