It’s so simple: By packing light, you also travel lighthearted and harm the environment less. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry has already known:
He who would travel happily must travel light.

Since I’ve started hitting the road only with the essentials, travel itself and the preparation has become much less stressful for me.
To be honest, a few years back I thought I needed a giant suitcase and cram in as much as possible. But back then packing took ages and when I was finally traveling, I constantly cursed about the bulky, way too heavy suitcase.
Now I’m so much more easygoing on the road and can enjoy better what I experience. And well, the environment also thanks us when we travel light.

As I generally try to fly less, traveling carry-on only is more of a guideline and mindset on minimalist packing for me. But when I do take a plane, for example, to visit my family, then usually only with hand luggage.
Especially when it comes to warm countries, it’s way easier than it sounds. So I’ve collected many tips on how to travel carry-on only. Besides, I share with you why it’s worth packing light and what my carry-on only packing list looks like.

Packing light in Asia

Less weight on your shoulders through minimalist travel

Minimalist travel – what does it mean?

The trend of minimalism shows us how little we need in order to be happy. The further we step away from a world where materialism matters, the more we realize that this is just a farce. It’s merely a distraction. And the same mindset is true for minimalist travel. Once we detach from all the unnecessary stuff we own (or carry around), we open our eyes and our heart to what truly matters.
On my travels, it was usually the people owning very little who seemed the happiest. That has inspired me a lot and made me less and less materialistic. The more things I left behind, the lighter my backpack and also my heart became.

Minimalist packing, or packing light, simply means packing as little as possible so your stuff fits into just one smaller bag or backpack. So this also makes it possible to travel carry-on only when flying.
Sounds simple, right? Well, probably not for everyone. Especially when you try to pack light for a month or any long trip it can get a bit tricky at first. But once you’ve tried and managed it you will embrace the freedom it brings.

Embrace the freedom of minimalist travel

Why pack light?

Before looking into how to pack light for two weeks or a month, let’s first talk about why it makes sense. Minimalist travel brings many gains, in terms of sustainability, reduced stress, and money-wise.

Sustainable benefits of minimalist travel

It’s as simple as that: Every kilo you pack causes carbon emissions. No matter if it’s on a plane, train, bus, or car. The more weight on board, the more fuel and energy are used. So the lighter you travel, the less carbon is released into the atmosphere.
As a minimalist traveler, it’s also easier to take the metro to your accommodation or walk with your light backpack instead of taking a taxi – another situation where you can reduce your carbon footprint.
Oh, and eventually when traveling carry-on only, you have less space to shop for unnecessary stuff like souvenirs that are often made in China and packed in lots of plastic.

Less stress through minimalist packing

Besides the obvious reasons in terms of sustainability, packing light makes so many situations more stress-free. With a small, light bag it’s much easier to get around, jump onto buses, take the stairs down to the metro or walk along the cobblestoned alleys to your hostel right in the center of a medieval village in Tuscany.
Your back will be so happy!
And in case you travel carry-on only by plane, you save so much time at the airport, as you don’t have to queue for ages until you can check in your luggage. And once you’ve arrived, you can jump right into your adventure without waiting at the luggage belt.

Save money by minimalist traveling

It’s not only easier to carry lighter luggage, but it’s also better for your wallet. Just think about checked luggage fees with many airlines, or the cost of a locker at the station after you’ve left your accommodation. No need for a taxi, or to tip someone who carries your heavy bag at the hotel. Minimalist packing will save you money in many situations.
And eventually, you make wiser choices in terms of what to buy. No matter if it’s for you or a gift. So, give it a try & travel carry-on only.

Save money when traveling carry-on only

Tips for minimalist travel & packing

I’ve talked about planning a more sustainable trip before. Now I want to focus on the art of packing sustainably.
With the right tips, minimalist travel isn’t about waiving, but rather about saving yourself from stress, so you can enjoy more!

We all had those situations in which we realized that we packed so much more than we actually need. Carried all the stuff around for weeks but for nothing? There’s an end of it.
With the following tips, minimalist travel will be such an enrichment, believe me.

Use the right bag

The first thing we need to talk about in terms of minimalist packing is the bag you use. Even the best carry-on only packing list is useless with the wrong bag. Too bulky, too heavy, too clumsy – there are many bags out there that can make your life as a minimalist traveler harder instead of easier.
Uhh, I remember exactly how I felt during my first Italy road trip when I was dumb enough to bring a huge, heavy hard-top case. You can only imagine how I hated that thing when I had to push it up Rome’s 7 hills. That was the last time I traveled with a trolley or suitcase.

