Travel Light, Travel Anywhere: The Ultimate Light Packing List

My bag at LAX on Sept 01, 2009.

Note: my complete packing list is below, but parts of it have been updated in a new post: Updated Light Packing List (or I’m No Longer An Ultra Light Traveler!). After you finish below, come back up and read the update.

Update #2: Ultra Light Packing List (Freezing Cold Weather Edition) – Still using the same backpack, but with a few different cold weather items.

This post has been in the works for a while and I’ve received a few e-mails and in person requests for it so I think it’s time. :)

I actually wrote the original draft after a trip to Germany earlier this year. My gear list has changed a bit since then so here is my updated light packing list. This is all the equipment I have with me on my current 100+ day trip. (Note: I’ve now been traveling like this for well over 500 days.)

Some of my gear I bought specifically for travel and some of it I’ve had for years and it may not really be good for travel. I have trouble throwing perfectly good items away until they’re ruined (like the fairly bulky Nike shorts in the first picture below).

When packing light it’s important to know your destination and your general plans. Obvious, right?

It’s about preparedness. You might visit somewhere warm and then go on a side trip to the mountains (for example) where it’s cold.

So know your destination and your general plans. Will you need really warm clothes? Do you plan on swimming or hiking? Do you plan on traveling from a warm destination to a cold destination without stopping home to change gear? The more climates you’ll be exposed to the more clothes you may need.

The packing list works from about 5° C to 40° C because of layers. That’s cutting it close on the cold side since I’m a naturally cold person. Any colder and I’d definitely need warmer clothes.

But I made a decision to never travel to cold climates so what I have here will suit me for almost any destination I choose. To some people deciding not to travel to cold places means I’m missing out. That’s the beauty of travel and life. To each their own. There are enough warm places to visit on Earth to last multiple lifetimes. Focusing on those places just makes it a little bit easier to choose where to go.

Before I get into it you should know that I’ve included affiliate links to Altrec and Amazon in this post. If you don’t want to support this site don’t click on the links, no worries. :) (That’s not a guilt trip, I’m serious, don’t click the links if you don’t want to.) If you do want to buy something and support the site, click the links. Simple as that…

My Complete List of Clothing

Every last bit of my clothing.

Every last bit of my clothing.

Starting from the top left quadrant and working my way around clockwise:

1) Marmot Ion windbreaker / light rain jacket

In the picture you see it folded into itself. Before packing it I wrap it with 2 rubber bands to make it even more compact.

This jacket is perfect when it’s 14° C – 20° C or when there is a light rain or wind. I use it often as an extra layer under my Outdoor Research jacket.

Buy the Marmot Men’s Ion Windshirt

2) Outdoor Research Eternal Jacket

This jacket isn’t waterproof, but it’s fine in light rain. It’s surprisingly warm and isn’t bulky at all. It also looks great, which is always nice when you’re focused on function, but are rewarded with form as well. I love the pocket on the front left. It’s where I usually keep a camera so it’s always at the ready.

Buy the Outdoor Research Men’s Eternal Jacket

3) Ski mask

I use this strictly for robbing banks. How do you think I fund my journeys? Purchased at K-Mart 10 years ago for $5 and has been used consistently since then. ;) It always gets a laugh or a scared look.

4) Patagonia Capilene 3 Zip-neck Long Sleeve

Light, warm, and breathable. This is an awesome baselayer when the temp starts dropping.

Buy the Patagonia Men’s Capilene 3 Zip Neck

5) Icebreaker BodyFit 150 T-shirt and Icebreaker BodyFit 250 T-Shirt

I’m not perfect and I didn’t make the connection before buying these that they’re not vegan. My brother actually pointed it out to me. These Icebreaker T-shirts are made of merino wool in New Zealand. Supposedly the company treats their sheep well, but any animal used as a slave isn’t OK in my book. That said, it would be far more disrespectful for me to get rid of these than just wearing them.

(Tangent: My being vegan is about respect at the core. If, for example, I’m at a restaurant and they accidentally put some dairy product on my food I will eat it instead of sending it back to be thrown away. It’s more respectful to eat the food at that point than get rid of it.)

With all that you’d think I’d tell you not to buy these shirts. The truth is, they are well made, they don’t smell (I’ve been known to wear them multiple times between washes), and they dry quickly. They do make me itch though. I’ve read that this wool isn’t supposed to make you itch, but I have sensitive skin and it does itch.

They’re also really expensive at ~$50 each.

Buy the Icebreaker Men’s BodyFit

6) Patagonia Capilene 1 T-shirt

This is the synthetic equivalent to the Icebreaker T-shirts. It feels great (doesn’t itch) and dries quickly, but it attracts odors moreso than the Icebreaker. I bought mine on sale for $25.

Buy the Patagonia Men’s Capilene 1 T Shirt

7) Nike basketball shorts

Nothing special about these. I’ve had them for 5 years. They are pretty bulky (especially the waistband), but I need something to workout in while I’m on the road.

