Packing time: minimalist, carry-on style. Don’t know where to start?
Welcome to the only carry-on packing list you’ll need, perfect for minimalist travelers. Whether it be because your airline charges too much for extra bags or you simply don’t want to carry so much with you, we get it.
I’m a huge fan of carry-on only and backpack-only travel. Why? Because no matter how you spin it, it really does make you more of an efficient traveler.
Having traveled all over the world in various seasons with nothing but a carry-on and only what I really need, I know a thing or two about how to pack with maximum efficiency.
I spent 3 weeks in Thailand with a carry-on and a backpack. I’ve even done a 3.5-month Europe trip with a travel backpack and never checked a single thing in.
In fact, my rule of thumb is that if you’re going somewhere for 10 days or fewer and the climate is going to be consistent, you really don’t need anything more than a carry-on and a backpack.
If the thought of packing for 10 days in a carry-on suitcase sounds crazy to you, it’s really not impossible. Read on to discover what’s in the minimalist travel packing list and see exactly what you need to pack without any extra bulk and start packing like a pro!
*Please note: All of the products listed in this post are my personal tried and true recommendations and may contain affiliate links. You won’t be paying a cent more, but in the event of a sale, the small affiliate commission I receive will help keep this blog running. Thanks!
Table of Contents
Why Carry-On Only Travel Is Better For Minimalist Travel
There are a few very practical reasons why traveling with a carry-on only is a great option.
Budget airlines (especially in Europe) charge for checked luggage.
While it may cost under $50 to buy your flight, you can’t forget about those baggage fees, which can really add up. The way budget airlines make money is by charging for extras, and that includes checked luggage. By packing a carry-on only, you avoid these fees and still be able to take advantage of the low flight prices offered.
No lost luggage.
Airlines lose stuff frequently, and your checked luggage can be at risk of that. While I’ve never lost a checked bag (because I only ever check a bag in once in a blue moon), I HAVE had to wait a full 2 hours for my checked bag to finally show up on the conveyor belt at London Heathrow Airport.
LHR is notorious for not giving a hoot about checked bags (and if they did, it sure doesn’t show). Each time I’ve flown into LHR, I’ve had to wait over an hour for my checked bag to show up.
In fact, the global baggage mishandling rate—defined as the number of checked bags that are lost, damaged, delivered late, or stolen—jumped from 4.35 bags per 1,000 passengers in 2021 to 7.6 in 2022, a nearly 75 percent increase.
Just avoid the potential hassle. If you pack carry-on only, you’ll know that all your stuff is safe with you.
You’ll save money and avoid headaches.
Traveling with a carry-on or backpack means zipping in and out of places, being able to take public transportation for cheap (instead of taking expensive taxis or shuttles), and ultimately being more efficient.
Large pieces of luggage physically bog you down and will cost you a lot more money in the long run. With large check-in bags, you’ll probably have to:
- opt for a taxi over public transportation
- pay extra for baggage fees when flying (which can add up if you’re going to be taking extra flights within your trip).
If your journey involves multiple flights with different airlines, each airline may have its own baggage fees. This can significantly increase your overall cost if you need to check your bags for each leg of your journey.
Less overall weight and bulk dragging you down.
By packing only what you need, you’ll have more space and less weight to carry around, making your travels more comfortable and enjoyable. Leaving some space in your luggage can be really useful at the end of your trip for bringing back gifts and souvenirs for your family and friends back home!
Packing Tips for Minimalist Travelers
1. Choose Your Travel Bags Wisely
Try going with smaller bags that will force you to pack less. A travel backpack, duffel, or a wheeled carry-on suitcase can easily replace a large checked suitcase and save you some money at the airport.
Usually, airlines allow you to bring one carry-on bag and one personal item onboard. This can be your travel backpack/carry-on suitcase and an extra tote bag if needed.
On occasions when I go with a travel backpack (which is most of the time), I like to pack my purse/everyday bag away during travel–that way I’m not strapping a million different things on my body.
On occasions when I go with a wheeled carry-on suitcase, I’ll bring along a travel backpack as my “personal item”. The airplane seat’s leg length will partially dictate the size of your personal item. I can comfortably fit a 30-liter backpack under the seat without the flight attendants yelling at me.
2. Invest in Packing Cubes
Along the same lines, another smart packing tip is to use packing cubes to organize all your belongings and keep your suitcase neat and tidy. There are also compressible options if you’re concerned with too much bulk.
3. Keep your toiletries organized by “type”
Whenever we travel, we always make it a point to separate liquids, pastes, and makeup from the rest of our stuff. This is a must in certain European countries where they still force you to take out your liquids!
