Hello from Thailand! If you’ve been following along, you might know that I have just left for my round the world adventure (and I just got married! I’ll share some photos soon.) But what you may not know is that I’ve packed for my 7 month trip with carry-on luggage only.
I haven’t always been quite so good at travelling light. At 22, I left for London on my first big overseas trip, with a 70L pack, weighing in at nearly 20 kilos. My trip from Heathrow to my hostel was an absolute nightmare; I nearly collapsed on the Tube, clumsily knocked into strangers on the street, and awkwardly realised my big pack clearly declared me as a ‘first time traveller’ to everyone I met.
Ever since then, I’ve been devoted to travelling light and I’ve even learned how to downsize my everyday, non-travelling wardrobe as well. Even if you’re not planning a trip, I hope you’ll keep reading, because I think learning to simplify your wardrobe is a great skill no matter where you are in the world (or in your life!)
HOW TO PACK CARRY-ON LUGGAGE ONLY
Before I dive in and reveal my packing list, I want to share with you the process I go through when I decide what to pack (I’ll also include some tips on how you can apply this process to help simplify your everyday wardrobe.)
START BY CONSIDERING ACTIVITIES + ENVIRONMENT
The very first thing I do when planning my packing list is write a detailed list of all the different activities and environments (beach, city, camping, etc) I will encounter on my trip.
In the next 7 months, I’ll be relaxing on the beach in Thailand, eating tapas in Spain, exploring Ireland in the middle of the winter, riding camels in the Sahara desert, and hiking the Inca trail – just to name a few of the experiences I’m excited about!
From a packing perspective, my varied itinerary means I need to be prepared for many different situations. In Morocco and Northern Thailand, I need outfits that will keep me cool but are also modest and keep me covered up (it’s always important to be respectful of local cultures while travelling.) In Spain and the UK, I want practical outfits that are also stylish, so I feel comfortable going out for a glass of wine without looking like a ‘backpacker’.
Writing a list of all the situations I’ll need to dress for helps me feel prepared, so I’m less likely to bring ‘just in case’ items.
EVERYDAY TIP: It’s a great idea to write a similar list for your everyday life. When I downsized a few years ago, I realised I was keeping too many clothes for a lifestyle that didn’t really match my ‘real’ life. For example, I rarely went out to nightclubs or parties, but I had a ton of heels and dresses just in case!
NEXT, DEFINE YOUR STYLE
I’m very far from being a fashionista … but I do like to look stylish, especially when travelling. When you’re travelling you’re always in new situations, meeting new people, and it’s important to feel comfortable and confident in how you look.
So my next step when planning a packing list is to define my style. I like to use Pinterest to create a style mood board – you check out my board here here. I describe it as simple and a bit boho; I like classic pieces like denim, black pants, neutral tops, with a few fun pieces, gorgeous fabrics, and accessories added in.
The benefit of knowing your style is it helps you to be a ruthless editor. The more you know your own style, the easier it is to make decisions and to only choose items you will love and wear. It may seem counter-intuitive, but being really in tune with your style will actually result in shopping and owning less.
I always stick to my normal style when travelling; the biggest packing mistake I’ve made in the past is bringing items travelling that I wouldn’t wear in my regular life. If you don’t want to wear it at home, you won’t want to wear it on the road. I’m talking to you – Tevas and convertible (zip off) travel pants! So know your style and use it to guide your packing.
EVERYDAY TIP: There is a satisfaction and confidence that comes with knowing what you really love and not jumping on board every new trend. Sticking to your style will save you time and money in the long run.
PICK PRACTICAL, STYLISH + VERSATILE ITEMS
The final step of the packing process is to choose a few practical outfits for each situation you listed in step 1, using your style as your guide.
A few key points to keep in mind:
It’s more important to have outfits for all the situations your expecting than a huge variety of outfits. No one will notice if you wear the same thing over and over.
Dress for the climate and choose comfortable pieces.
- Look for items that are easy to hand wash.