8) Adidas Originals Superstar II

They’re leather, and I bought them before being vegan. They’ve lasted a long time, look pretty nice, and are very comfortable.

Buy the Adidas Originals Men’s Superstar II Sneaker

9) Vibram FiveFingers KSO

The Vibram FiveFingers have been getting a ton of press lately. Unfortunately, all I’ve heard is positives. There is one glaring negative to these shoes: they stink. The stench that emanates from them still lingers after a wash.

They are great shoes though. I absolutely love how they feel, but because of the stink I mostly use them for working out or hiking.

Buy the Vibram FiveFingers KSO

10) Smartwool Men’s Adrenaline Light Mini Crew Socks

Bought these at the same time as the Icebreaker shirts, so also didn’t make that wool connection. They make my feet sweat, but they don’t smell bad, are easy to wash, and dry quickly. I wouldn’t buy them again, but I’m going to get as much use out of them as I can now that I own them.

Smartwool Men’s Adrenaline Light Mini Crew Socks

11) 2 pairs Patagonia Lightweight Endurance Quarter Socks

Similar to the Smartwool socks, except they’re 60% synthetic and 40% wool. They don’t make my feet sweat so I hope I can find a 100% synthetic pair similar to these when the time comes.

Buy Patagonia Lightweight Endurance Quarter Socks

12) 2 UnderArmor Boxer Briefs

I’ve had these for a few years and used to only use them when playing basketball. They’re really comfortable, easy to wash, and dry quickly. I was going to replace them with 2 pairs of ExOfficio, but I probably won’t do that for another year. At ~$20 per pair they’re not cheap.

Buy Under Armour Boxers

13) ExOfficio Give-N-Go Boxer Brief

The tagline to these is: “17 countries. 6 weeks. One pair of underwear. Okay, maybe two.”

And they fully live up to the hype. Odor resistant, quick drying, light, and they even double as swim trunks. :) $25, and well worth it.

Buy the ExOfficio Men’s Give-N-Go Boxer Brief

14) Columbia Titanium Omni-Dry Silver Ridge II Convertible Pant

It took me months to find convertible pants I was even a little bit happy with.

The shorts don’t look great, but with a 10″ inseam they are decent. Being that I’m 6’5″ I would like them to have a 12-13″ inseam, but I’ll deal with it.

I really like the zippered side pocket. The zipper closes down. Which is unnatural so I feel like a pickpocket would have trouble with them.

The insides of the pockets feel weak so I hope they last.

I couldn’t find these in a darker color (the color Shade was sold outeverywhere, in stores, and online). While we’re on the subject of color: why do no manufacturer’s make black convertible pants? Come on people, step up your games!

Columbia Men’s Titanium Omni-Dry Silver Ridge II Convertible Pant – S’09

15) Smartwool Mid-weight Bottoms

I sure bought a lot of wool in one day, didn’t I? These things clock in at $60, but they are warm and work well under my very light convertible pants.

No real complaints. They’re easy to wash, dry quickly, and do the job I bought them for. I’ll find synthetic long underwear when it’s time to replace them.

Buy Smartwool Men’s Midweight Thermal Bottom 15 852

My Complete Toiletry Kit

It looks like a lot, but it packs well.

It looks like a lot, but it packs well.

1) PackTowl – Medium

This towel is outstanding. It packs up small, soaks up water well and dries in a few hours. It also comes with a mesh pouch that you can attach it to the outside of your bag and keep everything in your bag dry. (Assuming you have to use the towel and then pack up and get a move on.)

2) Earplugs

Nothing special, just a bunch of ear plugs, including a pair of EarPlanes in case I have crazy sinuses and need to fly.

3) Pack of facial tissues

4) Light My Fire Spork

This spork is awesome. Includes a “knife” edge too. It’s heat resistant (doesn’t melt in high heat), small, light, and durable. You can pick these up at any outdoors store.

5) Plastic comb

6) Mach 3 Razor + 4 blades

7) Pacific Shaving Oil

This, my friends, is the greatest invention ever made for light packers. I’ve been using it at home for almost a year too. No need for shaving cream as this oil softens the hairs and doesn’t cause razor burn. Seriously. I have the most sensitive skin in the world. Touch my face and my skin gets red and itchy. Shaving has been a nightmare since I was 13. While it’s still a nightmare, at least I don’t get razor burn very often. (Sometimes, when my skin is being especially irritated and I shave it gets even more irritated. I can’t blame the shaving oil for that though.)

Each tiny bottle of this oil is supposed to last for 100 shaves. I’ve found it lasts about 50 for me, and I’m cool with that.

Buy this awesome shaving oil at http://pacificshaving.com.

8) Pacific Shaving Nick Stick

For when you cut yourself shaving. Which I do often because if you touch anything sharp to my aforementioned sensitive skin it breaks open and bleeds like blood is going out of style.

Not exactly a necessity, but you can also buy this at http://pacificshaving.com.

9) Razor Gator Razor Extendor

This little tool says it makes razor blades last up to 10 weeks. If you use disposable razor blades it saves you a lot of money. I’ve been using these for almost a year, and while they don’t make my blades last 10 weeks, they do last about 1 month each instead of just 1 week. Well worth the few dollars the tool costs.

