I often get asked how I live on the road full-time as a minimalist traveler. The prequel to this article, Carry-on Only: Travel in 11 Pounds is one of my most popular posts, so it's time to write a newly updated detailed packing list to show exactly what I choose to own and why.
carry-on only travel
First I'll explain that I travel strictly carry-on only. I never check bags. It costs time, money, stress and you really don't need to drag so much stuff along with you. Not only do I travel carry-on only, I also travel under-seat only. I never use the stupid overhead bins.
I find it super annoying to have to wait for people to put everything in and then take everything out of the overhead compartments, especially when I'm standing like an awkward flamingo waiting to get off the plane. Instead I sit down, slide my bag right under the seat in front of me, and then I'm buckled up and relaxing in my seat while everyone else takes a million years to get settled.
Likewise, on a train or a bus, one small bag can easily live right at your feet or even on your lap. Bonus: you now have an instant footstool, desk, insulator, or pillow. And, double bonus: you don't have to put your stuff in the luggage racks and risk it getting swiped.
I still manage to travel in 11 pounds or less, as I find this easiest to encompass all airline's rules, especially Wow Air, since I'm very much in love with Iceland. And yes, Wow Air does, in fact, weigh your bag every time. You gotta be under the limit if you want the purple seal of approval. Which you do. So here is what I currently own, weighing in at 11 pounds (5 kgs).
My bag is a Lite Gear Mobile Pro. I used to carry a backpack, purse, packing cubes, organizer bags, and protective cases for all my gadgets, but I've scaled that all down to just one bag. Super versatile, it can be worn as a backpack or cross body bag. It has padded pockets for laptop, pad and phone. It's lightweight at only 2 pounds and recycled polyester.
Unlocked iPhone. Love the simplicity, wireless syncing and ease of use. Unlocked to use a global sim card.
12 inch MacBook. Super lightweight, fantastic keyboard, beautiful retina display.
6 shirts. Mostly black and organic cotton. Often with cool designs like these.
3 pairs of pants. Also all black and organic. Various lengths and warmths.
3 pairs of socks. Socks come and go, and suspiciously disappear.
Undies you don't need to see plus a swimsuit for getting in water whenever possible.
A hooded sweatshirt. Because it's cold on planes and layering is always right the way to go.
Vegan leather jacket. Because baby it's cold outside.
Here's where I write the disclaimer that I'm not into fashion or brand names. I petsit full-time, so I spend the majority of my time with animals who are mostly color-blind and don't care what I look like. And clearly I have the wardrobe palette of Johnny Cash.
I can easily go a week without doing laundry. And then it's only one tiny load in a washing machine, or can all be hand-washed in a sink and hung to dry in a few hours. On travel days, I wear the heaviest pieces so that weight doesn't count against my bag weight.
It's way easier than you'd think to have a capsule wardrobe with so few clothes. A few multi-functional pieces, much like a versatile scarf, can work really well year-round. Layering is your friend. You can always change along the way and adjust for the temperature, the continent, the activity, or the season.
If I need to add pieces, I always shop second-hand stores. There's no point in buying brand new clothes and
fast fashion is destroying the planet. I got my North Face jacket at a thrift shop in Brighton for 15
pounds. Can't beat that deal. If I need to subtract, I drop them at clothing donations sites like Salvation Army or Goodwill. Someone can always use them again.
Textile waste spared - I do recommend going for quality on things you need to use everyday, because replacing them costs more and creates more waste. So if you’re clumsy like me and worried breaking delicate yet essential things like glasses, check out resources like choosing the right glasses for travel and hiking sunglasses guide by Globo Surf. Better safe than sorry when it comes to your vision. You need to see.
Because you need them. For general wear, pools, showers, or if you like to walk on the beach as much as me.
Rad boots from Vegetarian Shoes. For rain, snow, or if I just want to look cool.
Because my future's so bright I need shades. Or because the giant fireball in the sky burns my retinas.
One piece of fabric with a million uses. Scarf, eye mask, headband, money holder and more.
An international adaptor that doubles as a surge protector to stay charged safely.
A travel cable lock to keep bag closed and secured for an added layer of travel safety.
Bamboo toothbrush. Plastic-free for you and the environment.
Floss. Keep your gums happy so they will love you forever.
Menstrual cup. A girl's best friend on the road. Or anywhere.
Because no matter how much I threaten them, my nails refuse to stop growing.
zero waste travel
I also live simply, I don't like using too many chemicals, so I usually make my own toothpaste and deodorant with baking soda and coconut oil. Soap I can find anywhere, usually awesome locally handmade soaps, too. And I don't wear makeup or style my hair, so I don't need that stuff at all.
I travel liquid-free. A huge benefit of not carrying any liquids means never having to bother getting your liquids out at airport security! I can waltz right on by while everyone else is fiddling around with their plastic bags and little ounces of shampoos. It really saves lots of time. And I also never have to worry about anything spilling inside my bag or exploding at high altitude either. Win-win.
I've ruthlessly pruned out all the crap that I don't need, and this is what remains. When your entire life fits in one bag, the real estate quickly becomes quite valuable.
Never Ending Voyage has been traveling full-time with just carry-on luggage for 6 years.
The book The Carry-On Traveller shares practical tips to help you pack light and never check luggage again!