Packing for long term travel can be intimidating. Sure, there are stores pretty much everywhere where you can buy most essentials. But sometimes there are things that it just makes sense to bring from home. In nearly 2 years of full time travel, we’ve found a few things that we feel are must-pack items, regardless of the length of our trip.
Here are 20 things we consider to be necessary in our carry-on only travel life.
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20 Must-Pack Items
This has saved my life (well, battery, but it’s pretty much the same thing) COUNTLESS times! There’s nothing worse than a long travel day or a busy day of touristing a new city and seeing that dreaded ‘low battery’ message pop up before your day is ready to be over!
Not to mention, probably a pretty great way to make friends 😉
This is the one we use. It charges my Samsung Galazy S6 4-5 times per charge.
Talk about versatile!! Sarongs are a must-pack in my bag.. though not so much in Seth’s! A sarong can work as a blanket, towel, scarf, top, dress, beach cover-up, even a window covering or beach mat! Plus, they’re usually super cheap, so you don’t mind if they get pretty heavy use.
You can order online from a ton of different sites, or usually find them for pretty cheap during your travels. They are actually one of my favourite souvenirs to find now!
Check out youtube for ways to wear them, there are SO many options. The more I wear them, the more creative I get!
TIP: These clips can help make tying your sarong a bit easier, and they add a bit of style
Nothing feels better after a long day of travel than jumping in a hot shower and washing off all the grime from the day. Unfortunately, this luxury isn’t always easy to make happen while on the road! These face cloths are the perfect add-on to my bag. Whether in an airport between flights, or hitting the town after a salt-infused beach day, the ability to pull one of these out and give my face a refreshing wipe has saved me more then a few times.
And the small pack size means it doesn’t take up much of your precious space OR weight allowance.
4. First Aid Kit
A first aid kit is a must-pack without question, regardless of your travel plans. You never know when something might come up that needs treating.. From blisters to stomach troubles.. When you’re in a new place the last thing you want to do is have to run to a pharmacy to search for something to help!
Our first aid kit is pretty comprehensive, if I do say so myself! We carry band-aids, gauze & tape, Polysporin, Afterbite, Immodium, Pepto, cough and cold pills, lozenges, Advil, Robax, and electrolyte tabs. Everything fits into a small 6″ x 4″ x 2″ pouch, which is important for carry on-only travel!
You can buy a pre-made first aid kit, but I prefer to build my own. I find the pre-made ones don’t include many of the things I consider to be necessary. This case is a good size to fit everything I want to, but small enough to not take up too much space in our packs.
5. This Neck Pillow
A neck pillow is a must-pack for all kinds of travellers. It has come in handy SO many times in our travels. It makes plane and bus travel much more comfortable, and works as a pillow when we have to spend a long layover in the airport.
The hunt for a good pillow led me to the Cabeau Evolution Memory Foam Pillow. I actually saw someone on a flight with one, and had to ask the name! It rolls up into a ball about twice the size of my fist, so fits perfectly in our packs when we’re not using them. This alone is a major selling point! (It’s also super comfortable, which is obviously important.)
6. Hand Sanitizer or a Small Bottle of Liquid Soap
I’m actually not much of a believer in the regular use of hand sanitizer, so this was unusual for me to get used to. But fact is, when you’re travelling through new countries and cities, sometimes water to wash your hands with is a bit harder to find than you may be used to. So carrying a small bottle of sanitizer or liquid soap will make sure you are able to wash when you need to!
Also, wiping down airplane tables and armrests is a good habit to get into 😉
Carrying a water bottle has become a requirement for us. Especially on travel days, and when exploring around the hot climate of Mexico! Contigo has the top spot as our favourite brand, in part because of how convenient the built in carabiner clip is. This offers the ability to clip it onto our packs for hands-free carry through an airport, which I’m sure you know is invaluable!
8. A Buff
If you haven’t learned this already, versatility and multiple use items are pretty much the name of the game with backpacking. A buff fits perfectly into this requirement, so it quickly made its way onto my must-have list. It can be used as an eye mask, headband, hair tie, sweat band around your neck, a belt, face/neck mask in the cold, and even protection from the sun, since it offers UV protection! My main use is as a combination eye mask and headphone holder while I’m sleeping.. In Mexico the dogs bark pretty constantly, and I’ve learned that a rain app with headphones is the best way for me to cover the noise. The buff is the easiest way to keep the headphones in, without hurting my ears.
9. Packing Cubes
If there’s one underrated and under appreciated travel necessity, packing cubes are IT!! When I started using these a few months ago while packing for our backpack-only travel lifestyle, I was immediately hooked. Not only do they offer general organization for your clothes, but they also just make packing easier! Most offer a small amount of compression, so your items pack smaller, and being ‘cubes’ everything fits in better, like tetris!
We use 2 different sets… This one has various sizes so we could decide who’s clothes fit better in what. The biggest one was actually too big, so isn’t even getting used.
And these ones are long and narrow, and fit perfectly in between the larger cubes of the previous set.
