Are you looking to travel with one bag and considering what should be included in your carry on packing list?
Well, you have come to the right place – packing list blog posts have always been one of my favourites to read while planning my next adventure.
I find creating a carry on packing list helps to make sure all the essentials are covered.
At the same time, writing everything down helps to identify any unnecessaries and reduce the chances of overpacking.
Although the essentials will always stand the test of time, over the years my travel gear has been smashed, ripped or just worn out. Other items have become obsolete, replaced by my ultrabook or smartphone.
“There is always a sadness about packing. I guess you wonder if where you’re going is as good as where you’ve been.”
― Richard Proenneke, One Man’s Wilderness: An Alaskan Odyssey
Creating a Carry on Packing List
Creating a carry on packing list for the first time can be a bit of a headache.
For me, the packing part is enjoyable because it signals the start of something new. The headache part is trying to plan for events that will be happening weeks or even months ahead of time.
Even if you’ve done plenty of backpacking or travel for work before, it doesn’t mean the temptation to overpack has completely disappeared. I don’t think they ever will. It’s just that past experiences can help us make an educated judgement in what items are (really) needed.
So what items should be added to your carry on packing list?
In theory, you could just jump on a flight with passport in hand, a bank card and the clothes you are wearing. Rolf Potts did an experiment where he travelled around the world for six weeks with no luggage at all.
In larger towns, inner city or CBD locations there are usually more transport options available. However, for some more remote locations consider there may be long walking distances involved as public transport could be few and far between.
To a certain extent, your travel bag starts to become your life after a few months away from home, but it doesn’t mean you have to bring your home in it.
A carry on bag restricts how much you can pack and the smaller the travel bag is, the less it becomes a burden.
Cabin Suitcase or a Backpack?
First of all, if you want to travel stress-free, then it’s essential to choose a carry on bag that’s comfortable for you to lug around.
Some people prefer hard case suitcases with wheels attached as they keep clothes flat and protect internal contents from getting crushed.
A wheeled suitcase or soft duffel excels in urban environments which have plenty of flat surfaces. However, the downside is once you get off the beaten track those rollers soon get jammed up with dirt, or worse break!
I’ve used with wheeled suitcases in the past for my old job but now prefer to use a backpack. It just offers more flexibility for my style of travel.
When using a backpack your current strength and fitness levels will play a role in how much weight you can carry around and for how long.
[bctt tweet=”As a general rule, the less weight packed the further the distance you can walk before tossing the backpack on the floor and swearing at it!” username=”toolsoftravel”]
At 46 litres the Porter is the maximum carry on size for most airlines. Like many backpacks in the maximum carry on category, its style is very box-like to allow it to fit perfectly inside the cabin bag testers found in airports.
I’ve met a quite a few travellers over the years who prefer to use a bag like this as it avoids paying extra for check-in baggage fees and waiting around to collect luggage.
The Porter 46 is perfect as a carry on bag, and I still use it today occasionally for some of my trips.
However, since I started culling my gear further for 2018 I now only travel with an even smaller 34L pack.
So, what’s changed in my carry on packing list in 2018?
Well, my focus over the last year has been streamlining my travel gear and either replacing or getting rid of altogether any items that weren’t working for me.
Apart from changing my 46L pack to a 34L one, wear and tear took its toll on clothing, and I took the opportunity to replace any worn out items with lightweight synthetic or merino wool variants.
Sure they had holes in the sides for what seemed like ages. Plus the Vibram soles had worn through in places, so it wasn’t surprising when they finally let go.
Although the Merrells didn’t offer much padding or protection, they had a roomy toe box, and I loved the fit.
I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say they travelled to more countries than I can remember and were one of the best pairs of shoes I’ve ever owned!
Choosing their replacement was always going to be hard, but the Inov8 235 F-Lite cross trainer seemed to offer a good compromise. They aren’t quite as ‘minimalist’ as the Merrell’s but do have the advantage providing a little more protection during day hikes and while running.
Apart from clothing and footwear one of the most significant changes I made to my carry on packing list was systematically going through all my electronics and making the switch to USB power.
Making the switch to USB power might sound a little excessive, but I’m finding now it’s much simpler managing my electronics.
Just a few USB cables are required for everything apart from my ultrabook.
I replaced the following items:
- Hair shaver
- Electric toothbrush
- Sony A6000 camera battery charger
- Fexix LD12 AA battery torch
- Noise cancelling headphones (broken)
As the shaver, toothbrush and battery charger were mains operated I now have three fewer plugs to get tangled up with other things.
Eliminating the need carry spare AA and AA batteries for the torch and noise cancelling headphones has also helped to make life easier.
