Last Updated on January 6, 2021
I’ve been traveling light and using packing lists for years, and I’ll never take for granted how good it feels to travel ‘carry-on only’. Because I’ve seen how miserable traveling with excess can be.
But here’s the good news: Baggage doesn’t have to slow us down. Traveling light is a choice. We don’t have to fight and struggle with our belongings every time we want to go someplace new.
That’s why I’m going to give you an up-close look at my do-everything, all-season travel setup. I want to show you precisely what a lightweight and practical approach to travel looks like.
So, take a look inside my bag. Check off the boxes of my carry-on packing list as you get ready for your next adventure. Maybe you can transform your travel bag into something lighter and more mobile. Or, maybe you’ll find a game-changing piece of gear to help liberate your life on the road.
Lighten up. It’s a change worth making.
CARRY-ON PACKING LIST:
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. Benefits of Carry-On Travel
2. ‘Must-Bring’ Travel Essentials
3. Carry-On Travel Bags
4. Lightweight Travel Luxuries
5. Light & Packable Travel Clothing
6. Cold Weather Travel Clothing
7. Travel Photography Gear
8. Connectivity & Organization Gear
9. Compact Travel Toiletries Kit
10. In-Transit Travel Clothing
11. Final Thoughts on Packing Light
12. Packing List for Hiking & Backpacking
I’ve preached to you that traveling light and utilizing a carry-on packing list is of the utmost importance, so let me tell you why. Why must everything fit in one bag? What’s wrong with checked luggage?
Traveling Light is Far More Comfortable
In the world of travel packing, less is more.
Less baggage to carry means more freedom and mobility. Less stuff to lug around means more energy to focus on the world around you. Less weighing you down means a more comfortable travel experience.
Who doesn’t want that?
Checking Bags Doesn’t Always End Up So Well
I’ve seen and heard horror stories of checking baggage, and I want no part of the drama.
Friends have told me painful tales of bags getting lost and taking weeks to make it back to them. I’ve seen a relative’s luggage zipped wide-open with clothing spilling out as it rotated slowly along the luggage carousel. I’ve watched my girlfriend’s heart drop as she opened her checked bag, revealing a mess of scrambled and broken belongings inside.
While situations like these aren’t the norm, there’s always risk involved when you hand your baggage off to a set of busy strangers.
Carry-On Only Travel Saves Time
Packing lists eliminate the stress and guesswork that often come along with organizing your luggage. By knowing exactly what to pack and what to leave behind, you’ll get ready for your travels much faster and more efficiently.
By choosing not to check bags, you’ll never have to wait around anxiously at baggage claim either. Just grab your bag, walk off the plane, and get moving.
Certain items you simply cannot travel without. IDs. Visas. Money. Cell phones. Medications. Important travel documents. The items below are likely to stop you dead in your tracks if you’ve left one (or more) of them behind.
While many of the items below (tickets, insurance info, travel documents, etc.) can be saved and accessed digitally, don’t forget to bring hard copies as well. If your cell phone or laptop dies or goes missing, you’ll be glad you did.
Check this list twice. Once after you’ve finished packing, and a second time right before you walk out the door.
ID Card/Drivers License
Copies of Passport/Visa
Cell Phone: Xiaomi Mi 9 Lite
The Xiaomi Mi 9 Lite is my new loyal travel companion and I’ve been impressed with how well it has performed so far. It takes wonderful photos, navigates offline during my hikes, has loads of storage (128GB), and is very affordable. I haven’t found a downside to this phone as of yet.
Wallet: Herschel Charlie
The thinner the wallet, the better. That’s why I love the Herschel Charlie. Its minimalist design makes it barely noticeable in my pocket. The wallet is simple, easy to access, and holds everything I ask of it. What more could you ask for in a travel wallet?
Passport Cover: J.Crew
I’m glad I received this passport cover as a gift because I would’ve never thought to buy one for myself. It’s durable leather construction shields my passport from the harsh rigors of travel. In addition to protecting my cherished passport, my cover can store important documents as well.
Carry-on travel begins and ends with the luggage you bring along. Make sure your main piece of travel baggage abides by the carry-on size guidelines of the airlines you’ll be using, and you’ll be in great shape.
