Packing List

Packing List

A number of people have asked what I take with me for long overseas trips, and how I travel with no backpack or checked baggage. I’m getting ready to head out on the road again in about 10 days, so this is a good opportunity to review how it works for me.

The biggest secret: packing light is actually easier than bringing a ton of stuff.

The overriding philosophy of my packing list is to keep it as simple as possible. That’s basic, I know, but very important. At least for me, travel stress is directly proportionate to the amount of stuff I carry around. I don’t own a backpack and haven’t willingly checked a bag on one of my extended adventures.

Whenever I see people lugging huge bags around or waiting at the carousel hoping that their suitcase arrived intact, I always remember how glad I am to avoid that. It’s not just about simplicity, although I like that too. It’s also about the fact that if you carry less stuff, you worry a lot less. I mostly worry about my passport, wallet, money, and laptop bag — things that are always with me.

When I take off to Haiti, Guyana, Suriname, and the Dominican Republic (with a couple of stopovers along the way) late next week, this is everything I’ll take with me. This time I’m only going to one major region, but my gear is consistent pretty much anywhere I go. The only difference if I’m going to cold and hot climates on the same trip is to add a sweater and change the light jacket for a slightly heavier one.


By far the biggest space in my bag is taken up with running shoes and light workout clothes. I don’t do as much running on a typical trip as I do at home, but whenever I have the chance to exercise, I’d be sad if I couldn’t do something for lack of shoes. At some point I’ll write about all the countries I’ve ran in– off the top of my head, my favorites include Ghana, Macedonia, South Africa, Brunei (not my favorite country in general, but good for running), Easter Island, and Laos.


The rest of the clothes are simple and versatile. One pair of slacks, one pair of jeans, one dress shirt, two or three t-shirts, the basics for socks and underwear. I’ll try to do laundry at least once along the way, preferably twice, but it doesn’t always happen. If necessary, I’ll just go out and buy a new shirt or whatever I need along the way.

I learned this trick in India, where I was going to a new city and the laundry place was not able to wash my clothes before leaving. I went on the street and bought a whole new outfit for about $7, which I wore for the next two days before giving to a beggar in the train station. I thought of it as “renting” an outfit for $3.50 a day.


I like to collect amenity kits from the airline and give them to people at hostels or guesthouses, who are usually thrilled to receive them. The ones pictured here are from Delta and Cathay Pacific. I’ve been wearing contact lenses for so long that I can wear them anywhere – long plane flights, the Persian Gulf, etc.


The only things I absolutely need are my passport, tickets (I’m still using paper tickets from the last Round-the-World trip), and money. I travel with cash – U.S. dollars, in 20s, 50s, and 100s – always new bills with no writing on them. (If you ask for them like that at the bank, they know what you need and will give you only new bills.)

I usually take about $800-1000 in cash with me on a typical two-week trip. I don’t always use that much, but naturally I’d rather bring money back than get stuck without it. Of course, I also take two credit cards, but the fees for overseas transactions are so high that I prefer to use cash whenever possible.


Right after the passport(s), tickets, and cash, I always make sure I have my journal and notebook. The iPod Touch complements these items and helps me check email anywhere there is wi-fi.

I don’t have a world phone yet – I just use Skype. I met a random guy in Johannesburg recently who kept trying to sell me on some telecom service that I could use “anywhere in the world with an internet connection.” I was like, uh, Skype? Yes, he said, but his service was only $50 a month. Uh, Skype is free? Yes, he said, but you can also do video with his service. Uh… I finally gave up and took his business card.


I take several books, a big stack of magazines, and my Nintendo DS on every trip. Yes, I am usually the only guy in the Business Class cabin playing video games, but I don’t care.

Here are a few more photos of the rest of the cargo:

chrispack-011 chrispack-012 chrispack-018 chrispack-new

Note: due to space limitations, Liberia the cat does not usually accompany me on my journeys. She likes to sleep in the bag when I’m home, though.

Other Things

Other than the jacket and scarf that I wear, all of the items are packed into the one carry-on bag and one laptop bag that you see here. I also take a much smaller handbag with me (on the bottom right, next to Liberia) that gets packed into the carry-on. I bought this in Hong Kong a while back and use it to carry my notebooks and iPod when walking around during the day.

I also take 2-3 Clif Bars, a travel alarm clock that fits in a side pocket, electrical adapters, and a couple of things that may vary from place to place. However, at least 90% of this packing list is consistent no matter where I am going and no matter how long I’ll be away.

I’d like to say the packing process takes only about 20 minutes, but in reality it’s usually longer. An additional 20 minutes or so is spent looking for stuff, checking papers, and wondering “What am I forgetting?” (This never really gets easier.)

I know that many people are more organized and efficient than I am with packing, but this way works great for me. I’m looking forward to getting back out on the road!

Any questions? Do you have a packing strategy of your own?


Also Read:

Developing Your Own Philosophy of Travel
What I Talk About When I Talk About Travel

Image: JD

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  • Nathania says:

    Why do you take a travel alarm clock instead of using the iPod touch clock? I use the clock on my iPhone everyday as an alarm.

    Also, why do you carry a suitcase but not a backpack?


  • Oliver says:

    Do you need the alarm clock? I’d think the iPod Touch has an alarm clock feature (certainly my iPhone has it, and that’s what I usually use)

  • jessyz says:

    I make a list of all of the things I’ve packed so I can check when I am packing again to go home. I also like taking extra memory cards for the camera. It is so much harder though when you are travelling with a baby. They need so much more stuff even though it takes up less space.

