Packing for carry-on only

The joys of carry-on luggage far outweigh any downside. It’s perfect if your trip is a two to four days in each place, then on local transport. It’s:

  • satisfying being able to carry what you need in 7Kgs
  • liberating, just sling your bag over your shoulder and be on your way
  • speedy – you can move faster when necessary
  • secure – keep your bag near you (usually) on a crowded bus.

It does mean that you need to wash your clothes as you use them, or when you get the opportunity and that hasn’t been a biggie for me. I am fussy about wearing clean clothes. And do note that humid jungles mean it might take a while to get your clothes dry – whether you wash them yourself or take them to laundry – only solar and wind driers here.

It would work best if you’re:

  • only travelling in warmer climates as it’s easier wardrobe-wise. I haven’t done carry-on only when travelling in mixed climes. Though you do need some warmer items for the plane and higher mountain areas.
  • going to places where you can buy necessities eg sun block.

The first thing for me was changing my mindset. I used to be a ‘take it in case’ traveller and am now a “can I buy it there if I need it traveller?”. Minimalism rules.

The bags I took to Central America

My trusty Macpac Koru 35 bag contained my worldly possessions. It can be used as a shoulder or cross-body or backpack. I mainly used it cross body. It has various zip pockets to conveniently stash things .

Macpac Koru bag to backpack

My luggage

I also took a Pacsafe cross body bag  which had all the security features – one less thing for me to worry about being a solo female traveller. I used this as my day pack on jungle hikes etc and it did get a bit uncomfortable with two water bottles etc. Not unmanageably though.

I did covet someone’s bag that looked like this Patagonia Lightweight Travel Courier but when I investigated when I got back to NZ, the postage made it too expensive.

Clothes I took

  • pair long Outdoor research trousers – it did get cool in mountain towns and you need longs for horse-riding
  • 2 pairs Macpac shorts
  • Icebreaker merino hooded cardy/jacket
  • 2 singlet tops in quick dry fabric
  • 3 loose tops cover shoulders: silk or quick dry
  • Outdoor Research long sleeve light top w hood
  • sarong
  • belt – I lost weight
  • 2 bikinis (top doubles as bra)
  • 1 bra
  • 5 undies
  • jandals
  • Keens


  • lightweight small toilet bag
  • deodorant
  • Bivouac liquid shampoo/soap laundry wash – soap sometimes supplied at accommodation
  • toothbrush and  small toothpaste – replaced with a foldable toothbrush in El Salvador
  • personal meds and emergency meds doc gave me: antibiotics, anti-shit, etc.

Other items

  • New Zealand stickers with bright pictures and Maori and English words for the kids. They loved them
  • sunnies
  • prescription glasses
  • Panasonic GF2 camera with zoom and prime lenses
  • unruled soft cover student notebook
  • pens with gaffer tape wrapped around
  • Galaxy tablet – for blogging, reading, internet etc
  • waterproof bag for camera and tablet
  • silk sleeping bag liner – very pleased I took this, as no under-blankets in most places I stayed
  • passport and debit card
  • small change purse with two compartments for different currencies
  • watch – set at 24 hour so I didn’t get mixed up with time zones and miss early morning buses
  • NZ to US adaptor plug – get a double one if you can
  • paperback novel which I left/gave away as soon as I finished it.

What I bought when I got there

  • sun block and used that as all over moisturiser
  • insect repellent
  • small torch
  • disposable razor
  • get maps and hotel toiletries as you go.

When I left

I went through all my luggage and left in the hotel anything I could replace when I got home, except my most useful travel clothes. So most toiletries, jandals, a top, etc.

It worked for me and I’ll do it again on my next trip.