The age-old question of, “Should I use a rolling suitcase or a backpack?” is entirely yours to answer. Do some careful research and make a choice the best suits your style of travel. I use a backpack simply because I can move around easier while wearing it.
Don’t forget to bring a packable daypack, which can double as a personal item at the airport. It’ll also come in handy for day trips after you’ve settled at your destination.
Main Travel Backpack
Backpack: Osprey Porter 46
Osprey’s Porter 46 is comfortable, functional, and durable. I love using it as my main travel bag. That said, it slightly exceeds some airline’s carry-on luggage limits, though I’ve never been questioned about it once. Consider the Farpoint 40, if the Porter 46’s limitations give you pause.
Daypack: Matador Freerain24
I fell in love with this daypack’s features before I ever ordered it. It’s is completely waterproof, weighs only four ounces, and packs down into the palm of my hand. The bag is great for day trips or hikes when bringing along my main travel bag would be overkill.
Camera Bag: Denali
This minimalist camera bag fits my Olympus OM-D E-M10 camera, two lenses, and its spare batteries perfectly. That’s all I could ever ask of it. If my camera and lens kit were any larger, I’d be forced to go searching for another bag, but for now, I’m good.
Below are the non-essential odds and ends that always find their way into my bag anyways. Sure, I don’t need to pack a single one of these items, but that’s not the point. This particular gear enhances my life of travel enough to warrant a permanent spot on my packing list and in my carry-on bag.
Ask yourself, “Which items truly make life better while traveling, and which items can I leave behind?” Carefully construct your own lightweight list of travel luxuries and, if ever in doubt, live by the timeless moniker, Less is more.
Water Pouch: Sawyer 32 oz
If you’re a frugal traveler, you know that paying for water can bust budgets. That’s why I always carry my Sawyer 32 oz backpacking water pouches. And, when I find fresh water, I pounce and fill these bad boys to the brim. Using them keeps me away from single-use plastics as well, which is a good thing.
Earplugs: Howard Leight
I’m an earplug snob. Sure, it sounds a bit ridiculous, but I’d rather listen to a stranger snore all night than toss and turn while wearing uncomfortable earplugs. I’ve tried out several brands, and I’ve finally found my forever-plugs, the Howard Leights. They’re comfy and effective. Second-to-none.
Travel Lock: TSA-Approved Padlocks
I’m no travel lock expert, but I can tell you that these sturdy little padlocks get the job done. They’re well-built and make it easy to set a unique 4-digit combo. They’re TSA-approved, which means airport security will use keys, not lock-cutters to see what’s in your bag.
Mini-Towel: Packtowl Ultralight Microfiber
Since the vast majority of hotels and hostels offer free towels, I never pack a full-sized towel of my own. I do, however, pack one of these ultra-compact Packtowls for the rare occasion that I can’t get my hands on a towel when I need one.
Packing Cubes: SuitedNomad
Organization is key in the carry-on lifestyle, which is why any sane traveler must include a set of packing cubes on their list. I use two cubes while I travel – one for my clean clothes and the other to store my dirty ones. Without this simple organization, my bag would be a disaster.
Headphones: Sony Xtra Bass
While compact earbud-style headphones might be more practical for lightweight travel, the Sony Xtra Bass’s have found a stable place in my packing list anyways. I love the feel of over-ear headphones, and this pair puts out deep, quality sound at an approachable price.
Battery Bank: Anker Powercore II
My trusty little battery bank bails me out time and time again on the road. It’s durable and compact, and will fully charge my cell phone twice before it runs out of juice itself. As a traveler and blogger, I’m grateful for every instance that it’s kept my precious phone from dying.
Headlamp: Black Diamond Spot
I don’t use my headlamp frequently when I travel, but it’s sure nice to have around when I need it. Whether I’m packing up camp on the Huemul Circuit as pre-dawn winds howl or drunkenly night fishing on the North Shore of Hawaii, my headlamp always shines bright and leads the way.
Bluetooth Speaker: JBL Flip 4
Do I need to pack a Bluetooth speaker? Well, no. That’s why I choose not to bring the Flip 4 on many of my trips. That said, this speaker is compact, waterproof, and sounds great. I won’t hesitate to bring it along on the trips where I might feel the need to rock out sans headphones.
The biggest hindrance to packing light is the traveler’s tendency to bring far too many clothes along. Few things make me cringe more than witnessing a fellow traveler fight and struggle with a bag that is bursting at the seams with two weeks’ worth of clothing.
