Minimalist Packing: Ultimate Carry on packing list (Checklist)

Minimalist Packing- Ultimate Carry on packing list

First time travelers always pack too much. Minimalist packing is an art. We’ve put together a carry on packing list for backpackers who really want to pack light, avoid problems at the airport and never have to check in baggage or stand in the long lines to check in.

The hardest thing with minimalist packing is not choosing what to take, it’s deciding what to leave behind. In this article we’ve cut it down the to the absolute minimum.

Who is this Carry on packing list for?

For regular travel backpackers who are heading on a trip of any length. You’re off to see the world. You’re not working online, but you want to keep in touch with family and friends back home.

We’ve separated sections for warm weather clothes or cold weather clothes. We have an extra section for gender specific items, so you can figure out which you need more easily.

Importantly, this really is the ultimate minimalist packing list. We’ve carved away everything that is not essential for everyday travel based on 3 years being completely nomadic.

If you are traveling with a buddy or partner, sharing is caring and you’ll be able to share some of the essential items to pack even lighter.

If you’d like to know about all the extra options for a slightly heavier but inclusive list, plus learn about effective packing organisation you can scan through our more comprehensive carry on packing list (coming soon).

Right here, we’re keeping it minimalist! Aiming for just one bag of 7KG (15lbs) and sub 55cm x 40cm x 20cm = 22in x 16in x 8in in size.

 

Minimalist Packing: Backpack

Something light, durable, comfortable and with some useful pockets to keep your stuff organised. And, of course, small. Here are my top two suggestions.

  1. A good sized 40 litre pack with a weight of less than 3 pounds (1.4Kg) is the Osprey Farpoint 40. It is a high quality, durable pack and even has compression straps built in to help reduce luggage space usage. The price is a little higher because you are getting a quality product with a bunch of extras for comfort.
  2. The Ebags Mother Lode 22inch and slightly smaller Ebags Mother Lode Junior are also affordable but durable options. It is compartmentalised – even including a specific laptop pocket. Designed specifically to meet your needs for modern, minimalist travel. The square design maximises capacity compared to rounded bags.
  3. Cabin Max. Meets the max size for carry on packing set by the IATA and gives you 44 litres of space while weighing in at only 660g (1.46lb). This is the cheapest of the 3 options but lacks a number of useful features. It’s a basic backpack.

 

Minimalist Packing: Technology

The complete list for a perfectly optimised backpack is below. But first, a couple of Common minimalist packing questions for technology:

Laptop vs Tablet vs Smartphone

The best weight to practicality solution for you depends on what you are going to need to do while away, and how long you’ll travel for. It probably goes unsaid, you need a smartphone. It’s the ultimate minimalist packing accessory. Don’t travel without it. And make sure it is unlocked so you can put international sim cards in it.

But, is a smartphone enough? If you haven’t traveled much before, it’s hard to know how you’ll handle being away from a full size computer screen or tablet for a long time 🙂

Your Answer to the following questions can help you decide:

  • I’m going on a short trip and don’t need to do much online other than keep up with social media, email and post my photos and videos.

For a short trip of  1-4 weeks, simply having a quality, large smartphone like a Galaxy S6 (5.1″ screen) or iPhone 6 Plus (with 5.5inch screen) is fine for most backpackers. A cheaper option could be an HTC desire (4.7″). Going with a smartphone that is bigger just makes it a little easier to handle keeping up with emails and such.

  • I’m traveling for a month or more and/or want to keep up with everyone back home as well as all the usual email / social media

If you want more flexibility then a very small 11″ travel Laptop or cheap (sub $200) Chromebook is perfect. A tablet will be sufficient instead of a laptop if your demands are not too complicated but honestly, having tried to travel long term using only a tablet, it becomes hugely frustrating!

  • I’m travelling long term and/or want to be able edit photos/video as I go, or keep up with work online.

We spent a while sharing one computer and one tablet between two people. Productivity on the tablet is a disaster, plus it lacks so much functionality. Long term backpackers who have lots of computer needs simply MUST have a laptop. A chromebook may be sufficient for easily completing all basic internet tasks, but something with more power and functionality is necessary if you want to manage and edit, or work as you go. I have a Macbook air 11″ and it’s perfect for most needs while only weighing 1KG (2.2lbs).