Consider using a dedicated packing cube or a dedicated toiletry bag for all of your toiletries. Pack the liquids/pastes in a separate plastic baggie, then toss that baggie in with the rest of your toiletries. If/when you need to remove them from your luggage for security screening, they’re all ready to go!
Not only will it help you stay organized, but it will protect the rest of your dry stuff in the slight chance that leaks may happen.
No one wants to deal with wet clothes or electronics while traveling, no one.
4. Use Solid Personal Hygiene Products
Solid personal hygiene products are on the rise lately and for good reason. First off, solid-form products are super eco-friendly because they usually have minimal to no packaging at all. On top of that, these things take up way less space than their liquid counterparts.
All of this means you’ll feel good about your purchases and be able to travel with less weight and less worry about potential leaks/spills.
You can find pretty much anything in solid form today including soap, shampoo, conditioner, face wash, body lotion, toothpaste, and even mouthwash. This set by HiBar is one of our favorite options for minimalist packing.
As for the rest, stick with minimal and refillable travel-size toiletries (you can always restock while you’re traveling). I have a set of ultra-compact magnetic travel containers by Cadence, but there are other cheaper options on the market.
5. Wear Your Bulky Clothes on the Plane
Whenever we fly, we’re typically wearing our bulkiest items so that we don’t have to waste our precious luggage space to pack them. This means we’re arriving at the airport touting our jackets, sweaters, jeans, and on those outdoor adventures, sometimes even hiking boots.
On occasions when our luggage is stuffed to the brim, you might even catch us wearing two pairs of shirts/pants!
Try this technique with your own belongings–this will really maximize what you’re able to pack. It’s especially useful during winter travel (think bulky winter coats, winter boots, denim, hats/scarves, and more).
6. Pack Multi-Use Articles Of Clothing
Packing clothes that you can wear more than once on your trip will save you a ton of luggage weight and space.
Try packing tops that can be layered–ones where you can create new looks with the same items. Bottoms are typically bulkier than tops, so by packing just two or three multi-use options and wearing one of those on the flight itself, you can save a lot of space.
Other multipurpose products include things like a large scarf or shawl. These can be used as a pillow on the airplane, a blanket to sit on in the outdoors, a way to keep your head warm, a sarong, or a shawl.
Remember this: if you don’t wear it at home, you probably won’t wear it while traveling.
You only need to pack for a week — just a week. On longer trips, you can do laundry and re-wear everything mixed and matched differently.
7. Pack Versatile Shoes Too
Shoes also take up an enormous amount of room in luggage, so bring a versatile pair that can be worn during the day and the night, dressed up or down. Here are some of my favorite walking shoes for travel.
For more adventurous outdoor-centric trips, I’ll usually bring a pair of stylish walking shoes and a pair of running/trail running shoes.
For tropical destinations or summer trips, I’ll bring a pair of those walking shoes and a good pair of sandals that’ll allow me to walk for miles on end.
8. Pack Extra Baggies With You
I like to bring a handful of plastic baggies in different sizes that can be used for everything from wet clothes to packing extra bagels and mini muffins from the hotels’ free continental breakfast, hehe.
You never know when they’ll come in handy, but you’ll always have them ready when the need arises!
9. Pack Everything Up Strategically.
Once you have everything laid out, choose a few of the bulkiest items to go into your larger bag. If you’re packing an extra set of shoes, fill up their insides with random small things before packing them into the suitcase, backpack, etc.
Then, pick some other items that can easily be shaped to whatever, such as cardigans and leggings, and pack them around the bulky items.
When I use a carry-on suitcase, one side is dedicated to just packing cubes and other flat things (like sometimes my iPad) the other side is for all the randomly shaped things I plan on bringing (shoes, toiletries, travel workout gear, and other malleable items that can fit in the awkward spaces).
The Ultimate Minimalist Travel Packing List: Carry-On Style
Before you pack anything, it’s important to start with the skin and bones of packing. Having the right tools to put your belongings in is extremely important.
The last thing you want is to toss everything for your trip into a bag with no method of organization. You’ll find yourself spending a lot of extra time later on packing and repacking once you’re actually on your trip. Trust me, your life will be so much easier when you actually apply strategy to how you pack.
The Minimalist Travel Packing List: External Packing Gear
You’ve got two options here. Do you want to go with a wheeled case or a travel backpack? Wheeled carry-ons are awesome in that they are pretty much weightless on your body, you just roll and go.
However, if you’re going to places like Europe where cobblestones and stairs are abundant, this might not be the best option. If you’re going to very crowded places such as Mexico City, Tokyo, or Hong Kong, it might be stressful walking/dodging all those people with a rolling case.
