Packing can either be the easiest part or the hardest of your trip, depending on how prepared you are! Of course, it can be very simple if you can bring lots of suitcases without worrying about their weight. However, airlines are adopting practices where they charge for you to check in a bag and for overhead bin space! Therefore, you have to resort to a carry-on bag only if you want to save some money, but fitting everything into a carry-on might be a challenge!
When I travel, I avoid checking in a bag at all costs and exclusively use a carry-on with a small "personal item". Checking in my bag costs money, which could be better spent elsewhere! Also, there is always the likelihood of the airline leaving your bag behind on accident and it sucks. Nowadays, I would never trust the airline with my bags and will only check my bags in if absolutely necessary.
If you get nothing else from this article, the moral of the story is to pack light. The more you bring, the more stuff you have to carry and that means more suitcases, etc. It's also a pain to carry so many items around and you probably won't use all the things. Also, more things means that it's more likely that you could forget something. Packing light is a skill that you'll learn over time, as it really depends on you and what you absolutely need. A good starting point is take all the things you plan to bring, and cut that in half - you really only want to bring the essentials. Everything else that isn't essential is basically dead weight on you. So how do I accomplish this daunting task? Check out my carry on list below!
My Packing List
A carry-on bag - The size of this should depend on how many days you are packing for, but generally I stick to duffels/backpacks and never suitcases. I find suitcases to be very clunky and hard to deal with, and it limits your mobility. A suitcase is too cumbersome to carry on a bus or subway train, but a duffel/backpack is much more flexible to deal with. In my carry on, usually I put items in here that I won't use right away.
Passport, travel wallet, credit/debit cards - I exclusively have a small card wallet that I use for travel because it's much smaller. The only thing I'll bring with me is a no foreign transaction fee credit card (Uber Visa), a no ATM-fee debit card (Charles Schwab), a backup credit card + debit card, my student ID (to score discounts), and my real ID (driver's license). I leave the backups at my accommodation, and I'll only bring a day's worth of cash with me. That way, if I lose my wallet or if it's stolen, I don't have to worry about replacing every single thing and I have my backup to use for the time being.
Clothes - The clothes you bring can dramatically increase or decrease the amount of space you have. My rule of thumb is that I'll pack up to x day's of clothes up to 5-6 days. If I'm going away for longer than 6 days, I only bring 5 day's worth of clothes and do laundry on the go. It's super easy to find a place to do laundry (your accommodation will probably have it, if not you can find a laundromat) and the money you spend on laundry will be significantly less than what you would spend in bag fees. I bring a few Tide Pods with me (they don't raise alarms at security) so I don't have to worry about detergent.
Packing for different climates can be very challenging, but the trick here is to layer your clothing. Usually, no matter where I'm going, I pack undershirts, pick one:(t-shirts/long sleeves or button downs), underwear, socks, a light jacket, pajamas, and pants/shorts. Depending on where you are exactly going, you can interchange some of these items with warmer or cooler clothes. I always try to pack clothes that can easily be rolled up and won't take up too much space. Big, puffy jackets and jeans are notorious for taking up lots of space, so don't pack those!
For pants, I try to wear semi-exercise pants. Not sweats, but also not jeans/cargos/etc. - Uniqlo has a good selection. For pj's, I wear the HEATTECH collection, which is really versatile for all sorts of climates and it doesn't take up much space. Jackets get a little tricky because you don't want to have it take space in your bag. I usually just pick a jacket that is appropriate for the climate I'm going to, and then I wear that jacket vs. putting it into my luggage. Usually, you'll want to wear your heaviest/bulkiest clothing to the airport and back to save on space.
Toiletries - The important thing here is that you only want to pack the essentials and not everything that's in your bathroom. It's a little harder for girls, but for guys you really don't need much to keep yourself presentable. I use a small Giorgio Armani travel bag, and inside I keep toothpaste, a toothbrush, eye mask, earplugs, shaving cream, a razor, small shaver, body wash, contact lens, contact lens solution, and tweezers. All of this should be travel-sized, and you definitely want to invest into some small pouch or something that can fit all these items! To bring any liquid/creams, I would invest in a small TSA-approved reusable container/bottle.