  • Chris says:

    @Nathania and @Oliver,

    You’re right, I don’t need the small alarm clock. I just like to have it by my head wherever I’m sleeping (bed, airport floor, etc.). With the iPod touch there are a few more buttons involved, plus I have to think about time zones and syncing.

    Re: backpack vs. suitcase, I don’t really think of my carry-on as a suitcase, although I guess it technically fits in that category. I just find it easier since I’m already carrying the laptop bag on my shoulder.


    Good tip! And yes, I imagine traveling with a baby would require more ingenuity.

  • Carl Nelson says:

    Thanks for some insight into your travel gear.

    I’ve been meaning to reorganize my setup and scale back a bit more to a lighter carry-on. It’s a touch difficult since I often need to travel with multiple changes of clothes and a dress outfit or two for dance events.

    And it is most definitely easier to travel light than to travel heavy. I mentioned that when I wrote about living out of a suitcase since I’d been asked so much about it. It’s definitely a feeling of liberation to have only a few objects in the world to worry about.

  • Brandon W says:

    My best packing tip is to roll your clothing rather than folding. You will get much more into the same amount of space. Even a dress shirt, if rolled properly, will shake back out once it’s put on a hanger. Socks and underwear are easy to roll. My next best tip is to NOT pack air. For example, shoes have lots of open space. Take rolled socks and stuff them in the shoes, or use the shoes as security for easily damaged items like glasses or electronics.

  • NatalieL says:

    Everything in the same colour family – so everything goes with everything else. If you drip sauce on your shirt (who, me?) and every shirt you own goes with the pants you are wearing it makes life easier. Typically that is like black, white and a colour for cool climates and khaki, white and a colour for warm climates.

    I love my blanket/pillow combo by Lug, the pillow is a blow up for space efficiency and the pillow case is the holder – and I always think of leaving it at home, but it’s come in too useful on trains, planes, picnics… It’s made of that fuzzy polypro stuff and it’s warm, light and washes easily. The blanket has a little pocket with a button closure for your ipod.

    Great tips, I like the reminder about the journal and notebook.
    have great time on your trip!

  • CindiC says:

    I pack for a family of 4 so my list is longer but there was a lot to gain from your list. We also packs books but cheap, used ones so we can leave them behind (then use the space for a purchase). I have a list in Excel that I use for long, short and other trips like camping. Two tips: if you have to check bags, keep one fresh pair of underwear and socks in your carry-on; dress nice on the plane – it gives you a better chance of an upgrade we’ve always found.

  • Tara says:

    Do you use your iPod Touch for Skype? Or your laptop? I can’t find any information that says Skype will work on the Touch…

  • Lisa Sellman says:

    I have been packing this way for about 10 years now and it works great. Rick Steeves who wrote “Europe Through the Backdoor” and was my first guidebook for a trip to France, Belgium and and Amsterdam suggested no checked bags, money belt for important documents, and no worries. I have continued this and was good training since now all airplanes charge a fee for checked baggage. I recently went on a trip to northern Minnesota for a weekend with about 30 friends. Even for this trip, people took huge suitcases and I just laughed at the perfect amount of clothes for the trip in my little duffle bag. I often have space for souvineirs which when you take your entire closet with you oversees, you can not buy a thing. I always throw in a wrinkle free skirt in case of some fancy event and keep the colors in the same family and I am set! Happy travels!

  • Susan Blaikie says:

    Great list & tips…the cosmetics,makeup & medications don’t really get a mention though..gender specific I realise but it all takes up space & creates weight. Any comments welcome!
    You mention years of contact lens wear which involves lenses,lens case & solutions & eye drops..a problem I’d imagine in some locations….ever thought of refractive surgery to be free of all this?..I work in the industry & am interested in your response.
    I couldn’t see anything about a camera but have now seen at the top of the page written on the list is camera & charger..really curious how you still manage all this as carry on in regards to weight & size?

  • Anca says:

    When I travel all I take is a backpack and a handy purse/daypack. My favorite packing tool is the pair of packing cubes I bought a dollar store. I fill them up with clothes and then just slide them into my backpack. I also have a small keychain compass and LED flashlight that have proven very useful. I don’t travel off-the-grid, so I usually find I have no need to cart around many toiletries or a hair dryer. More of a travel tip than a packing tip, but I would highly recommend keeping all important documents (passports, railpasses, tickets) in protective ziplock bags — you never know when they might get wet or run through the wash.

  • Oliver says:

    @Chris — Regarding timezones, I actually like the fact that the iPhone/Pod/… has a world clock feature, so I can spare myself the headache of converting time manually. Was especially useful on my last trip where I went through three daylight saving time changes (first US, then middle-east, then Europe).

    Your laptop seems rather biggish for travel. I am mostly taking my netbook (HP 2133) with me these days. I wish Steve Jobs would “see the light” and let Apple come up with a smaller laptop (doesn’t have to be dirt cheap or labeled “netbook”).

    @Tara — Skype apparently works on the iPhone Touch 2G.

  • Andy Fossett says:

    Good tips – in the post and comments too.

    I think it’s a common tendency in people who don’t travel very much to try and prepare for any eventuality. But so often, those eventualities are what makes a trip enjoyable and worthwhile as a learning experience. I’ve had a lot of adventures trying to track down everyday items in out-of-the-way locations.

    On my first few solo excursions, I had so much junk to lug around, I eventually started giving stuff away to random people I met. “Oh, nice to meet you and thanks for the coffee. Here. Let me give you this CD to say thanks.” (This was obviously in the years between cassette and mp3).

