Our Carry-On Travel Packing List: Year 7 Update

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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:

Contents

Our Packing List

Luggage

Carry on travel packing list - bakcpacks

Our Osprey Farpoint 40 and Tortuga backpacks

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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. 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.
  • Skirt

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.

Outerwear

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

Workout Gear

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.

Shoes

  • 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. 

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

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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 
  • 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.

Tops

  • 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

Outerwear

  • Fleece

Underwear

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

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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

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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.

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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

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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.
  • 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.
  • Pens
  • 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
  • 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. 

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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 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.

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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 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.

Electronics

  • 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.

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.

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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:

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

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Do you struggle with packing for your travels? My book, The Carry-On Traveller: The Ultimate Guide to Packing Light, will help. For this week only you can save 80% and buy it for just $0.99 on Amazon. Get your copy here.

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58 Comments (14 pingbacks)

  1. So when the seasons change I guess some of your gear also changes, for people traveling in and out of hot and cold weather climates, do you have any recommendations for selling gear. For example, I may need a coat in northern California this time of year, but I won’t need one when i go to LA.

    I think it would be great to have an app where nomads could exchange clothing or sell it.

    Reply

  2. Hello. Have you ever had trouble with airport security with the retractable lock? I use one to secure my violin case which will be flying carry on shortly.

    Reply

    • What a great post Erin! Right up my street. I will be sifting through this with a fine toothcomb when we decide to move on from our first slow stay (in Malaysia). In the meantime, do you have any tips for adapting this list for the one critical “accessory” we also travel with… our soon to be four year old daughter 😄

      Reply

  3. So inspiring–I’m so amazed–thank you so much for your update! Even though I can’t travel with just a backpack on longer trips (too much weather fluctuation, etc.), this is exactly what I love learning from as I aspire to do this on shorter trips. Thank you so much!

    Reply

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