What to pack in your carry-on luggage

So you want to pack a carry-on bag eh? Well, you’re going to want to make sure that you have everything you need in there (especially if you are intending on traveling with carry-on only). And if you are bringing only carry-on (to avoid baggage fees or you’re just plain badass) then you’re going to want to make sure everything square inch of your bag is used properly.

The difference between having the right gear is night and day for seasoned travelers. So with our guide below we hope to bring you just one more step closer to carry-on nirvana. Without further ado, here is what to pack in your carry-on luggage.


What to pack in your carry-on luggage

Your passport

This is a bit of a no brainer. If you left the house with just one thing in your carry-on luggage it should be your passport. And make damn sure that it is not expired! Many countries will require a visa on arrival or is some cases you should have it already in your passport before departing your home country. Lastly, make sure that you have at least three full empty pages in your passport for arrival stamps. Some countries won’t let you in unless you have these pages empty.

I have a tendency to lose my passport where ever I go. So I decided to organize myself a little bit with this Fjallraven passport travel wallet. It is just plain awesome. Made of super durable G-1000 polyester, this thing will last you a lifetime. With ample room inside for your passport, airlines/train tickets, credit cards, a pen and more, this thing will be your new best travel companion. Never be without your passport again!

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Fjallraven Travel Wallet, Green

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Toiletries

You won’t have a very awesome time without your toiletries bag. This is an area that is tough to master for beginner light travelers. Consider paring down your toiletry kit by doing the following:

Use re-usable / re-fillable containers for liquids and gels

It just slims down your bag a tonne. You don’t need a full 150mL shampoo bottle for a 2 week trip to Japan! Why not just bring what you will need. My favorite way to do this is with GoTubes. These refillable rubber containers are a godsend. Made of a pliable rubber material, they are easily filled up with shampoo, conditioner and sunscreen (or any other liquid). And when you run our next trip, just refill them again!

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humangear GoToob Travel Bottles, 3-pack, Clear/Blue/Green, Medium (2 oz)

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Use re-usable / re-fillable containers pills, cremes and… whatever

What about pills and medication? Well, there are these little cousins to the GoTubes called “GoTubbs.” These are great little containers for pills, ear plugs, hair creme/pasts and pretty much anything else you can imagine. I’d stay away from anything too liquid in these though. The best part of these is they have a nice low profile so they won’t add bulk to your toiletry kit.

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GoTubb, Medium (Pack of 3)

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Get a 311 bag

What’s a 311 bagyou ask? Well, these are little one quart see-through bags that have been certified by the TSA as a bag to put liquids and cremes in  for security. Make sure this bag is easily accessible in your bag and that each bottle or container inside is no more than 3 ounces. If you have travel size stuff or use GoTubes, you’re golden. Keep in mind that in many places things like deoderant sticks are indeed considered liquids and will need to be in your 311 kit.

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TSA Approved Clear Travel Toiletry Bag | Quart Sized with Zipper |...

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Use a good toiletry bag

Aside from the 311 see through bag, I am a big fan of using a functional toiletry kit. Look for something that is as low profile as possible. Many bags are super bulky and make it way more difficult to pack properly. Our favorite is the Eagle Creek Pack-it Quick Trip toiletry bag because of its low profile and really solid construction.

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Eagle Creek Pack It Quick Trip Toiletry Organizer, Black

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Clothes

This is of course the obvious one. Most of the room in your carry-on luggage will be taken up by your clothes. But the big issue is bringing too many different clothing items. It is natural to want to bring everything you own, but that won’t fly when going carry-on only. The key is to pack less by (1) buying better quality clothes that won’t need to be washed as often and (2) buying clothes that are versatile. Do laundry at your destination! That’s the easiest way to cut down on your clothing by half or more in your carry-on bag. Here are our recommendations for different types of clothes:

Socks

You can easily go overboard with socks. Of course it depends on your destination, but if you are going somewhere where socks will be required, consider getting some made of merino wool. This material is durable, lightweight, is breathable, quick drying, and does not retain odor as much as cotton. So with merino wool you could get away with wearing a pair several times before washing. Consider a pair that is appropriate for both outdoor activities and more low key or professional settings. Our favorite are from Icebreaker.

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Icebreaker Men's Lite Crew Socks (Black, Medium)

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Underwear

Again, you can go nuts here. Consider taking a max of 6-7 pairs of underwear and do laundry at your destinaton. For men we love SAXXdue to their awesome fit, breathable construction, and outrageous designs. I’m not a woman, but I would recommend anything that is breathable and durable.

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Saxx Mens Kinetic Performance Boxers Underwear Medium Malibu Steel

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T-shirts

I would max out at about 5 t-shirts. The key here is to bring t-shirts that will serve double duty. Make sure you could use them on their own or as an appropriate under shirt when needed. Again, merino woolwill be a much better choice than cotton due to it’s reduced weight and better odor control. Don’t wash them after just wearing them once. Just air them out over night and often they are good to go the next day!

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Icebreaker Men's Tech Lite Short Sleeve Crewe Tee, Jet Heather, Large

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Button-up shirts

I would bring max 3 button-up (more dressy) shirts. Consider grays, blacks and darker blues for these as they go well with pretty much everything. Merino wool from Smartwool are by far my favorite long sleeve button ups for traveling in. They do a good job of looking casual but can easily be dressed up with a nice pair of shoes.

