A day, a weekend, a week, 2 weeks, 2 months, 5 years, etc. No matter how long your travels are, you can almost always get away with travelling carry-on only. Of course every airline has different restrictions for carry-on luggage size and weight, and not everyone enforces those restrictions so strictly. They are more inclined to verify weight if your carry-on is larger in size and/or if you look like you’re struggling. On average, it seems the carry-on weight restriction is at 17-22 lbs (but mainly for the less known and smaller airlines). As for dimensions, again it varies by airline, but it seems the maximum size allowed would be around 45 linear inches (length, width, and height added up together). Often times, you are allowed a carry on AND a personal item, but my personal item would be a laptop and that goes into my backpack sooo….yay!
I think a 40-45L backpack could be acceptable in most airlines, but I don’t need that much space and I don’t want to lug that around if I don’t have to. For me, the 35L is just fine, but I am also small so my clothes don’t take up much space (which means I can take more than necessary haha!). I use the Ozone Travel Pack 35, as it fits my size and needs, and I love it!
It is important to note that wearing things do not count in your carry-on weight, so layer, layer, layer! Sure, it may get a little warm unless airports crank up the air as usual, and may also be annoying to have to take off all the little things like belts and watches and jackets for security (those who care about taking that stuff off). But the space you save in the backpack that way is all worth it!
Why do I do this when I can just check luggage and take anything I want and more? To name a few: convenience, portability and paranoia. It is just so convenient to only have a backpack to deal with, less stuff to remember to pack, less stuff to stress about losing, just less. Portability goes into the convenience because having only a backpack makes moving around very easy, and it saves sooooo much time to not have to wait in line to check luggage and then wait for the carousel to spit your stuff back out. As for paranoia, I don’t want to have to worry about even the potential
Before I get to my packing list, let’s talk about a few characteristics I evaluate for every item that is lucky enough to accompany me on my adventures.
Price: As cheap as possible for less important things, and price compare for items that are worth spending more money on. In the long run, it is better to spend more money on higher quality backpacks and other stuff-protecting things (phone case, laptop, etc.). Higher quality items for important things like that are worth more money because they will typically be more durable and last longer so you don’t have to pay for replacements or repairs nearly as often.
Size: As small as possible because, well, backpack. Anything that is retractable or easy to be coiled up and stuffed is great! That means don’t take denim jeans unless you’re going to wear them when on the plane, but when is that comfortable? The closest I have to those are my super stretchy denim capris for things like bungee jumping or whatever I don’t want to wear short shorts or leggings for.
Color: Black or neutral colors that blend in for most things so you are less likely to get mugged.
Fabric: Lightweight and flowy, or athletic material is my favorite because sweat is a thing and I like being comfortable with whatever happens. (I spent half an hour foraging through target until I finally selected a suitable plain tee-shirt. Since everything I wear can be layered and dressed up or down, it is important that I can easily transition between casual and at least semi-nice. Fabric that will stay wet and sweat-stainy is a no go for me.
Okey dokey, and now the list! I will soon post a video of me packing all this stuff so you can see the method in action. But for now, here are the items I bring, with links to where I got them from so you can get them too (or similar items) if you find them useful too!
35L backpack (with laptop pocket), money belt, compressible day pack, Pacsafe bag protector, TSA approved bag locks for zippers (also useful for hostel lockers), packing cubes, life proof phone case.
- The backpack is carry-on compliant with most airlines, but it is important to double check beforehand as well.
- The money belt allows you to carry some money around without flashing your wallet everywhere and keeps money out of pockets and out of pickpockets’ hands. Mine has RFID blockers in the lining so people can’t scan my passport or credit card information.
- The day pack is helpful for day trips or going to the beach so you don’t have to carry around the bulky backpack. I can through in my snorkel, dive mask, GoPro, and whatever else I want to use that day, and leave the rest of my stuff locked away at my hostel.
- Packing cubes are extremely helpful with compression and organization. Mine are double sided so I can separate dirty and clean clothes.
- The PacSafe bag protector is great because it folds up nicely when you’re not using it, but wraps around your bag and locks around anything attached to the ground so people can’t slash and run or forage through your locked zippers.
Laptop, GoPro Hero4 Silver with mounts and filters (strap and 3-way stick, magenta and red dive filters), phone (unlocked), small USB stick, micro USB cards, universal power adapter, voltage converter, portable charger
- I currently have not bought my new 13 inch MacBook Air yet, because I am saving up my money for other things this year, but I am excited to use that due to Apple’s customer service, the typically 12 hour battery life, convenience, and portability. It fits perfectly in my backpack’s laptop sleeve and doesn’t take up much weight and space.