    As I got more comfortable on the road, I really began to cut back. Now I just carry some socks and underwear, one change of pants and shirt, and some light toiletries. The other essentials are a notebook, money, ID, ipod and phone (which I pan to consolidate soon), and a book or two (and Kindle is beginning to look very attractive). Everything else, I’m wearing.

    I never carry a computer on a trip anymore. I take travel as an excuse to be unreachable. I’ll still check email at a cafe or computer store, but I don’t want to be typing and clicking when I could be doing something strange and fun.

  • Brian says:

    Traveling light is so liberating. I did a 2 week trip to India/Southeast Asia a couple of years ago in a 22 inch carry on. When I got home, I decide that was still too much and this last trip to Asia, did it in North Face backpack with a slot for the computer. Incidentally, that’s probably the last time I take a computer, seems there are internet cafes even in the most inhospitable places now.

    My biggest problem has been shoes. I wear a size 13 and even one pair takes up a LOT of room in a bag. So, I wear Keva sandals on the plane and a pair of Croc flip flops in the bag. Problem solved.

    I quit packing adapters as well, most of the places I go have 220 with wall outlets that accomodate the US style plug, just have to make sure the device will accept 220. If it doesn’t, I leave it home.

    As to clothes, I subscribe to the wear one, wash one theory and have an extra pair of undies just in case. Learned that one the hard way! I take a wrinkle free dress shirt and a wrinkle free pair of khaki’s and I’m done!

    No books or magazines unless I can leave them behind, they’re fine on the outbound leg but real heavy on the return leg. By that time, I only want to carry my water bottle!

  • Chris says:

    Hi all, thanks for the good tips and questions. Feel free to keep sharing!


    Contact lenses aren’t really a problem for me, but yes, I’d be open to having the surgery done. I’d probably do it in a lower-cost country somewhere.


    I just use Skype on the laptop, not the iPod.

  • Karl says:

    Thanks Chris, I was interested in your packing method.

    Here’s mine on a recent 16 day trip:

    1 backpack (1700 cubic inch, i.e. pretty small)
    2 ExOfficio underwear (wore 1, packed 1)
    2 IceBreaker BodyFit T Shirts (wore 1, packed 1)
    2 pair Smartwool socks (wore 1, packed 1)
    1 pair of jeans (wore them, did not wash!)
    1 pair of shoes (on my feet)
    1 long sleeve shirt (packed)
    1 hoodie (which I wore since I was traveling to Germany)
    1 jacket
    1 pair of gloves (again, cold in Germany)
    1 winter hat
    1 MSR PackTowl
    1 ASUS 1000HE
    1 Motorolla RAZR
    1 Loksak filled with toiletries (which isn’t much since I use Dr Bronner’s soap for shampoo, body wash, laundry detergent, AND toothpaste)
    (side note: *everything* in my backpack was packed in Loksak’s so as to waterproof it all)
    2 books (1 guidebook, 1 “other”)
    1 tiny notepad + pen
    1 Kiva keychain pack (clipped to the outside of my backpack)
    1 PacSafe 55 so I could lock up my bag almost anywhere

    The whole pack weighed about 15 pounds. (mostly because of the PacSafe and the netbook)

    It was the most stress-free travel experience of my life.

  • Nicolai says:

    To be quick: I’m a believer of the school backpack approach, for both short and long trips.

    Quick tip: want to bring duct tape, but can’t fit it in your pack? No problem. Wrap as much duct tape as you want around a pencil and cut the other end of the pencil off with a knife. (I did this while doing a self-contained, fully loaded bike tour.) Also could be good for a long canoe trip or another more “rugged” journey ie. sleeping outdoors.

  • Queen Vee says:

    Wahey! Finally the packing list post! πŸ˜€

    Et voila, our packing lists are almost identical. I just have a few more girly things, and I generally also throw in a sunhat and a little kit of wet wipes, blister tape, painkillers and Savlon (plus Imodium if I’m going somewhere OS).

    I too always take my running shoes, and am always rueful at how much space they take up – I’ve been planning to buy Vibram FiveFingers for at least two years and take those instead (better for my feet, better for my bag!). Maybe you should consider it too? I also take a lightweight skipping rope, for those days when it’s raining but you need to blow off some energy.

    How do you find the iPod Touch for calls? Is it a bit inconvenient? I’m tossing up between the Touch and the iPhone…

  • Adam Axon says:

    Timely article for myself Chris. I’m preparing to head over to Europe in September for the second time. Last time I had so much “stuff” just carrying it around was stressful!

    This time i’m thinking of traveling alot lighter. I’m curious as to the longest amount of travel time you’ve gone with the above setup? I’m currently operating on a plan of 12 months.

    Cheers, Adam

  • EJ says:

    Why jeans instead of light weight easy wash/dry pants?

    I learned to pack less on a trip were 8 out of 14 backpacks got left behind and we had to share for 5 days.
    Now I haul gifts, books and household items across the Atlantic, still cheaper than mailing.
    But for other trips light’s the way to go!

  • Reid says:

    Chris –

    Thanks for sharing your packing strategy. I see you’ve got multiple power adapters next to your laptop. Might I suggest Tumi’s all-in-one adapter.

    I’ve got one and have only used it in Europe so far, but it worked great and apparently fits sockets in 150 countries. Plus it’s small and all the prongs are retractable. Have a great trip!

