The Ultimate Carry On Travel Packing List After 8 Years of Travel

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We’ve been living out of a carry-on backpack for over eight 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.

Below we share our current travel packing list. It has evolved over the years and is meant to give you a starting point for your own carry on packing list. You don’t need to follow it exactly as we all have our own preferences and needs. 

Living out of a backpack for eight years is very different from travelling for two weeks or even six months, 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 added extra clothes over the years to reduce the amount of laundry we need to do and as I started running and yoga. 

We used to travel mostly in hot climates but have been increasingly visiting cooler places and even had a few winters. The packing list below works for multiple climates and I’ve noted the extra things we pack for cold places. 

My backpack weighs around 9 kg and Simon’s is around 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 are rarely weighed and we’ve never been prevented taking them on a plane—read my tips on dealing with airline weight restrictions.

This post was originally published in 2016 and is now updated with our 2018 carry on packing list.

Contents

Our Travel Packing List

Luggage

Simon with his Tortuga Setout backpack

Simon with his Tortuga Setout backpack

Osprey Farpoint 40 packing list

Erin with the Osprey Farpoint 40

We prefer to travel with a backpack rather than a suitcase as it’s easier to carry on rough streets, climb stairs, and hop on and off buses and boats. If you have back issues or will mostly be taking taxis between the airport and hotel, there’s no reason you can’t travel with a carry-on-sized suitcase instead. 

Packing Cubes

Packing cubes are the secret to carry on packing. They are essential to help us fit more in our luggage and keep things organised. Read my post on how to use packing cubes.

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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

I prefer dresses to bottoms/tops in hot weather, so if you don’t you might want to add an extra skirt or shorts to your travel packing list. 

  • 1-2 Jeans – I look for lightweight summer jeans. When we’re travelling in cooler climates I’ll pack two pairs. I used to pack a pair of linen trousers for hot countries but didn’t wear them much except for Muslim countries like Oman and Jordan where I needed to cover up. 
  • 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. I include at least one t-shirt for hiking—my current favourite is the Mountain Warehouse Agra t-shirt which is inexpensive but lightweight, quick drying, and breathable in hot weather. 
  • 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. 

Outerwear

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

In cold weather I also add 1-2 Uniqlo Heatech long sleeve t-shirts, a merino/cashmere blend sweater, and a Patagonia Nano Puff Hoody Down Jacket which is warm but light and packs down small. 

Workout Gear

  • 2 Tank tops – For running I love the Athleta Chi tank made from their amazing Unstinkable fabric (it works really well for about two years before it loses its anti-odour powers). I also have a cheap H&M tank that I use for yoga at home. 
  • Capri leggings (Athleta Be Free Knicker) – For yoga, running, and hiking. 
  • Leggings – For yoga at home (and lounging around the house) I like Uniqlo’s Heatech leggings. They are very light and comfortable and work as an extra layer under jeans in the cold, but they are too thin to wear out on their own. 
  • Shorts (Brooks Sherpa 6-inch) – For running in hot weather.
  • 2 sports bras (1 Victoria’s Secret Incredible)
  • Running socks – My current favourites are Hilly Marathon Fresh Socklets. They are moisture-wicking, quick-drying, and don’t smell even after a long run.  
  • Runderwear underwear

Underwear and Swimwear

  • Bikini
  • 7-9 underwear – 5 pairs are ExOfficio, which are very light, quick drying, and odour-resistant.
  • 2 bras
  • 2-3 socks – I don’t wear socks often. In cold places, I buy more as needed. In cold weather I love the cosy Smartwool medium crew socks, which are odour-resistant. 