The other option is a backpack. They do tend to be heavier than simply rolling something by your side, but with adequate hip belts attached, they really aren’t bad at all. Travel packs are so convenient when it comes to hands-free commuting.
1. Wheeled suitcase
I use my Monos Carry-On or my slightly larger Paraval Aviator Carry-On Plus whenever I want something sturdier and can’t be bothered with having weight on my body. It’s roomy and super sleek-looking. Spinner wheel hardshell cases are the future!
2. Travel backpack
Personally, I’m a travel backpack kind of person; I love my Osprey Aura 65 so much. It’s extremely comfortable because of its super intense hip belt (if you get it, you’ll see what I mean) and perfect for those warm travel days due to the ventilation technology.
I actually went backpacking with this pack and can attest to its greatness. Totally worth the investment. If you’re looking for a new travel bag or backpacking bag, GET THIS BAG! You won’t regret it.
3. Packing cubes
You need to get these packing cubes, they are amazing at creating space in your luggage that you never thought you had. However you want to organize your clothes— by day, by outfit, by type—these will be the most useful thing you have in your packing artillery.
Gone are the days where you need to dig through your entire suitcase for that one thing you’re looking for, because you’ll know exactly where it’s at.
4. Everyday bag
A mini backpack that can fit a water bottle, phone, camera, sunglasses and sunscreen is a great option. Another good option for days where you’re not feeling the backpack look is a medium-sized, cross-body bag.
And if you’re able to find a bag that folds flat so that you’re able to stow it in your carry-on, even better! I like the Fjallraven Kanken Mini Backpack or my trusty Bellroy Sling for something simple and compressible, so when I’m not using it, I can flatten it and store it in my luggage.
For the guys (and gals too), crossbody shoulder sling bags work really well for traveling! My boyfriend is absolutely obsessed with his Bellroy Sling Bag.
5. Travel Wallet
Wallets can be bulky, so upgrade to something that takes up less room. A slim leather wallet is perfect for minimalists who want the functionality and style without the bulk.
For women who want an extra pop of color, these slim wallets by Thread Wallets will do the trick.
Have a lot of cards that just won’t fit in these slim wallets? Think again– this one by Wild Wear made of real wood and can fit up to 15 cards.
The Minimalist Travel Packing List: Clothing
You really don’t need that many shirts, especially if you choose versatile pieces, allowing them to be multifunctional. You can go with a mix of sleeveless and sleeved, as there may be instances where you’ll need to cover up your shoulders.
Depending on the length of your trip, stick with 4-5 tops max.
Bring 1 pair just in case there happens to be a chill at night or if you plan to attend a more formal event.
For summers, in the face of humidity, go with something loose and light. Jeans can be way too hot for summer travel. When I went to Europe last summer, my legs would almost immediately start sweating once I began walking. It’s pretty uncomfortable, to say the least.
1-2 pairs will do. If you plan on wearing more dresses, you can cut out some tops and bottoms.
Useful if you plan on working out, hiking, or want something to lounge in on the plane. I love leggings and can’t take any trip without them.
Long or flowy dresses/skirts are really great options if you want to save space in your luggage. I’d recommend 1-2 dresses for the spring / summer season.
If you plan on going out at night, aim for one of the dresses to be appropriate for both daytime and evening looks. Add a nice cardigan (or even a shawl), swap out the flip-flops for your nicer sandals, and be on your merry way! It’s all about versatility!
Rule of thumb: I always bring 2-3 outfits less than the number of days I plan on traveling. I know historically I tend to not wear everything I pack, so I’ve adjusted for this in the packing process. You should evaluate your situation and adjust for it as well!
11. Underwear and socks
Bring five sets and just find a washing machine whenever you can. Or save water and wash them while you’re showering. These are light enough where overpacking is not a problem.
Depending on your activity level, 2-3 will do. Because I’m pretty active, I typically bring 1 regular bra and 2 sports bras. Throw them in the wash as needed.
When traveling with a carry-on, it’s tough to bring multiple pairs of shoes. Bring one extra pair at most.
Your first pair should definitely be a pair of comfortable walking shoes with good support and traction.
My all-time favorite travel shoes these days are the tried and true Ecco Soft 7 (they’re stylish, comfortable, and have been raved about for decades since they were first created)! The best part is that they have them for both men and women.
Your other one can be a pair of cuter shoes when you want to dress up a bit more, or a pair of super comfortable sandals.
