I said it a hundred times already, traveling carry-on only is freedom itself. I know it seems crazy at first to think it’s possible to live out of such a small backpack for months, but if I can do it, I’m sure you can. As I’m often getting questions on the road about how I pack so light, I thought I would share my full packing list with you, so here we go!
I travel with three bags, but everything fits inside the main bag : my awesome backpack.
I add a small cross-body purse for city strolls. The key to choose this one is to have the oldest, most unremarkable bag possible. If you have a brand new camera bag, it’s a bit like carrying a huge “rob me” sign around your neck. Choose one that closes well (not just a flap) and with a thick strap to prevent slashers.
I also have a foldable backpack, very useful to go on day hikes and carry around water and snacks.
TOILETRY BAG AND LIQUIDS
I already wrote a whole post about what’s in my toiletry bag, you can check it out here.
You’ll just need a microfibre towel to complete the set.
And for girls, add a Divacup!
Don’t forget to put liquids in a ziplock bag before arriving at the airport. Those should be under 100ml, so I have small bottles to carry around the rare liquids I take with me (I use the GoToob brand, no broken lid to report).
I also add in my ziplock bag a small bottle of hand sanitizer, some antiseptics (see further “first-aid kit”) and, depending on where you’re going, you might want to add sunscreen! I use this great one from Badger Company, it’s vegan and is also a mosquito repellent.
CLOTHES AND SHOES
Of course, what clothes I bring with me may vary a lot depending on where I’m going. I don’t wear the same things in Iceland as I do in India, for weather reasons, and I don’t wear the same things in India that I do in Spain, for cultural reasons. Wherever I’m going, everything that I’m not wearing on departure day has to fit inside my packing cube. I use only one packing cube from Eagle Creek. I like that it has a pocket on each side, this way you can easily separate clean and dirty stuff, while keeping everything organized. To fit the most clothes inside a packing cube, you have to roll them as tight as possible, not fold them.
I usually take 1 pair of pants or shorts, 1 legging, 4 tee-shirts, 4 of everything for underwear (girls, sports bra are the best, take one), one dress, one light sweater, one warm sweater, something to sleep in, and if need be my bathing suit, a hat, gloves, a scarf or sarong.
If I know I’m going somewhere cold and it’s going to rain all the time, I take a coat, otherwise I just take a rain poncho! It’s light and small and you can cover yourself and your backpack at the same time.
As for shoes, I already wrote a post just for them (because shoes do deserve their own time in the spotlight).
Without carrying around a huge bag and being completely paranoid, it’s still a good idea to have a few basic things with you. Don’t forget to transfer it into your day bag if you go hiking, or generally as soon as you get away from the city and quick help.
My basic first-aid kit contains small doses of antiseptics, a few pads and bandages, a few blister bandages, a few painkillers (like paracetamol) and whatever is particular to your own health. In some countries, you might want to add tablets for water purification (the Micropur Forte, these are the only good ones), and something to deal with the Delhi-belly! For more serious stuff, like countries with Malaria exposure, don’t forget to go see your doctor at least one month before departure, he will prescribe whatever is needed.
I use the Packsafe net to protect my stuff. It’s a bit heavy, and it was expensive, but I’m just feeling so much better knowing I’ll find my stuff where I left them that it’s worth it. A little trick : I wrap my backpack in the rain cover first, before adding the net, so the insides are really unreachable. I also have an extra small padlock for hostel lockers.
For my own safety, I only have a really loud whistle, that I have never tried and forget in my room all the time anyway. Still, especially when I started traveling solo, I was really glad to have it with me. I also think it might be useful if I ever hurt myself alone hiking, and need quick help.
I’ve given up traveling with my smartphone. It’s useless since I’m not willing to pay to use it in other countries. Instead, the only thing I have is my beloved ipad mini. I can use it to skype or chat with my family, and I have a Snugg keyboard case that both protects it and essentially turns it into a computer so I can work with it. You can also use it to read or listen to music if you have earphones.
Lastly, a power adapter, to charge this all up. I have a universal one, this way I don’t have to think about it too much.
PAPERS AND MONEY
Passport, credit card, drivers licence, insurance papers, identity card and CEAM card for Europeans. My papers, cards and any transportation or hotel vouchers are in a ziplock bag and I always have them with me. I also scan them before leaving and send them to myself by email. This way, if I loose my papers or get robed, I’ll have access to them quickly. Otherwise, you might be stuck in a country somewhere for very long.
I also always carry cash, as I use my credit card as little as possible. I have a few notes in my wallet, and the rest is hidden in different places on me or in my backpack.
OTHER ESSENTIAL ITEMS
A water bottle. Keep it empty to get to the airport, then fill it once you’re through luggage check.
A Light my Fire Spork, so useful to eat prepared food from the supermarket.
A guide book, if you like to have one.
A small notebook and a pen. Useful to write down the contact informations of people you meet, your own thoughts, or sometimes to draw when the language is a barrier.
A sleeping mask and earplugs. To use on the plane, on night buses, in hostels and hotels, anywhere.
A deck of cards. That might seem like the opposite of essential, but I just like meeting people around a game!
A few plastic bags. They weight nothing, take no space at all, but you’ll be so glad you have them when your shoes are muddy, your jeans wet, or they make you pay one euro the plastic bag at the supermarket.
Some kleenex or toilet paper. You might wish you had some sooner than expected.
A waterproof bag, mine is a 5L from Luckstone. My ipad is wrapped in it most of the time, but you never know when you might need a waterproof bag. For example, if you plan on doing any kind of water sport, where will you leave your passport?
I also like to have a few energy bars or something similar with me at all times, just in case.
What else could you possibly need?
If you fear you don’t have enough clothes, or that you’ll miss something (my main fear is missing books), remember that there’s people wearing clothes (and reading books) where you’re going. You can just buy anything you need there. Plus, you’ll then have a useful souvenir to bring home!
One last piece of advice. Once you’ve made it work in your carry-on for the first time, get everything out of your backpack again, and write it down. Having a packing list will make you save time and stress for your next trip.
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