 

CAMERAS: DSLR vs Compact vs Smartphone vs Mirrorless vs Handycam vs GoPro

Minimalist travel means making a lot of choices to cut back. This is one of the tough ones. You could just take photos on your iphone… Personally that is not enough for me. I love getting rich, amazing photos. Smartphone camera’s are certainly getting much better… But so are proper cameras.

Do you really want average photos for your dream trip? Or do you want something better to remember your first backpacking trip?

First of all, let’s make this easier by eliminating some options…

If you really want amazing video, specifically video, then you want a high end video camera. Although the low end ones are going to get better results than your phone, they aren’t really worth the expense for moderate improvement. So, go awesome… or stick with your smartphone, or one of the next options.

DSLR is heavy for travel. Right now, the top DSLR’s are still winning on quality, in my opinion. If you are a photographer chances are you probably already have a great camera, perhaps a DSLR. You’ll probably want to take it with you. If you are not a photographer, but you are considering being one, going for the full price DSLR from day one may be overkill before you really know how to use it.

The perfect balance for a semi-pro or amatuer travel photographer has got to be Mirrorless. Actually, some DSLR pros are switching to mirrorless. It’s catching up. More on Mirrorless in a second.

Compact Cameras. Like with the handy cam, the cheap compacts may have more options but the quality may not be enough of an improvement to trump just sticking with a smartphone. The one reason I’d go compact as a first time traveler – A shockproof / waterproof tough camera. Look after your phone and throw a robust compact around instead. But, a Gopro could do the same job as a waterproof, though it is more expensive…

So, here are my suggestions for minimalist packing depending on what you want to achieve on your trip.

  • The quality is not as important as just capturing the memories:

Stick with your smartphone – unless you phone camera sucks. Then get an affordable compact.

  • Planning on an action adventure packed trip and need something light and robust:

GoPro if you have the money, or an affordable shockproof / waterproof compact

  • Want pro standard photos without the price tag or too much weight

Go Mirrorless

 

My Ideal Minimalist Packing choices for tech

I personally favour compact smartphone + Travel Laptop as my optimum minimalist packing for trips of any length. Refer above for more info on alternative choices for minimalist packing with tech.

Minimalist Packing: Ultimate Carry on packing list

Minimalist packing: Technology

  1. Travel Laptop: I have a Macbook Air 11″ (Weight 1KG / 2.2lb). I love Mac but not everyone wants to spend that much, there are lots of cheaper options. However, as I mentioned above, if you want something very affordable just for your trip and don’t want to spend a fortune… go Chromebook. Plenty of options under $200.
  2. Compact Smartphone. By having a travel laptop as my main connection to the world, I’d stick with a regular size smartphone. A regular iPhone or I actually have a compact Sony Xperia.
  3. Universal Power socket adapter. IMPORTANT: voltage varies abroad. Simple having one of these socket adapters does not fix the voltage. Check your electronics to insure they are multi-voltage compatible (110-220hz). Get a dual USB multi country adapter to charge 2 USB and one AC item at once.
  4. Earphones with mic. Make skype calls easily. Zone out from the world and listen to music, movies and podcasts without annoying people around you.
  5. USB Battery Pack [Optional] I travelled without this for a long time. I wouldn’t give it up now but if I didn’t know any better, I could live without. Keep your phone working for long plane, bus or train journeys.
  6. Charge cables. No cable, no chargey-charge. My phone cable also recharges the USB battery pack – so multipurpose.
  7. Mirrorless Camera & Accessories [Optional]. This is on my wishlist to replace my current DSLR. You will also need a cable or card reader to get the photos off the camera.

Minimalist Packing: Clothes

If you’ll be moving through multiple climates rapidly, you’ll have to take some of each from the summer and winter list below. The key to minimalist packing for clothes is layers. On really cold days you’ll need to wear half your minimalist packing wardrobe at once!

If you will only be changing climates very rarely, it may be better to buy new clothes as necessary and throw away clothes you no longer need.