  • EJ says:

    You might like

  • Emily says:

    I too wear contacts, and that makes the liquids restriction a problem for me – if it’s a trip of any length I have to bring a big bottle of solution and check a bag. How do you get around it? I have to admit that I’ve never actually calculated how many nights I can get out of the smaller, trial-sized bottles, but I usually only get those from my eye doctor (don’t think I’ve seen them at my local drug store), so even if they’d last long enough for one trip I feel like I’d run out. Thanks for sharing your tips!

  • Marv says:

    Re: Skype on iPod Touch: I read a lot of reviews, mostly negative, but decided to give it a try anyway. I purchased an earbuds/mic iPhone combo from the local Apple store, downloaded the Skype app onto my Touch, and it worked! Can’t wait to test it on an upcoming trip to Europe. YMMV, though — I have a fairly late model Touch (not sure if this contributed in some way to my successful installation and running of the app), I’ve found this version of Skype not quite as full-featured as the desktop/notebook model, and I’m still not sure about the effect on the battery, but at the end of the day I can’t help but think it’s really really cool to talk to someone via my Touch. And for free! (Or almost free, depending if you Skype Out or not).

  • Queen Vee says:

    @Susan Blaikie Re: women-specific things (though, y’know, if men want to carry eyeliner I’m cool with it!). I’m a pretty girly girl, so I know what you mean, but it doesn’t have to take up lots of space. As well as the little medical kit I mentioned above, I carry a tiny toiletry bag (actually a Muji pencil case) with 30ml containers of decanted shampoo, conditioner, cleanser, sunscreen and body lotion, plus a comb and toothbrush. I use rosehip oil as my moisturiser – terrific and takes up hardly any space. I usually stuff a thin facewasher in there as well.

    Then I have a flat pencil case for make-up containing a GloMinerals foundation compact and brush, a little Too-Faced palette for eyeshadow and blush, an eyeliner pencil, mascara and ModelCo lash wand.

    And I went to the UK for three weeks and attended a friend’s wedding travelling with just a carry-on.

  • Cheryl in Europe says:

    My main concern when packing is weight. Years of extensive travel and crouching over a laptop have left me with neck and back problems so the weight of a carry on is a big factor. You don’t say anything about your carry on bag itself – I’ve yet to find the perfect lightweight carry on bag – would you recommend yours ? I’m surprised you can fit all that on a carry on and not have weight be an issue.

    And most places I go to now are very tough on the ONE carry on bag only. This has meant (in India for example) that I had to perform a miracle and squeeze my laptop bag inside my carry on for the purpose of getting through security (after that I could take it out). How do you get round that ?

    I agree with your list though I only tend to take one book which I will donate to someone on the trip. Books and magazines are easy to pick up in most places along the way and only add weight to your carry on.

    I usually also carry a pashmina which is very light but very warm and serves as a wrap/blanket on cold planes or other over air-conditioned environments. And I take a small perfumed travel candle with me (fits inside a shoe) which I light when I check into my hotel room to mask lingering odours from previous occupants (especially cigarette smoke) – you can’t always open hotel windows.

    I don’t take my laptop with me anymore unless it is absolutely essential for a business trip. It’s not difficult to find an internet connection in most places these days and I also like to have some “unavailable” time. I can capture everything I want with a journal, pen and camera. I do take a memory stick that I can slot my camera memory card into and send photos from and keep a few key files on.

    I also take a photocopy of my passport and ticket and keep them in a separate place to the originals, in case they are stolen. It makes police reports, replacements and insurance claims so much easier.

    Love your site – keep up the great work !

  • Maria says:

    Thanks for the insight into your packing regime, Chris, and other commenters too! I’m a working nomad (settled in Hong Kong at the moment) so have been traveling with a 60 litre backpack, which is loads of room but a PITA. I’m off to Bali for 2 weeks in a few days and after reading this post I think I’ll go out and buy a little carry-on suitcase. My trip involves 4 flights on Air Asia where you have to pay to check in bags, so I might as well spend the money on a carry-on instead. I’m going there to surf so won’t have to bring too many clothes as I plan to be in the water for 50% of the trip!

    Enjoy your trip Chris!

  • Neil Matthews says:

    Why not make a list of all this stuff on graph paper and check it off everytime you travel, thats what I do when I am working away, it works a treat and speeds up packing

  • The Global Traveller says:

    I also travel light with just a small rollaboard for most trips (2-3 weeks). Travelling light has allowed me to be much more flexible – flight cancelled and an alternative is leaving in 15 minutes? Someone with checked bags generally won’t be rebooked but carry on only will. It is also easier to switch hotels if needed.

    I travel a lot so my bag stays mostly packed and normally takes me just a few minutes to pack the rest.

    The main difference in my packing list is I generally don’t carry a laptop. This saves space, weight (important for european and australasian airlines which tend to weigh carryons), and time (eg whizz through security). Many people are surprised when I say I also find it frees up time. Sans laptop I am online sparingly in my travels and mainly airline lounges with the odd internet cafe also. Whereas back when I used to carry laptop all the time I’d be online more just because I could. This way I get to do more stuff during the day and use my time more efficiently.

  • gavinmac says:

    My favorite travel item is the Tilley’s premium money belt. It’s not one of those money belts you wear inside your pants. It goes through your belt loops and looks exactly like a regular leather belt. So even if someone puts a knife/gun to your shirt and roots around for a traditional money belt/pouch under your shirt, he won’t find it.

    I have one in black and one in brown. I bascially wear them most days even to and from the office when I’m not traveling.

    Ther are other similar-theme money belts other there, but they are either too thick and conspiciuous-looking or too thin and incapable of holding much. You can discreetly walk around with $1500 in the Tiley’s belt, and no one is going to know unless they kidnap and strip you and thoroughly search your clothes.

