Packing Carry On Only for 3 Months of Travel

I’ve done the whole 60L backpack thing before. It wasn’t fun. I don’t doubt that there are many fabulous people who actually pack appropriately and use everything that they bring… I’m just not one of them. And I know many challenged packers like myself. I was always incredibly jealous of those who managed long-term travel packing carry on only! The dream…

So, when planning for our 3-month excursion to Southeast Asia and the UK, I was adamant that I at least was only going to be packing carry on. The hubby agreed and we ended up buying two 30L Osprey bags and we already had two small backpacks in our possession. We maybe have 40-45 L each and do you know what? They’re LIGHT!

packing carry on

No back pain for this girl (bar the lengthy airplane rides and trains… I’m ignoring that all in my mind).

Now, what does one pack for three months? Here is how my bag broke down.

Clothing

  • 1 pair of lightweight trousers (Lululemon)
  • 1 pair of leggings (Lululemon)
  • 1 skirt
  • 1 pair of shorts (MEC)
  • 1 set of pyjamas (shorts that can double as beach shorts if needed and a t-shirt)
  • 5 tops (combo of tank tops and t-shirts)
  • 1 light sweater (Lululemon)
  • 1 rain jacket (MEC)
  • 4 pairs of socks
  • 1 pair of walking shoes (MEC)
  • 1 pair of each flip flops (which I had to replace twice on the road) and water shoes
  • 1 swim suit
  • 7 pairs of underwear
  • 2 bras

Tip: to keep to the carry-on limit, it helps if you’re staying in the same climate.

The key was to invest in good quality clothing. I splashed out on some LuluLemon Athletica clothing before I went (see links below) and am so glad that I did. A year later after continual use (not to mention wearing them DAILY in Southeast Asia) and they still look pretty new. They were washed in all kinds of conditions, survived hard travel and I can continue to wear them. INVEST in your clothes, but make sure you’ll want to wear them when you get back!

packing carry on

I couldn’t go away without my laptop!

Electronics

  • Macbook Air
  • Kobo, LOADED with books. Eek! Can’t wait.
  • Small digital camera (the hubby is carrying the behemoth Canon Rebel)
  • GoPro Hero
  • iPod 8GB
  • all appropriate chargers

Miscellaneous

  • The mother of all First Aid kits including water purifier
  • Journal, pens, tiny notebook
  • Resistance band (for hip pain!)
  • Playing cards
  • Scarf
  • Toiletries – behold the solid shampoo and conditioner bars from LUSH!!!! Also, for the ladies, I brought enough tampons for the entire trip. I wasn’t sure how easy the kind I like would be to find, so gave up space in my bag for that comfort.

Get the Gear

Osprey 30L pack

This one is slightly different to the ones we had, but only marginally. It still has all the right pockets, the same straps, etc. I still use this backpack regularly to get my laptop to and from work. Never strained my back once!

GoProHero

If you’re looking for action-oriented cameras, this one is a lot of fun to play with!

LuluLemon Gear

These leggings were to die for. I could dress them up or down and they wicked away sweat! I still live in them.

The unlined “dance pants” were my every day trousers. They were lightweight, kept me cool and covered my ankles for temples and walking through tall grass or hiking.

I still wear this sweater religiously, in a darker grey. With another thin layer underneath it can be ridiculously warm, or with just a bra it is a simple long sleeve layer. LOVE. Oh, and fun fact, it grows with me! I’ve worn it throughout my pregnancy, even at 9 months. It hasn’t gotten over-stretched, but just grows with my bump.

Solid Shampoo / Conditioner

You want to get through security without all those liquids? The Lush solid shampoo and conditioner bars were a lifesaver. They last about 30 uses, so we brought two of each BETWEEN us for 2.5 months. In the UK for two weeks we did splurge on liquid stuff while staying with family. Note – the conditioner isn’t as good as liquid conditioner, but it does the trick on the road.

That Was It!