Pick them up at http://www.razor-gator.com.

10) Hydrocortisone cream

Did I mention I have sensitive, itchy skin?

11) SPF 50 Sunblock Stick

This stuff is awesome as it doesn’t make your face all greasy. Unfortunately, it does dry out my already dry skin even more. Sometimes you gotta roll with the punches.

12) Tea tree oil

Oh how I love you dear tea tree oil, let me count the ways. Use this antiseptic oil to clean cuts and for blemishes (i.e. acne). I go through 1 bottle per year.

13) Nail clippers and small scissors

14) Three 3 oz bottles of Dr Bronner’s Baby Mild Organic Fair Trade Liquid Soap

I buy the Baby soap because my skin is more sensitive than a baby’s. 3 oz will last about a month. This soap is highly concentrated and I use it not only to shower, but to brush my teeth and wash my clothes. It’s the ultimate multi-use product. It’s also biodegradable so using it out in the wilderness is less stressful on nature.

http://www.drbronners.com or most health food stores (including Whole Foods).

15) Gold Bond Medicated Powder

I replaced Baby Powder with Gold Bond. I can use it to help with stinky shoes AND for itchy skin. Thanks Gold Bond. I smell like old people and I love it.

16) First Aid Kit

I got this kit free somewhere. The SouthLake Hospital packet above it has some aspirin and bandaids. I don’t plan on cutting myself, but I guess if I do I can do something about it.

17) Pepto Bismol tablets

Just in case.

18) Hand sanitizer

I keep this on me at all times because nothing sucks more than getting sick while you’re traveling. Killing the germs on your hands helps with that so if I can’t wash my hands before eating I use this.

19) Triple antibiotic ointment

Again, in case I cut myself. Honestly I wouldn’t have packed this normally, I just didn’t want to throw it away during my downsizing.

20) Saline nasal spray

I didn’t have room for a Neti pot so this is the next best thing. Actually, it’s not even close to as useful as a Neti pot, but it does help with dry nasal passages when you’re flying.

21) Vitamin E Oil

Holy wow is this the best moisturizer ever discovered by mankind. A little goes a long way. If it was possible to get a Bachelor of Science in Moisturizing I would have it. What I’m saying is, I know my moisturizers. If you have dry skin, use this stuff. It’s oily, but it actually works. Not like all that Jergens, Cetaphil, and other garbage that’s advertised on TV. You can pick this up in the vitamin section of any store that sells vitamins.

22) Dental Floss

23) Another Gold Bond

I love smelling like a medicated old man, ok?!

24) Folding tooth brush

I don’t know where you are on the love/hate scale for WalMart, but this tooth brush is awesome. The bristles are anti-bacterial and it’s a full sized travel tooth brush when you unfold it. And they only cost $1.47 at WalMart.

25) Tom’s of Maine Sensitive Skin Deodorant

Made with soothing camomile. Mmmmmm. This deodorant rules. Each stick lasts about 2 months. I was only going to pack 1, but I didn’t want to throw away the stick that was 2/3 gone so I packed it. Available at most health food stores like Whole Foods. I’ve also found this at a lot of chain grocery stores like Publix.

My Electronic Items

Because I Need To Work On The Road

Because I Need To Work On The Road

1) Asus Eee 1000HE

This is a great laptop, but it’s not perfect. 10″ screen. Extraordinary long battery life. Built in 1.3 mega pixel web cam. Almost full sized keyboard. And it’s light, of course.

Dislikes: I wish it was flat. The shape makes it a little cumbersome to pack.

Although I love this laptop I think the ultimate travel/work laptop should have at least a 12″ screen, a full sized keyboard, and still weight 3lbs or less. The Apple Macbook Air would almost work if it didn’t suck. ;) Seriously, just one USB port Apple? WTF are you thinking? Also not worth paying 4 times the cost of the Asus Eee (or any other netbook for that matter), unless you actually need extra processing power (for editing video or photos for instance).

Buy the ASUS Eee PC 1000HE

2) Western Digital Passport 250GB hard drive with Kroo case

For backups of my important work documents and pictures/video of my travels.

3) Unlocked Motorola RAZR V3xx

I got this free from AT&T. I don’t buy phones. AT&T was also nice enough to unlock it for me and not charge me an early termination fee for canceling my contract a year early. (Of course, I’ve been with them for 9 years, so I should hope they’d be nice about everything.)

I’m now using Virgin Mobile in Australia and it’s working out well. (Even though Virgin Mobile has spotty coverage.)

4) Flip Ultra Video Camera

I’ve had this for over a year and I love it. Almost every video on my YouTube account (youtube.com/karolgajda) was made with this camera. That includes the concert videos. Normal cameras distort audio in loud situations. Not the Flip Ultra. Here you see it packed in a water proof aLOKSAK. I pack all my clothes and toiletries in aLOKSAKs too. (aLOKSAKs are also my secret to cleaning clothes virtually anywhere. That video is coming soon.)