Remember, it’s ok to pick things up on the way. You don’t have to pack everything you’ll need ahead of time.
- Choose items that are easy to layer.
EVERYDAY TIP: Don’t underestimate the importance of having practical and comfortable clothes that make you feel good. Invest in quality and comfort.
MY 7 MONTH, CARRY-ON LUGGAGE ONLY PACKING LIST
Here are the honest details of everything that’s in my backpack. I’m going to try and post updates every few weeks with some ‘live shots’ of these pieces in action, so you can see how my list is working for me. (If you don’t want to miss out, be sure to follow my Facebook page because I’ll be sharing all my updates there!)
In the below list I’ve included some links to help you find the same or similar items. Please note that some of these links are affiliate links, which means I receive a small commission if you make a purchase (at no additional cost to you – thank you for your support!)
However, I highly recommend checking out eBay or your local thrift shop (I buy about 75% of my wardrobe secondhand.) Balancing new and secondhand purchases (plus don’t forget to shop your existing closet) will help keep costs down.
X 2 Bra Tanks – I love tanks with built in bras. They are so comfortable and especially great in really hot climates. Mine are from Bonds; they are so comfortable and the cut layers well under other tops so I wear them year round. I also like the look of these Under Armour tanks; they have a moisture wicking fabric, which is fantastic in hot places like Southeast Asia. (The humidity can be brutal.) I live in tanks like these when travelling.
Chambray Shirt – this is a go to piece for me almost anywhere in the world. I found mine in an op shop, but there are some great options here and here. Look for soft fabric in a slim but comfortable cut and you’ll have a piece that can take you everywhere (think beach coverup, out to dinner, camping – you name it!)
Striped Crop Top – I love striped shirts and always have one in my wardrobe. I choose a cropped top because a lot of my bottoms (the maxi skirt, black slouchy pants and the black jeans) are high waisted, so I can wear a crop top without showing my belly. This one is a super lightweight fabric that handwashes easily. (I found this in an op shop as well – secondhand shops are a great way to find pieces for travelling!)
Tan Sandals – I live in tan sandals, they are my go to summer shoe even when I’m not travelling. They go with everything and are slightly more dressed up than flip flops. Mine are actually an old pair I got from Kohls, but the shoes in the photo are a really similar pair from Steve Madden. I’m very tempted to consider an upgrade!
x 2 pairs skinny jeans – this is a bit controversial; the minimalist in me kept saying “you only need 1 pair!”, but I just couldn’t choose. I’ll let you know if I regret this down the road. Luckily both pairs are fairly lightweight. I particularly recommend Dr. Denim Jeans (I wear the Regina); they are the most comfortable jeans I’ve ever owned and I happily wear them on long haul flights. They are stretchy but don’t lose their shape and I can even comfortably wear leggings underneath them (which might be handy in Ireland and Norway.)
“Wear Anywhere” Black Dress – I wanted a dress that is nice enough to wear out at night (including to a wedding) but also casual enough to wear walking around in Thailand and I think this dress fits the bill. The fabric is really lightweight and should be easy to handwash. This is a new purchase (still available here) so I’ll have to report back and let you know if I made the right choice!
Black Maxi Skirt – I use to hate maxi skirts, but I’ve found they are a great option when travelling; they keep you cool but also covered up. The most important thing when choosing one for travelling is fabric. I avoid stretchy knit fabrics because they take too long to dry and they also take up too much room in my backpack. Look for thin, lightweight fabrics. I’ll be wearing this skirt throughout Thailand, Spain, Morocco, and probably thought Central/South America too!
Sleeveless Tunic – This top is a staple in my ‘real life’ wardrobe. It’s lightweight, it’s a long tunic so I can wear over leggings, but it also easily tucks into jeans or skirts, and it layers well. I can’t think of an occasion where it wouldn’t be appropriate. It is also very easy to handwash and does not wrinkle. I got it from Just Jeans but unfortunately it’s a few seasons old now; however I highly recommend looking for a similar versatile piece.
