As a solo traveler, it is important to pack light. To help you do so, I have the ultimate one bag packing list for your carry-on luggage. Why should you pack light? Packing light puts you in control.
- Face fewer lineups at airports, both at check-in and when you get off the plane. Smile and walk by all those people watching the bags go round in circles on the carousel.
- Be more mobile so that walking a few blocks is not a problem and you don't have to look for an elevator rather than use stairs or an escalator.
- Save money by taking buses rather than taxis.
- Be less of a target than someone who has a large suitcase or multiple bags. Clearly, they must have a lot of great stuff to steal.
- Avoid losing luggage in transit, meaning you won't waste time shopping at your destination rather than exploring.
- No need to spend time completing airline forms detailing your lost luggage.
- Less to lose when repacking.
- Avoid carrying things that you never use.
- No extra charges for bags on budget flights.
- Avoid paying extra for a porter to bring all your bags to your room.
To me, packing light just makes sense. But it seems that it is a challenge for many. As I travel to conferences, other delegates wonder at my ability to put it all in one carry-on suitcase and a day pack. One year I went to Los Angeles for four days (it was hot), then to London for four days (it was cool and damp), on to Wales for a lot of walking, then north to Liverpool and Edinburgh. I traveled for 19 days in total and the first eight I was at conferences. Needless to say, the weather and activities between LA and Edinburgh were very different, but I had everything I needed in one carry-on and a day pack. Packing light, in just a carry-on suitcase, can take a lot of thought – but it can be done.
Packing List – Travel Essentials for Everyone
- All your travel paperwork. I save all my travel information in Dropbox but I take paper copies with me as well.
- Hotel confirmations. According to an analysis by Frommers, “Booking.com smokes the competition when it comes to the number of city-center lodgings it can find, especially for under $200.”
- Flight information.
- Passport and visas as necessary.
- Travel insurance. I'm proof that travel insurance is essential. I like World Nomads but see for yourself. Read Going Alone? Travel Insurance is a Must. You can also go directly to World Nomads to get a quick quote.
- Cash. It's always good to have some cash with you.
- No foreign transaction fee credit card. If you're outside your home country this will save you 2-4% on everything you put on your card compared to the typical credit card. When I travel outside Canada I prefer to use a card with no foreign transaction fees. The only no fee, no foreign transaction fee, Canadian card I know of is the Home Trust Visa card. Understandably, there is currently a high demand for this card. I'm still waiting for mine. In the US, Chase is known for their no foreign transaction fee cards, but check with your own financial institution.
- Backup card with no annual fee. I have a basic free Visa card that is a backup to my backup. And yes, I have had to use it.
- Roadside assistance. If you have AAA or CAA, you'll be fine in North America. If you don’t, you can buy short or long-term roadside assistance from Allstate.
- VPN. I have a VPN on my phone, tablet, and computer so that I can safely use public Wi-Fi. I would never travel without it. I think it so important that I contacted StrongVPN and asked for a discount for readers. And they gave it to me! Enter “Solotraveler” as your coupon code at checkout. For more details, read VPN for Travel: What, Why, and an Easy Setup Guide. To go directly to set up your VPN, click here.
- Global plugin adapter with USB ports
- e-reader – Kindle, iPad (whatever you use)
- Journal and pen
- Phone and charger
- Camera and charger – To be honest, as of my last trip, I'm cutting this from my personal list. Phone images are getting so good that I hardly ever pull out my DSLR. I'm switching this for my Go-Pro which I find convenient and used a lot on that trip.
- Go-Pro. I love this tiny, little video camera and they've become so affordable.
- Computer and ac adapter if you're so inclined.
- Personal items
- Prescription medication, vitamins, supplements, water bottle
- Tiny first aid kit
- Conditioner, hair product, face cream, makeup, deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, brush, razor, shave soap
- Practical stuff
- A few feet of duct tape
- A couple of resealable plastic bags
Footwear is Really Important for Travel
With the exception of the last sandal, I have all of these and take what I need depending on the trip. The last sandal is a recommendation from my sister-in-law.