Avoid being that traveler and instead pack a lightweight and durable set of clothing for your next adventure. Stay away from the heavier cotton-based materials (like denim!) to experience the true joy of packing light.
I bring a maximum of six shirts and two pairs of travel pants for every trip I take, and I usually manage not to come across as a scruffy and stinky drifter. How? I pack clothing made from highly-breathable materials that stay fresh longer than cotton. I pack mostly dark colors that hide the constant smudges and stains of travel.
And, yes, I utilize laundromats or sink-wash my clothing before it’s reached its limit.
Travel Pants (2)
Sweater: Tesla 1/4 Zip
I know what you’re thinking. Does Tesla really make clothing?! They do, and it happens to be well-made and affordable. My 1/4 zip sweater is super-comfy, keeps me warm, and packs down small. In many ways, it’s the perfect travel sweater. Thanks, Elon.
Travel Pants: prAna Stretch Zion
Practical pants are essential for carry-on travel and my Stretch Zions check off all the boxes. They pack down small, sport secure zippered-pockets, and have a stretchy, athletic fit. Thanks to them, my uncomfortable days of traveling in jeans and slacks are behind me.
Athletic Sandals: Chaco Z1
My Chaco Z1s are beefy, versatile, and well-built. Their thick, durable soles give the support and stability of a hiking boot while allowing the breathability and convenience of a sandal. These are heavier and take up more space than flip flops, but they do so much more.
Rain Jacket: Marmot Precip
While this isn’t my favorite rain jacket for trekking and backpacking, it works well as a lightweight travel jacket. It blocks rain nicely, but it also keeps me warm when worn as a shell with my Tesla 1/4 zip sweater when life on the road gets chilly.
Athletic Shorts: Patagonia Nine Trails
A good set of athletic shorts will always have a place on my packing list, and these are my absolute favorites. They’re feather-light, fit comfortably, and dry quickly. They also have three zippered pockets, so I’m not at risk of losing my important travel essentials.
Button-Up Shirt: Columbia Silver Ridge
While this is my main shirt for backpacking and hiking trips, it’s stylish and practical enough to use as a stand-alone travel shirt as well. I don this shirt when I need to transform from ‘scruffy budget backpacker’ to ‘respectable, cultured traveler,’ and it works like a charm.
T-Shirts: 32 Degrees Cool Crew
These 32 Degrees t-shirts are perfect for my minimalist style of travel. They’re a blend — 90% polyester, 10% Spandex — which makes them soft and breathable without stretching out or losing their fit. They’re very affordable too, so if I stain, rip, or lose one, it’s not the end of the world.
Boxer Briefs: ExOfficio Give ‘n’ Go
The Give ‘n’ Gos are my go-to everyday boxer brief. Travel, hiking, blogging, you name it, they get the job done. They’re comfy, breathable, and odor-resistant, which makes them especially great for travel. Never underestimate the importance of a good set of undies.
Socks: Darn Tough No Show
Darn Tough makes the most comfortable and durable socks I’ve ever put on, hands down. They’re a perfect blend of Merino wool, nylon, and Spandex that keep my feet feeling fresh and comfortable during the throes of travel. Pricey? Yes. Worth it? Definitely.
Travel Belt: Jasgood
Nobody has ever pickpocketed me before, and I aim to keep it that way. By using this zippered money belt, I’m able to keep all of my big bills and important documents hidden safely away from thieves. This belt, along with my pant’s zippered pockets, makes it really difficult to pickpocket me.
Sometimes travel will take you to chilly destinations, so you’d better be prepared with warm, lightweight, and packable travel clothing when the conditions are downright cold.
With all the warm and well-made winter gear on the market, there’s no excuse to let cold weather cheapen or derail your trip. And, no, preparing for a frosty weather adventure doesn’t mean you have to ditch your carry-on travel mantra either.
The five pieces of clothing below help keep me toasty when the temperature drops and bitter conditions set in. As a whole, these items pack down very small and weigh less than 1.5 pounds (700 grams) combined – a small price to pay for warmth and comfort.
