My Go-To, Long-Term, All Carry-On Travel Packing List (for Women)

January 23, 2015

The number one piece of advice my friends, family, and readers ask me for when they are planning a trip is how I pack so lightly – or how I travel for so long with so little.

It’s true, I’ve spent weeks on the road in Europe, New Zealand, and Australia with just one backpack on my back. When I traveled “down undah” for six weeks, I brought one carry-on-sized backpack and never checked it once (and considering I took 8 flights in that time, that’s a serious convenience!)

The key to packing light is to maximize functionality of everything you include in your bag. The most common rule of thumb is to only pack items that you will use every day – or almost every day. An easy way to do this is to spread out everything you want to pack on the floor, then review each and every one individually. Ask yourself, “Will I use this more than once?” If the answer is no, toss it. The benefits of lightweight luggage are priceless – not only for peace of mind, but for your wallet too (think of all the checked bag fees you’ll save.)

After years of experience, practice, and a lot of trial and error, I’ve honed down my packing items to a trusted master list. But I’m still learning! Even travelers who have been on the road for 10 years adjust their packing lists as they adapt a travel style that works for them. Naturally, depending on the destination, I’ll omit this or bring an extra that. But for the most part, my list stays the same.

Use this as a guide, but determine what works best for you – remember, travel is a personal thing! Don’t base your packing exclusively from this list (nor anyone else’s for that matter), but feel free to use it for anything you may have forgotten or not thought about. Everything on this list goes into one backpack, which I carry on with me everywhere – so everything is carry-on approved. (Remember, you can always buy more of something on the road if you run out!)

And if you have something you always bring that I haven’t mentioned here, please share it with me in the comments!

Stranger In This Town’s Go-To, Long-Term, All Carry-On Travel Packing List (for Women)

Luggage
Backpack: I love my Rick Steves’ Convertible Carry-On backpack. It’s amazingly roomy, has plenty of pockets, zippers, and compartments, and fits into most airlines’ carry-on restrictions. The shoulder straps are wide and cushioned, with a belly and support strap and pack panel (for minimized lumps in the back.) My favorite part is the dual handles: one on the top of the bag, and one on the side (I’ve found that if the bag is only half full, everything falls to the bottom and makes it fatter. I simply flip the bag onto its side and carry it lengthwise so the weight is distributed more evenly – which gets it past even scrutinizing airline agents.) Plus, the bag is super tough – it’s been everywhere with me, and even been kneaded by cat claws in a flat in Vienna and there isn’t a scratch on it.
Daypack: I also use Rick Steves’ Civita daypack, which is the perfect size for everything I need to bring with me on day outings in the city – or even hiking!

Clothing
5 shirts (lightweight 100% cotton, neutral colors)
1 long-sleeved top
1 pair shorts*
1 pair beige/khaki pants
1 pair yoga/workout pants
(these can double as pajamas, hiking pants, and comfy airplane and train wear for “travel days”)
1 conservative sundress*
1 hat
1 solid, comfortable pair of walking shoes
(you should be able to walk several miles in one day in these, both on semi-rugged terrain and city pavement. Break these in before your trip!)
1 pair casual sandals* (these should also be comfortable, not flimsy beach sandals)
1 pair cheap flip-flops (for nasty hostel showers)
7 pairs cotton underwear (underwear can roll up really small, so I’d rather be safe than sorry and bring more)
2 pair bras + 1 pair sports bra (If I’m going somewhere humid, I generally bring all sports bras, as they stay dry and wick away moisture better than regular bras.)
4-7 pairs cotton socks (this changes depending on when and where I’m going. If I’ll be on the beach, wearing sandals, or barefoot a lot, I bring fewer pairs. If I’m going somewhere where I’ll be doing a lot of hiking, or wearing closed-toed shoes or boots every day, I bring more. It’s no fun to “recycle” stinky, sweaty socks.)
bathing suit*
scarf
(if it’s cold, I bring it for functionality. If it’s a warm destination, I bring a lightweight scarf for easy outfit transformation!)
*These can be omitted for winter or cold destination travel

