People all over the world are discovering the benefits of minimalism. Less clutter, more purpose. As a traveller I see people lugging around huge suitcases and bags for their one to two weeks vacations. I want to share my carry-on only packing list with you, so you can avoid this all this unnecessary weight dragging you down on your travels.

I have travelled most of my time for over 6 years now. I do so with only a carry-on backpack. All of the carry on packing hacks may not be for everybody, but you can pick and chose. And hopefully these minimalist travel tips will lighten your carry-on to an acceptable weight.

The short answers on traveling with a carry-on only:

1. Drop everything but the essentials. Do you really need an extra pair of shoes for that one evening out? Probably not. Embrace minimalism.

2. Roll, don’t fold. Unless you have a shirt with you that really can’t be wrinkled. Just roll up your clothes and they will take up less space, and everything will be easier to organize.

3. Compression packing cubes. Basically reduces the space your clothes use by half. Packing cubes in general are a great way organize your items too. Again, be aware that it may wrinkle your dress shirts etc.

4. Merino wool and fabric made for travelling. Can often be worn multiple days without being washed. Allows you to bring less clothes.

5. Pick up travel sized items. A standard electric beard trimmer, or a huge hairbrush can eat up a lot of room in your carry-on. Always be mindful of what items you buy, but don’t go overboard with this tip. Sometimes the regular sized items are worth the space they take up in your carry-on bag.

6. Related to previous tips, ignore the packing blogs and YouTube videos trying to sell you things you really don’t need. S shaped hooks, fancy toiletry bags that stick to the wall, essential oils, …multipurpose tools? You are going out traveling, not to fix a wobbly table. Be critical.

Carry-on packing list

To give you an idea of how to pack I will share my normal carry-on packing list for a hotter climate with you.

You should note that it is easier to travel with a carry-on in the hotter climates than it is to so in cold climates. This is mostly because you will need to bring bigger shoes, and a thicker jacket for cold places.

However, an easy work-around for this is to wear the jacket and bigger shoes when moving around (especially on the plane where you may get your bag weighed).

Organizing a carry-on bag

First off, heres the bag I use: Bobby Urban Anti-Theft Backpack. It is not a big bag by any means. Rolled up it holds about 20 liters and usually ends up weighing around 5.5 KG loaded.

It is important to create a system in your carry-on bag. Since it is so small things will be squished together a bit. In large suitcases you have a lot more room to play with, for this type of packing there is not so much wiggle room here.

I organize my items in categories:

1. Undergarments

I use Eagle Creeks small compression packing cube to organize my underwear and socks.

As a man my underwear obviously packs differently than a womans (sorry ladies!). I usually stick to around 5 pairs of underwear plus the one I am wearing. I mostly wear merino wool and Ex Officios underwear (Amazon affiliate link). Both types are very smell resistant, so if necessary I can wear them for multiple days without worrying about smelling bad.

packing cubes full of undergarments from carry-on only packing list
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I also keep my socks in this carry on packing cube. Since this particular carry-on only packing list is geared towards hotter climate I usually only bring three pairs of socks. I don’t usually care about what fabric the socks are, from my experience you end up having to change them everyday anyway.

Why only three pairs of socks, and a total of six pairs of underwear? Sandals.

However, if you think you will be wearing shoes most of the time, bringing more socks won’t take up a lot of room in your carry-on.

2. pants, shirts & sweaters

A medium sized compression packing cube is the perfect size for rolled up pants, t-shirts, shirts and anything else of that size.

When rolled up you will be amazed at how much clothes you are able to fit in the carry on packing cubes. I usually fit 4 short sleeve shirts, one pair of jeans, two pairs of shorts (one quick drying for swimming), and some kind of long sleeved shirt that can be worn at night.

everything in the carry-on only packing list laid out: macbook, packing cubes, toiletries, and the electronics
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Everything I like to bring for the tropics

This category depends a lot on personal preference. In hotter climates you can usually get away with only bringing t-shirts and one long sleeved item for the colder evenings. If you get cold easily (I’m Norwegian), bring a sweater and/or light jacket.

I only bring one pair of jeans, and let them breathe when not in use.

I bring two pair of shorts because that is what will primarily worn (particularly in the tropics). Having two allows for some flexibility if you need to wash the other. Let one of them be some kind of quick drying sports fabric. It’s excellent for swimming, and allows you to exercise more comfortably.

For the shirts I like to bring a mix of cotton and merino wool. Merino wool is great, and can be worn multiple times before smelling, but it is still wool.. So it can be mildly itchy on those days you are sweating a lot.

Cotton on the other hand needs to be washed a lot more, but is cooler to wear in the heat, and never itches. If it is your first time traveling like this, try 50/50 and see what you like.

A word on linen: It’s very breathable and comfortable. Unfortunately it looks bad after a day in a compression packing cube. If you want to bring linen items make sure you have an ironing board available, or keep it outside the compression packing cube to avoid wrinkles.

As far as the colors for the clothes goes, bring pieces that go together well. If you don’t have any fashion sense, try wearing mostly shades of grey and some black, it is hard to go wrong with these. I don’t recommend bringing many white items as they will look dirty way faster than other colors.