  • KatherineMO says:

    Thanks for this, Chris. I wondered how you did it with just the one carry-on bag!

    The only part I would have trouble with is: “I’ll try to do laundry at least once along the way, preferably twice, but it doesn’t always happen.” Ack. Almost no clothes, and not doing laundry? That means wearing already-worn clothes at least twice – no go for me… especially not in warm countries. πŸ˜‰

  • ChristiaanH says:

    Great, now it starts itching again to go travel…. (read: vagabond)


    (seriously, thanks for rekindling the feeling)

    I really like the idea of simple living with few things, living out of a backpack so to speak. I’m still working on my 100-things challenges as I talked about on my blog.
    Perhaps I should even whittle things down to “Only the things I can fit in my backpack” challenge…

  • Genevieve says:

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention packing a camera Chris….that’s one of the things I try to always have (though sometimes I end up buying disposables). Kudus to all who said no alarm clock — I usually use my cell phone or buy one….if its small and there’s no service where you’re going I could see packing a small one though.
    I try to never check luggage either though I could probably whittle my bags down a bit more….but I’m not much for speed packing. One time while rushed I forgot to pack any underwear or bras for my trip, and my size was impossible to find in Thailand. I had to wait six weeks wearing the same frequently washed stuff before nursing bras arrived from the States….so advice for is to never assume they have your size in Asia!

  • Allen Eskelin says:

    On my last 12-day trip to Asia, I learned the hard way that jeans are not a good travel option. Going between air-conditioned planes and hot-humid weather creates sweaty legs. Plus, jeans are bulky and heavy. For my next trip, I bought a pair of those breathable pants that convert to shorts by unzipping the bottom half of the legs. I also think that many golf shirts look nice with khaki pants or shorts and are usually very breathable. I figure the more breathable, the longer you can wear them between washing.

    I also found a pair of brown leather shoes that ride the line between tennis shoes and dress shoes so they look good with shorts or pants and that way I won’t have to pack another pair of shoes.

    Anyone else found creative ways to combine outfits for multi-purposes and breathability for extended wearing?

  • Maneesh Sethi says:

    Yo Chris,

    Have you considered the Capital One Credit Cards? They charge 0 transaction fees, and even eat the 1% Visa/MC fees—so you can use a credit card at pure conversion rates. I’ve been using it for a while while traveling through South America, and it’s perfect so I don’t need to carry too much Cash on me.


  • Jean - OurExplorer Tour Guide says:

    “Liberia the cat” πŸ˜€ I like that best, if only traveling with pets can be much easier. Different from other packing list, your one is quite personal and descriptive. Enjoy reading it. One thing I prefer pack with me is my mobile phone. Not international usage, but when the local telecom is cheap, it’s easy to use a local number.

  • marina k. villatoro says:

    I sooooo agree. If you write it down and lay it out, you’ll know exactly WHAT YOU DON’T NEED. It’s amazing how much crap you drag around and never even look in its direction. πŸ™‚

  • Eva says:

    Question for Chris and all of you:

    How do you manage to carry toiletries on the plane these days? My no-checked-bag adventures ended the day the liquids ban came down, unless I’m only going for a weekend trip. Maybe this is a long-haired-person’s dilemma, but those travel-size shampoos last me for about 3 washes!

    I don’t carry a ton of makeup or anything (which is allowed these days anyway – though right after the scare it wasn’t) but even bringing just the basics pushes me over the teeny tiny liquids limit. Plus the fact that for a longer/more rugged trip I’m uncomfortable leaving my Swiss army knife out of my first aid kit. Razors, nail clippers… Do you guys really buy new ones of all these things every time you arrive somewhere?

    Not being snarky at all, I honestly don’t understand how anyone can avoid checked baggage these days with the restrictions on carry-on. Enlighten me, please! πŸ™‚

  • Chris says:

    Hey guys, you are all so smart. Thanks for adding value.

    Just a couple points:

    I don’t mind traveling with jeans or a small alarm clock. It’s not a big deal for me, but of course space is always a premium and every traveler has to prioritize. Remember, do what makes sense to you.

    @Eva (liquids),

    Liquids are not really a problem these days. Razors and nail clippers can be brought in your carry-on, and even though you can’t have large bottles of liquids, very few airports enforce the overall amount of liquids, meaning you can bring multiple small bottles. I don’t even use one of the plastic bags you are supposed to put them in and have only been stopped for personal screening twice in the past 100 flights all over the world. Both times they have just said, “Oh, next time use a bag.”

    @Neil (making a list),

    Yes, I should probably make a formal list and it would save a bit of time. But also, I take so little stuff that it’s not usually a big deal. My thinking is that if I can pack for two weeks in 40 minutes or less, I’m happy.

    @Emily (contact lens solution),

    I have two of the smaller bottles and refill them from a larger bottle at home. When I’m gone longer than two weeks, it can be a problem – but in that case I might just buy some solution locally in the stop where I’m staying longest.

    Good luck everyone! I’ll try to check in later if there a lot of additional questions.

  • AL says:


    Lush do a good range of solid shampoos and conditioners, that last for a crazy amount of washes, and don’t take up much space or weigh much

  • Lisa Firke says:

    Hi, Chris. Love your articles (and the new ebook!) and I’m always curious what other people pack and what their travel strategies are. Since you travel so much, yours are particularly valuable.