We recently discovered the Oofos slide at our REI store and boy were we sold on it. From the moment we slid them on our feet, maximum comfort! It was like walking on clouds. Not only were they perfect for our vacation in Mexico, but we also now plan on gifting this to everyone we know!
14. Cardigan or lightweight jacket
For those unsuspecting chilly nights, it’s best to have a light cardigan with you. Especially if you run cold! That way, you won’t need to buy anything in case of an emergency.
15. Shawl / scarf
One of my must-haves! I’ll always have a medium-sized thin scarf in my bag. Not only can you use them for warmth or style, you can use them as a coverup in churches, as a towel, as a mat on grass/sand/dirt, as a quick rain shield, or as an emergency skirt if your bottoms get stained or soaked somehow.
1-2 depending on how much you plan on beaching.
17. Sleepwear / loungewear
Yoga pants and a t-shirt or workout clothes are all you need here. Save luggage space; these items can be used as pajamas, loungewear, and airplane/road trip outfits.
Get inspired by the art of minimalism: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing
The Minimalist Travel Packing List: Accessories
Because it can get really bright during summer afternoons.
Bringing a pair of sunglasses straps can also be convenient for putting them on/taking them off in a jiffy.
19. Hat / Baseball Cap
Hats are so necessary for sun protection, don’t forget it! You most definitely should have one if you’re going to be spending any prolonged time outdoors.
The Minimalist Travel Packing List: Toiletries
20. Squeeze bottles
GoToob travel bottles are some of my favorite things ever. Made of high-quality silicone, they are extremely durable, have never leaked on me, and are super easy to squeeze.
If you’ve got a bit more budget to play with, I really like my Cadence travel containers!
21. Hand cream, body lotion, face masks
Highly recommended, learn from my mistakes! Whenever I forget to bring these with me, I end up being pretty annoyingly dry. Halfway through my trips, I tend to just buy some.
22. Moisturizer with SPF
You’ll be out in the sun all day. Save yourself face from premature aging and sunburns.
23. Shower supplies
Buy in your destination country and only as you need them. Don’t stock up or else you’ll end up carrying too much extra weight.
24. Dental supplies
Same as above.
Optional, if you tend to sweat and emit body odor. I don’t really have odor in my armpits so I didn’t need this– less weight to carry!
Some girls have a huge collection of makeup. But since you need to pack light, bring only what you need.
27. Hand Sanitizer
Hand sanitizer gel or hand sanitizing wipes are a must any time you’re going to be in contact with surfaces many other people have touched. Never leave your hotel room without it! And if you do happen to forget it, remember to wash your hands often, especially before eating or touching your face.
28. DIY survival kit
Make a little bag of the following: ibuprofen, allergy pills, Immodium, ciprofloxacin (or whatever your doctor prescribes for traveler’s diarrhea), bandaids, floss, hand sanitizer, eye drops, lip balm, a sharpie, tape, and extra contact lenses (if applicable).
Think about the ailments you typically suffer from and have to deal with on a regular basis and adjust the contents of the bag as needed.
29. Extra plastic baggies
Because you never know, but they always come in handy.
30. Tissue/antibacterial wipes
Sometimes, your hands get dirty. Sometimes, there’s no toilet paper in the public bathrooms.
31. Quick-drying towel
Travel towels are probably one of the best inventions for efficient travelers. They are light, super packable, and quick-drying. Definitely very useful if you plan on having beach days but don’t have access to a beach towel!
This one is a great option if you’re in the market for one.
Very much necessary for longer-haul flights (especially ones with crying kids) or if you’re sharing a hotel room with others. Bring multiple pairs with you, because it’s so easy to lose these bad boys in your sleep!
33. Eye mask
Amazing for planes, hostel/shared rooms where the beds aren’t separated by curtains, or afternoon naps. This one is silky and very comfortable on your face.
The Minimalist Travel Packing List: Electronics
34. Phone / Headphones
Make sure you have everything right with your phone before you go. Get the battery changed, free up some memory space, download the apps and music you need for the plane ride, etc.
Don’t forget to pack a pair of headphones that are compatible with your phone. At the very least, they’ll come in handy for listening to music or podcasts at the airport and on the flight.
35. Camera (DSLR or GoPro)
iPhones are typically good enough, but some higher-quality pictures definitely wouldn’t hurt. For longer vacations, I typically go with my Sony a7 IV, which produces great photos that I’ll cherish forever.
If you plan on doing a bunch of adventurous activities (ziplining, skydiving, kayaking, paddling, ATV-ing) and/or want some underwater footage when surfing or snorkeling, you should definitely go with the waterproof GoPro.