Seriously, that’s all we packed. David had different electronics gear (his Macbook Pro, the Canon Rebel T3i, etc.). When I look at this list, once upon a time it terrified me, but now I know that we can and we DID travel with only carry on. On our way back from the UK we checked luggage, but that’s just because we decided to splurge a) on new suitcases in Bangkok and b) on some warmer clothes in the UK.

Have you ever tried to travel long-term with only carry-on? How did it go? What did you pack that you wish you left at home?

Note: This post contains affiliate links. 

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29 Responses to Packing Carry On Only for 3 Months of Travel

  1. Amanda January 13, 2016 at 10:27 am #

    Impressive!

  2. Nicole January 17, 2016 at 10:28 am #

    My hair did NOT enjoy the Lush solid shampoo and conditioner. I looked like Monica with her island hair http://themidwasteland.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Monica-Geller.jpg but maybe I need to try a different version of them cuz so many people have luck with them!

    Agreed with the Lulus. Lightweight, dry super quick when you wash them, so versatile, and classic enough you aren’t bored of wearing them when you get home (unlike all my tops that I threw away in Europe and replaced with new ones while over there…that I also threw away).

    I really enjoyed only having a carry on when we were in Europe last time. Me and Steph each had a baby rolling suitcase that was 30 pounds and it was perfection…until we got to Florence and Stephie bought 500$ worth of leather goods and then we had to buy a cheap duffel bag to haul around the extra stuff in and it was such a gongshow. It was too heavy to carry so we’d balance it on our two rolling suitcases and try to walk in sync. Which SHOCKINGLY did not work well (especially in Venice with the cobblestone streets, and the stairs and bridges every 10 feet).

    • Victoria Smith January 17, 2016 at 10:58 am #

      Bahaha, yes, carry on works if you’re not loading up with tons of souvenirs. Hence why we shipped our painting back home when we were halfway through Asia. Granted, it was probably much lighter than $500 worth of leather.

  3. Rachael January 20, 2016 at 6:14 pm #

    would have never thought of the solid shampoos from lush to avoid liquids!   will have to keep that in mind. I’m impressed!

    • Victoria Smith January 20, 2016 at 7:11 pm #

      First time we used them and they are awesome!

  4. Alexis Rivard January 20, 2016 at 6:23 pm #

    I do love a good pair of LuLus. It’s too bad they’re ridiculously expensive. Good on you for making it three months with just carry-ons. I’m not that strong willed.

    • Victoria Smith January 20, 2016 at 7:04 pm #

      They are expensive, but they last! I am still wearing the pair I brought on my trip (as we speak, in fact!) and they look as good as they did on day one, after many dodgy laundry service places in Asia!

  5. Sarah January 20, 2016 at 6:35 pm #

    Love Lulus! My favorite new leggings! I am not sure I could ever pack that light! I probably pack that for a weekend stay..lol. I do have a personal question…not looking for brands or anything..but, umm undies? They are on your list. I can’t live without those.

    • Victoria Smith January 20, 2016 at 7:03 pm #

      Oh no! Did I seriously forget underwear? Well… I packed two bras and seven pairs of underwear. I can’t face having to wash underwear, but they pack super small!

  6. Jessica January 20, 2016 at 7:16 pm #

    Too funny about forgetting underwear.

    I always pack at least two pairs of flip flops now because it is inevitable I lose or break one (one shoe, not pair). Also, don’t know how I ever traveled before without a GoPro! They’re great!

    • Victoria Smith January 20, 2016 at 7:17 pm #

      Aren’t they? We love ours… my only issue is that I hate editing footage. I can gather it… but apparently suck at putting it together to share

  7. rebecca January 20, 2016 at 10:56 pm #

    Some great links and resources 🙂

    • Victoria Smith January 21, 2016 at 9:28 am #

      Glad you found it helpful, Rebecca.

  8. Brenda January 20, 2016 at 11:10 pm #

    Now I feel challenged! I definitely want to do this! I needed some feedback on the solid shampoos/conditioner from Lush, this was totally helpful! I am definitely buying them for my next trip!

