Make Flying Easy: The Ultimate Carry-On Packing List

By Nora Dunn on 26 February 2020 4 comments

Do you want to fit your travel packing needs into carry-on luggage, regardless of whether your trip is two weeks or two months? Everything you need is in this ultimate carry-on packing list.

These carefully selected items are the real deal, curated from 12 years of full-time travel, two of which were with carry-on luggage only. That's right; for two years, everything I owned fit into a carry-on suitcase. (See also: 5 Ways Carry-On Luggage Can Save You Time and Money)

The Packing List for Ultimate Carry-On Travel

This carry-on packing list is flexible for multiple climates and scenarios. Pick and choose what you need from each of the “Optional” categories depending on your trip.

If you're outdoorsy and headed for Nepal, bring your down jacket, scarf, hat, hiking shoes, and headlamp. If you're city-slicking through Paris in autumn, leave that stuff behind and bring your ballet flats and a sweater for cool evenings.

This list is for guys and gals. Use it as your template and customize it as needed. 

Luggage and Packing

This is the most crucial part of your packing list; luggage is your home on the road, and packing tools help you stay organized and maximize space.

  • Rolling Luggage/Backpack – I prefer rolling luggage (like the soft-sided Pacsafe Toursafe 21) because then I use a backpack as my personal item/daypack for electronics and extras. But when I'm going super light, I use one of these one bag travel options.
  • Daypack – Only needed if you're not doing one bag travel
  • Hoboroll – Invaluable ultralight packing tool; it organizes and compresses so much stuff

Clothing

  • 2 Pairs Pants – Lightweight, quick-dry, can be dressed up or down
  • 1 Pair Capri Pants or Shorts – Depending on climate and personal style
  • 2-3 Short-Sleeved Shirts
  • 1-2 Long-Sleeved Shirts
  • 5 Pairs Underwear – Light synthetic material for overnight drying
  • 2 Bras (women only)
  • 3-5 Pairs Socks – Depending on needs; bring fewer pairs for warm climates
  • Bathing Suit
  • Packable Rain Jacket – Waterproof layer that packs down small; use on its own in warm climates, and over your down jacket in cold

Optional Clothing

  • Down Jacket – Lightweight, packs down, for cold weather
  • Sweater/Cardigan – To layer in cooler climes
  • 1 Pair Leggings/Long Underwear – For women, leggings are great lightweight pants. For both sexes, bring leggings/long underwear for cold weather layering
  • “Little Black Dress” - A ladies' staple for dressing up
  • Tank Top(s) – For hot weather, layering in cool weather, and doubling as workout gear
  • Workout clothes
  • Pajamas – Bring dedicated Pjs or wear long underwear/shirts instead (or nothing at all!)
  • Scarf – For warmth and/or style

Footwear

  • Walking Shoes – Ideally both stylish and functional
  • Flip Flops – Can be used as sandals, shower shoes, inside slippers, and more; lightweight and multi-purpose

Optional Footwear

  • Sandals – For warm climates; here's my criteria for the perfect travel sandal
  • Hiking Shoes – Keep it ultralight with a barefoot trail runner like Xeroshoes Mesa Trail or Vivobarefoot Primus Trail/Magna Trail
  • Ballet Flats – Ultralight dressier option for women. Tieks are pricey but preferred by pro travelers

Toiletries

You can buy every toiletry below in solid form from Lush. A carry-on traveler's dream!

  • Face Wash
  • Soap
  • Moisturizer
  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner
  • Hair Honey (Styling)
  • Toothpaste
  • Deodorant – Salt Crystal deodorant lasts forever and takes up no space (all natural)
  • Toothbrush
  • Razor
  • Nail Clippers

Optional Toiletries

  • Hair Ties
  • Menstrual Cup
  • Tweezers
  • Makeup

Medical Kit

Hedge your bets! For non-prescription meds, just take a few tablets of each.