Shoes

  • Running shoes (Asics Dynaflyte 2) – I really wanted lightweight minimalist shoes but they didn’t work out for me. These Asics are fairly light, supportive enough for a half-marathon, and come in black so I can wear them around town when needed too. 
  • Sports sandals (Merrell Terran Lattice) – These are super comfortable and practical for hikes but nice enough to wear in cities. Amazingly there was no break-in period. 
  • Ballet flats (Silver Lake Vegan Tieks) – I love these! Stylish, comfortable, and they fold up small. Tieks come in a huge range of beautiful designs. 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 
Carry on travel packing list - Tieks ballet flats

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

If you are struggling to pack carry on only, my book, The Carry-On Traveller: The Ultimate Guide to Packing Light, covers everything you need to know.

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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 
  • Bluffworks Original Pants – 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 one Icebreaker Tech Lite made from odour-resistant merino wool so it can be worn for multiple wears without smelling. He’s also a fan of Uniqlo’s supima cotton t-shirts for everyday wear and Under Armour Tech T-Shirts for hiking. 
  • Long-sleeve shirt – After struggling for years with shirts that wrinkled, Simon now travels with the brilliant Bluffworks Meridian shirt which has all the features you need for travel—wrinkle-free, soft and comfortable, moisture-wicking, and quick drying. It looks great too and works as well for dinners out as it does for hikes. 

Outerwear

  • Fleece
  • Bluffworks Gramercy Blazer – A new addition to Simon’s wardrobe that was ideal for a Paris and Italy trip from spring to summer. This is the perfect travel blazer as it doesn’t wrinkle, is machine washable, and has tons of hidden pockets. Great if you want a smarter look. 

In cold weather he adds a Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer down jacket which is warm but light and packs down small. He also occasionally adds a tiny rain jacket and an Icebreaker merino long sleeve top

Underwear

Shoes

  • Hiking shoes (Scarpa Margarita GTX) – The best travel shoes Simon has found and he keeps buying new pairs when his wear out after a few years. They are remarkably versatile—attractive enough to wear to dinner (and even a wedding) but rugged enough for hikes. He has worn them everywhere from a snowy hike in Finland to a hot summer’s day sightseeing in Italy. 
  • Sandals (Teva Terra Fi Lite) – These hiking sandals are comfortable and durable. He lives in these in the tropics. 

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

Remember to keep all your liquid toiletries in containers of 100 ml (3oz) or less if you are travelling by plane. Solid toiletries help minimise the liquids you need. 

  • Toiletry bag – We have the Sea to Summit Hanging Toiletry Bag which is lightweight and comes with a mirror and hook to hang it up when there’s nowhere to put it. We have the small version which is just enough space for all of our toiletries. 
  • 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. We often use it as soap as well. 
  • 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 works well and lasts over a year. 
  • Lip balm 
  • 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 abroad) 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 that took the photo)

Laptops and Accessories

Photography (Erin)

iPhones, iPad, Kindle, Watch

  • iPhone X unlocked + Apple AirPods (Simon) – This phone is fantastic for photography and I often use it when I don’t want to carry my camera. Simon uses it for reading with the Kindle app. See our favourite apps and how we buy SIM cards abroad.
  • iPhone 7 unlocked + Apple AirPods + Shocksock neoprene sleeve (Erin)
  • iPad Pro Wi-Fi  + 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 + 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  + USB power adapter

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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 practice every day wherever we are with Yoga with Adriene videos (free on Youtube or I signed up for the membership site for offline downloads and extra content). 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.
  • 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.
  • Nintendo Switch – Yes, Simon now travels with a games console! I keep hoping he’ll get rid of it but so far it has lasted 18 months. It’s the most portable games console, but with the charging dock it is still fairly bulky and heavy. 

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Documents and Money

  • Travel insurance – We’ve used True Traveller for the last five years and have made a claim with them without any problems. See our True Traveller insurance review
  • 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 (we also keep a scanned copy on our laptops) 
  • 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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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.

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 seven years of full-time travel we share our updated packing list.

 

Are you looking for Christmas gift ideas? See our guide to the 50 Best Gifts for Travelers. They are ideal for travel lovers who want to pack light and include something for every budget.

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