For my camera, I replaced my Sigma 19mm lens with a Rokinon 12mm ultra wide-angle version. The Sigma was a great lens, but I was struggling to fit everything in close up shots. The Rokinon offers a wider view similar to what you get on a smartphone camera.
Tip: sell your old travel gear on eBay.
The past year hasn’t been about reinventing my carry on packing list but about refining what works for me and making travel more streamlined for 2018.
Fewer cables, clutter and stress.
So now I’ve gone through what has changed for 2018, here’s my carry travel packing list and all the gear I currently take travelling:
Everyday carry covers what I have with me when wandering around and doing day to day stuff. Everything I either carry in my daypack or store in my pockets.
A decent daypack should be light enough to carry around for a long afternoon of city exploring but still have enough space for any extras such as a camera, laptop, charger, sunscreen, sunglasses, rain jacket and water bottle.
I like that the Radial 34 backpack I’m using has a separate laptop compartment which allows me to access my ultrabook without pulling everything else out first.
For wet weather protection, a rain cover is a must as I frequently will use a bicycle or scooter on my trips.
So should you take a laptop travelling?
It’s true that once upon a time it was standard advice not to pack electronics like laptops and other gadgets as they were expensive, cumbersome and could be a target for thieves. Today lightweight ultrabooks and smartphones are what enable travellers like me to stay connected and work remotely from tropical islands on the other side of the planet.
There is always a risk of theft but in my opinion being able to work from anywhere in the world is a worthwhile trade-off!
My X1 Carbon is a few years old, so I’m not as worried about it breaking (been there and done that) or being stolen.
My Everyday Carry
- HuMn carbon fibre wallet
- Noise cancelling earphones
- Sony 5000mAh portable USB charger
- Nitecore 360 lumen USB keyring torch with hat clip (travel headlamps are also another hands-free option)
- Under Armour rain jacket
- Interchangeable lens sunglasses
- Clip travel towel
- 50+ sports sunscreen
- Face wipes
- Paper notebook & pen
- Water bottle
- Skross travel adaptor
I have tried a few different computer setups over the years, including iPads, HP laptops, Asus and Acers. Tablets can be handy for basic web stuff, but ultrabooks and laptops are still more versatile if you plan on working while you travel.
I traded my heavier 2.7kg HP Laptop in a while ago for a second-hand 1.35kg (yes I weighed it) Lenovo X1 Carbon. An extra 1.35kg may not sound like much, but it’s basically like carrying two of what I use now.
On a side note, Lenovo has made the newer Gen 5 model even lighter – it weighs just over 1.1kg.
Not a Mac you say?
Don’t worry my girlfriend travels with one – but I’m old school and still use Windows 7!
Not only do I still use Windows 7, but unlike the majority of the world, I also use a Windows smartphone. The main reason I bought the Windows 950 was it had decent camera reviews + the price was reasonable.
Two features worth their weight in gold are that you can use the maps offline and backup pictures automatically to Onedrive.
I download any maps before arriving at my destination. Then at least its still possible to find where you are without a local sim card, mobile internet or Wi-Fi access.
With Onedrive the phone automatically uploads travel snaps to the cloud whenever connected to the internet. Which is always an advantage to have a back up if your phone goes missing or gets broken.
My brother once updated his phone after four months of travel only to find all his photos erased.
Note to self: always back up those travel memories!
The other items I take travelling are the usuals like camera gear, grooming accessories and the not so usual – a coffee maker!
Dry bags are a great item which can have many uses, especially if you plan on doing any watersports. They come in various sizes, and I pack a larger one that doubles up as my washing bag.
Learning how to hand wash clothing is a necessity when travelling long term as access to a washing machine or a laundry is not always guaranteed.
I also bring along a second smaller dry bag to use as my toiletries bag. Now there’s no more shower gel leaking into my main bag compartment…
My Travel Gear
- Travel pillow (can be deflated to take less space)
- Bluff merino wool (can be used as an eye mask, sun protection, neck warmer etc)
- Life Venture large RFID pack
- Aeropress coffee maker
- Stainless steel cup
- Titanium Spork
- USB head shaver and stainless steel mirror
- USB electric toothbrush
- KEDSUM manual nose & nail trimmer
- Japanese wash towel
- 100ml travel bottles
Upgrading from smartphone photography to a half decent camera was always going to be a big decision when travelling with one small bag just because of how bulky full frame cameras can be.
The compactness of mirrorless cameras offered a good compromise, and I have been using the Sony A6000 camera since mid-2016. The size of the A6000 makes it ideal for travelling. It also has a reasonable price point and there are plenty of lenses available.
I’m by no means a professional photographer and the lenses I carry are at the cheaper end of the market.
Depending on the trip I might take just the one lens or both.
