The Master Packing List For Compact Travellers

The Master Packing List For Compact Travellers
OK, so I have to live out of one carry-on bag for a month. What makes the essentials list when I’m packing, and what doesn’t?

Working out what to pack has probably taken up more energy on the Hand Luggage Only project than anything else (even doing all the bookings took rather less effort). I’m already a frequent traveller, so I’ve got some firm ideas about what’s necessary and what isn’t: for instance, everything on the business travellers essentials and the international business traveller’s gadget packing checklist made the cut, except for the international power adaptor. (The only one of these that’s particularly bulky is the powerboard, but I know I’ll regret it if I don’t take that.)

I also took what amounted to a “dress rehearsal” trip earlier this month, to make sure everything would fit and I hadn’t forgotten something vital. So this is what I’m planning to pack, all of which fits (provided I’m careful — just how I do this I’ll post about later) in my 20cm by 35cm by 55cm bag.


T-shirts (3), socks (3 pairs), underwear (3), jeans, jacket, boardshort swimmers, pyjama pants, house shirt, shoes, belt

My twin remarks yesterday that I was planning to wear just one pair of jeans and never use hotel dry-cleaning services got several commenters (and Twitter users) rather excited. So let me clarify this right away: I’ll be hand washing whatever outerwear I’ve worn in my hotel room every night, and I’ll be using hotel or public laundromats that I operate myself — or the nearest machine if I stay with friends — to give the jeans and everything else a proper wash once a week or so.

That approach actually dictates both the type and number of the rest of the clothes. T-shirts are less hassle to hand wash than long-sleeved items; I’ve got dark, plain colours so they look mildly more formal if need be, and don’t show up the food stains. The jacket gives me a warmth option, and pockets for stuff when I’m on planes. The socks are all plain block work weight, and I’ve forsaken boxers to save space.

Having three of each main item — which means only two ever get packed, as I’m wearing one — means I’ll have to stick to the discipline of daily washing (otherwise, I suspect I’d end up skipping it too often). The pyjama pants and “house shirt” (a very lightweight industry freebie) give me something to wear whenever I get back to the room after the clothes for the day get washed. The swimmers are an alternative for that, let me get occasional exercise, and don’t take up much room. My shoes are a decent but un-showy pair of leather slip-ons (a longstanding travel habit from going to the US and constantly shedding shoes in airports).


notebook PC and adaptor, camera and charger, USB modem, phone and charger and cable, BlackBerry and charger and cable, USB drives (2), USB sticks (2), Skype headset, iPod Touch, iPod Nano, Ethernet cable, spare CF card, powerboard

I’m going to post about how I chose my PC later, and also discuss how most of this stuff fits in my “gadget bag”, a small zipped bag which goes inside the main case (part of my addiction to Russian doll packing). But in broad terms, I think most of this stuff is pretty self-explanatory. I have both a phone and a BlackBerry because I haven’t gotten around to consolidating the accounts (d’oh!), and also because I’m testing two models while travelling. And I use the Nano for music, while the Touch is exclusively for video.


deodorant, razor, spare blade, shaving stick, toothbrush, toothpaste

Again, this will be the subject of a more detailed post later on, but it’s pretty clear that everything has been chosen for compactness and relative inability to leak. I’m relying on hotels to supply me with soap and shampoo (and the latter will end up doing double duty to wash clothes). I have close-cropped hair, so I don’t need a brush or product for that. As readers have pointed out, there’s rather less to carry than if I was a woman toting makeup (though I know plenty of men whose set of male grooming products would consume a ridiculous amount of the available space).


2 cloth bags, one zippered work bag, plastic bag, travel umbrella, coffee mug, breakfast bowl, plastic cutlery, pen, pencil with eraser, pencil sharpener, small notepad, glasses, plate stand, travel documents in plastic wallet, passport, house keys, business cards, coat hanger, four pegs

The coat hanger makes drying the shirts easier (and slips into the top pocket of the bag along with the travel documents, which are mostly hotel check-in forms). The spare cloth bags let me go and shop for food, which I can eat out of the bowl. (These do double-duty holding other items inside the bag).