Laptop - I have a MacBook Air for personal use, but I rarely bring my Mac unless if I absolutely have to. The reason for this is because I'm a very risk-averse person and worry about my things getting stolen. So, what I did is that I bought a $50 used ChromeBook on eBay solely to bring when I travel. The ChromeBook does really everything that I need (blogging, FaceBook, looking up information, Netflix). It seems a little extra to buy a laptop dedicated for just when you travel, but I like to think of it as an insurance policy - if it gets stolen, etc., it's much better to lose only around $100 vs. $1000+. If you really can, I would avoid bringing a laptop at all because the less valuable stuff you bring, the less of a target you become.
Reusable water bottle - I use a 40oz Hydroflask that has been an absolute trooper in my travels. Its up-front price of $50 seems steep, but I use it EVERY SINGLE DAY and it has saved me so much money in terms of buying bottled water abroad. In most (not all) countries, you can get by with just using water dispensers. Having this monster of a bottle meant that I didn't need to buy water as often. Even if you don't get a 40oz, a reusable water bottle will definitely save you money on your travels ($5 water at airports, anyone?).
Packing cubes - Buying these Bagail packing cubes off of Amazon has been one of the best investments I have ever made. This has made packing clothes so easy because it keeps your clothes organized vs. just in your suitcase. The cubes make packing very efficient, because you are only rearranging cubes vs. all your clothes. This particular listing I linked has 2 large, 2 medium, and 2 small. I used the 2 medium and 2 small and was able to fit a week's worth of clothes in that alone. The large ones are more suitable for actual suitcases. But seriously, this will make packing SO much easier and you'll never want to go back to anything else.
Daypack - A daypack will make your life infinitely easier when you are traveling because it allows you to carry things throughout the day! Although you can get by on a simple drawstring bag, a daypack actually keeps your stuff organized which is a huge timesaver. Plus, drawstring bags aren't as good for your back!
When I traveled, I got this small Ozuko daypack for when I was in Hong Kong. The link takes you to AliExpress where the bag is very close to the one I got, but smaller. The one I got is definitely a fake, but I think this bag is perfectly sized for my needs and is very durable. You can fiddle with the straps so it becomes kind of like a messenger bag, and there are different sized pockets so it's easy to keep things organized. It was a little tight for my 40oz Hydroflask and my DSLR, which required me to be a little creative with how I fit everything. However, if you have a regular sized water bottle, the bag is the ideal size.
The USB charger outside the backpack and the small pocket in the back were very nice features. I would plug my power bank inside the backpack and then connect my charging cable, but sometimes this feature didn't work as well. The small pocket was handy as this is where I kept my wallet.
In my opinion, a good daypack should...
1. Be the right size - You don't want it to be too big, or too small! It might take you a while to find the perfect bag, but you want something where everything fits kind of snug. You don't want it to be so big that it looks like you're carrying nothing, but not too small so that you can't fit everything you need.
2. Not stick out from the crowd - You want your daypack to blend in with something the locals might wear. Nothing screams tourist louder than having a big backpack, and then constantly sifting through it to get the things that you need. Pickpockets and thieves are always on the lookout to take advantage of tourists. If your bag blends in with everyone else, you're less likely to be a target.
3. Have an effective organizational structure - What I mean by this is that you want a bag where it's easy to keep things organized. A backpack that only has a big pocket and a small pocket is very ineffective - you'll just end up tossing everything in the same spot. However, a backpack with 20 pockets is also very ineffective - you won't use half those pockets anyways. Rather, you should think about the items you would want to bring on a daily basis and then look at the bag you're interested in. Then, you'll want to think how you would utilize the space and pockets given and see if it's practical. Ideally, you want everything you need to be easily accessible so you don't need to fumble through your bag.