Pick up a Flip UltraHD Camcorder (newer version of what I have)

5) Canon PowerShot SD890 IS Digital Elph

It’s not pictured because I had to take the picture with something. :) I love this camera. Strong zoom and high quality photos for a point and shoot.

Buy a Canon PowerShot SD890IS

6) Pacsafe Metrosafe 200 Shoulder Bag

I bought this literally a week before I left on my trip. I debated long and hard whether I need an extra bag. I got along fine on a 16 day trip earlier this year with just a backpack. I decided that I should have something like this because it makes going out in the city with my laptop and book much easier. No need to lug around my whole pack.

The Pacsafe brand is full of theft deterring features. I could explain them, but it’s easier if you simply visit this link and see what it’s all about for yourself.

Get the Pacsafe MetroSafe 200 Anti-Theft Shoulder Bag

Stuff I Didn’t Include In Other Pictures

Other Fun Stuff

Other Fun Stuff

1) Kiva Keychain Backpack

Not a fan of this thing for any practical use. It is, however, good for keeping dirty clothes separate from the rest of your stuff. I’ve also used it to carry all my clothes/toiletries from dorm to bathroom while staying in hostels. For $10 you can’t expect anything spectacular.

2) iPod Mini – 4GB

I’m an old school G. I almost cried when the battery on this thing died early this year. (I lie, if it died I’d be quite alright.) I went on eBay and bought a replacement for $7 shipped. Booya! Back in business baby!

3) Organic Vegan Raw Food Bars

These are tasty treats when you’re starving and all you see is meat. That wasn’t supposed to rhyme, but I have been known to be a lyrical gangsta.

4) Rayovac USB battery charger

I don’t really like this charger, but I didn’t want to use disposable batteries for my Flip video camera. I have 2 gripes: 1) It takes 8 hours to charge a battery. 2) It doesn’t tell you when it’s done charging. The light doesn’t change color. Come on Rayovac, that’s amateur shit right there. It was less than $10 at WalMart.

5) Pacsafe 55L

For locking up my bag in hostels, bars, or wherever I might need to lock up my bag. It’s 4 lbs so it adds quite a bit of weight, but I’m happy with it. I don’t use it much, but when I do need it I’m glad I have it.

6) Flip Camera Stand

This works with any camera or video camera. Good when you want to take a steady shot. Honestly, not necessary and won’t gettoo much use. But I will need it for at least 1 video I plan on making (the aforementioned How To Wash Clothes While Traveling vid).

7) Sleep Mask

There is nothing like sleeping in absolute darkness. I guarantee it.

8) Gymboss

Interval timer for my workouts, of course.

9) Books

Brida by Paulo Coelho and Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (Gregory Hays translation).

10) Jump rope

For use with the Gymboss. :) This is a speed rope from Lifeline USA. It can possibly double as a whip if you’re looking to be Crocodile Dundee in the Outback.

11) Braided Stretchy Clothesline by Rick Steves

This triple braided clothesline is pretty sweet. Attaches to almost anything and keeps clothes on the line by pinching them in the braids.

Buy the Rick Steves Braided Clothesline

12) iPod cable

13) Sennheiser CX300-B Earbuds

These are fairly low cost earbuds and do a fine job of keeping background noise out.

The Carry On Backpack

My bag at LAX on Sept 01, 2009. (Mental Floss magazine in the pocket.)

My bag at LAX on Sept 01, 2009. (Mental Floss magazine in the pocket.)

Deuter Futura 32

This backpack has a netting/rib mechanism that keeps the bag off your back, lets air flow, and keeps your back from getting soaked in sweat. I love that. But the ribbed frame makes packing the bag a little cumbersome. It’s a tradeoff I’m willing to live with.

At 32 liters, this is a pretty small backpack by most standards. Walking around Sydney I see most backpackers in 55-90L backpacks and they look miserably loaded down. :)

Buy the Futura 32 Internal Frame Backpack

Whew! For whatever reason, writing this post took longer than any other post. All that bolding, describing, and linking I reckon.

###

Coming soon: What it’s like to tour the country (the US, that is) with a rock band in honor of my friends The Swellers, whose new record Ups and Downsizing is coming out next Tuesday. :) My how to hand wash your clothes while traveling video is coming soon after.

{ 159 comments }

Jason

Thanks for the info Karol. Its a great post.

What is your packs total loaded weight?

Karol

Thanks Jason! Total weight I’m guessing is ~10kg (maybe even less). I haven’t actually weighed it since I haven’t had to check the bag.

Ankesh Kothari

This is an awesome post! Bookmarked!

2 questions:

1. No formal wear?
2. Why do you use your soap as tooth paste?

Karol

Thanks Ankesh!

1) No formal wear because I don’t go to formal events. Assuming something came up I would buy or rent/hire formal wear.

2) Dr Bronner’s soap is multi use. Check it out: http://www.drbronner.com/faqs_main.html#faq10 :)

Thanks again!
Karol

Cormac

One of my odder items at the moment is a waistcoat – a pure woollen waistcoat that I picked up in the mountains in Pakistan for warmth. It’s not black-tie, but worn over a travel shirt, it actually looks pretty smart. And light enough not to add significant weight.