Packing light also means traveling comfortably, so I recommend a bag that you can easily carry on your back. It feels so much lighter than pulling and pushing a bulky suitcase from one corner to the next. My favorite for traveling carry-on only are small to medium-sized backpacks or duffel bags. Because you can comfortably carry them, they’re your perfect buddy when you travel around and change places a lot on a road trip or round trip.
In comparison to trolleys or suitcases, they’re lighter and less bulky. Think about it: Trolleys often waste quite a lot of space with their handle and wheels. Also, they often weigh 2-4 kilos. When you travel carry-on only, most airlines allow around 7-10 kilograms. When you already lost 2-4 kilos just for the trolley, there’s not much left for the things you need. Duffel bags are usually around 500 grams.
So here are my tips on what to look out for when choosing the right bag.

On the road with my duffel bag

Make sure the bag fits these criteria:

  • Backpack or duffel bag with max. 40 liters – usually these can be easily stored on buses and they’re allowed as carry-on bags (but if you fly you should always check the airline’s requirements)
  • A light bag – if your heavy suitcase already takes up several kilos, you’ll suffer a lot on our trip
  • It can be opened completely with a U-shaped zip – so you can easily reach anything inside (stay away from backpacks that only open from the top – this makes it very hard to reach stuff that you packed into the bottom)
  • The bag needs a few inside pockets – to organize your things
Duffel bags are a mix of a traveling bag and a backpack, so you can carry them on your back or just over one shoulder. That flexibility is perfect for minimalist packing and traveling carry-on only.

Here are the duffel bags that I recommend:

  • Patagonia Black Hole Duffel (40l) – Die perfekte Duffel von einer meiner Lieblingsmarken mit komplett nachhaltigem Fokus. Lässt sich komplett öffnen, ist robust und wasserabweisend und ist super angenehm, auf dem Rücken zu tragen.
  • Eagle Creek Cargo Hauler (40l) – My duffel with which I’ve traveled through Morocco, Portugal, Greece and many other countries. For me it has the perfect size to travel carry-on only. The side pockets and the subdivision by a net inside are also great. Besides, also sustainably produced.
  • The North Face Duffel XS (40l) – A dream for all who want to travel minimalist. Totally robust and with practical large mesh as a pocket on the inside of the “cover”.
  • North Face Duffel S (50l) – You got a lot of space in here! But this also means that if you want to travel carry-on only with this duffel, you shouldn’t fill it up completely. This way you can squeeze it a little smaller so that it fits into the hand luggage dimensions of most airlines. But we’ve never had any problems with it – even to travel carry-on only.

Heads up: Always check the airline specs – every airline has different requirements to travel carry-on only. With some airlines, you’re allowed to bring a second smaller bag or a laptop bag.

On the road with my duffel bag

Packing light with my duffel bag

Know the basics – what’s allowed in your hand luggage

In case it’s the first time you’re traveling carry-on only, you may be unsure about what’s allowed. It’s always the smartest to check your airline’s website, but here are a few rules to keep in mind:
What’s allowed in your hand luggage?
  • Liquids in bottles of 100ml max (such as shampoo, make-up, deodorant, hairspray etc) packed in a transparent bag of 1 liter
  • Sharp objects with a blade of 6 cm max (such as razors, nail files & scissors)
  • Medicine, contact lens solution, hand sanitizer, and baby food (if traveling with a baby) are allowed
What’s not allowed in your hand luggage?
  • Any liquids with more than 100ml (except meds, contact lens solution, or baby food)
  • Any liquids that aren’t packed in a transparent 1-liter bag
  • Sharp objects with a blade longer than 6 cm (such as pocket knives or knitting needles) and loose razor blades that aren’t framed in plastic
  • Lighters
  • Anything that could also be used as a weapon, such as hiking poles or ice skates
  • I think I don’t have to go deeper and tell you that weapons, explosive substances, etc. aren’t allowed either, nope not even pepper spray
Good to know – a few tips to make traveling carry-on only easier:
  • Pack everything in a zip bag made of silicone instead of the ones made of plastic – they last much longer and are more environmental-friendly
  • Bring a nail clipper instead of scissors
  • Solid products (such as shampoo bars, soap, conditioner bars, solid deodorant, body butter bars etc) don’t have to be in your zip bag and are much more environmental-friendly

Solid products like shampoo bars & deodorant sticks don’t need to go into your liquids bag

Only pack for one week

No matter how long you’re planning to travel – it could be two weeks, a month, or even a longer trip. You won’t need more things than when you travel for one or two weeks. You can wash your clothes almost everywhere you go or even bring them to a laundry service (which is quite cheap in many countries).
It’s so much easier to wash some clothes instead of constantly carrying around lots of dirty clothes all the time.
And let’s be honest: We all got our few favorite things that we wear all the time. Didn’t we all find ourselves combing back home with a few clothes still unworn?