Some miscellaneous items:
- Hand sanitizer
- Pack of tissues
- Padlock/combination lock and backpack locks for carry-ons
- Coin pouch
- Charging cables for your devices + a backup cable for your phone
- Moisturizing lotion
- A few carabiners (to hang stuff off your bag)
- A quick-dry towel (seriously a lifesaver and will save you money)
- Shower shoes (doesn't need to be fancy, any old flip-flops would do)
- A power bank
- A laundry bag (or any plastic bag will do)
- Some form of entertainment
- Good walking shoes/spare shoes
- Plug converter + adaptors (buying this essentially covers you for anywhere that requires a different plug and voltage but makes a small whirring sound when you turn it on)
Kaka 40L Travel Backpack ($40-$50)
This backpack is definitely a good investment for someone looking for a "backpacking backpack" for a very reasonable price. I traveled around the world for a month and a half with only this bag and a small daypack and it fit basically everything I needed.
The thing I loved about this backpack was that it could turn from a backpack into a shoulder bag into a handbag. The back rolls up to reveal the straps, and you can roll the back all the way back down to use it as a shoulder bag/handbag. I ended up using the backpack feature the most because I thought it was the most practical.
There are two pockets in the "front" - a smaller one and a bigger one. In these pockets, I just put everything else that would fit that I wanted easy access to. However, the more things you put in the main compartment, the less "space" you have in these pockets. I pretty much filled up all the space with 5-6 day's worth of clothes, toiletries, and my laptop. So, any time I had to use the outside 2 pockets required some kind of force.
I would say the bag would be perfect for a 4-ish day trip, and then anything beyond that requires you to be very crafty about how you utilize the bag's space. The only thing that bothered me was that halfway through my trip, the smallest pocket in the front ripped on the inside, which essentially made it useless. This was because that pocket was right behind the next smallest pocket. So it basically just became one big pocket, which was a little annoying. But, I would definitely agree that it was my fault because I was stuffing the bag to past its capacity.
I would definitely recommend this bag to someone that doesn't want to splurge on an Osprey or think too much when they want to pack for long weekend trips. I used the bag as my carry-on for multiple airlines, and I was never forced to check it in. The bag fits really nicely in the overhead compartments, which is very rare. The link above directs you to AliExpress, but you can also find it on Amazon! Overall, there are better bags out there but this one is a great choice.
Herschel Sutton Duffle ($70)
I got this bag through Herschel's warranty process when my red Pop Quiz backpack zipper broke on me (it's a fantastic backpack though) and this bag has SO much space. The backpack's capacity is 46.5L, which is a lot to me because I usually never bring that much stuff on a trip.
I was headed to Jacksonville for a week long work trip, so I decided to use this bag along with my Fjallraven Kanken backpack. The amount of space is enormous - you basically just open up the bag, and it has a mesh zipper pocket beneath the top (similar to a suitcase). There is also a small pocket where the Herschel logo is, but I didn't use that very much.
I was able to put a week's worth of clothes and have lots of space left over! I was able to fit my clothes plus my Kanken backpack inside, which had things inside it too. The bag was so roomy that I was able to take all my stuff back plus all the hotel amenities in my room (soaps, etc.). This duffle can definitely handle a 5-7 day trip, maybe even more if you're smart about the space.
However, the con to this bag is that there is only one huge pocket. Therefore, it's hard to keep things organized if you just toss everything in there, and you might have to do some digging around. Also, the strap is a little squeaky as you walk which annoyed me a little more than I would have liked, but it's not a dealbreaker. Depending on how much you have in the bag, carrying it by the handle may make your arm/hand sore after a while.
Overall, I think this is a fantastic duffle and would want to try it on my next trip. If you have an effective organizational system, you can make a lot fit into this bag. However, if you're more of the person that likes to toss things can call it packing, you may want to choose a different bag. In my opinion, the price tag is also a little steep but the amount of storage and its style make up for it.
TRAVELING AROUND THE WORLD ON A BUDGET
Ever wondered how you could travel all around the world without spending too much money? Take a look at all my tips and tricks in the four part guide!
UNITED Economy plus Review
Read all about my experience in economy class on United Airlines as well as the United Club at LAX right here.