Footwear is another issue. Many travellers bring sandals/flip-flops, and also sturdy trainers or hiking boots. A third pair of footwear is just too much weight. Personally I don’t like the lightweight mesh-and-exciting-colours hiking boots, so mine are a leather style that – when covered with trousers – don’t look too bad. But when I’m not carrying them on my feet, I pay for it…

Dave Mauder

Another great post Karol – and one of my favorite topics! I travel a lot for my job, so I’m constantly trying to reduce what I carry with me. My goal is to never check a bag, no matter how long I’m staying. Unfortunately, I often need to carry several tools, including a power screw driver, so that has to go in a checked bag. I suppose I could be a little less lazy and do without the power driver — but it sure cuts a lot of time and frustration off most of my install jobs.

Anyway, even though I need to dress business casual, I’m thinking those convertible pants could come in handy! I typically wear Dockers and a polo, and the convertible pants look every bit as nice (IMHO).

I thought I carried a lot in my toiletry kit, but you’ve got me beat. LOL! Oh, and I’m definitely trying out the Dr Bronners soap now!

One question… What brand are your raw food bars? I’ve been carrying/eating Lara Bars for quite some time, but would love a little variety.

Dave

Karol

Hey Dave,

Sorry for the short reply here. I’m kinda in the middle of nowhere right now and don’t have much time. :) The food bars are: http://www.organicfoodbar.com/products

Cheers!
Karol

Dee Andrews

Love the post! I got this question all the time. My family of four moved aboard for a year and packed our entire house in 6 suitcases and 4 backpacks. The stuffed animal tiger was the luxury carry-on item for my 6-year-old. We only learned how to whittle it down more as we continued on the journey. Books and laptops weighed the most.

Karol

Hey Dee!

Thanks for sharing. I think a 6 year old should be allowed the luxury of a stuffed animal tiger. :)

Karol

paurullan

Gorgeous post, great work!
I am not a professional photographer but I like using a DSLR. Right now I am with a Nikon D80. Do you think it is excessive? Would you leave it at home and just keep memories in my head?

Karol

Hi Paurullan,

If photography is important to you you should take it on the road. Actually, don’t listen to me. Do what you think is right. :)

Thanks for your comment!
Karol

paurullan

Today I put the camera and the flash on the scales and it is almost 2kg! (4.4 pounds) And my backpack (Lowepro Primus) its 3kg (6.6 pounds) more. So, no very light even before take any useful item, let alone not a tripod.
I have two options in my mind: getting a little compact camera and go ultra-light or bear with the weight and change the way of take the road.
The interesting part is that the crisis has hit on me so any decision will have to wait.

Karol

That’s heavy, but I completely understand when a hobby photographer wants to take their equipment with them on the road. You can’t NOT take quality pictures if that’s your passion.

paurullan

So true: if photography is what I feel I should no take it out for a light travel. Perhaps I was missing the big picture: having fun out there is the most important.
I will come back in a year and tell my story on how well has this no-lighty-photo has gone!

Karol

hehe, sounds good :)

Chris

Looks like an efficient way of travelling, although I have one thing to criticize: When I am travelling, I like to blend in with the population and that is usually a lot easier when I dress unobtrusive. Furthermore when I visit a museum, church, monument, I always regard it as sign of respect to dress appropriately. Watching the usual wolfskin/khaki crowd in front of a great piece of art never fails to make me squirm. It is like visiting your grandmother’s funeral in underwear.

Karol

Hey Chris,

Thanks for your thoughts. My question is who decides what kind of dress is appropriate?

Karol

Chris

Tradition and culture, common sense, my personal sense of style and aesthetics can all guide me in dressing appropriately. Observing the locals is maybe the easiest way, though. (Of course, that does not mean that you have to imitate or ape them…) As I wrote, you probably would not go to a funeral in your underwear, so why would you wear something similar in a cathedral or a museum. I always try to imagine the history of important architecture or art pieces, often hundreds or thousands of people have worked, lived and often died for decades or centuries to accomplish something extraordinary. If that is not reason enough for dressing well, I do not know what is.

Karol

Thanks for your point of view Chris. It boils down to, what’s right for me is not right for everybody. :)

Samuel Kim

This is a long one but wow. This is a greatttt post. It really makes me want to go travel the world in backpack gear, something I’ve always wanted to do. Thanks for the information, and if I ever need anything on this list I’ll definitely come back here and buy it from your site.

Karol

Thanks Samuel! It’s a great way to travel. Makes you feel amazing and free. :)

Wendy

Karol, you’ve definitely got the minimalist packing thing down to a science! I pack the same way. I recently splurged on a Kindle as I hate to run out of reading material, especially in a non-English speaking country where replacement books are hard to come by. And I love my purchase. It was the icing on my minimalist-packing cake! Just something for you to consider…

Karol

Hi Wendy,

I’ve been considering a Kindle for a while but I hate DRM. (Digital Rights Management) We’ll see what happens. :)

Thanks!
Karol

Hilary

I am going to unpack my suitcase and begin again.
I just don’t need all this stuff.
Thank you for the wake-up.
:)

Karol

Hi Hilary,

:) Let me know how it goes!