Toiletries
Hanging toiletry kit (I use the one by Rick Steves – notice a trend? – because it’s the best I’ve found. It’s small, light, compact, and the perfect size to hang in hostel showers.)
1 toothbrush
1 travel-sized toothpaste
floss
(can double as thread in a pinch)

1 bar soap (believe me, ladies, if you’re a body wash kinda gal, suck it up and use a good bar soap when you travel. It lasts much longer than liquid soap, and takes up less space.)
tweezers
nail clippers
travel fold-up brush

3 oz. clear plastic travel bottles (shampoo, mouthwash, body lotion, perfume/body spray, sunscreen, etc.)
homemade first-aid kit (I use a travel soap case and fill it with cotton swabs, cotton balls, a small tube of Neosporin, alcohol wipes, and several Bandaids)
makeup* (I rarely wear makeup when I travel. There’s too much else to worry about and see when you’re in a new place! However, I do bring one eyeliner and a tube of mascara for glam-on-the-go if it’s necessary. You never know when the opportunity to impress will arise. :))
sunscreen (I generally buy 45 SPF and fill a travel bottle with it)
feminine hygiene (I like Kotex’s mini travel tampons and liners, which come in a cute little compact case)
“emergency” medicine kit (I have a mini Altoid tin that I fill with ibuprofen, Dramamine, Sudafed, Midol, antacids, and Pepto Bismol)
prescription meds (I bring a pack of 24 hour allergy tablets because my sinuses hate me)

Entertainment, etc.
iPad + cables (My favorite travel piece: one device to access social media, email friends/fam back home, publish my blogs, read novels and guidebooks on my Kindle app, and watch pre-downloaded movies. Check out my updated list of apps to download for travel, so you can further maximize your tablet for 21st century globetrotting.)
smartphone + charger
noise-cancelling earphones
camera + charger
an extra charged camera battery
camera memory card
(I have a 64GB Eye-Fi wifi-enabled card, so I can back up my photos wirelessly on the go)

Useful Stuff
international travel adapter (all-in-ones are best)
collapsible umbrella
luggage lock
(I prefer the spin dial ones, since I always lose keys)
clothesline + clothespins
travel packs of concentrated detergent
(if you can find them, bring the powder balls – otherwise, liquid works fine since you don’t need much)
earplugs (the first thing I pack!)
small tube of duct tape (trust me, it fixes everything)
vacuum seal bags (I generally don’t need this since I pack so lightly anyway, but they can help if you buy one too many souvenirs for friends and fam back home)
packing cubes (to keep clothes in relatively organized blocks)
mini sewing kit (bonus: I’ve never had a problem with TSA over the tiny needles in this little bad boy)
travel inflatable pillow
Ziploc baggies
(you never know when these will come in handy, but it’s surprisingly often)
rubber bands
plastic shower caps (I started following this Pinterest advice for your shoes, and it works great!)
microfiber bedsheet (for less-than-amazing hostel beds, or for budget airlines that don’t offer a blanket)
wash cloth
microfiber towel
(microfiber is up to 85% lighter than a cotton towel, and folds up nice and small)
self-filtering water bottle (I love my Hydros bottle that my best friend gave me for my trip to Australia – it won’t purify toxic water, but it makes tap water taste a LOT better.)

Important Stuff (Documents, Finances, etc.)
passport (duh)
copies of passport photo (for visas)
credit card (I love my Capital One Venture card with no foreign transaction fees)
debit card
driver’s license/ID
health insurance card
emergency contact card
(I just write this info on an index card – name, age, country of residence, and my mom’s name and phone number – and keep it on my person at all times)
electronic “cloud” copies of: flight confirmations, travel insurance, passport ID page, health insurance, drivers’ license (God forbid you’re robbed of everything, you can access this information from a computer at the embassy/consulate)
electronic list of addresses of friends/fam (for postcards!)

Disclaimer: I do not receive anything if you click the links above. I simply added them for easy navigation of the products I do use; feel free to shop around for yourself!

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