Make a checklist

Good preparation makes many situations so much easier. Especially when you’re not (yet) an expert in minimalist packing or haven’t traveled carry-on only that often.
Making a carry-on only packing list or minimalist packing list allows you to pack hassle-free because you know you can’t forget anything important if you stick to that list. Also, you’re less tempted to pack more than you actually need.
You can find a suggestion for a minimalist packing list a bit further down. Feel free to use it or adjust it according to your needs.

Choose your clothes wisely

Pack clothes that you’re most likely to wear, so clothes that are:
  • your favorites
  • basics
  • easy to combine like a “capsule wardrobe” (in terms of colors, shape, and can be worn like an onion on top of each other)
  • neutral colors
  • crease-resistant
  • can be washed together

Instead of bringing pajamas, bring something like a comfortable basic shirt and cotton pants that you can also wear during the day.
Some like to pack in outfits, which may take a bit more time, but you can avoid bringing a piece of garment and in the end don’t have anything to combine it with.

Also, check the weather forecast before you pack, in order to be prepared. And think about which activities you’re planning to do that might need certain active clothes. In this case, also bring clothes that you can use for several different activities, such as one pair of leggings and a sports top.

Neutral colors are easy to combine

Reduce cosmetics

When packing your cosmetics, stick to the most important things and think about where you can make things easier:
  • Instead of different face creams for morning and night just bring one.
  • Reduce your make-up, or why not leave it at home completely? (In countries with high humidity it’s better to go without any makeup anyway.)
  • Stick to solid products – they’re not just easier to get through security control if you travel carry-on only, more eco-friendly, take up less space and last much longer (I like to bring e.g. a shampoo bar in a small sack or one that already has a string, so it’s easy to hang it and let it dry)
  • In case you want to use liquids, fill them into reusable travel-size bottles instead of buying travel-sized samples.
  • If you travel with someone else, share the essentials such as shower gel or toothpaste.

Pack everything into a wash bag, ideally one that you can hang and that has several smaller inside pockets.

One thing where you should never be unprepared is menstrual products. If you use tampons, bring enough, because you can’t get them anywhere. Depending on the local culture, you may just get the ones with those weird applicators that cause unnecessary plastic trash.

A shampoo bar can help you to save lots of space and weight

Pack things that you can use universally

Whenever there’s the option to use one thing for several purposes, make use of it.
Here are just a few ideas, but I’m sure you can find more, if you’re creative:
  • A tote bag that can help you on many occasions (for grocery shopping, as a beach bag, to pack your dirty clothes, or to keep your socks or underwear separately).
  • Coconut oil, apricot seed oil, or another oil that you can use multifunctional (as body lotion with a light natural SPF, as lip balm, to remove make-up, and even to help you with light cuts or injuries due to their anti-inflammatory effect).
  • Basic cotton shirts that can be used for sleeping, during the day, or for activities
  • A silicon zip bag for your liquids on the flights if you travel carry-on only, but also for takeaway food
  • A thin shawl or scarf that you can wear around your neck when it’s cold on the bus, to cover your shoulders or knees when visiting a temple, and even to lay on the beach

A silicon ziplock bag can be a multi-purpose helper

Bring a reusable water bottle or even a water purifier

Probably everyone has a reusable water bottle somewhere in their kitchen cupboard, right?
If you want to go one step further, one of my best recommendations for minimalist travel and zero-waste travel is a water purifier bottle, such as the one by Grayl. I can’t say how much I love mine! So much, that I wrote a complete blog post about the Grayl water purifier bottle.
Doesn’t sound like it saves you space and weight in the first place? Think about it, especially when you’re active, e.g. go hiking – with a water purifier you only have to carry one bottle and can fill it up on the way (in a river, stream, or any (normally undrinkable) tap water).
Also, you can fill up any bottle after you got through the security check at the airport. This way, you don’t have to buy any drinks in the transit area.

A water purifier bottle can be a lifesaver for minimalist travelers

Lifesavers for minimalist travelers

Avoid paper

Some years ago, I also still had all kinds of paper copies in my bag: a copy of my passport, ID, vaccination document, tickets, etc. In the digital age, this isn’t necessary anymore. Paper is anything but light, so it’s totally unnecessary in general – not only for minimalist travel or if you want to travel carry-on only.
So scan all your important documents or take a picture with your smartphone and upload them into a cloud. This way you can access them from anywhere, in case something gets stolen, or you lost a document.