Thanks for sharing!
Karol

Todd

I agree with Samuel above; I want to go travel the world now! Great post. I wish I had read it a few weeks earlier though to order a few of these things for my Washington DC trip next weekend, but you’ve at least encouraged me to pack lightly. But who knows, with my debt paid off early spring and lots of vacation time saved up, I may be needing these things sooner than I thought. I look forward to reading more entries!
Happy Travels!

Karol

Hi Todd,

Thanks for commenting. Please let me know how the light packing goes for you. :)

Karol

Merijn Vogel

First, I got here through zenhabits.net, just so you know :).

While traveling to Vienna for two days I packed even less. Just clean underwear, very few clothes (I was wearing some already, duh, but some people seem to forget that if they start packing :).

To my slight surprise and great amusement, my co-traveller (a “nutty” professor, 65years of age) was packed just as lightly. Never seen customs (not needed for inter-european flights of only handluggage), very swiftly through all kinds of public transport and never wait for the endless stream of luggage on the belt. Great to travel with just handluggage!

Karol

Hi Merijn,

Awesome! Thanks for sharing. It’s definitely an easier way to travel. :)

Karol

Rosaly Torvnes

Great post, BUT, when are you going to write a similar post for Women? It’s a totally different story and the one and big challenge in travelling light. I don’t see a problem in travelling light for MEN.
Rosaly

Karol

Hi Rosaly,

Thanks for asking. I don’t feel I could write that post well as I’m not a women and I’m not sure what the absolute essentials are for women. Maybe you could help me? :)

Thanks!
Karol

notemily

Thanks for pointing this out; I was hoping someone would. The standards for what is considered appropriate dress and grooming habits are completely different for women than for men. (I came here via the post on Zen Habits, which I found to be very male-centric, but there wasn’t a place for comments there and this post is similar.)

Karol

Hey notemily,

Thanks for commenting. Yes, that article is male-centric. I’m doing my best to find an ultra light packing female to help me out with a new list. :)

Karol

Erin

I found this list really useful. We already travel pretty light but want to go even lighter when we become permanent travellers next year.

As a woman I don’t take anything extra than my partner. In fact it is easier to travel lighter as my clothes are smaller. I just stopped wearing makeup and didn’t miss it. I can’t see what other extra items women need.

Karol

Thanks Erin!

“I can’t see what other extra items women need.” I feel the same way, I just didn’t want to come across as sexist. :)

Karol

Gina

I am a woman and I pack really light (most of the time.) I’ve gone on a two-week trip to Canada that included needing to carry camping gear with nothing but a single backpack (that included a sleeping bag and a bivy sack) and a small day pack. I’ve gone for weekend stays and impressed guys I’m travelling w/ with the lack of volume.

The trick to doing it for women isn’t much different than for men. Plan your clothing really carefully. Examine how much other stuff you really need. I’d amend Carol’s list something like this:

–1 black skirt (knee-length or longer if you’re travelling outside the US and want to do touristy things. You’ll fit in better some places if you have on a skirt.)
– 1 pair convertible pants
– 1 long sleeve T-shirt
– 2 short sleeve T-shirts
– 1 tank top
– lightweight sleep shirt
– lightweight basic swimsuit
– 1 pair sturdy walking shoes
– 1 pair walking sandals
– 1 jacket/coat
DO NOT waste packing space on heels. They are impractical if you are on the go a lot. The only exception might be if you’re travelling on business.
–underwear for 3 days. Wash as you go.
–one set of jewelry. Wear it constantly.

A good place to get travel clothes for women is http://www.travelsmith.com. They have all the above in nicer materials than cotton jersey that mean you can travel minimally and still look nice.

Other tips:
–Dr. Bronner’s and Vit. E oil are great and work for women too. Anything you can do to eliminate as many beauty products as possible helps. For myself I’d pack the above and throw in a small jar of eye cream since the Vit. E oil is a bit heavy for the eye area.

–Evaluate your cosmetics — how much do you REALLY need? Pare down to minimal cosmetics — if any at all. Often a powder, a lip gloss and a blusher that can double as neutral eyeshadow is all you really need, and your skin will be better for it.

– Evaluate your hair — opt for a wash-n-wear hairstyle. Kill the need to drag along a bunch of different hair products and a blow-dryer (especially the blow dryer!) — if you need hair products, try to limit yourself to either 1 mousse or 1 hair gel and a few hair bands. All I take is asmall hair brush and a few hair bands if my hair is long at the time.

Don’t forget to plan and pack adequately for your female hygiene and birth control needs. Usually 1 ziplock quart-sized bag will suit my needs, but this is one area I don’t take chances on needing to replenish locally.

Gina

P.S. — Karol, sorry for mispelling your name above! My bad.