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Smartwool Men's Summit County Chambray Long Sleeve Shirt Dark Steel Blue Button-up...

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Hoodies and sweaters

My go to top for traveling is a nice zip up hoodie. These are soooo valuable when on a cold plane or on a cold night (even in the tropics it gets cool in the evening). I would bring 1 or 2 of these depending on your style. There are some great merino wool versions from Icebreaker which are super packable yet warm. But really any lightweight zip up hoodie will do (look for YKK zippers as a sign of quality construction).

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Icebreaker Men's Quantum Long Sleeve Zip Hood, Black, Medium

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Pants

These are the heaviest piece of clothing in your bag. Jeans are great but are very long to dry, which can be a pain if you have to hang dry them in a hostel or something. Consider more technical fabrics that use synthetic blends for their breath-ability, light weight and fast drying characteristics. This pair from Prana is actually quite a good pair. I have a pair and they are probably the most comfortable pair of pants I own. They can also be dressed up a bit when the need arises. Otherwise, just get a pair of Levis 511 and call it a day…  Seriously, keep it simple.

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prAna Men's Stretch Zion 32" Inseam Pants, Mud, Size 32

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Shorts

In many countries you simply won’t be wearing shorts. What I do is if I may only need one pair of shorts, I use my swim suit as double duty. They make great shorts… If you are going to a hot place where shorts are culturally appropriate consider something light but with good pockets. Stay away from anything that makes you REALLY look like a tourist (cargo shorts, we’re looking at you).

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Men's The North Face Horizon 2.0 Short Asphalt Grey Size 32 Regular

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A rain jacket

I usually bring my Helly Hansen rain jacket with me on most of my trips. This is because it is fully waterproof but it is also insulated. So if you get some freak weather event and it gets really cold, you actually have a decent jacket with you. Don’t skimp on this. It is worth the extra weight.

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Helly Hansen Men's Seven J Jacket, Black, X-Large

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Shoes

Shoes are a big decision for any trip. The fewer pairs you can get away with the better. That is why it is a good idea to find a pair of shoes that can do well on a hike or on a full day walk-about around Paris, but also don’t look out of the ordinary in a bar in the evening.

A normal-ish looking pair of hiking shoes

I don’t recommend a full pair of hiking boots for most travelers. They are heavy, and to be frank, look pretty ridiculous. Instead, consider a pair of hiking shoes that have a more normal look to them. Throw on a pair of jeans with them and no one would even notice that they are hiking shoes. We really like the Merrell Moab Rovers for this purpose. They also come in a waterproof version if you think you will need it.

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Merrell Men's Moab Rover Shoes, Espresso, 11.5 M US

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A great pair of flip flops

If you’re doing any traveling to hostels or budget hotels you will know why you need these. They are invaluable for trips to sketchy, disgusting bathroom showers. Our favorite are from Teva simply because they are pretty much bomb-proof.

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Teva Men's Mush II Flip Flop,Brick Black,12 M US

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An all around great pair of leather shoes/boots

If you’re really just going to be confined to cities, consider just bringing a great pair of quality leather shoes. These can be dressed up or down and will last a really long time. I have met people that literally travel all over the world in this pair of Clarks Desert Boots. They are awesome.

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Clarks Men's Bushacre 2 Desert Boot,Beeswax Leather,10 M US

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Other really handy stuff

There are a few other items that I totally recommend for any serious traveler:

A Pack towel

I can’t tell you many times I have found myself in a strange hotel without proper towels. Do yourself a favor and invest in a small microfibre pack towel. They are VERY useful to have in your carry-on luggage.

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PackTowl Personal Packtowl

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A packable duffel bag

When you travel with carry-on only, it really doesn’t leave you with any room for gifts or the addition of anything else to your bag while on your trip. That’s why I always carry my Sea to Summit Packable Ultrasil duffel bag with me in my carry-on. This thing is small enough to fit on a key ring but unrolls to a full 40 litre duffel. On your way home, throw a bunch of clothes in this and your gifts in your actual carry-on. Check your carry-on luggage and pick it up at home. Boom. You just doubled your storage space.

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Sea To Summit Travelling Light Ultra-Sil Travel 40L Duffle Bag - Grey

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A USB power bank

There’s nothing worse than losing all the juice in your phone while traveling. That’s why I always carry an Anker USB power bank in my backpack. This thing can power up my phone many times over and also makes it so I can consume copious amounts of Netflix on the plane without worrying about killing my phone battery (many planes still do not have USB ports at the seat).

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Anker PowerCore 26800 Portable Charger, 26800mAh External Battery with Dual Input Port...

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Packing cubes

I LOVE packing cubes. These are actually one of the most important pieces on this list. Read all about why you need to use them to pack and how awesome they are in this post. But seriously, you won’t understand how you lived without them once you finally try them. The Eagle Creek packing cube starter set is perfect for most carry-on luggage.

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Eagle Creek Pack It Starter Set , Black, 3pc Set (Medium Garment...

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So that’s it! You obviously don’t need everything on this list, but I have thought pretty long and hard about every item on this list. If it’s totally unnecessary, you just won’t find it on here. At the end of the day, you want to make sure that you acually enjoy your trip. And the easiest way not to is carrying around a huge bag with way too much stuff in it. So pack light, and consider some of the items below:

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Last updated on December 3, 2017 9:35 pm

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