    I find that there isn’t all that much out there in terms of advice for women travelers. A man’s wardrobe is typically a lot less complex than a woman’s, for example. The best strategy for any traveler, as you say, is to travel light and be open to the new experiences that come when you come to seek something out at your destination.

  • Karen says:

    So, do you have a certain brand of luggage or carry-on bags you like the best? Also, what do you bring home from your trips? gifts, souvenirs, etc.? I ask because when I travel by motorcycle with my husband on very long trips I limit myself to small items, like postcards, thin magnets, floaty pins, smashed pennies, etc. You can only bring home so much on a bike.
    (I’ve had to become very creative when traveling on a motorcycle for over two weeks.)

  • Lisa says:

    Great tips everybody!!!!
    When I travel (say to warmer places for 2-3 weeks) I pack 4-5 light cotton dresses, a couple of tshirts, sandals or flip-flops (i’ll wear a pair of shoes), a couple long skirts, one pair of jeans and a couple of long cardigans…. these are great for layering if it gets a little chilly. I roll everything into little bundles (its surprising how small they can be!) and can get all this plus toiletries, electronics, a book, journal, etc -everything i need- into a heys x-case. with extra room left over for shopping too….
    if i forsee the need, sometimes i will roll up a duffel bag and pack it too so that if i accumulate more things along the way its easy to take them home!

  • Gina says:

    “Razors and nail clippers can be brought in your carry-on” — this is GREAT news! Thanks Chris!

  • adip says:

    If you got the new DSi, you could have wifi and gaming and photos, albeit 640×480 ones. lol

  • Soren says:

    Thanks Chris for your informative post about light packing. As one who is also travelling quite a lot, at least once a month and often much more, I would love to be like you.

    But my problems are related to my need for camera gear and binoculars (as a birdwatcher) and need for books. Unfortunately these are all of the heavy type. When I have been too tuff to restrict my gear I will often regret it on location.

    The good thing is that cameras become smarter and smarter and more capable. My Panasonic DMC-FZ50 is looking like a bulky camera compared to a small compact camera, but compared to my ‘normal’ Canon EOS system it is a very small all-in-one camera gear. And it is really very capable.

    A few days ago I was lucky to create one of my absolutely best bird pictures with this Panasonic camera on one of my island trips to Iceland (- Even I was also carrying full Canon EOS camera gear with me it was the Panasonic that made this opportunity work for me).

    The photos from the Panasonic can be fully professional and I have used many of them already in my recent printed books and articles. I mention that because I guess several of your readers are earning some additional income from travel writing and travel photography.

    As I am especially interested in islands of the world, I would like to be able to make underwater photography with the Panasonic but at present I have not solved that question.

    Chris, I will take a closer look on your ebooks πŸ™‚

    Soren Breiting
    (Denmark, p.t.)

  • Alex says:

    My boss are very similar in our packing philosophies. We never check a bag (unless they absolutely make us) because of just the pure fear of the airline losing the bags!

  • Chad says:

    You have confirmed my suspicions – it is easier to take less. My last trip to China I took a large checked bag and enough clothes for a week. In reality I (actually my fiance πŸ˜‰ washed my clothes for me in the hotel, so I ended up just rotating clothes every other day. This time I’m taking no more than 3 days worth of clothes (just to be sure stuff has time to hang dry) packed into a carry on even though I’m staying twice as long. Main advantage to carry on only – I get to see my little lady that much sooner. When you’ve been waiting for 6 months every second of delay once you’re off the plane counts!

  • Jason Olshefsky says:

    I usually end up worrying I’ll have nothing to do and pack too much in the way of things to do (that is, if I’m specifically going somewhere boring or where there’s a lot of waiting). I end up never using that stuff. Perhaps I’ll just pack one book instead. My sketchbook could use to be smaller, too.

    Anyway, I’ve been running barefoot for about 3 or 4 years now and I’m much happier than when I ran with shoes (and with much less pain). It’s definitely different, requiring both callous development (gradual training) and an adjusted stride (never heel-strike; land on the ball of the foot). By learning this, you could get away from the shoes too. See for the best resource on the web.

  • Adam C says:

    Great article.

    I find toiletries to be the most difficult. I don’t like getting sick and like to have some good medicines with me. Especially codeine and pseudoepherine for colds and flus which can really strike you down when travelling (and they’re banned in a lot of countries). I also take a hefty dose of vitamins when travelling as my diet sometimes is really bad. I might try combining all my vitamins into a single jar, but am concerned this will make me look like a drug dealer πŸ˜‰

    My other challange is electronics and cables. Think charger for IPOD, phone and camera. I must see if I can find a light-weight solution.

    But, after reading so much from Kiwi Flyer and others who do it – my next trip will attempt to be without checked luggage.

  • Daniel Mick says:

    Couldn’t endorse less-is-more any more. I lived with the same basic setup as above for 6 months in India. The freedom is unbelievable. I felt sorry for all the saps with enormous backpacks filled with stuff they never used but constantly had to lug around, worry about being stolen, never finding a place they could store it, unable to carry for day hikes, etc….

    My #1 packing tip: extra large ziplock bags.

    First, they’re a spacesaving boon (fold clothes nicely, fill, seal, then with a small ‘pucker’ suck the rest of the air out. Reduces volume by half or more). Next, they’re great organizationally (each bag slides in and out with ease thus avoiding unpacking items you don’t need. Also, you can sort by day, clothing type, clean/dirty, etc). Finally, they have all kinds of other benefits such as keeping your clothes dry if you bag gets wet, making baggage checks a zip, and you always have handy ziplocks for what other need arises.