3. Small electronics

A small bag with zippers for your electronics will do wonders for your organization. I keep cameras, chargers, and any other smaller electronics in here.

Most little bags will be good for this purpose. I can recommend getting one with cable management inside if you need to buy a new one. With some strategic placements inside the backpack the compression packing cubes will work as padding for your electroics bag as well!

4. Large electronics

Can be skipped. I bring a laptop and keyboard in a PC-sleeve. But honestly if you don’t need it, consider skipping it. These days you can use your phone for things.

Having a laptop will naturally make you worry a bit more about theft. I always bring a TSA-approved little lock for my bag and use it all the time when I have valuables with me.

But truth be told, if somebody REALLY wants your stuff, and you pay attention to it for while, they will be able to get it. Making sure your travel insurance covers your costly items is the best defense against potential loss of valuables. This backpack I mention above is also pretty sweet.

At it’s worst a backpack can also distract you from the purpose of your trip as well if you end up sitting inside watching Netflix instead of going outside at night!

5. Toiletries & vitamins

Apart from the obvious like toothbrush, hairbrush, and other hygiene and grooming products, I also like to bring a small solid soap as it doesn’t count towards your liquid carry-on allowance. Make sure you keep your liquids in containers no larger than 100 ml.

While you can get most medical items you will need in the countries you visit, I do think it is good practice to bring the most urgent items in a small kit inside your toiletries bag. Consider bringing a tiny first aid kit, some Imodium, charcoal tablets, condoms, and over the counter pain-killers.

If you take medicines I recommend bringing your prescription just in case you run into problem. Make sure your medicine is legal in the country you are visiting before leaving to avoid getting into trouble in a foreign country! Pharmacies and doctors are excellent for this.

Closing the world out is also nice if you need some rest. Earplugs and something to cover your eyes can be a lifesaver in a noisy enviroment. These items also don’t take up a lot of room.

Personally I do bring some vitamins with me. I do keep them in their original packaging in case I get stopped by airport security or police. Again, just make sure you are following the rules for the countries you are visiting, and you’ll be fine!

6. Lose item

For shoes, passport, earbuds, and the wallet I like to keep these items separated from the organizers.

The passport and wallet goes inside an easily accessible backpack zipper at the airport. When not needed, I stuff them inside the bag for safekeeping.

The shoes I usually wear when moving around since they are way more comfortable for long days of walking than what sandals are. I keep the pair of footwear I’m not wearing in a simple grocery store plastic bag in my backpack, or attached outside if I can’t fit it inside any longer!

Washing clothes while traveling

One of the main points to understand for this packing style is that it is possible to wash clothes on the road. This will have to be done if you are traveling more than a week or two (depending on your preferences). The frequency of your washing cycles will vary, and depend on: How much you sweat, what climate you are in, what your clothes are made of, and frankly, your personal hygiene standards.

Washing frequency

If you are in, for example, Norway or Iceland during winter you can easily get away with wearing the same clothes for a while without washing them. Except the underwear unless it’s a special fabic like Ex Officios underwear (Amazon affiliate link), or merino wool.

On the other hand, if you are on a beach in the gulf of Thailand, good luck wearing even merino wool for more than a few days before it starts to smell like sweat. Cotton can usually only be worn for a day in the tropics. So if all your clothes are cotton, you will need to wash them every week.

How to wash clothes while traveling

It is usually not a problem to find places to wash clothes as a traveller. Most hotels offer laundry services. And if you don’t want to spend the extra cash, laundry mat is usually available everywhere you go.

In a pinch, washing your own clothes where you stay is not a problem. Just fill up the sink or bathtub, and get to work. Any kind of soap will usually do, but using proper detergent for your specific fabric type is best. Especially if you plan to hand wash your clothes multiple times over the duration of your trip.

I usually don’t bother dragging around washing liquids for my clothes, and just buy small packets when needed. However, if you want to be more green, you can bring up to 100 ml of liquid on the plane. They do sell small containers specifically made for this purpose.

Carrying around dirty clothes in a small backpack

As this clearly won’t work I have come up with a simple solution. When you got dirty clothes, and are staying in an hotel for a few days, just leave them out.

When need to move around a lot, simply roll up the laundry as if it was clean, place it in a plastic bag, squeeze out the air, and put it back in the correct carry-on packing cube. Rinse and repeat.

bobby urban fully packed as a carry on for minimalist travel
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If you have a backpack larger than 20 liters (lol), getting a dedicated laundry bag or packing cube is also a good idea.

Take aways from the carry-on only packing list

As you can see, you will need to adjust the carry-on packing list to your personal needs. I hope these carry on packing hacks in addition to my personal list of items I bring as a minimalist traveler can help you decide what you need in your carry-on bag.

I recommend bringing a backpack if you are going to be traveling around. It is a lot easier to carry than a rolling suitcase or bag. You lose some of the advantages of traveling so light if you decide to go with the suitcase or handheld bag, but this will come down to what you have available and personal preference.

As a last tip, less is more. There are people all around the world with the same needs as you. You will be able to pick up anything you might be missing most places around the world!

Here is a closer look at the Bobby Urban backpack that you will probably like.

carry-on travel hacks guide: under is a picture of a carry on sized backpack
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