This is a non-gender specific list – though I have suggested male and female options of the basics (Like Shoes). Gender specific items (like Bras) are listed in a later section below.

To keep your clothes really organised and easy to find in your bag use Packing Cubes. In a dark room, when you are trying to find a T-shirt in the bottom of your bag, it’s a lot easier to know all your shirts are in one packing cube and you just pull that out and find a shirt easily.

Tip: Avoid clothes that need a belt to save more weight.

All Weather

Minimalist Packing: Ultimate Carry on packing list (Clothes)

Minimalist Packing: Clothes

  1. Sunglasses. They make me less squinty on sunny days.
  2. Lightweight, breathable Lems walking shoes. I love these shoes! Plus mine are black so I can pretty much wear them for any event or, of course, for lots of walking. The pack really small too and are super light. They are barefoot shoes so they work your feet in a more natural way, they need a few wears for your calfs to get used to them. Once they are, awesome! Mens & Womens
  3. Light Tops or T-shirts x3 – General wear for any climate
  4. Vest x2 – For wearing in bed or for hot days.
  5. Convertible Pants x2 – The one I have are also pickpocket proof (Male) and they zip off to become shorts. The female version convert into capris. They are breathable, so I don’t get epic sweat patches. They have pockets that are almost impenetrable to criminals. They even seem to resist odor and stains – I love them!
  6. Shorts or skirt x1
  7. Underwear x5 – Number of pairs depending on laundry preference and willingness to re-wear unwashed… up to you!
  8. Regular socks x4. Depending on how often you think you’ll wear shoes rather than flip flops.
  9. Light Fleece with full length zip – Better for both cool and warmer weather, being able to unzip gives you flexibility. Mens & Womens.
  10. Buttoned shirt OR Dress [OPTIONAL] – I’ll let you choose which of these is ideal for your gender. Essentially, there will be days where you don’t want to look like a filthy backpacker. At least one item of smarter clothing is good for those days.

Warm Weather

T-shirts get really sweaty in hot weather, so swap them out for something lighter.

  1. Flip Flops. Light weight summer footwear. The cheap ones fall apart with everyday travel – trust me! If you want something high quality from day one, I’d go with reefs (Mens) or for women: Reefs, Havaianas, Crocs.
  2. Swimwear x1.

Cool Weather

I’m not currently traveling in cool weather, so no pictures for this section.

  1. Long Sleeved shirt x2. To replace some of the T-shirts in the All weather section above. Or in addition.
  2. Insulated Socks x2. With breathable walking shoes, you’ll want thick socks for cold days instead of needing to carry heavy winter shoes. You could get away with one pair if you wanted too. Mens & Womens.
  3. Light Winter Coat. If you get the right travel clothes, you won’t need a coat this bulky. You may even survive without a coat depending on the time of year. But this is the coat I already had. A breathable all seasons coat (Mens) or Womens that will keep you toasty warm, especially when combined with other layers.
  4. Hat & Gloves [Optional]. I actually wore these quite a few times during the colder months. Packing Light Tip: Buy when you arrive if you aren’t sure you’ll need them.

Minimalist Packing: Toiletries

Some items are tricky to get through security for your carry on packing list. This is the optimum options and how they get through security.

Gender specific toiletries are in the gender specific section further below.

Minimalist Packing: Ultimate Carry on packing list (Toiletries)