My other camera gear currently includes:
There’s plenty of brands and choices out there when it comes to purchasing clothing for travel. Choose to spend time in warmer climates; then you can certainly get away with taking less.
Most of the clothing marketed at the travelling community is of good quality, manufactured with lightweight fibres and breathable. Many garments are easily hand washed and look great without or without being ironed.
The downside is they can have a steep price tag to match the specifications.
When it comes to buying travel fashion, my recommendation is only to spend within your budget, but at the same time buy the most comfortable clothing you can afford.
Rotating constantly through the same few outfits means you will be spending a lot of time in them.
Some lightweight travellers suggest removing jeans altogether from your carry on travel packing list. Jeans are more cumbersome to carry than other travel pants. They also take a long time to dry after washing.
However, jeans do have their advantages.
A good pair of jeans will match most other clothing, and they tend to last a very long time.
They also don’t need washing that often and I’ve even been told its possible to keep them smelling fresh by sticking them in the freezer. I’m yet to try this, but hey, there’s still time!
Nearly every country I’ve been to I have seen locals wearing jeans. If you want to fit in, why not take along one pair of jeans?
I travel with one pair and my preferred choice is those manufactured from a cotton/polyester blend which tends to ‘stretch’ better and can be more comfortable to wear.
My Travel Clothing
- Pants (Levis 504 jeans & Panther cargo pants)
- Shorts (Adidas & Under Armour lightweight golf shorts)
- Lounge/sleeping (1 x shorts & 1 x merino wool t-shirt)
- Casual merino t-shirts (Karrimor & Kathmandu)
- Polo t-shirt
- Long sleeve merino shirt
- Merino wool jumper
- Fleece top
- Underwear (Under Armour and ExOfficio sports)
- Lightweight socks
- Flip flops
When it comes to travelling to warmer parts of the world, rather than bringing winter clothing, I prefer to plan my travels around similar climates. If it does turn out to be a little cooler than expected, it’s always possible to layer existing clothing or pick up a few extra items as needed.
Clothing is available worldwide. Although they may not stock your favourite brand, you can guarantee there is some local alternative.
Gym and Workout Gear
While it’s true some sports do require specialist gym equipment, I found when travelling you don’t need that much.
A simple travel fitness routine could mean anything from lifting rusting dumbbells in a backstreet gym in Vietnam or sprinting along stunning sandy beaches in the Philippines.
How about chin-ups and dips at the park in China? Slowing it down by doing a little hotel room yoga in Singapore?
Travelling can play havoc with a fitness routine, but only if you let it!
The good thing about workout clothing is it’s very light and won’t add much weight to your carry on packing list.
To cover the basics all you need are a change of workout clothes and some sports shoes. This setup should have 99% of situations sorted, and for other activities, such as beach running or yoga the sports shoes are optional.
My fitness gear is minimal but does the job.
I don’t even bother packing swimming shorts anymore and just wear my workout ones.
My Fitness Gear
- Heat gear t-shirt
- Long sleeve running top
- Running shorts with dual phone pockets
- Cold gear leggings (for colder climates)
- Quick dry running hat
- Merino no-show running socks
- Inov-8 F-Lite 235 training shoes
- Krill oil & multivitamin tablets
Like everyday clothing, packing everything for a long trip is often overkill. There will always be stores or markets where you can pick up stuff along the way.
Finally, Remember to KISS
Everyone knows how to Kiss, but knowing about it doesn’t mean you’re good at it 😉
BTW – KISS is an acronym that stands for Keep It Simple Stupid
When people ask for suggestions on what to pack I look back to my own past mistakes. Like many others, it was packing way too much.
It’s impossible to pack for every situation, but I sure have tried in the past.
It felt like everything I owned was with me on my first trip to Australia in 2008. Did I mention the eight books I somehow managed to fit in my backpack? Just because they might not have books or libraries in Australia!
Anyway, it’s no surprise that one of the plastic strap buckles on my cheap 65L ALDI backpack snapped at the airport under the weight.
And this was all before I had even left the UK!
I packed way too much because in my mind I was asking questions like – what if it’s cold, should I pack all my winter gear? What if I get invited to a fancy restaurant or club, should pack my dress shoes? What if I go hiking, should I pack my hiking boots & Gortex jacket?
[bctt tweet=”Pack for the trip you are going on, not the trip you might be going on.” username=”toolsoftravel”]
These and hundred and one other questions will always crop up when its time to plan a trip and to put together a carry on packing list.
It’s impossible to cover every eventuality and crazy even to try.
Now when I do any revisions to my carry on packing list, I go with the 80% mentality – whatever I pack should cover 80% of situations that I will come across on my trip.
The other 20% I will fix it if and when they happen 🙂
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