10. Ziploc Bags
Ziplocs are a must-pack, without question. I bring a handful each of sandwich and large freezer bags. They take up hardly any space, but are SO handy to have. From open snacks to wet clothes, the uses are endless. I actually used these to organize our luggage before discovering packing cubes. So in a pinch, they’re a great option!
We keep these s-clips on our packs to attach our water bottles or extra bags to, so we can free up our hands on long walks & travel days. They’re also helpful to attach the various key sets we get in each home to a lanyard.
Beauty hack: I use a regular carabiner to keep my hair elastics together in my bag.
12. A Pillow Case
This is one that doesn’t get used too often, but it’s so small that I need to bring it anyways. Every now and then we rent a place that doesn’t supply pillowcases, or worse yet- doesn’t supply pillows! In that instance I can use the case to fill with clothes to make my own pillow. It is also helpful as a laundry bag.
13. Cheapie Flip Flops
You’ve all stepped into a shower that had you questioning the last time it was cleaned… Since we started travelling that seems to happen more than ever! The best way to combat that, is to just bring cheapie flip flops with me everywhere. They’re super small to pack, but have saved my feet dozens of times, so definitely qualify as a must-pack item. And added bonus… I now have ‘indoor shoes’ everywhere I go! I’m a big fan of wearing shoes indoors but after a day of hard walking I’m tired of my good sandals, and these are the perfect solution.
14. An External Hard drive
Whether it be for backing up photos, or storing our movies and TV shows, we pull this out almost daily. Because we spend so much time moving around, we don’t really watch any TV. So for long travel days our movie collection comes in very handy!
We use this WD 2TB harddrive, and haven’t come close to filling it yet.
I also have this case to keep it and some cords together while we travel.
15. Microfiber Towel
When living out of a backpack, carrying a towel becomes a bit of a space-hog. But on the flip side, many places we rent don’t provide towels! So these microfiber towels are a must-pack for us. They come with a little carrying pouch, too. And on hiking days the little ones are perfect for putting around your neck to help cool down.
Special shout out to this microfiber hair towel… My mom gave it to me for Christmas one year, and it’s now absolutely essential to my routine and packing list!!
16. Lush Shampoo Bar
One of the hardest things about carry-on-only travel is trying to figure out how to fit enough shampoo and conditioner into those little 100mL bottles to last your trip. Which is where these babies come in…
Lush cosmetics have created a solid shampoo bar that lasts around 80 washes, so you no longer have to face this battle! They also have conditioner bars. Not all bars are created equal though, so if you find you don’t like one, don’t hesitate to try another. When you find the perfect match for your hair, you will be so happy to pack these in your bathroom kit!
17. A Travel Wallet
This wallet only makes an appearance on cross-border travel days. It’s the perfect home for our passports and birth certificates. I keep a pen for filling out customs forms, and a few dollars in any relevant currency so we always have a bit of money in airports. I also keep an extra debit card in here, just in case ‘something bad happens’. It has RFID technology which means it protects your cards from any potential copying, which is super comforting when travelling!
18. A Compression Bag
We grew up in Alberta, Canada, and most our family still lives there. So we often go back to visit. As many of you have surely experienced, when you leave a cold climate for a hot one, you end up having to drag around your hoodies and long pants, even though you only needed them for your flight. We’ve learned to minimize the thickness of our flying clothes, but we’re still faced with carrying them around in our packs.. and they still take up way more room than we’d like!
The solution for this was to find a good compression sack. This one was rated highly and proved to be the perfect size for our sweaters and pants. Now, we still have the weight of the clothes but they take up much less space, which was the ultimate goal.
Earplugs are definite life-savers. Well, sleep-savers, I suppose. In Mexico there are dogs barking everywhere, which can make sleep hard to find sometimes. I always carry a few pairs of these for those particularly noisy neighbourhoods. Thankfully there haven’t been too many yet!
These are also helpful when flying, or travelling on a night bus. We’ve spent a few nights sleeping in airports, and having earplugs helps dull the background noise enough to get a bit of sleep!
Considering how little space they take up, earplugs make the must-pack list without question.
20. Osprey Kyte Pack
This one falls on the optional side of ‘must-pack’, because not everyone wants to travel with a back pack. Nevertheless, it makes the list because we haven’t regretted the choice to switch from luggage to packs, and highly recommend it for anyone considering longer-term travel.
It’s no surprise that our packs are the most important thing we travel with! After making the decision to move to packs, and to try to live a carry-on-only lifestyle, I did a TON of research on brands, styles and sizes. Osprey brand came up top of the list in so many areas. Not the least of which is their lifetime warranty that they say covers EVERYTHING. Since this pack was literally going to be a home on our backs for the next few years (at least), that warranty was no doubt going to come in handy.
I found our packs during ‘boxing week’ in Canada, for only $130cad each. So the choice seemed to be made for me! We went with a 66L Kyte for me, and a 68L Kestrel for Seth (the men’s version of the same pack). I investigated before buying, and it seems as though the frame will fit carry on requirements with most North American and Asian airlines- which we will put to the test this year!
I hope this list has helped you decide what to pack as you set out on your next adventure!
Do you have any must-pack items? Share them below!