  • Karen says:

    The extra large ziplock bags are great! I use them on motorcycle trips. They keep clothes dry and organized! (A Bonus!!)

  • Brad says:

    Great list. We often go through life with more baggage than we need, in more ways than one. Rolling is the way to go, I do this on business travel and find it takes less space. If needed I can iron on a business trip. I’m torn between a small rolling suitcase/carry-on and a day pack size pack. Find I switch between the two. Rolling is easier in cities but for a distance, or in snow the pack is much better. I also take an empty water bottle.

  • Dave M says:

    Chris: This is actually one of my favorite posts because I got a new job a couple years ago that requires me to travel a lot more than I ever did before. Traveling light has always been a huge desire and challenge for me. Unfortunately, as a computer engineer, I have to take a certain amount of “equipment” besides just my laptop wherever I go. But I’m constantly trying to prune that list down.

    As for clothes, I’m a bit of a clean freak, and I get creeped out by the idea of only having two pairs of pants on a 4-5+ day trip. πŸ™‚ How do you do that??? I know you said you often do laundry once or twice, but not always. On many of my jobs, I’ll actually get a bit sweaty and can’t imagine wearing those pants, and certainly not the same shirt, for a 2nd day without washing them. πŸ™‚

    So, how many days in a row do you typically wear a pair of pants or a shirt? Are any of your clothes those special travel fabrics that you can actually wash in hotel sink and they dry pretty rapidly just being hung up?

    The other thing that surprised me about this post is how many books, magazines and notebooks/journals you carry. Since you already carry a laptop, I’m surprised you don’t just use something like OneNote or EverNote for your notetaking and journaling, and make sure you always have a nice collection of e-mags and/or ebooks to read. Seems like that would lighten your load quite a bit.

    Aside from all that… Can I just say — I freakin’ LOVE your blog and your writing style!!! It seems like I’ve been reading your stuff non-stop since I found a link to your manifesto on Seth Godin’s site a few days ago. I already finished the manifesto, and plan to start your “279 Days” report later today.

    Thanks for everything you do!


  • Dave M says:

    Here’s something I found a couple years ago that might help others pack a little lighter… It’s a shaving oil called “Shave Secret”, and it comes in a tiny little bottle you can have in your carry-on. You only need like 3-5 drops (so one bottle lasts quite a while), rub it on (after wetting), and shave. The stuff is amazing and has prevented razor burn & bumps for me. I get mine at Walmart, but you can also get it at Check it out!

  • Dawn McCaslin says:

    First, I’d like to say that my partner and I just finished a 10 day trip to Denmark, Norway and Sweden with little more than a carry-on each and one small camera-backpack. I used to be a two-suitcases and 20 pairs of shoes kind of girl so this was a major feat and personal victory.

    Secondly, someone mentioned using Dr. Bronner’s organic soap for a number of things to help conserve on space. While I agree that it works beautifully as body wash and laundry detergent, using it as toothpaste was a horrific experience so I would recommend that people try it at home before opting not to bring toothpaste. @_@

    Happy traveling, everyone!

  • KarenJ says:

    Oh yeah, ziplock bags are a great idea. As for the toiletries, bring small bottles and buy bigger when you arrive. Unless you’re headed for a tent in the bush, there is NOTHING you can’t find when you get there (and at the least you’ll find it at the airport). Yeah, it may be a bit more money — especially if you leave it behind every time you move to a new location — but it’s totally worth not having to lug it across an ocean in the first place.

    And you get the added bonus of shopping in a local market or pharmacy and seeing all kinds of interesting products and labels (e.g., baby shampoo with a heretofore “unknown” floral scent and Thai characters). This is always one of my favorite parts of going to new countries and locales (also shopping in grocery markets).

    People wear contacts all over the world; I have never had a problem finding solution when I need it. Just make sure you buy sealed products so you know they’re legit.

  • JUWIL says:

    Wow, lots of very helpful information here. Thanks everyone!
    I am planning a 10 month trip around the world and after finding all these wonderful tips on light packing I believe I will be able to make do with my 30L backpack. Nobody (in my circle) seems to believe I will manage with this backpack… πŸ™‚
    For those of you out there who wear contacts, have you ever tried the night and day contacts? You are supposed to be able to wear them for a month without having to take them out, it saves a lot of hassle and apparently is good for the eyes because the lens are more breatheable than traditional ones and there is less risk of infection because you’re not touching them every day. I absolutely LOVE them and am planning on taking some along without having to worry about contact lens solution.

  • Darrick J Lee says:

    I wish they made long term contacts in my prescription. Alas, I have to settle for 10 hour ones which barely last a work day for me. My eyes are too advanced for the surgery so I’ll have to check back in 5 years. As a result I still have to carry glasses and solution when I travel.
    I have been looking for good size carry on bags/luggage to store everything and wonder what other people use. I have managed to consolidate all cables to be usb powered which can be charged through the laptop or a usb brick. I learned to bundle pack and that makes everything much easier. I’ve gone on short (2-3 day) trips with everything wrapped in a big sheet…
    I love finding out what/how other people pack… A collective of ideas results in an efficient travel process… and I like efficiency…

  • Tim Richards says:

    Totally agree with your philosophy; I always travel with just one cabin luggage-sized bag (actually a small backpack). A few small differences with your list, ie I only take one pair of shoes, a pair of black walking boots which also look fine in restaurants.

  • Jon says:

    I travel about once a year and have been taking less stuff with me on each trip. After reading on your site and some other websites about how much easier it is to not have checked baggage, I thought I would try it on my trip to Iceland and Sweden next month. But Icelandair allows one carry on with a 13 lb. limit! And one “handbag”. I can’t manage that. I wonder why their weight limit is so much less than other airlines?