Down Jacket: Arc’teryx Cerium LT
The Cerium LT is the warmest down jacket I’ve ever owned, by a long shot. It keeps me comfortable into below-freezing temperatures and is a must-bring on all my cold-weather backpacking adventures. It’s insanely lightweight and packs down conveniently into its built-in stuff sack.
Long Underwear: Patagonia Capilene
I love my lightweight travel pants, but they don’t always keep my legs warm when temperatures drop. That’s why I bring these along to all of my cold-weather travel destinations. They provide an extra layer of warmth and take up barely any room in my bag.
Warm Hat: Carhartt Knit Beanie
This fleece beanie is a staple of my cold-weather outfit, whether I’m traveling or not. I love it not only for its warmth and comfort but also for its affordable price tag. When I lost my first Carhartt beanie, I had zero hesitation in replacing it immediately.
Warm Socks: Smartwool Extra Heavy
My travel shoes often need a little help insulating my feet in frosty weather, which is why I pack a pair of Smartwool Extra Heavy socks when the temperatures call for them. These socks are ultra-warm, though, so consider a pair of Darn Tough Hikers if your feet tend to run hot.
Gloves: Sealskinz Waterproof
I bought these waterproof gloves solely for hiking and backpacking, but they’ve proven to be a great travel glove as well. They’re compact, stylish, and comfortable and keep my hands toasty warm on even the coldest winter days.
It’d be an absolute pity to travel the world without quality photography gear to capture all of life’s vivid moments on the road. Not only do I cherish the thousands of memorable photos my camera has taken, but these images enhance my blog and bring it to life for you, my beloved reader.
Don’t worry. It’s entirely possible to pack a top-notch photography setup while still traveling light. You just need to get your hands on the right gear.
Nearly every single photo on this blog was captured through the camera and lenses I’ve listed below or with my trusty Nexus 6P cell phone. My setup is compact and portable and has found a comfortable place in my lightweight packing list for years to come.
Camera/Lens Kit: Olympus O-MD E-M10
After tireless research into mirrorless travel cameras, I bought the Olympus O-MD E-M10 in 2015, and it’s been a proud part of my carry-on packing list ever since. It’s sleek, durable, and effortless to use, and reliably captures high-quality photos.
Prime Lens: Sigma 60mm F2.8
Behold, the best lens in my bag. It’s a prime (fixed) lens, which means it doesn’t zoom, but it makes up for this lack of versatility by taking professional-quality portraits and striking close-ups with ease. My photography kit would be incomplete without it.
Tripod: Ultrapod II
The Ultrapod II is one of the most compact and affordable travel tripods on the market, which is why adding it to my travel photography setup was a no-brainer. Sure, its short stature limits its capabilities, but it does everything I ask of it (and nothing more).
Extra Batteries: Powerextra
There are few worse situations while traveling than missing out on a wonderful photo-op because of a dead camera. That’s why I never travel without two fully-charged batteries at my disposal. These cost less than a fifth of the price of Olympus’s official replacement batteries.
Blogging is my passion, and my professional life revolves around it. To leave on a trip without the necessary tools to blog would send me into a spiral of panic and sadness. Nobody wants to see that.
Thankfully, I’ve found a place in my packing list for each essential piece of my lightweight blogging gear. That’s right, I can fit the entirety of my personal and professional needs into one bag and carry it onto an airplane. That’s freedom.
Here’s my simple, powerful, and efficient travel blogging setup that allows me to live a lightweight and mobile life on the road.
External Hard Drive
WiFi Signal Strengthener
Computer: MacBook Pro 13″
Travel blogging could get annoying quickly without a fast and reliable computer, which is why I invested in the MacBook Pro 13″. This trusty machine has the speed and power to answer all my blogging needs. It’s portable, durable, and lightweight and has never let me down.
Hard Drive: 4 TB WD My Passport
In the dreadful event that my laptop disappears or gets damaged, it’s imperative to have its valuable contents backed up. Thankfully, I can do so with my trusty external hard drive. Backing up my computer’s important files gives me security and peace of mind.
WiFi Signal Strengthener: OURLiNK Dongle
Finding a solid internet connection on the road isn’t always easy, which is why I always carry this little device. This tiny USB plug-in connects to WiFi networks, strengthens connections, and improves internet speeds. A win-win for travel bloggers like me.