Boho Tunic Dress – I picked mine up from an op shop. It works great over leggings and ankle boots (which is what I wore on the plane) or you can wear it alone on the beach over your bikini. I love the print on this one.
Boho Vest – I believe this vest is supposed to be ‘faux shearling’ but basically it’s a super comfy, cozy vest. I found mine on eBay, but the one pictured is very similar from Primark. I live in this vest in my normal life and it was amazing on the plane; when I wasn’t wearing it I used it as a pillow. It looks big, but it smushes nicely in my backpack.
Black Slouchy Pants – I’ll be living in these in Northern Thailand, Morocco and South America; in Europe they are great pajamas. Choose a comfortable pair because you’ll spend a lot of time in them. (I’m wearing these right now.)
Long Cardigan – mine is from an op shop and really lightweight. I love it because I can easily throw it in my handbag, so I’m never cold and it layers well under my vest. (Pictured cardigan from Topshop.)
Black leggings – In colder climates, I can wear my leggings layered under my jeans, on their own with ankle boots, or as pajamas. Bring a favourite and comfortable pair. (Note that if you’re only travelling to warm destinations, leave these off your list.)
Bikini + Cover up – I’m actually bringing 2 bikinis. The second is more sporty and the top works as a sport bra for gentle activities like yoga. I always bring 2 bikinis because I like to have a dry one to change into but you cold get by with 1 if you need to save space. My coverup top is really lightweight and works as a normal top when layered over a tank top.
Flip Flops – every traveller needs a pair, for the beach, daily wear in Southeast Asia, and for not so clean hostel showers…
Printed Tank – you could easily leave this out or buy one while travelling as a souvenir. Mine says ‘Nomad’ so the hubby harasses me endlessly about it (apparently 34 is too old for ‘Nomad’ tees?!)
Leather Ankle Boots – I live in these boots when travelling or in regular life. Mine are Pistol Boots from Acne and I won’t lie – they are expensive, but worth every penny. They are comfortable and go with everything. I’ve had mine for 4 years and if I’m not wearing sandals, these are on my feet.
NOT PICTURED: Nike trainers, cropped yoga pants, 2nd bikini, accessories (sarong, jewelry, handbags – x 1 cross-body everyday bag and also a larger tote), socks and undergarments.
PLANNING TO ADD LATER: Warm winter coat, warm sweater, 1- 2 long sleeve tunic tops (I’m thinking of this green one, pictured in the collage above), hiking boots, dress shoes (I have to go to a wedding.) I’ll add the warm clothes in Spain; the coat and sweater will be worn most days so doesn’t need to fit in my pack. I’ll give these away before I head to South America. I’ll pick up hiking boots in the States.
TOILETRIES: To be honest, I don’t bring much. My go to, must have item is coconut oil (years ago I stopped washing my face and I only use coconut oil on my skin.) I bring a little bit of makeup, toothpaste and deodorant. I pickup soap/shampoo/etc as I go.
ELECTRONICS – Universal power adapter, iPhone and charger, very old Dell netbook, and an external power bank (which is the best thing I’ve bought in a long time!)
I pack everything in this Volcom Backpack and I shove everything into a few small packing cubes.
And that’s it! I hope you found my advice on how to pack carry-on luggage only helpful. I feel really confident and happy with my list, but as I mentioned I’ll be checking in over the next 7 months to with photos and I’ll let you know what is (or isn’t working) for me. For live updates from the road be sure to check me out on Instagram!
What is the longest you’ve travelled with carry-on luggage? Any must have items or tips I’ve left out? Let me know in the comments! x
17 thoughts on “How to Pack Carry-On Luggage Only – For a 7 Month Trip!”
I’d like to hear about your face care routine and how you gave up washing and replaced with just coconut oil.
