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This complete carry on packing list for long term travel has come about through a lot of trial and error. I’ve been on the road full time for almost two years now, and this list has changed a lot.
Next, Daniel and I came home for the holidays and then set off for 2.5 months in Mexico. This round was better, but still not quite up to par and I cut my list down again.
Now, were on a 7-month trip through the Balkans. This time, I donated or gave away almost all of my clothes before we left and then went on a small shopping spree at Old Navy. Then, I packed with purpose and I finally feel like I’ve hit the jackpot.
If you want to prepare with confidence for your next trip, I’m here to share some of my hard-earned insight with my complete carry on packing list for long term travel!
This is going to be female-oriented ’cause I’m a girl but for all the guys reading this it shouldn’t be too hard to swap out what you need instead. This is literally all of the clothes that I brought with me on my 7-month trip through the Balkans and it has to cover me for spring, summer, and fall temperatures.
So far, it’s help up up pretty well and this is everything I recommend adding to your own carry on packing list for a long term trip.
1 pair of workout leggings
1 pair of black leggings that I replace constantly because they always wear out. If you have a rec for a sturdy pair please comment below!
1 pair of jeans
1 pair of jean shorts
1 pair of pajama pants
3 workout shirts – I like to have one tank, one tee, and one long-sleeved shirt.
4 basic tees – I like Old Navy because they feel high-quality and fit well. I have one each in pink, red, blue and black.
2 nice sweaters
2 nicer shirts for going out
2 long sleeved shirts – again I like the Old Navy ones that are tight on the arms but flowy on my body, and I have a dark and a light gray one.
2 dresses – the key is to keep these very light and casual.
10 pairs of underwear
1 sports bra
2 camis – one black and one white
8 pairs of socks including one pair of long socks for hiking.
1 heavier coat – Mine is from Sam’s Club and I love it. It’s fitted and warm but still packs into a small drawstring bag to make it easy for travel. Unless you’re going to be traveling somewhere exceptionally cold stick to a lighter coat that you can layer for warmth instead of dragging around a thick heavy one.
Talk to any long term traveler and they’ll all have the same complaint about their carry on packing list: shoes ruin everything. They’re big and bulky, not very versatile, and impossible to pack in any special way that makes them less annoying.
I carry four pairs of shoes (which may seem crazy) but with so much walking and hiking I had no choice. These four pairs currently make up my carry on packing list for shoes.
1 pair of hiking boots – I’ve been using the same pair of Timberland Boots for years and love them.
1 pair of sandals
1 pair of running shoes with my custom made orthotics.
1 pair of cuter/nice shoes to go out in. If your running shoes are cute enough you can skip these, or if you’re going somewhere super warm chances are you’re going to wear flip flops 24/7 and you can also skip these.
This one isn’t too long because I’m not super into beauty and jewelry. However, there are definitely a few things you might want to add to your carry on packing list.
Earrings – I chucked all mine into a small box and that seems to work pretty well.
Makeup – If you wear a lot you’re going to have to cut down. If you can fit everything into a small case that’ll make packing for the frequent short weekend trips so much easier.
Travel sized lotion
Dry shampoo – I love this but I’ve found it’s super hard to find outside of the US.
Extra hair ties
Toothbrush and toothpaste
Bobby pins – Inevitably I lose them all in the first few months until I just have a sacred two or three that I guard with my life until I get home. Am I the only one?
Shampoo/conditioner/face wash – This is optional but I like to pack it if I can fit it because it’s so nice to shower when we arrive after a long day (or more) of traveling. If you arrive late and the shops are closed you’ll be stuck sleeping in that greasy travel feeling ’til morning and I hate it.
I’m staring at a jumbled pile of chargers and wires as I write this and it’s not surprising that this carry on packing list for tech is longer than you may originally think. All the tech I lug around with me from country to country includes…
Portable charging block – I use one very similar to this (honestly can’t find it at the moment to find the exact brand) that holds multiple charges. You have to remember to charge it before you travel but if you do you can watch Netflix, listen to music, and waste so much battery on your phone with peace of mind knowing that it’ll never die again 🙂
2 universal adaptors
Kindle – I used to be on the fence about them but Kindles are absolutely essential for sanity. During long term travel books in English are hard to find and usually way too expensive to justify buying anyway. Now I can get anything on demand from my library, no matter where in the world I am (for free!).
VPN subscription – In very unscientific terms, VPNs basically route your internet browsing through any country you choose. I use Vypr VPN and it lets me access websites with geographical restrictions like Netflix and HBO. Use this link to get 25% off the annual plan.
Spotify subscription – Recently I’ve been into downloading stand-up comedy for our frequent bus rides, but I also just love it for all the awesome new music I discover and how easy it always is to have playlists ready for long trips.
Netflix subscription – I’m kind of convinced that no one pays for Netflix anymore and we’re all just borrowing someone else’s login info. If you, unfortunately, don’t have anyone you can mooch off of I strongly recommend investing in Netflix before you go. Most/all of your apartments won’t have cable and you’ll only get channels in the local language so Netflix will become essential to your nightly routine.
5. More Stuff on my carry on packing list
Last but not least is the list of random other stuff that has made its way into my day-to-day routine. Starting, of course, with the most important thing for every traveler… the backpack!
Osprey Farpoint 55L Backpack – I’m so in love with this Osprey bag. First, it opens and closes like a suitcase so you don’t have to dig vertically into it every time you need something. It also comes with a zip-on day pack that I use constantly for the gym, hikes, day trips or just working at a cafe. Best of all, it has a lifetime warranty and is, of course, carry on sized for major airlines.
Water bottle – Reusable water bottles are important to protect the earth and to stay hydrated during long bus rides or flights. I love this Vibrant All-In-One bottle that I got for Christmas because it keeps my drinks cold for ages and has a strainer to make tea or flavored water.
Wallet – After Dan was pickpocketed (multiple times) I now use a clutch to put my money and phone in when we go out. It’s great because my leggings never have pockets anyway and it keeps everything safe as well.
Small notebook and pen because it’s much more satisfying to actually cross things off my to-do list every day. I personally love my Panda Planner Pro and use it daily, but any old notebook will do.
7. More Resources for Long Term Travelers
This final list isn’t things that I pack but just essential online resources that I use often on my travels and I think you should know about as well.
Airbnb for long term accommodation.
Skyscanner I always compare prices on flights with Skyscanner as the first step of any trip planning that I do because you can search from your airport to “everywhere” to find the cheapest options.
Meetup.com to get connected with others.
Upwork.com makes it super easy to make money and travel as a freelance writer.
Google Photos to regularly upload all my pictures and videos and keep them safe and organized.
Library card to access a huge variety of free ebooks on the kindle. If you don’t have one stop what you’re doing and get it now!!
Kanopy – if you have a library card, you may also get access to Kanopy (depending on your library). The free video streaming platform has documentaries, indie films, and educational content.
The Google Translate App – just hold your camera over a menu or sign and it will translate it to English right before your eyes. Pretty cool.
DuoLingo or any language learning app will do. We used these much more in South America when we were learning and using Spanish every day, but it’s free and offers plenty of language options no matter what country you’re in.
My Complete Carry On Packing List for Long Term Travel
Can you believe all of this fits in my carry-on sized Osprey backpack and day pack? It sounds like much more than it is to be honest.
I hope this packing list for long term travel helps you out on your next trip, and if you have any questions or recommendations please feel free to comment below!
PS learn how I afford to travel full time with freelance writing and digital marketing, or check out the Working Abroad Series for more unique ways to make money on the road. If travel blogging is your dream, The Business of Travel Blogging Course from Nomadic Matt has everything you need to know to get started.