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


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.


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


  • 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


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


  • 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. Thanks for this post, really helpful. My family of 5 (3 kids, 2 adults) are venturing out into some world travel starting this fall. One question – we just bought the awesome Olympus OM-D EM-5 Mark II camera. Do you use a camera case with it? Basically, I want to know how you pack it when not in use and carry it when in use? I’m trying to stay minimal like you. :)


  2. Thanks for posting this! I really struggle with packing and am love reading what you do and how it’s changed… fascinating actually. I’m REALLY struggling choosing a laptop. I’ve never travelled with a laptop but I am going to Ireland for 6 months in 16 days and I plan to do lots of traveling. So I’m trying to decide between the 13″ or 15″ MacBook Pro with retina. These are both super lightweight: the 15″ is only a pound more than the 13″. 3.5 lbs vs 4.5 lbs. With that in mind would you choose the 15″ or in your experience would it still just feel too big and bulky?


    • Hi Kristin, It really depends what you need the laptop for. Simon loves the 15 inch Macbook Pro with retina screen but he does a lot of design and development work so appreciates the bigger screen and more power. I use my laptop for blogging and photo editing and find the Macbook Air 11 inch perfect. It’s super lightweight but still has plenty of power. For me the 15 inch is too big and heavy but for Simon it’s worth it. He says if you are doing graphics, video or playing games then the 15 inch is a good choice, if not the 13 inch will be fine, or the Macbook Air if you’re not too set on a retina screen.


  3. I’m trying to narrow down my pack a bit and checking out your list again. I’m curious about your compression bags. Do they leave your clothes really wrinkly?


    • We used compression bags for five years as they do save space in your luggage. They do leave your clothes a bit wrinkly but we try to choose fairly wrinkle-free clothes anyway. Recently though we switched to using Eagle Creek’s compression packing cubes and have found that we can still fit everything in our bags, plus our clothes are easier to access and less wrinkly. I’d recommend trying them first and if you are really struggling for space try compression bags. You can buy them on Amazon: http://amzn.to/1F5qaDx


  4. Hey,

    I’m really impressed how you managed to compress your belongings in those two backpacks. And I really love your lifestyle! :)

    Regarding the list, a small addition here, since health is somehow sensitive issue. Paracetamol in general is much safer than Ibuprofen, so it might be better to replace it if you don’t need to treat e.g. rheumatic pain. Also, Ibuprofen is quite harmful for your digestive system and cannot be safely taken with other drugs (may cause allergy and bleeding if overdosed). Speaking of allergy: antihistamine drugs would be a nice addition too – you never know what may cause a reaction, even if you’ve never had any allergies, and in a remote and unknown environment it’s just safer to have some. Along with calcium pills.


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