Laptop Case: ProCase
Protecting my MacBook Pro while I travel is mandatory. That’s why I carry this generously padded and water-resistant case. I love its external pocket and slide-out handle, which both come in handy for digital nomads like myself. Tip: order one size down.
Pocket Journal: Moleskine Soft Cover
I’m a forgetful writer, so my pocket journal is one of the most valuable blogging tools I carry. It has a thick leather-like cover and durable pages that hold up to the relentless abuses of travel. With it, I capture fleeting details that otherwise might fade from my memory.
Pen: Fisher Space Bullet
I’d be doing my journal a disservice if I didn’t bring along a suitable pen to go with it. The Fisher Space Bullet is sleek, reliable, and versatile. It uses pressurized cartridges, which allow me to write at any angle or livable temperature, and even underwater.
Travel Adapter: Worldwide All-in-One
I can’t keep track of the different types of wall outlets during international travel, so I bought this handy all-in-one travel adapter. By carrying it, I don’t need to worry about foreign power systems or voltages. I simply fold out the proper plug-in and pop it in the wall.
Remember when I said that I usually manage not to come across as a scruffy and stinky drifter while I travel, despite carrying minimal clothing? My lightweight travel wardrobe deserves a lot of credit, but my compact and high-quality toiletries set should get some recognition too.
I’ve somehow managed to squeeze all of my hygienic travel needs into a small and durable toiletries bag that weighs almost nothing. My lightweight little kit packs perfectly into my bag and leaves ample room for the rest of the travel gear on my list.
I pack only TSA-approved liquids that are 3.4 oz (100 ml) or less and, by doing so, free up plenty of room for the rest of my lightweight travel gear.
Toiletries Bag: Sea to Summit ‘Traveling Light’
I used to travel with a bulky, oversized toiletries bag until I stumbled across this gem at REI. It’s simple and straightforward and weighs a measly 1.3 oz. All of my travel-sized toiletries fit comfortably inside this durable, breathable, and easy to clean bag.
Soap: Dr. Bronner’s
Dr. Bronner’s is an effective and versatile soap that boasts 18 different uses. I use it along my travels as an effective body wash, shampoo, and laundry detergent. It smells great and is full of healthy and sustainable ingredients. A little of this soap goes a very long way.
Toothbrush: Folding Travel Brush
What you see is what you get. This simple toothbrush folds into itself to save space and keep the bristles from collecting germs in my toiletries bag. As long as I rinse the toothbrush thoroughly after every use, it stays clean and germ-free.
Toothpaste: Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint
I’m a sucker for Dr. Bronner’s products. Their toothpaste, just like their soap, is made from simple ingredients that have withstood the test of time. Some natural brands of toothpaste (like Tom’s) don’t seem to leave my mouth feeling completely fresh, but Dr. Bronner’s does.
Deodorant: Sam’s Natural
It took me years of searching and sampling to find an all-natural deodorant that keeps my travel musk at bay. Finally, I came across Sam’s Natural, which boasts over 15 different scents of healthy and long-lasting deodorants that are full of natural ingredients you can pronounce.
Razor: Dollar Shave Club
I stock up on Dollar Shave Club razors whenever I’m back in the U.S. because they’re affordable, convenient, and they get the job done. Yes, I’ve tried the mail-in alternatives (Harry’s and Gillette), and D.S.C. beats them in both price and quality.
Dental Floss: Plackers Micro Mint
For whatever reason, I can’t stand flossing my teeth the old-fashioned way – with a string of floss and nothing else. Thankfully, someone invented these nifty little ‘Plackers’ to make dental hygiene much more bearable for struggling flossers like myself.
Ear Cleaner: Etereauty Ear Pick
Traveling with dozens of pesky Q-tips was an annoying travel reality until I discovered the wonders of the metal ear pick. Not only is my shiny new tool more compact than a handful of Q-tips, but it’s a far healthier way to remove wax from my ear.
Sleep Aid: NOW Melatonin
Getting a solid night of sleep on the road isn’t always easy. That’s why melatonin, a natural sleep aid, is an essential part of my lightweight travel setup. When a challenging sleep situation looms in my future, I’ll pop a 5 mg pill, put in my earplugs, and fade away to dreamland.
Multivitamin: Naturelo ‘One Daily’
My diet is all over the place when I travel, so I always pack daily multivitamins to ensure that my immune system stays strong. While I prefer eating fresh fruits and vegetables to swallowing capsules, at least I can guarantee that one way or another, I’ll be getting the nutrients I need.