  • Allergy Meds
  • Painkillers
  • Antibiotic Cream – For insect bites and cuts that aren't healing
  • Prescriptions – Bring the prescription label in case security asks, and extra meds in case your return is delayed

Optional Medical Supplies

  • Supplements – I carry multi-vitamins, probiotics, vitamin C, and oil of oregano to stay healthy and deal with illness.

Electronics

As a digital nomad, I travel with more electronics than somebody on vacation might. Remember, every electronic has cables and adaptors that take up space. Only take what you'll need.

  • Laptop or Tablet – Most people don't require more than a tablet for vacations
  • Smartphone – For accessibility/maps/staying in touch/camera; here's how to stay connected abroad

Optional Electronics

  • Camera – For people who prefer cameras that don't make phone calls
  • External Hard Drive – For laptop backups; in some places, you might not have sufficient internet for cloud storage
  • E-Reader – You can use your phone/tablet instead, but no paper books!

Electronics Accessories

  • Universal Travel Adaptor – For charging electronics in countries with different plug configurations/voltages
  • Laptop/Tablet Case/Sleeve – For protection and portability

Travel Extras

These items may be extra, but most of them aren't optional!

  • Sunglasses
  • Sun Hat
  • Passport Wallet – With RFID protection
  • Plastic Document Sleeves – For copies of important documents and identification
  • Water Bottle – I use Platypus collapsible bottle to stay ultralight
  • Earplugs – You never know when you'll need them
  • Ziploc Bags – For so many uses!

Optional Extras

  • Headlamp – For hiking or camping
  • Notebook – For lovers of journaling and sketching
  • Travel Towel – Small, super-absorbent, quick-dry towel for hostels, beaches, camping, etc
  • Warm Hat
  • Buff – Can be worn many ways
  • Resistance Bands – For exercising
  • SteriPEN Ultra – When the water isn't potable, SteriPEN is your friend

Carry-On Weight Restrictions

Rules for carry-on bags vary by airline and route, and some budget airlines weigh both carry-on and personal items. Read the fine print when you book your flight and pack accordingly.

A sneaky trick is to wear a jacket with many pockets and load them up with heavy stuff; anything you are wearing doesn't count toward weight limits! After checking in, you can reorganize.

More Travel Tips:

15 Airport Hacks From Professional Travelers
8 Things You Should Always Pack in Your Carry-On
How to Decide Between Checked vs. Carry-On Luggage
The Ultimate Packing List for Long-Term Travel

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Guest's picture

I am not really so vain, so everytime I travel, I usually carry just very few clothers. Sometimes, I just buy clothes on the place I go to to avoid carrying too many things

Guest's picture
Guest

Don't forget.... 1. BANDAGES especially for blistered feet,
2. easily accessible PLASTIC BAGS for unexpected nausea
(I had a bag for my friend, and just in time too)
3. PACKETS of TISSUES for public bathrooms lacking toilet paper
4. LIP BALM with sunscreen
5. small COMB & HAIR BRUSH

Guest's picture
Emily

The timing on this list is impeccable! I'm getting ready to pack for a trip to Italy and was getting overwhelmed. Can't wait to try this app!

~Emily

Guest's picture
Guest

I've got a question really. The toiletries here look like they exceed the 50ml for liquids carry-on rule that applies globally. How do you get these through customs with your carry-on luggage?

Guest's picture
lighttraveler

My best ever sandals (for being very comfortable super lightweight sandals ) were "River Rapids" I bought them many years ago at Biggs supermarket in Hasselt / Belgium and had leather soles glued on the EVA soles. They were super cheap but the best quality was : they were far more comfortable than any other sandal I had afterwards : Geox, Teva, and other "good" sandals (but all much too heavy to take on a small cityhopper)

Another VERY good item I cannot find anymore : the old supplex traveler pants from Royal Robbins (they were far better than the new ripstop pants : they stayed nice much longer : I had them for 17 (!) years - I used them too for light alpinism, MEETINGS and even weddings ! ) They weighed only 165 grams...