  • karen says:

    I use extended wear contact lenses, you put them in and leave them in for 30 days then throw them away. Yes, you can sleep in them, it is great being able to see when you wake up! No solutions required

  • Ralph says:

    Black is the color that shows no color… I always take dark colored clothing and accessories that hide all the dirt and surprise messes that come with traveling. Simple but true.

  • Joel Runyon says:

    I always pack the night before. I can never just pack in advance. For some reason my brain doesn’t really understand that I need to prepare for my trip until about 3 hours before I have to head for the airport.

    That said, I’m a chronic overpacker. I’ll layout everything I think I need for my trip, which is an ungodly quantity of clothes. Then I go through and get rid of half of that and then split the remainder into half again.

    I usually end up with 1-2 pairs of pants/khakis. And about 5 tshirts (you can always re-wear them and its not as disgusting as it sounds). Usually I have about 2 pairs of shoes and plenty of socks. There’s not really a whole lot worse than running out of socks. (This is all null and void, if you’re traveling to some warm, tropical climate where there are beaches and you can simply go barefoot or in sandals which is preferred).

  • Michele says:

    My father had a rule for our family of 6 when we would leave on a trip for possibly 3-10 months. We got 3 pairs of pants, shirts, underwear and socks. Anything else we did without. We would drive from Homer, Alaska to Costa Rica in central america. I think we always smuggled crayons and paper into the car too.

  • Andrew Leunig says:

    Great site, can endorse your travel approach. I haven’t checked a bag domestically or internationally for over 2 years.Our family of five has even traveled carry-on only (although I later discovered that my wife had stowed some of her stuff into the kids bags!).

    For your one carry-on bag I can recommend the Airboss by Redoxx. Not cheap at USD $225 but the bag is very well constructed and has a Lifetime Warranty. I am targeting a 20 year useful life. Doug Dyment, the one-bag maven had a hand in the design. I’ve had mine for about 2 years and it is one of my favorite possessions. The bag works well, either carried or over the shoulder. Very flexible.

  • Julie Anna says:

    Thank you for posting this! During my travels in South America this year I had my big backpack stolen with all my basic needs in it – but I was way overpacked. Fortunately my MacBook, iPod, camera, journal and passport were not in that bag. However, ironically, having my bag stolen was the best thing that’s ever happened to me with the packing problems I had. Now I totally agree with the simplicity of what you are saying to pack. We just don’t need that much STUFF.

    I do the same thing in India – buy new, local dress, wear it while I’m there, and give it away before I depart the country. It helps me be a bit more accepted as a Western woman and helps out someone who needs the clothes more than I do. Since I’m abroad for about 5 months at a time, I’ll sometimes buy seasonal and then give it away before I depart as well.

    Great tips! Thanks Chris!

  • gary s chapman says:

    I am a professional photographer that travels quite a bit. Nine times out of ten I only travel with carry on and that includes photo gear. I have a checklist that I consult each time before packing. It can be found at this link if you are interested.

    I have learned a lot from all of you on this list. Thanks

  • Michelle says:

    It might seem a bit back to front, but if I do forget stuff when I travel, I try to see how well I get along without it and if it’s not missed much, then I just drop that off the list next time – it’s worked for me.

  • John says:

    I just travel wearing 3 of everything – t shirts, jumpers, pants, socks etc and rotate them every day.
    I win?

  • Bender says:

    I am fascinated by other people’s packing lists, but I have yet to find one suited to the kind of traveling I do. I’m a stagehand touring with broadway shows, usually for 5 – 6 months at a time. We trek all over N. America going from Canada in January to Florida in June and everywhere in between. So, I obviously have to pack for multiple climates. Chances are, I’m working everyday and getting gross and sweaty and may be sleeping on a bus 4 nights out of the week. (The other nights we get a hotel room!) So, I can’t just pack 2 pair of undies and pray I have time to do wash in a sink somewhere every other day!!

    Any suggestions? Thanks!

  • Abbie on the Road says:

    on week long trips I use a backpack that has a laptop section. Since I usually wear the same pair of jeans for that time and a pair of shoes that are cute yet comfortable… I can pack everything I need in it! This limits me to ONE bag that I can carry onto the airplane and not even have to put in the overhead! So wonderful!!

  • Rod says:

    Great article. I’m obsessed with packing light.

    A few things I’ve discovered:

    1) Columbia River pants with zip off leg bottoms that convert to shorts. Lots of pockets and very durable.

    2) Fenix 30 flashlight. 220 crazy-blinding lumens, tiny package. (they even say you can use it for self protection as it will wipe out night vision) Turn it down for over 60 hours of reading light. Complete with headband to make it a headlight. Awesome.

    3) Micronet toiletry sack, and towel which folds up into nothing.

    4) Benchmade 1100 pen. Light and indestructible.

    I used to always have my swiss army knife (mostly for the corkscrew!) but thats a no-go on flights now… πŸ™


  • Mark Dowdell says:

    Chrono Trigger is one of the best video games ever created. My eyes lit up when I saw that in your photos. I didn’t even know it was out for the DS. It seems like an indespensable item, for sure.

  • Ash says:

    Coming late to this article, but it’s fabulous! I’ll definitely try this out on my next trip. I love the idea of buying clothes to wear and then donating them to someone before taking off. The more I travel, the less I take with me, but I usually take a backpack and the temptation is always to fill it!

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