The larger work bag (which lies flat on the bottom of the main case) is for when I go out to conferences, or if some airport official insists that I have to check the single bag and forces me to remove all the tech. And the plastic bag is for the inevitable occasion when my clothes haven’t dried before I have to check out.

The “pencil with eraser” is because of my Killer Sudoku addiction. The plate stand is for bedside iPod viewing. (I carry my wallet and wear my watch everywhere, so I’m not counting those as packed luggage.)

Have I missed something obvious? What would you do differently? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Throughout May 2009, Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman will be travelling throughout Australia with just one carry-on bag for the Hand Luggage Only project.


  • A torch. Having been caught in a total blackout one night at a hotel in Cairns, well worth the little extra weight. Doesn’t need to be big. Even one of those little LED ones are very useful. And a smallish first aid kit. Usually used on OTHER people. Only needs to be the size of a washroom bag with a couple of bandaids, Nuorofen,, Imodeum etc. Nothing worse than a sliced finger and nothing to stem the bleeding. Even a paper cut.

    • There are some band aids currently in the wash bag, but I probably should expand a little. For a torch these days, I use the BlackBerry, which is always by the bed for alarm clock purposes anyway.

  • my suggestion for something small but insanely useful is a sturdy string. take a small roll of it for a makeshift clothesline, to bind stuff together, to fix broken shoelaces just to name a few. Definitely worth the space.

  • Angus, have you ever traveled anywhere?
    Your lists always forget things. You won’t be hired as my personal assistant.

    I’ve just thought of 2 essential things without much thought: Belt and Aftershave/Perfume.

    • Methinks you doth presume too much. Neither of those would qualify as entirely essential. Don’t wear aftershave, so that’s definitely not an essential. For a lot of people, a belt isn’t either. I will have one, but I’ll pretty much be wearing it every day, so it won’t ever get packed as such. But that applies to the jeans too, so I’ve added it to the list for completeness.

    • Angus’s list seems pretty complete to me. I don’t use perfume/aftershave, my deodorant works just fine for keeping me smelling fresh.

      And you don’t really need to ‘pack’ a belt, if you use it as part of your daily attire it’s like a wallet and watch, your always going to be using it anyway.

  • A book?
    Essential for travelling in my mind, especially when your laptop runs out of juice, but can take up a bit of weight.
    Have you checked how much all this weighs? Unless you take out your tech bag for each flight, you might find you are over the 7kg limit.

  • Angus, I understand that you are testing some of these products, but personally I would have replaced the phone and charger and cable, BlackBerry and charger and cable, iPod Touch, & iPod Nano, with an iphone including the standard hands-free and the USB Charger and USB charge adapter for separate charging. I think you can also get a little adaptor that could convert the standard hands-free into something you can use on Skype on your netbook.

    Also an old scouting trick, I would have placed a large garbage bag in the carry-on bag first and then placed everything in that. That way if you do get stuck in heavy rain, your carry-on’s contents don’t become a swamp.

    • There’s no way I’d travel without the BlackBerry – it’s infinitely superior to the iPhone as a productivity tool in my experience. If I’d been more organised, it could have replaced the phone and the iPods.

  • If your iPods and phones all have USB cables that they can charge off of, you could just use your laptop as a charging station. Some laptops have USB ports that supply power even if the laptop is off which is handy. It would definitely save a lot of weight considering all the power adaptors and the power board you pack.

  • Instead of a torch take a “head lamp”. You get them at a sporting goods store. They are hands free. I keep mine in my backpack, which goes under the airline seat. I have used it when the airline light over my seat didn’t work and in hotels when I don’t want to disturb my husband.
    As to after shave/perfume suggested by Wobble. I say leave it home. There is nothing worse than sitting for twelve hours beside a person who smells like flowers.
    My last recommendation is to ditch the jeans and go for pants made of quick dry fabric. Jeans take forever to dry and are heavy and bulky to pack. You can then wash the pants in the hotel room along with your underwear.
    See my blog post on packing for a three week trip

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