3 Years of Travelling with Hand Luggage Only: Our Packing List Update

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After seven 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

We’ve had to buy new compression bags (it’s worth getting strong ones like Packmate or Eagle Creek) and we replace our clothes when they need it. We’ve also upgraded some of our technology.

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.

Simon with new Macbook Retina

Simon very happy with his new Macbook Retina

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.

Tofu at Tosuiro, Kyoto

Tofu at Tosuiro, Kyoto taken with the Canon s95.

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 2017.

Important Stuff

  • Passport
  • Dollars
  • 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
  • Wallet

Luggage

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.

Electronics

Simon’s Clothes

  • 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.
  • Cord trousers Jeans
  • Shorts
  • 2 x shirts (1 long sleeve, 1 short)
  • 2 x tshirts
  • 5 x underwear
  • 3 x socks
  • Swimming board shorts
  • Sunglasses + travel case

Erin’s Clothes

  • Merrell hiking shoes
  • North Face sports sandals (waterproof)
  • Tieks ballet flats – stylish, comfortable and they fold up small.
  • Light Fleece
  • Cardigan
  • Linen trousers
  • Jeans
  • Skirt
  • Summer dress
  • Shorts
  • 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

Toiletries

  • 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
  • Tweezers
  • Razor + 2 spare blades
  • Shaving oila 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

Medical

  • Ibuprofen
  • Immodium
  • Dimenhydrinate travel sickness pills
  • Few plasters
  • Prescription medications

Miscellaneous

  • 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
  • Sarong
  • 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

 

See our latest 2017 packing list here.

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124 Comments (26 pingbacks)

  1. Just started my first RTW trip and found this list to be super helpful! Thank you for taking the time to post this info… I feel much more prepared for this crazy undertaking having read through list like yours!

    Reply

  2. Just back from 3 months in SE Asia – followed your packing list which was brilliant for warm weather travel. Osprey Farpoint 40 was the best (current/stock) bag I could find; great full support shoulder + hip harness, stiffened rig, all zips away when not in use.

    Reply

  3. This is a really impressive site. I have kind of been looking into different ways to travel light, and as a student on a budget, I’ve run across a few multi-functional options. I found this garment on the website Kickstarter (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/859693925/cameleon-multi-utility-garment?ref=footer), and I was wondering if anyone has given something like this a try. It serves as a few different dresses, pants, and bags. I think it would be beneficial for the price when wanting to travel light. Any thoughts?

    Reply

  4. Thanks, this has been really informational and helpful. Reading this entry really brings my blood boiling with excitement for my rtw trip that I’m planning right now. It really gives me more motivation. I was contemplating which backpack to get to replace my current deuter 55 Liter pack, but after reading this, I might go with the 38 liter pack that I’ve been eyeing on.

    any recommendation as far as daybag goes? rightnow I have a north face recon which I’ve used as a daybag during my last 5 travels. but for long term travel like a year or 2, i’ve been thinking of getting a smaller one tht I can collapse into the main bag.

    Reply

    • We actually just use a textile shoulder bag that fits inside our main backpack or when we need something more substantial I empty out my main pack.

      Reply

  5. Hello, love your list!

    I’m taking a three and a half month semester at sea this summer around Europe and I’m hoping you could give me some advice.

    Cameras- I’m really into photography, digital and film, and I’ve decided I just can’t bring both SLRs. So in lieu of my Canon T2i I was going to bring my little canon point and shoot, but I’ve heard it’s no better than the iPhone 5’s built in camera. Hoping you can give me some advice. I’d love to only need carry on bags, and while the camera is pretty small, it’s still space in my bag. Do you think I should rely that much on my iPhone 5?

    Also, for the first week I will be alone in London and Southampton, should I have anything as an added safety precaution? I’m a 20 year old woman and this is my first trip alone (but not my first trip to Europe, I grew up there.)

    Hoping for some sound advice, thank you!!

    Reply

    • It’s difficult to say. I wouldn’t rely entirely on the iPhone 5 myself, although I use it a lot. It’s a great camera but doesn’t have a good zoom or low light performance. Maybe try it out for a while at home and see how you get on. It really depends how good your point and shoot is in comparison.

      I can’t think of any particular safety things for England. Just the usual stuff about being careful at night, sticking to well lit/busy areas etc.

      Have a great trip!

      Reply

  6. Thanks for sharing all that information, that’s great. I never heard about the shaving oil and shampoo bar, I think I will give it a try now!
    I also really appreciate your transparency regarding advertising fees you get. That’s very rare from bloggers, which tends to annoy me. So heads up for that! That shows a high level of professional integrity. Another easy way to show that I’ve seen somewhere else is to put a (*) after the links for which you get a fee.

    Reply

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