There is one thing that I consider essential to pack — if I have any doubt that where I’m staying will include a coffeemaker to heat water, I ALWAYS throw in my little travel pot and some tea bags and dried soup bags. All told this doesn’t take any more space than a pair of shoes would and it’s super lightweight, but it’s saved me on more than one occasion. I started doing this after noticing that I was going places where there was not coffeemaker in the room and I was spending $10 to get room service to bring me a tea bag and enough hot water for 2 cups of tea.

Gina

One more P.S. — if you want to add one more pair of lightweight slacks to the above to be dressier, that could work — get the convertible pants in nylon so they weigh next to nothing and plan on wearing the other slacks on the plane.

I never pack jeans, because I find them uncomfortable in any sort of humid climate. I learned this the hard way on the above-mentioned trip to Canada where I had only packed a pair of cotton pajama bottoms (in navy batik) and was wearing my 1 pair of jeans — I packed no other bottoms. The humidity made me so miserable I spent nearly the entire 2 weeks walking around Toronto and upstate Ontario in my cotton pjs, and lugging the jeans around in my backpack.

Karol

Hi Gina,

Thanks for that list! Is a sleep shirt really necessary though? Can’t you sleep in the shirt you wore during the day?

Thanks again,
Karol

Gina

I suppose you could actually though then I’d want something to cover my legs. I’ve never been one to care for sleeping in the nude, especially if I’m at all unsure about the cleanliness of wherever I’m sleeping. More than you ever wanted to know about me!

I thought about adding a pair of long silk underwear (esp if travelling during cold weather), and that could double for sleepwear while being very lightweight. I could go for 1 pair of long silk underwear (or knee-length) and your tshirt for the day to sleep in.

Morfydd

Like Gina, I like having bottoms to wear (in case of a late-night fire alarm or something). I have the Silk Travel Nightwear from Cocoon which fits in a little silk pouch half the size of my fist. It doesn’t really multitask but at that size and weight I don’t care much. In a pinch I could wear the outfit during the day but it’s very thin material and ends up very wrinkled.

Alex

my pack list has less on it than this.

sincerely,
a female.

Karol

1) Oh! Burn! :)

2) Do you also work from the road? It’s a different beast than just traveling. ;)

Alex

Lol sorry, I was just trying to demonstrate that how much one packs is not a gender issue.

I don’t work from the road, but I do bring my laptop.

Karol

No worries Alex! I loved your comment anyway. :) Willing to send me your packing list? I’m putting together a free downloadable book about light packing and have had a couple contributions from females so far, but would like more!

Alex

sure!

Kathy

Hey Karol, can you tell me what brand of pack towel you use? I’ve had a hard time finding a good one.

Karol

Hi Kathy,

Thanks for asking. It’s the medium MSR PackTowl.

Thanks!
Karol

Eric

Nice article Karol! I love my Five Fingers too, and had to find a way to kill the stench. I found a fifteen minute soak with lemon juice removes all the smell.

Cheers!

Karol

Thanks for that Eric! Hard to do while traveling but I’ll give it a shot when/if I can. :)

Karol

Morfydd

There’s a company called RealLemon that sells powdered lemon juice in little packets. I don’t know that they ship to Australia but I really like their product.

Karol

Hmm…interesting. Thanks Morfydd!

Ben M

Great post. I too came across you post from ZenHabits (which I was about to unsubscribe from). I had a very similar kit list (including the pack safe which after using once just for the sake of it I personally regretted carrying) when I went backpacking a few years back and loved it. Being able to spend 2 minutes packing your bag is great! Since though I have changed into a heavy traveller…. but with my upcoming trip to Thailand I will now be reverting back to my old self.

@paurullan, if you love photography you MUST take your DSLR. I don’t take a laptop, but do have my DSLR tucked away in my pack instead. I do however ditch my tripod (there are usually things I can balance my camera on) and try to only take one lens.

Karol

Hey Ben,

Thanks for posting. I’ve considered getting rid of the pacsafe, but there are times when I’m glad I have it.

Karol

paurullan

@BenM the problem is the weight: it adds so much so fast that today we were on a 4-hour hike and I seriously considered buying a compact camera. And there is another problem: with final weight I do not know if I will have to check-in when flying.

Ben M

@paurullan, The extra weight can be annoying and at times I too question whether it is worth it. So far I have always decided it is.

paurullan

@BenM Thank you for you opinion!
My heart feels it can’t leave behind the camera so I will try to listen to it.
Could you please list your equipment?

Ben M

Canon 20D and 17-40 L Lens. A little old but does the job nicely.

paurullan

I am mostly interested in the backpack and how you manage to make it light enough to wander around more than a couple of hours.

Just for the record I use a Nikon D80+grip (big hands here) + 18-200.

Ben M

Couldn’t reply directly to your last message…. I have carried my camera in a bunch of different bags. Often a smallish Nike backpack for day trips/mountain hikes, and then a larger TNF pack for longer trips. I just chuck it in the top and wrap my clothes around it…. I honestly don’t see the weight to be too bad, but then your 18-200 will weigh a bit more than what I carry. Just ditch any other non essentials!