Minimalist Packing: Toiletries

  1. Flat pack toiletries case. This is a great shape for packing and it’s easier to find things in than a regular case. Ours is worse for wear and we’d like to upgrade to an Ebags Flat Pack Case. Everything below can fit in the case (+ the gender specific items in the later section) except some of the 100ml bottles which can stay in a zippy bag that you’d use for airport security.
  2. Roll on deodorant. 50ml so no problem at airport security. Spray deodorant is a no-no for carry on travel.
  3. Toothbrush & Toothpaste We try to upgrade to travel toothbrushes whenever we see them as they are more hygienic. Toothpaste 100ml or below for your flight… Though I’ve got through security with bigger ones so long as the are not full.
  4. Quick dry micro-fibre towels. Some places won’t provide towels. Micro-fibre are incredibly light and dry super fast. Do not buy the cheap ones, they suck. Get decent ones. These are easy to buy online, but not so easy to find good ones while abroad, so buy before you leave.
  5. Nail Scissors – Unlike nail clippers, scissors can be used for cutting other things too. Multi-function!
  6. Shampoo 100ml, shower gel 100ml, conditioner 100ml. All packaged in 100ml bottles and inside a clear zippy bag for air travel. The cheap ones normally leak. Grab some high quality bottles like GoToob and avoid a gooey bag every time you fly.
    [ALTERNATIVE] You could also use regular soap bar, solid shampoo and solid conditioner to minimise the amount of little bottles you need.
  7. Hand Sanitizer. Keeping your hands germ free after riding buses or while eating street food (sausages and such!) can seriously reduce your risk of food poisoning.
  8. Medicine. Pain killers & Anti-diarrhea are the main ones. Whatever personal medicines you need.
  9. Mini Sewing kit & thread [Optional]. Good for longer trips and doesn’t take much space.
  10. Comb. Smaller than a hairbrush.
  11. Mini medical kit [Optional]. Just some basics – plasters, burn cream, bandage and medical tape. Aside from plasters, we haven’t used anything in 2+ years on the road… Still, you never know!
  12. Dental Floss [Optional]. I consider it essential for all that pork I eat. You might not care…

 

Minimalist Packing: Misc

Minimalist Packing: Ultimate Carry on packing list (Misc.)

Minimalist Packing: Misc.

  1. Earplugs & Eyemasks. Want to sleep on a bus? Or in a noisy hostel room where people turn the lights on in the middle of the night? And snore right next to you? You’ll get better sleep with with good earplugs and eyemask. We personally use Dream Essentials products as they are a higher quality and fit.  The same company offers a deluxe model too for even more comfort. Bring spare earplugs too as they are easily lost.
  2. Gaffa tape. The most useful all purpose fixing device on Earth. I’ve got through a lot of this fixing bags – even fixing a car radiator hose while traveling across the Gobi Desert. You may not use it everyday, but when you do need it, it could save your life… Get the compact rolls, not the huge ones.
  3. Clothes line that doubles as a bungee cord. Dry your clothes without pegs. Also good to have a bit of bungee for random tieing up games 😉 Or more practical uses.
  4. Pens. Well, having a pen to fill out forms at the airport or whatever… Definitely useful even in the digital age to keep a couple of pens on you.
  5. Small Umbrella. I highly recommend an umbrella instead of a poncho unless you’ll be cycling or motorbiking a lot. It can also double as a sunbrella as well as meaning you don’t need a waterproof coat of any sort.
  6. Passport / Wallet. Customs don’t like people who arrive in Europe without a passport 🙂 You may also want a money belt, in addition to a wallet if traveling to higher risk countries. Best to have travel insurance too – read the article if you aren’t sure.
  7. Spare zippy bags. I can’t tell you how many of these we have got through! Apart from containing any messy substance that explodes in you bag, you can put food in them and your bottles at the airport. Buy the high quality ones so the are re-useable and don’t split too easily.
  8. Super Glue. Anything Gaffa tape doesn’t fix, super glue. In a little zip-lock bag as super glue leaking all over your bag would be very bad!
  9. Collapsable Water Bottle (Not Pictured) Buying water all the time is crazy if you can re-fill with drinkable water – including after passing security at the airport. When not full, the collapsable bottle packs tiny in your backpack.

 

Gender Specific items for carry on packing list

Women

  1. Menstrual cup alternative to tampons [Optional – women]. If you are not on birth control that prevents your period, then, instead of carrying boxes of tampons, check out the mooncup. It’s tiny, reusable for years and easy to clean. Sits in your handbag for emergencies. We have an article on the benefits.
  2. Makeup. A basic setup: Light Foundation with SPF protection. Mascara and lip gloss. Also, optionally, a small pot of blush that can be used both as lipstick (mixed with gloss) and blush. Or an eyeshadow + blush combined set.
  3. Flat shoes for more formal nights. Flat and light so they pack easy. One extra pair of shoes for the ladies who don’t want to go out for an evening in walking shoes.
  4. Bras x4. 1x Underwire for nights out. 2x sports bras – because they are light, dry quicker and pack better. 1x Bikini top (Not pictured) doubles as an extra bra. Bikini bottoms (Not pictured) – hasn’t been much swimming for us in Europe, but if coming in summer you may want to pack these.
  5. Tweezers. Women like to tweezer things, so I’m told 🙂
  6. Razors for legs. You can pick up disposable ones as you travel. Use shower gel to shave.
  7. Bandlettes –  wear these thigh bands to save your legs from “chub rub”. We’ve all experienced the pain of having our legs rub together while out walking – this product is a god send and fixes this problem. (they also offer a unisex option)