By the way, leave all the documents you don’t need at home. Just pack a small travel wallet with your credit card(s), ID or passport, health insurance card, and maybe some cash. Leave everything else you usually carry around in your wallet at home (such as bonus cards, membership cards, other bank cards, driver’s license if you’re not planning to do a road trip or rent a vehicle).

Leave everything that you “might need” at home

Are you a “what if” person who’s much calmer if you’re prepared for anything that might happen? For minimalist travel, you need to leave this mindset behind, even if it’s hard at first. What may seem lighter for your mind (I mean, you got all the gadgets, clothes, and meds for any situation that might come up), will end up much heavier in your bag! So focus on what’s really essential.
Don’t forget: There are stores all over the world, and so are pharmacies (if you’re not planning a survival trip deep into the jungle for five days – which you shouldn’t do without a guide anyway). In case you forgot something or you need special treatment for an inflammation of the middle ear you can directly head to the closest pharmacy. So leave your worries behind.

With any gadget, piece of clothing, accessories, or makeup – think about how often you will actually need it. If it’s something you may only need once, make up your mind if it’s worth carrying it around all the time or if you should better kick it off your carry-on only packing list.
The same is true for clothes. Most of us stick to wearing our few favorite pieces. So why would you wear that one fancy dress on your trip if it has been lying around in your wardrobe for years?

Downsize!

Before you finally pack everything into your backpack or duffel bag, have a final look through everything. Did you pack too generously? Did that cute pair of shoes sneak into your bag again that you carried around unnecessarily already on your last trip? And do you really need 4 bikinis?
Usually, I put a few clothes back into my wardrobe at the end, because I realize that I don’t want to carry around that much stuff.

Wear the thickest clothes on your flight

In case you know you’ll need something a bit more bulky on your trip, such as a pair of jeans, a thick sweater or even hiking boots – wear them on your flight. I always wear the thickest clothes for traveling on a plane, bus, or train. It makes sense not just because of the weight and space, but also because it’s often cold in these modes of transport. Haven’t you had the feeling before that you’re traveling around in a freezer?
You can always take them off, but they don’t take up precious space in your bag.

Never without warm clothes on a flight

The right way of packing your bag light

Once you know what to pack, we get to the supreme discipline: The right way of packing itself. Yep, there are quite a few things that can go wrong and cost you valuable space.
Some are fans of rolling your clothes, some aren’t. For me, this only makes my bag less organized, so I rather fold them really small. But you have to find the way that suits you best. And a way that makes it possible for you to find everything easily.

Here are a few tips that I find very useful:

  • Use tote bags or packing cubes to have your stuff organized
  • Pack heavier things (electronics, cosmetics, books) into the middle – that’s better for your back
  • Use a smell-proof laundry bag – You can cram all your dirty clothes in here and the rest of your bag stays fresh
  • Pack your liquids, water bottle and laptop where you can easily take them out at the security control
  • Also: Bring a second small bag (like a day pack and/or hip bag) where you can store your documents and most valuable things (like electronics) on your body

Never without my hip bag

How to pack light for two weeks or a normal holiday?

Yeah, once you think about traveling carry-on only, a weekend trip, city trip or traveling into a warm steady climate is the best and easiest way to start. But the magic of minimalist packing is also possible for trips that take longer than a week. And once you managed that, the next step is packing light for different climate zones. Everything is possible.
With all the tips mentioned above and the carry-on only packing list that you can find below, you can easily pack light for two weeks or longer.
Just keep in mind the basics:
  • Get a 40-liter backpack or duffel bag
  • Check with the airline to know exactly how much weight and which size is allowed when you travel carry-on only
  • You can wash your laundry everywhere, so there’s no need to pack more than for one week
  • Choose your clothes so you can easily combine them
  • Reduce your cosmetics to the basics and prefer solid items to liquids
  • Be creative and pack things that you can use universally
  • Bring a water purifier
  • Don’t print unnecessarily, but upload your copies into a cloud
  • Leave everything that you “might need” at home and sort it out in the end
  • Wear the thickest clothes on your flight
  • Keep in mind the right way and helpful items to pack your back

How to pack light for a month or long-term travel?

Many of my friends still don’t want to believe that I mostly travel carry-on only – even when it’s a backpacking trip that takes three weeks. Packing light for a month or longer isn’t as hard as you think if you stick to the basic rules mentioned above. There’s actually no difference, as you only pack for one or 2 weeks maximum.
Yep, I also traveled through Southeast Asia for six months with only around 8 kg in my backpack and a small separate bag with my (old, bulky) camera and other valuables.
And when I traveled through Central America, I even brought my laptop to work on this blog. Plus, the same old bulky Nikon as eight years ago. Yeah, I could actually get a smaller, lighter model. But as long as it works perfectly fine, I don’t think that’s necessary. But that’s another issue in terms of sustainability.
Minimalist packing made me enjoy this trip so much more. Less weight on my shoulder meant less hassle every single day. And you can do that too.