Tumbling Tiger

One extensive list, what I really hate about this kind of travel is that I lack the possibilty to store my DSLR, which is something that I’d love to take on my travels. I guess it’s great for a minimalist, but you can add a bit more without too much trouble. Don’t you have trouble with this list in case the nights get colder?

Karol

Nah, if it gets cold that means I didn’t follow my “only travel to warm places” rule. So I deserve to be cold. ;) But seriously, I did run into a few very cold nights while traveling The Great Ocean Road in a camper van. It got down to 7-8 degrees C and our camper van didn’t have heat. I survived. :) Usually I will sleep inside a warm house/hostel/something-or-other if it’s cold.

Sarah

A laptop lock can secure your bag to something while using a TSA lock to lock the actual bag. In addition it is multi-functional being able to actually lock the laptop.

Karol

Thanks Sarah! I’ve been considering trying that instead of lugging the pacsafe. Glad to hear it works well for you.

Nathan

Had the same stink problem with my first pair of FiveFingers, but I solved the problem. Get some Injinji toed socks. They fit great–I didn’t have to size up–and my second pair of FiveFingers don’t smell at all.

Karol

Hi Nathan,

Thanks for sharing. I’m familiar with those toe socks, but haven’t tried them yet. I may do so. I wonder how they feel while wearing “regular” shoes.

Karol

Nathan

Good, actually. I’ve worn them under cleats, and they do well as sports socks. The separate toes were intended for wear in normal running shoes, to prevent chafing.

Karol

Oh nice! Good to hear!

Bonnie

Great post, but is there a chick’s list somewhere?? Anyone??
Another use for the tea tree oil… I’ve found it’s the only thing that stops the itch from my allergy to sandfly bites.
:)

Karol

Hi Bonnie,

Thank you.

I’ll do my best to find an ultra light packing female to help me out with a women’s only list. As for tea tree oil: thanks for sharing! The stuff has so many uses. :)

Karol

Vanessa

Hi Bonnie. I’m an ultralight packing devotee and there are women’s lists out there, but it really depends on your style. If you’re the sporty type, you can use Karol’s list with a few swaps. Personally (youngish, feminine, non-business traveller), I don’t find the women’s lists out there very useful, so I’ve refined my own over the years.

In brief: unlike Karol, I take normal clothes rather than outdoor clothes, and it’s usually a couple of dresses, three or four tops, a lightweight cardigan and either a skirt or pants. Basically, it’s a couple of changes of your usual ‘uniforms’ (mine are skinny jeans+top and a dress) that you can dress up or down. I wear the bulkiest clothes on the plane, which for me means skinny jeans, a jacket and pashmina. Pressed mineral makeup and lightweight colour palettes are your friend; I take my mini hair straightener/curler too, because I’m vain like that. :) Add whatever menstrual products you use – I’ve switched to the LadyCup menstrual cup plus some cute cloth liners – and you’re good to go for girl-specific stuff. My bag weighs nothing and it’s wonderful to walk straight past the baggage carousels.

Hope this helps! I could go into way more detail, but don’t want to be a packing-list bore. ;)

Karol

Thanks for helping out with the female perspective Vanessa!

Karol

paurullan

You did an extremely good job and sparked some spirit into me. I am now planning a series of hikings to go around our island (Majorca) as training for a longer trip for the summer. So I only have to solve the DSLR weight dilema!

James

Interesting list! I know why its hard to find convertible pants in darker colors: they fade in the sun. If you wear the shorts for any lenth of time, you’ll be surprised when you zip on the bottoms to find that they no longer match.

I made this mistake on a six month trip in South America with a really amazing pair of Gramicci convertible pants… needless to say, they are useless now as long pants, but i still use them 5 years later as my single pair of quick-drying synthetic shorts. I now travel with a pair of long pants: either comfortable jeans or khakis (the synthetic brushed-nylon-esque type). Jeans are the ultimate in global fashion and comfort (especially after about 5 days of wear :) Not so fast to wash / dry though, but the tradeoff is worth it to some people.

Karol

Thanks for that info James! That makes sense and I remember Dave from LifeExcursion.com mentioning the convertible pants fading phenomenon before. In any case, I still want dark convertible pants. :) Mine are showing visible signs of dirt. To the point that I machine washed them. It didn’t help much. haha

Karol

Nile Cruises

Thanks Karol,

I’m just about to go on a “content-gathering” trip to Egypt for new content for our Nile Cruise website and spotted your post in my Google Reader in the Zen Habits website. As I’ve always taken far too much with me I read it straight away and then visited your site which is great.

I too have the Asos Eee notepad and will be taking my Flip HD and was looking for a good small travel bag to take and so, on your recommendation I’ve just ordered the Pacsafe MetroSafe 200 Anti-Theft Shoulder Bag. Should be here in the next day or two.

I’d love to try and travel with just the clothes that you take and just take the 32L backpack that you describe…but…I just know I’ll never do it.