How to pack the perfect carry-on even for long-haul trips

In recent years, I’ve started traveling by myself more and more. When you’re traveling alone, you really need to be able to manage your stuff. It helps you stay safe in a hostel, it makes you more mobile/adaptable to unexpected changes, and it’s easier to pick up your stuff when you have to go to the bathroom in an airport (remember, you can’t leave your bag unattended!) I swear by minimalist traveling, which for me means traveling with one carry on sized back (no matter how long the trip will be). In reality, all you need is a ticket, a passport, and a backpack. 

The Equipment

Having the right bag is extremely important. I’ve used a carry on sized duffle, a roller bag, and I’ve tried a couple of different backpack models and styles. In the end, I’ve fallen in LOVE with my Kelty Redwing 44 Backpack*.

There are several great features to this bag, but I will highlight the best two. First of all, it is the largest carry on sized backpack you can have. It fits PERFECTLY into the overhead bin or tightly under the seat in front of you. Secondly, it has the U-shaped zipper. This feature has changed my life! It allows me to be able to get to everything in my bag without having to unpack it.

Now that you have the right bag to carry everything, consider having a day pack. When you’re wandering around a new city or leaving your campsite, you don’t want to have to carry your whole pack. Therefore I recommend taking an Outlander Packable Daypack*. This bag packs down into a small pouch and unfolds into a 20L bag. It’s not meant for heavy usage, but if you’re taking a day hike or a stroll around the city that will require more than you could reasonably fit into your purse, this bag will definitely do the trick!

Finally, always carry a water bottle with some type of handle. You never know when you’ll need a water bottle and the handle makes it possible to clip onto your bag to free up your hands when running around the airport.

Handy tips and tricks


Let’s be real: when you’re planning a 2-3 week trip, a travel-size bottle of shampoo isn’t going to cut it. Below are my tricks to limiting the liquids in my bag.

  1. Toothpaste– I picked up this trick from another blog. Creating toothpaste dots has seriously changed the travel game for me. I usually use the whole tube of dollar store toothpaste which creates about 30-45 dots. Then I store them in an old gum case. To use them, you just pop one in your mouth, chew it a little to rehydrate it, then brush your teeth as you normally would. They work great and are not an issue with security.
  2. Shampoo and Conditioner– This was a bit trickier, but then I found out about Lush Shampoo Bars. They work great on most types of hair and they smell amazing! Lush also sells Conditioner Bars. The conditioner bars are not as hair friendly as the shampoo bar (you need to mix it with water in your hands; do NOT apply the bar directly to your hair), but it’s the only product out there like it and they’re constantly trying to improve their formula.
  3. Sunscreen– I present, Neutrogena Sunscreen Stick *. I was a bit skeptical of this sunscreen until I started using it. Now it’s my preferred sunscreen, even when I’m not traveling!
  4. Bug repellent– A few months ago, I took a trip to Costa Rica where I was staying in the rainforest. I knew that I was going to need some bug spray but I was trying to avoid liquids. That’s when I came across Cutter Insect Repellent Wipes *. I am usually the person that gets eaten alive by mosquitos. I went to the jungle and came back with one bug bite. ONE! This stuff is amazing, packs down super small, and goes through TSA security without an issue.
  5. Lotion– There are several options out there for lotions, but my personal preference is e.l.f. Lotion Wipes*. I’ve used these wipes in several cold and dry places including Antarctica, Russia, and Chile. It goes on smoothly and helps keep my skin from cracking.
  6. Face wash– There are also several options out there for face wash/wipes. I personally have some mild acne, so my preference is Cetaphil Cleansing Cloths*.

At this point, the only liquids I travel with are contact solution and Downy wrinkle release spray

How to limit your packing

One way to limit your packing is to consider using Exficio Underwear. I swear by this product. You can wash your underwear in the sink and it’ll dry within a couple of hours ready for you to wear the next day. Another way to limit your packing is to accept the fact that you can wear the same thing more than once. When you’re traveling, no one will know if you wear the same outfit twice! I like to plan outfits that can mix and match. I also plan around my shoes. I pack one pair of cute, comfortable ballet flats that I can use to walk around the city and also look nice with a sundress. I also wear my hiking boots on the plane (I like outdoor travel). Though if you’re not looking to hike, wear whichever pair of shoes takes up the most space. Also, a personal packing tip, if you have feet that sweat like mine, I recommend packing your shoes in a plastic bag and throwing a dryer sheet in there with it. It’ll keep your shoes from making everything in your bag smell like feet.

The almighty packing list

Below is my go-to packing list. This fits comfortably in my Kelty Redwing 44. I’ve taken this pack on trips as short at 1 week and as long as 2 months. When packing your bag, be sure to roll your clothes to maximize space.

The Packing List

Toothpaste dots


Lush Shampoo Bar and Conditioner

Hairbrush, hair ties (bring a few extras just in case)

Lotion wipes

Face wipes

Neutrogena Sunscreen Stick

Cutters All Family bug repellent wipes (if hiking)

Contact solution


Travel size bottle of Downy wrinkle release spray

Feminine Hygiene products


Bar of soap

Basic make-up (foundation, mascara, lip tint)

2 pairs of Exficio underwear

2-3 bras

5 tank tops

2-3 pairs of leggings

2 pairs of jeans

4 pairs of socks

1 lightweight jacket (NEVER FORGET A JACKET)

2-3 nice tops/sweaters (depending on the weather)

1-2 t-shirts (that can be disposed of it need be)

1 pair of shorts (for sleeping)

1 lock (for hostels)

1-2 sundresses

1 pair ballet flats

1 pair hiking boots

Travel towel

Cell phone



1 deck of cards (easiest way to make new friends)

Happy Packing!

All items with the * are affiliate links to Boots not Roots Amazon affiliate program.