    • Victoria Smith January 21, 2016 at 9:28 am #

      Try them out before you go to see if they work with your hair type. Total honesty – I don’t really style my hair, not when traveling at least. I was a throw-my-hair-up-in-a-bun-or-pony kind of person, so the solid bars just kept my hair clean and shiny. If you are more ambitious with your hair, I’m not sure how they work, so give them a go pre-travel.

  9. Stephanie Raley January 21, 2016 at 4:59 am #

    Wow, you did so well to fit everything needed in a 30litre backpack! I brought leggings when I backpacked South East Asia, like you I wore them nearly everyday! My pair looked like jegiings but were so comfortable.
    I wish that I brought a sweater too, It was so cold sometimes!

    • Victoria Smith January 21, 2016 at 9:27 am #

      The key for me was a sports sweater that wicks away sweat, but keeps you just warm enough! If it was super cold, I needed the rain jacket also, but rarely.

  10. Elaina O' Brien January 21, 2016 at 7:46 am #

    Thanks for sharing! You make it look so easy, packing the right amount of things while staying comfortable is a never ending battle I’m still trying to beat! I’m going to follow this guide for my next long trip and get myself a pretty ospery backpack 🙂

    • Victoria Smith January 21, 2016 at 9:49 am #

      It only looks ‘easy’ because I had YEARS of packing way too much crap. YEARS!!!! And, total honesty, we did several trial packs before we actually landed on what we brought. When things didn’t fit, we culled until we landed on the necessities.

  11. Alisha January 21, 2016 at 3:54 pm #

    Wow, I can’t believe you were able to pack that much stuff into one backpack! Or that you were able to live with so little for so long! Great list for ideas!

    • Victoria Smith January 21, 2016 at 5:01 pm #

      Honestly, I’d done trips before with WAY more stuff and it was my back that suffered. And whoever I was traveling with based on how much I moaned every time we moved from place to place.

  12. Danielle Des January 21, 2016 at 4:31 pm #

    I was gifted a 45ML bag for Christmas, and for some reason I thought it would be too small for a week long trip. Boy was I wrong!

    • Victoria Smith January 21, 2016 at 4:54 pm #

      We also used packing cubes to keep things tight. That made a huge difference!

  13. Amanda January 22, 2016 at 2:19 pm #

    So I was thinking about this post earlier and I got to wondering about how you ate while travelling for 3 months with no kitchen equipment. Did you just save up so much spending money that you were able to eat out the whole time or did you still use grocery stores and find clever ways of eating from there without a kitchen? I know you stayed with family for part of the trip so that would have been easy, I was just wondering about the rest of the trip. If you have enough to say on the matter, it could be another interesting blog post when you have the time 🙂

    • Victoria Smith January 22, 2016 at 4:59 pm #

      In Asia almost everyone eats out. There are very few apartments that even have kitchens. Some meals were as cheap as 50 cents, most no more than a couple dollars. In the UK, you’re right, we ate some meals at our family’s house and the rest were probably M&S sandwiches and Greg’s lol. In Asia we would frequent 7/Eleven to get some snack type food, and they also have plastic cutlery at the till in you buy food that requires it.

  14. Sheila Dee January 22, 2016 at 9:32 pm #

    I’m in awe of your packing skills!

    • Victoria Smith January 23, 2016 at 10:47 am #

      Aw, thanks! Well, it took years of packing more than I needed to – I finally learned!

  15. jelisa January 24, 2016 at 2:18 am #

    I didn’t know that lululemon kept the sweat away!
    I’ve hit the point where I dont want to carry around a 55L anymore as well.
    Every single place I want to justgive all my things away at the end of the first week.

    Now I am going to try your packing style out in a few weeks for Eastern Europe!

    • Victoria Smith January 24, 2016 at 10:27 am #

      Fingers crossed this helps you in Eastern Europe.

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