- Up to this point, I have just been using my iPhone for photographs, but I have recently decided to invest in a GoPro and I don’t regret the decision at all! The pictures and videos come out great, and I found editing videos to be more fun than I expected. After doing lots of product comparisons and research, I got the GoPro Hero4 Silver, as I feel it fits my needs better than the other options. It comes with a dive case that is durable down to 40 meters, which is good since I have my advanced diving certification. I also have magenta and red dive filters to capture more colors underwater.
- The universal power adapter and voltage converter are extremely convenient so you don’t have to buy or rent them everywhere you go. My Lewis N Clark power adapter works pretty much everywhere except South Africa (so I will have to figure something else out when I go there).
- Having an unlocked phone saves a ton of money on phone bills when travelling longer than a week or so. It allows you to get a local sim card and use a prepaid plan for full use of the phone, and escape those not-so-surprisingly hefty phone bills.
Shorts-(denim and flowy), leggings-(black thermal and patterned fleecey), pants-(kackis, capris, flowy), skirt-(black), dress-(black), tops-(graphic tank, black tank, plain tee, long sleeve tee), fleece jacket, shoes-(sneakers, nice ballet flats, Dr. Scholl’s inserts, hiking boots, flippie floppies), baseball cap, scarf/sarong, swimsuit, undergarments-(undies, sockies, underwire bra, sports bra)
- I don’t always take all of the above. If I know I am going on a safari, I will exchange the brighter colored clothing items for more safari-appropriate ones to save space. I’ve mentioned it before, but wearing items does not count as carry-on luggage, so layer whenever possible.
- Everything I have is easy to roll up and compress to save space. Everything can also be layered and switched around so that I can create a wider range of wardrobe out of just a few basic clothing items. Everything can either be dressed up or down depending on what I pair them with, since sometimes you may find yourself needing nicer outfits for dinner, an event, etc. I will make a post next week with pictures of some of the different outfits I’ve created so far, and go into more depth of why I chose each item.
Toiletries and Similar Items
Compressible and light towel, rubber bands, hair clip, sink stopper for laundry, travel size Febreze, polarized sunglasses, makeup, sunscreen-infused face moisturizer, sunscreen, more sunscreen, even more sunscreen, biodegradable laundry soap sheets, multi-use biodegradable shampoo, deodorant, Sonicare toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, and (ahem ladies) a Diva cup.
- The towel is nice to have so you don’t have to buy or rent them anywhere. You also won’t have to use the hand dryer in the bathroom after a shower and risk people coming in and seeing you au naturel, unless you don’t give a sh!t. I did this in Iceland haha, but it is a more effective drying experience with an actual towel. Mine is quick drying, light, and easy to roll for space.
- The Sonicare toothbrush is nice because even the charging port is small, and it has a whitening setting in addition to doing a good job maintaining teeth in between dentist appointments which may or may not be spread out longer than recommended due to traveling and hating going to the dentist.
- The Diva cup is much more cost- and space-efficient than tampons. It is also more accessible, as you may find yourself far from access to such items, and not ever store everywhere has them. There is now a growing number of companies manufacturing similar and less expensive versions. It’s weird at first, but after getting used to it, it is just fine.
Headlamp, retractable hiking poles, first aid kit, dive mask and snorkel, laundry rope, chopsticks, batteries, ziplock baggies, passport/visa info/flight and other info, extra passport photos, snacks, notebook and black pen, tennis ball, Theraband, cheap digital watch, and water filter.
- My first aid kit varies depending on what I am doing. If I am just hiking around and don’t need more space for my dive gear, I will include more creams and painkillers. I always keep band-aids, disinfectant, bite and sting extractor, water filter, and some Ibuprofen. Athlete’s foot cream and triple antibiotic ointment are also good to have on hand at all times, but I just have to be mindful of the liquid restrictions for carry-on.
- I bought my own dive mask and snorkel so I don’t have to deal with rental gear not fitting me, because that was a problem when diving the Great Barrier Reef in Australia a few years ago. I don’t take these on every trip, only the trips where I know I will be doing lots of water activities. They do take up space, but to me it’s worth not having to stress about fit and rental fees.
- The Theraband and tennis ball are for releasing muscle tension and Pilates work after long periods of sitting on trains and planes, but is also nice to have in case of straining a muscle while hiking or being clumsy.
- The cheap digital watch serves as an alarm clock so you don’t have to sleep with your phone out in the open.
Check out my other How-To articles here!
What are your must-haves when you travel? Share your thoughts in the comments! 🙂