Awesome to have such a condensed list! I always find that I end up wearing the same items over and over anyway so carry-on only is the way to go (especially when dealing with trains, planes and rental cars). Toiletries and shoes end up taking a large chunk of space for me, but light layers are great for mixing and matching!
I actually really need to do a follow up to this post! In the end, I ended up donating a few things, losing a few things, and picking up a few things along the way. And shoes definitely take up a large chunk of space for me too! Thanks for stopping by 🙂
That is pretty awesome! I’ll try your tips on my short trip to Marco Island, Florida next week using only a carry on. I’ll let you know how it goes. Thank you.
How was it?? Sorry I missed your comment. Miss you! x
You’re a woman after my heart! I travel constantly for work and never, ever ever bring more than a small carryon backpack. I’ve traveled for weeks at a time in the winter and still stuck to one small carryon. 🙂 My keys are: pack as few shoes as possible, make sure absolutely everything can be mixed and matched (basically I only pack things that are black or black & white), and accept that you will rewear the same things and most people will never notice. 🙂 A few scarves or different big earrings will make an outfit seem totally new!
Congrats on getting married! And on leaving on your big trip! Can’t wait to hear more about all of it.
Thank you for your comment and well wishes 🙂 I’ll confess shoes are actually a tough point for me – 4 pairs is still a bit much and I’ll have to pick up a pair of heels down the road for a wedding I’m going to as well! (I’m hoping to find something at an op-shop and then I can re-donate them when I’m done.)
I completely agree about the scarves/earrings trick! Accessories can make such a difference.
Wow! I love reading how others pack small for big trips. I’m super on board with the idea of building your wardrobe based on your style rather than trends. It helps to keep things small while being versatile. A few months ago when I went on vacation I challenged myself to bring everything in a carryon, and that was just for a week! 7 months from a carryon is awesome.
Hi Erin! I love reading other people packing lists and capsule wardrobes too. Great work going carry-on for your vacation; the truth is going carry-on for a long trip isn’t much different because you just re-wear the same things all the time. I do like buying accessories (scarves, jewelry, etc) while I travel and it keeps things interesting and true to my style. Thanks for commenting!
There is so much awesomeness in this one post Jen! Way to prove you can be stylish, functional and practical as a travelling woman all at the same time 😀 I will definitely be more mindful of what I bring with me when I travel. Actually, I’m on a work conference 3 hours away from home for 4 days… I brought 2 medium sized bags and a small luggage bag of clothes >.> lol! I can probably have cut that down haha
Hey Jaymee! Thanks for the comment. Ha ha, it’s a bit of an art. I’m an obsessed packer, I start planning months before I go – it’s like a puzzle for me! Plus I’m lazy and I hate carrying bags, so I travel light out of necessity 😉
Great choices, Jennifer, & congratulations on the wedding & amazing trip! Can’t wait to see your photos. ?
Hey, I happened to click on this post again and realized we carry the same backpack down to the colors! I carry the medium though, but it’s a fun coincidence!
Really? It’s a great bag! x
I’m glad you’re posting while you’re on your trip!
This is very useful, as I am good at packing but bad at packing a reasonably small and carry-able amount. 🙂 I think one thing that really trips me up is that I get cold SUPER easily, and so I always feel like I have to pack a lot of warm (i.e. heavy, bulky) stuff to avoid ending up in a situation where I don’t have any way of getting warm. Your cardigan and leggings ideas are good though — cardigans pack smaller than sweatshirts, which is what I usually end up bringing.
Hi Sarah! Well … being cold will be a test for me. I’ve been living in a subtropical climate for the past few years, so my tolerance for being cold has definitely dropped!
My plan is to buy a good jacket and a really heavy sweater when I get to Europe; I figure whenever I’ll be travelling I’ll be wearing these 2 items so I don’t have to worry about fitting them in my bag (and I’ll donate them to charity before I head to South America.) In theory, I think I’ll take the big layers off when I’m indoors so it won’t be a big deal wearing the same thing all the time. I’ll let you know how it works out! 🙂