Packing Light Checklist – Clothes for Women
Here's how to think about clothes if you want to pack light.
- To be pack-worthy, everything must go with many things. Nothing can have a one-time, one-purpose use.
- To have clothes for a range of activities that work together, choose one color palette. Working with a base color like black or brown, along with a contrasting color such as gray or beige, plus an accent color makes sure that everything you're carrying works together.
- Shoes make the outfit but they can also break a trip. Take shoes that have proven themselves comfortable.
The packing list:
- Shoes – two pairs total. One pair of street shoes and one pair of dressier shoes plus a pair of light flip-flops if you're staying in a hostel. I take low-cut boots for most seasons but sandals if it's summer. If you need hiking boots, wear them on the plane. You can tie them onto your carry-on or backpack and wear your street shoes at your destination.
- Pants – three pairs total or two pairs and one dress or skirt (wear your most comfortable on the plane)
- Tops – four tops, one light sweater and one camisole (that works as an under layer for hiking and under a jacket for a dressier look)
- One cardigan or light jacket that can dress up or down depending on jeans/pants and accessories
- Accessories – belt, inexpensive jewelry, one scarf to dress up casual clothes
- Pashmina scarf – it has so many uses from head cover to beach cover-up to protection in a wind storm
- Jacket – I have my second Marmot Women’s Precip Jacket. It took me over 12 years to wear out my first one.
- Basics – umbrella, scarf, gloves, rain pants, hat, vest, pair of sunglasses (depending on the weather of your destinations, you may not need all of these)
- Bathing suit, if needed
- Fundamentals – Pajamas, 5 underwear, 2 bras, 3 pairs of socks
It sounds like a lot but it’s not. Rinse clothes out when necessary. Take note of what you didn’t use when you get back and don’t pack it again.
Clothing Recommendations for Women and Men
I don't have specialized clothes for travel. All clothes I buy are great for home as well as for travel. Here are a few items that get packed for every trip (with the exception of the men's items, of course).
One-Bag Packing List for Men
A man's packing list is not a lot different from a woman's except that it's easier. There is not as much nuance in a man's wardrobe. Throw a blazer onto a guy wearing jeans and a t-shirt, and he looks great. So, here's the men's packing list.
- Shoes – two pairs total. One pair street shoes (or sandals) and one pair of dressier shoes. If you need hiking boots, wear them on the plane and only bring shoes that have proven themselves comfortable.
- Pants/shorts – three pairs total. You know your style but one pair should be long and not denim.
- 4 t-shirts (make sure at least one of them is white to wear under a dress shirt). If you're going someplace tropical or humid, make sure that they are very light and pack more of them.
- 1 golf shirt or casual shirt with a collar
- 1 dress shirt
- One blazer (This is optional, of course, but really useful. Choose a light fabric.)
- Belt and tie (if you're into that look)
- Umbrella, scarf, gloves, rain pants, hat, vest, pair of sunglasses (again, depending on the weather of your destinations, you may not need all of these)
- Bathing suit, if needed
- Pajamas, 5 pairs of underwear and 4 pairs of socks
Rinse clothes out when necessary. Count what you didn’t use when you get back and don’t pack it again.
Travel Gear Essentials
I only own the two bags shown on this page. I have a carry-on size backpack by Vaude (my model is no longer available but you can find the current Vaude packpacks here) and a very affordable roller bag by TravelPro (that could be updated as it is now five years old but hey, it's still going strong). I also have a daypack that is made for a hydration system, however, I don't use it for that. The interior sleeve that's for the bladder fits and protects my computer or iPad perfectly. Again, it's not currently available but this Pacsafe anti-theft bag is a great alternative.
Minimalist Packing Tips
- Don’t pack the bulky things – wear them on the plane.
- Follow carry-on rules according to your airline. Be really careful about the weight. Just because you can fit it into a carry-on suitcase does not mean they will let you on the plane with it.
- Watch the restrictions on the size of bottle liquids and other items you are allowed to carry on board.
- Be considerate of other passengers and don't hog the overhead space.
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