With my old Nikon in Asia

Carry-on only packing list

You’ve longed to see the carry-on only packing list, or minimalist packing list. So I don’t want to jabber any longer. Let’s take a look at my little list.
I just want to underline that this is just a suggestion that works well for me. But we’re all different, so feel free to adapt it to your needs. You can also download the list a bit further below.

  • To keep everything organized
    • Duffel bag or 40l backpack
    • Raincover for your backpack
    • Smell-proof laundry bag – for your dirty clothes
    • Hip bag – for your valuables & documents
    • Daypack or wetpack (ideally one you can make really small & squeeze in)
    • Tote bag
    • Washbag
    • Small travel wallet (with only your credit card(s), health insurance card, ID or passport & some cash)
    • Optional: packing cubes
    • Optional: padlock (if you’re planning to stay in hostels)

  • Clothes & shoes
    • 5 tops
    • 2-3 t-shirts
    • 2-3 pairs of shorts
    • 2 pairs of light, long pants
    • Cardigan
    • Thin rain jacket
    • Sports clothes: 1 pair of leggings & 1 sport top
    • 7 pairs of underpants (& 2 bras + 1 sports bra for us girls)
    • 7 pairs of socks
    • 2 Bikinis, swimsuits, or swimming trunks
    • A thin shawl or scarf (to wear around your neck, to cover your shoulders or knees in a temple, or to lay on the beach)
    • Optional: 1 beach dress or jumpsuit
    • Optional (depending on how sunny your destination is): Cap
    • Flip-flops
    • Quick-drying travel towel
    • Sunglasses
    • To wear on your flight:
      • Sneakers – a comfy pair in which you can also hike
      • A pair of jeans or thicker pants
      • Shirt
      • Sweater
      • Optional: Thin jacket
  • In your washbag
    • Bamboo toothbrush (in a case) & toothpaste
    • 2in1 Shampoo & shower bar (in a sisal bag – one that you can also use as soap)
    • Conditioner bar  (in a sisal bag / or liquid, refilled in a reusable silicone bottle)
    • Face cream
    • Sunscreen
    • Solid deodorant
    • Scrunchies & bobby pins
    • Nail clip or nail file
    • Razor
    • Earplugs
    • For the girls: Tampons, menstrual cup, or menstrual panties
    • Hand sanitizer
    • Optional: Tweezers
    • Optional: A bit of make-up
    • Basic meds:
      • Ibuprofen
      • Band-aids
      • Travel tablets (especially if you’re seasick)
      • Optional: Mosquito spray (depending on your destination)
      • Personal meds

  • Gadgets & devices
    • Smartphone + charger
    • Camera + charger
    • Powerbank
    • Headphones (+ charger)
    • E-book reader (instead of several books)
    • Reusable water bottle or water purifier bottle
    • Bamboo travel cutlery or mini pocket knife (not possible in hand luggage though)
    • Inflatable travel pillow
    • Optional (depending on destination): travel adapter
    Instead of multiple chargers, bring one with several cables, or a multi-purpose cable.

  • Add-ons for colder destinations
    • Boots (wear them on your flight)
    • 2 more sweaters
    • Thick jacket (wear it on your flight)
    • Thermal underwear
    • 3 pairs of thick warm socks
    • Beanie, scarf, gloves

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    What’s unnecessary in my opinion

    • Tablet – I learned on my many trips that I can find entertainment in ebooks or on my phone, but mostly I’m exhausted in the evenings and I’d rather process all the new impressions instead of watching anything at night
    • Hair dryer – not needed in warm countries; if you can’t go without, look for accommodation with a hairdryer
    • Make-up – enjoy being yourself when traveling
    • Large shampoo bottles – bars last so much longer
    • Lots of medicine – you can find pharmacies all over the world in case you might need something
    • Guide books – there’s so much more info in blogs

    E-books are the perfect entertainment for minimalist packers

    Do you have questions concerning minimalist packing or traveling carry-on only?

    All the tips mentioned above have proven really helpful for me and my needs. But of course we all have different needs. If you need more clothes, don’t worry too much about it! Find out what works best for you!

    Is there anything that you feel is super essential but missing on the carry-on only packing list? Or would you like to share another tip for minimalist travel? Let me know and leave a comment below.

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