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? Because it 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.
- You'll 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.
- You'll have less to lose when repacking.
- Avoid carrying things that you never use.
- Face 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 bit of effort – but it can be done with a well-thought-out packing list.
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. 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 I can safely use public Wi-Fi. I would never travel without it. I think it's so important to have on your packing list that I negotiated with StrongVPN for a discount for our readers. 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
- Hand sanitizer We love this one.
- Practical stuff
- A few feet of duct tape
- A couple of resealable plastic bags
Packing Light Checklist 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 to be comfortable.
The packing list:
- Shoes – 2 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 – 3 pairs total or two pairs and one dress or skirt (wear your most comfortable on the plane).
- Tops – 4 tops, 1 light sweater, and 1 camisole (that works as an under layer for hiking and under a jacket for a dressier look).
- Cardigan or light jacket – something that you 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 pairs of 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.
One-Bag Packing List for Men
A men's packing list is not a lot different from a women'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 – 2 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 to be comfortable.
- Pants/shorts – 3 pairs total. You know your style but one pair should be long and not denim.
- T-shirts – 4 (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.
- Collared shirt – 1 golf shirt or or other casual shirt with a collar.
- Dress shirt – 1 for dressier occasions.
- Blazer – This is optional, of course, but really useful. Choose a light fabric.
- Belt and tie (if you're into that look)
- Basics – 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.
- Fundamentals – pajamas, 5 pairs of underwear, 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.
One Carry-on Bag – Every Kind of Trip
Who has the space to store a variety of travel luggage for different trip types? I certainly don't. So I went in search of a carry-on bag that would suit more luxurious travel but also be functional for my more intrepid trips. Standard Luggage was kind enough to offer me this 35 liter Convertible Carry-on Backpack to check out.
Why a backpack that converts to a regular suitcase?
- I want a backpack option because many of my trips are independent. Walking distances, and especially up and down stairs at railway stations, is much easier with a backpack than a roller bag.
- I want the option to convert to a suitcase because I don't always want to look like a backpacker. I don't want a big clumsy backpack with me when staying at a nice hotel or stopping into a restaurant when I'm en route.
Why Carry-on Size?
- For the last 15 years, I've only owned carry-on sized luggage. I have a roller bag and a backpack. I'm hoping that this one carry-on bag can replace both of these.
- I always return with things I haven't used despite the restrictions of carry-on luggage.
My Take On the Standard Luggage Bag
This convertible carry-on has yet to be taken for an actual trip but I did try packing according to my list and found it surprisingly spacious and light – 15 pounds when full, including my computer and chargers.
- The interior has four compartments including one specifically for clothes that need to be kept as smooth as possible. Its under the right section of the packed bag in the photo above. That's a nice feature. I packed the dress there.
- The exterior has two compartments on the front and one on the back where tech goes.
- The computer/tablet compartment provides a lot of protection and is easy to access without opening the bag. Plus, it has a sleeve that will protect my computer wherever I take it out.
- As a backpack, it has all the adjustments you need for the shoulders and chest. The waist belt is optional. It also has padded ventilation to minimize back perspiration. All straps hide away completely.
- It has a rain cover. This is a fantastic feature that you just don't see with a typical suitcase.
- They have a day pack that doubles as a packing cube.
- They have packing cubes designed to fit the bag.
- It comes with both the blue and orange tag options. The accent color is your choice.
- There's a Lifetime Warranty and Satisfaction Guarantee.
- They offer free worldwide shipping.
Overall, I'd say the bag is very well designed and good value. If you're planning a trip that will involve time on your own with you in charge of your luggage, this bag definitely has its advantages. However, if you're taking a cruise or tour where someone else will be moving your bag all the time, a roller bag will be just fine.
Here's a trip example: London and the Lake District: 12-Day Itinerary. I'd use the backpack mode for airport transfers, arriving at Heathrow and taking the tube to the city. On the tube I'd tuck the backpack straps away (it's that simple) and switch to the single shoulder strap to arrive at my hotel as a regular traveler. Leaving London by train to the Lake District, I'd definitely be in backpack mode as there is a lot of walking and stairs to navigate.
Travel Gear Essentials
I currently own three bags. I have a carry-on size backpack by Vaude that's no longer available, a very affordable roller bag by TravelPro (that could be updated as it is now six years old, but hey, it's still going strong) and the new Convertible Carry-on Backpack which just may replace the other two. 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 on your packing list – 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.
Are you getting ready to go? You may find these useful:
- Travel Planning 2021: Essential Information to Protect You & Your Money
- How to Plan Your Solo Travel Budget (On Any Budget) – includes a free downloadable budget spreadsheet
- Going Alone? Travel Insurance Is a Must