GoPro’s are perfect for underwater and jungle adventures in Mexico. As I mentioned above, had we brought our GoPro, we totally would have captured some really cool ATV and snorkeling footage! Learn from our mistake–don’t forget your camera!
36. External battery
You’re probably going to be out all day, snapping away taking pictures… the last thing you want is to be on-the-go with no phone battery!
A portable power bank is a must-have, and Anker’s ultra-light, ultra-portable power bank is tried and true by so many travelers! I never embark on a day of exploration without it.
37. Travel adapter
Necessary for many countries if you’re going to be traveling internationally.
This one here is tried and trusted. It allows for a normal plug and has two additional USB ports.
38. Charging cables
Bring multiple phone cords since they are light (and easy to misplace).
39. Laptop (Optional)
Depending on what you plan to do during your trip. If you have a side hustle / business to run or have homework for school, it may make sense to bring a computer with you.
For longer trips, I’ll definitely bring my computer. There are just some things I’d rather do on a full screen rather than my teensy phone screen. I’m old school in that sense, and will often make room for my laptop if I know I’ll have a lot of downtime.
Get inspired by the art of minimalism: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing
The Minimalist Travel Packing List: Documents
40. Travel belt / money belt
A travel belt is a smart traveler’s best friend. They are the best thief-proof tool for airplane travel, public transportation travel, walking around abroad, and just about everything else in between.
I always, always use a Flip Belt to carry around identification, important documents, and money that I want to keep safe and right by my side.
Another benefit of the Flip Belt? It’s supposed to be a running belt. I swear, this thing doesn’t budge or jiggle at all when I run, plus it’s super comfortable!
A mix of local currency and your home currency for emergencies.
42. Tickets and travel documents
Passport, student ID, medical card, proof of travel insurance, printed documents of your flight/hotel bookings, visas if you need them
43. Travel cards
Don’t forget your foreign exchange fee-free credit cards, debit cards, airport lounge access cards, and visas.
The Minimalist Travel Packing List: Other Travel Essentials
44. Travel pillow
The turtl Pillow is the only one you need to consider for easy airplane sleeping! It comes highly rated because it has so much support, almost like a neck brace (there’s a chunk of flexible plastic in there to prop your head up). It’s warm and super packable too.
And if you’re looking to level up, the trtl Pillow Plus is even more high-tech than the original.
45. Water bottle
46. Foldable tote bag
Great for doing groceries or carrying your belongings in a pinch. Since a lot of countries are now charging for plastic bags, you should bring a bag of your own to save money and save the planet at the same time. This option is very compactable and can fit right in your carry-on.
47. Laundry bag
Keep your worn clothes separate from your clean ones, especially when traveling to high humidity climates. When it’s humid, you’ll definitely be sticky by the end of the day. All that stickiness will transfer to your clothes. And even if you don’t get sticky/sweaty, you will inevitably have dirty socks and undies to toss in here.
I have this laundry bag set, and it’s great because it includes many size options.
48. Emergen-C packets
Emergen-C packets or Liquid I.V. Hydration Packets are a must for travel. These are a great way to support your immune system and overall health on a trip. They are light, take up no space, and are very easy to pack!
The Ultimate Packing List For Minimalist Travelers: Checklist
To wrap up, let’s review the ultimate packing checklist for extended travel:
- Wheeled Suitcase / Travel Backpack
- Packing Cubes
- Laundry Travel Bag
- Everyday bag
- 1 pair of pants
- 1-2 pairs of shorts/skirts
- 1 pair of leggings
- 1-2 dresses
- Sports bras / bras
- 1-2 pairs of shoes
- 1 pair of sandals / flip flops
- 1 cardigan or lightweight fleece
- 1 shawl or scarf
- 1-2 swimsuits
- DIY survival kit
- Extra plastic baggies
- Laundry soap
- Quick-dry towel
- Eye mask
- External battery
- Travel adapter
- Travel belt / money belt
- Tickets and travel documents
- Credit /debit cards
- Travel pillow
- Water bottle
- Foldable tote bag
- Emergen-C packets
Now you’re ready!
If you get nothing else out of this post, at least take this with you… pack light! Everyone has the urge to pack a lot of things. There’s a scenario for everything you own to have a purpose on your trip. But what usually happens is that we either wear them once or not at all.
Remember to mix and match clothes and evaluate each item, only bringing it if you think you’ll use it more than 3-5 times. Oh yeah, and pack early. You’ve got a lot to look forward to and a lot of trip to pack for!
Want more inspiration for adopting the minimalist lifestyle? Check out these great reads:
- The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own
- Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism
- The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing