I retired from the working life in 2012 at the age of 56. I spend all my time traveling. I am on the road for 6-8 months of the year. Over time, I’ve learned how to travel with only carry-on luggage and have enough clothes and most essential supplies to last the duration of my journey. I thought I’d share what I bring on my travels and how I pack it all up. I’ve consulted two websites for tips on travel that have proven useful and you might find them useful too. Here they are:
The Wirecutter is a New York Times Company website. The travel section has many good tips on gear that they’ve tested and reviewed. I’ve tried most of their suggestions for gear, but deviated from their recommendations on a few things.
Onebag is another great website that provides a thoughtful discussion on just about everything you’d want to consider to pack light.
Now I’d like to share what gear I use and how I pack up all my stuff so that it 1) fits as carry-on luggage on an airplane, 2) is relatively easy to carry around, and 3) will be sufficient for 6 months or more of travel.
You’ll notice regular-sized bananas in most of the photos. They are included to give a sense of scale.
I travel with two bags, a 45 l Patagonia Bag and a 25 l Gregory Bag.
For one, they are rectangular and not dome-shaped, giving more space to pack stuff. I bring both on as carry-on. Never had a problem ever.
Main bag: Patagonia Headway MLC 45
I bought this one in Canada at the Mountain Equipment Co-Op. It has enough space for just about all my clothes and accessories. I like this one because it functions as a suitcase and has hidden straps if you want to wear it as a backpack. I don’t like bags that don’t have hidden straps. Too bulky.
I like UNIQLO‘s clothes. Modestly priced, pretty good quality, notably jackets, t-shirts and boxer underwear.
I adopted the packing cube method to keep all my clothes neatly arranged. The Wirecutter recommends Eagle Creek packing cubes, but I found the zippers break and the tabs on the zippers fall off, so I sent them back to the company and they said “tough luck.” So much for customer service. Now I’ve transitioned to MEC Packing Cubes which are more sturdy and lighter than the Eagle Creek ones.
Icebreaker is a Merino wool brand from New Zealand. A bit pricey, but they are good quality. I have mixed feelings about Merino wool in hot places. You’ll read elsewhere that says wool wicks moisture and doesn’t get too stinky. I find that not really true. I bring maybe 2 wool tops, a 100% cotton short-sleeve buttoned shirt and the rest 100% cotton t-shirts. I don’t get too attached to t-shirts. Over time when they lose their shape, I’ll just buy more tops locally (cheap)
So I take a mix of underwear. With long pants in transit, I’ll use the SAXX or Ex-Officio, but when it’s hot out and I’m in shorts, I wear the 100% cotton boxers for more airflow and comfort.
I bring 4 athletic low-cut socks and 3 pairs of crew wool socks.
Footwear and Hats
I bring two pairs of footwear: flip flops and a good sturdy pair of running shoes.
The Wirecutter recommends Havainas flip flops. I used to use Crocs, but I agree: Havainas are light, easy to pack and are sufficient for short walks, protecting hygiene in showers, and as a change from my main shoes. Inexpensive to boot.
I walk almost everywhere. I walk 10 km a day (> 10,000 steps) for exercise and because I like to walk around at ground level to see everything. A good pair of sturdy shoes are essential. I used to wear Merrell hiking shoes, but I found them bulky and they got hot. These days I use Asics Gel-Nimbus 20 running shoes, but really, any running shoe you feel comfortable wearing are fine.
In the photo above you’ll see two hats. A hat is essential in sunny places, so I pack two: a peaked baseball cap and a Goorin Bros. Porkpie paper hat. The paper hat can be packed for travel, but you cannot wear it in rain. It’s paper and will dissolve! Nonetheless, I wear this one as my main hat in sunny climates.
Outlier is a Wirecutter-recommended brand from New York City. Very pricey and I had to pay customs duty to import them into Canada. I just got them. So far so good, but that price tag is a bit much.
I like Banana Republic. Very well made and not too pricey. I chose the traveller pants which are stretchy and cool in warm climates.
Since I spend a lot of time in shorts, I find these Quiksilver Amphibian shorts great because they double as a swimsuit, dry very quickly and are easy to wash and wear.
For backup, I have a pair of Under Armour shorts
I use a Muji stretch belt with trousers. Light, compact, inexpensive, simple.
These Lucky Fiji laundry sheets are from the Korean appliance maker LG. I found them on Amazon.ca (or Amazon.com internationally). They look like thick paper but dissolve completely in cold water. No harmful chemicals, no residue. They use a naturally-derived enzyme from papaya and baking soda to dissolve dirt. Natural and safe for sensitive skin. Clothes smell fresh with a very, very subtle scent of lavender and citrus. Great for carry-on because they are not liquid, light and easy to pack.
I use a half-sheet in a bathroom sink of water. I let the clothes soak for about 15 minutes, agitate a bit, rinse and done. They leave no residue.
The Wirecutter recommends this liquid soap, Soak, as the best to wash clothes because you use a very small amount (one cap in a gallon of water), drop your clothes in for 15 minutes, wring them out and hang them up. No rinsing. Sounds great, but I’ve tried this stuff. It doesn’t really wash all that well. If anything, it simply covers up smell by adding a fragrance. I tried all 6 scents and the only one I could stand was the “Lacey” one. I don’t recommend packing this stuff. You’d be better off with the Lucky Fiji sheets or just buy a small bag of washing powder locally.
I bought this braided rubber travel clothesline by Flexo-Line and it’s just great for hanging up clothes to dry in your room. It stretches out to 7 feet (~2 meters) and you don’t need clothespins. You just tuck a bit of cloth in the braid and that’s it. You have to be creative to find two points to loop the ends around- doorknobs, wall screws, whatever you can find. (Note: this was hard to find in Canada. I could only find one online outlet in Vancouver to buy it: Travel Smart. It was a little pricey.
There are two types of sunscreen available these days: 1) chemical and 2) physical. Chemical-based sunscreens are absorbed by the skin and change the way the skin reacts to UV rays. Physical-based sunscreens, like zinc or titanium oxide, stay on the surface of the skin, do not get absorbed and block UV rays before they enter the body. Because physical sunscreens are not absorbed by the body, they are not going to cause problems which may arise through skin absorption. The other benefit of physical sunscreens is they are not as damaging to the environment. These days oceans are heating up and aquatic life is affected by chemical sunscreens, so much so that chemical sunscreens are being banned from use. Hawaii is the first state in the United States to ban their use. After some research, I’ve been using Thinksport Sunscreen. It is mainly zinc oxide, goes on well, doesn’t smell much at all and is surprisingly non-greasy. Highly recommended. It comes in TSA-approved size of 3 ounces (89 ml). A bit pricey, but worth it.
I don’t bring a lot of toiletries with me, just the essentials pictured above. Frankly, you can find all this stuff almost every pharmacy where you travel, but if you really like a certain product, bring it along. Remember the objective is to pack and travel light.