Whether I’m on a bus, train, or airplane, personal comfort is paramount when I’m in transit for long periods. This fact of life is why I’ve put together the most comfortable travel outfit possible from head to toe.
The clothes listed below will never actually make it into my fully-packed carry-on bag simply because I always sport them on the days that I travel. The rigors of being in transit are far more bearable when I’m wearing relaxed, comfortable travel gear.
Put aside your perfect set of comfy travel clothes the night before your trip and get ready for maximum comfort along your journey.
Long Sleeve Shirt
Long Sleeve Shirt: Carhartt Force Extremes
In many ways, the Carhartt Force Extreme is the perfect ‘in transit’ top. It’s breathable enough to keep me from overheating in hot and muggy situations, but also substantial enough to keep me warm when the A/C is blasting down. It’s the best travel shirt in my arsenal.
Athletic Pants: Brokig Joggers
A comfortable pair of pants is essential when I’m in-transit for long periods, which is why I always wear these ultra-cozy joggers during my travel days. They’re a 65% cotton, 35% polyester blend, which makes the material soft, stretchy, and breathable – the perfect combo for long hauls.
Athletic Shoes: Salomon XA Pro 3D V8
Though the XA Pro 3Ds are trail runners, they’re a great everyday travel shoe as well. I’ve put hundreds of hard-earned travel miles on these shoes and also taken them into the mountains for long-distance hiking adventures. They’re stylish, versatile, and are my go-to travel shoe.
Hat: Carhartt Odessa
I’d feel naked along my travels without my trusty Carhartt hat. See, the cap and I have developed a brotherly connection over the years. The miles we’ve covered and the wild travel memories we’ve made together have only strengthened our bond.
Sunglasses: Ray-Ban Square
I got lucky at a thrift shop years ago and scored a pair of these for only 20 bucks. What a steal. Since then, they’ve become a vital part of my travel outfit. These wide-lense shades block out light and allow me to catch sleep for long stretches in less than ideal situations.
Boxer Briefs: ExOfficio Give ‘n’ Go
As I mentioned before, these are my go-to everyday boxer briefs. That means I definitely wear them on days I travel. For women with undie-envy, check out the ExOfficio Give ‘n’ Go Bikini Briefs, which are also lightweight, breathable, and highly-reviewed.
So, there you have it. An up-close glimpse at every single item inside my lightweight and portable travel bag. Thanks to my carry-on travel packing list, I have the freedom to go wherever I want and do as I please in the most efficient way possible.
Snow-capped mountains? Tropical beaches? Urban jungles? All of the above, please.
Now, it’s your turn. Take a step back and look inside your travel luggage. What do you see?
Is your baggage an overstuffed mess of clutter and confusion? Do you have a lightweight and ultra-portable ‘do-it-all’ setup like mine? Do you fall somewhere in between?
Whatever the inside of your bag looks like, remember this: Traveling light is a mindset. It’s a conscious decision. Freedom and mobility are enjoyed by those who lighten their load.
Travel gives us the chance to experience our world in its most raw and unfiltered state, without unnecessary distractions. The baggage you bring along has the ability to hold you back or power you through your next journey.
Which will you choose?
Want to take an up-close look at my ultralight multi-day hiking and trekking setup? Click the link below to explore the top-notch gear I carry as I wander alone in the wilderness for days at a time.
My entire base weight is only 8.8 pounds.
Plan Your Next Carry-On Only Adventure: Travel Tips & Resources
Book Your Flight
Use Booking.com — my go-to booking website — to reserve hotels and hostels. Search Hostelworld to browse a gigantic database of affordable hostel options. Book with Airbnb to rent apartments, houses, or rooms from locals.
Rent a Car
Protect Your Trip
Travel is unpredictable. Use World Nomads to insure your trip against illness, theft, injury, and cancellation. They’re widely trusted among backpackers and travelers worldwide.
Browse through my complete list of travel resources that I use and recommend. See exactly which websites, apps, products, and services have helped me travel the world and maintain this blog.
Do you have any questions about my carry-on packing list? What are some of your favorite lightweight travel items? Do you prefer to check or carry on your luggage? Let me know by leaving a comment below!