Men

  1. USB razor so you don’t need a separate charger. Going electric means you don’t have to get shaving foam through airport security. I tried using shower gel for facial shaving for a while – it was horrible.

Yes, men have it much easier than girls for minimalist packing…

Additional extras and region specific items for carry on packing list

 

  1. WD Passport 2TB or 3TB USB hard drive. If you need more hard drive space, these Western Digital USB powered drive are great. I’ve traveled the world with one of them for 5 years – still working. Or for even more peace of mind, get a tough drive.
  2. Headlamp. You could just use your phone but if you are traveling to countries with frequent power cuts, a headlamp is great. If you’ve ever tried to peel a potato in the dark with one hand you’ll understand why a headlamp is so awesome.
  3. Moisturiser 50ml, Sun cream 100ml, Bug spray (100ml), face wash 50ml, Face Cream. If you take too many bottles you might have problems at airport security. But you may want a few extras.
  4. Inflatable Neck Pillow. We’ve done a lot of plane, bus and train journeys. Some overnight and upright… Basically I don’t get any sleep. So the lightest weight and most compact solution is an inflatable neck pillow. Once again Dream Essentials offers a great product.
  5. A tripod so small it fits in your camera case: Pedco UltraPod II Lightweight Camera Tripod. If you are into photography, a very compact tripod is perfect.
  6. Selfie stick. Or perhaps the almighty selfie is more your thing. Get a compact, light extendable selfie stick.
  7. Washing Powder. A little washing powder in a zippy bag. You may end up hand washing clothes as you have such a small wardrobe. Having some powder is useful, though we’ve used shower gel on occasions. Replenish as you go is easy.
  8. Laptop Sleeve – If you choose a backpack with a built in pocket, you may choose not to take a laptop sleeve. But, when you want to go to a cafe with your laptop and not your backpack, walking the streets flashing you macbook may make you a target of crime. A lightweight sleeve will fit your laptop, charger and WD passport drive.
  9. Small fold up Day pack  just 6 oz weight. A mini day pack could take your laptop and other day items around instead of unpacking everything from your main pack every day.

Go Pack!

That’s our optimized carry on packing list for backpackers wanting to do minimalist packing. If you avoid some of the optional or additional items you can definitely come in under 7KG (15lb) in your main pack. You may have personal items you cannot live without like a good quality, dual voltage hair straightener. But, even If you take a little extra like that, it’s still easy to stay under 10KG.

At the airport, if your airline has a strict policy, you can hold items like your umbrella, coat and water bottle, as well as wearing all your heaviest clothes and shoes and tying items around your waist.

Love this post? Why not pin it on your favourite travel Pinterest board?

Minimalist Packing- Ultimate Carry on packing list. Minimalist Packing: Ultimate Carry on packing list (Checklist) The hardest thing with minimalist packing is not choosing what to take, it’s deciding what to leave behind. In this article we’ve cut it down the to the absolute minimum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What have we missed off this list that you would consider essential for going backpacking abroad? Let us know in the comments.

 

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About The Author

tjw101

Tommo is a world nomad, pizza addict and travel pro. A bus ticket and a backpack are all he needs to get by. From kissing a crocodile in Thailand to dancing on tables in Greece, Tommo is living the dream and then writing about it.

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1 Comment

  • Deepika

    Reply Reply September 21, 2016

    A very very realistic checklist unlike what I see on Pinterest. They are fall fancy stuff which is highly expensive and not in reach of backpackers like us. This list is perfect and very helpful.
    Thanks. 🙂
    Much love,
    Deepika

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