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The Solo Traveler Blog

Bare Minimum Packing

bare minimum packing

Some things are packed. Some are worn.

As a solo traveler, I feel it is important to pack light. By packing light I am in control. I face fewer line-ups at airports and I am more mobile. Because I can handle my luggage myself, I can save money by taking buses rather than taxis. And I think I am less of a target than someone who has a large suitcase or multiple bags.

To me, packing light just makes sense. But it seems that few can do it.

As I travel to conferences to speak about travel blogging, other bloggers wonder at my ability to put it all in one carry-on and a day pack. Last November I went to Los Angeles for four days, then to London for four days, on to Wales for a lot of walking and north to Liverpool and Edinburgh. I traveled for 19 days in total. Needless to say, the weather and activities between LA and Edinburgh were very different. But I had everything I needed in one carry-on and a day pack.

Essentially, you don’t need much more for a month than you do for a week. With this in mind, here are the packing lists:

Packing List – the Essentials

  • All paperwork: hotel confirmations, flight information, passport and travel insurance info
  • Global plugin adapter
  • eReader – Kindle, Kobo, iPad (whatever you use)
  • Journal and pen
  • Computer and ac adapter
  • Phone and cable
  • Camera and charger
  • Prescription medication, vitamins, supplements, water bottle
  • Tiny first aid kit
  • Conditioner, hair product, face cream, makeup, deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, brush, razor, shave soap
  • A few feet of duct tape can come in quite handy.
  • A couple of resealable plastic bags.

Packing List for Women

To be pack-worthy, everything you take must go with many things. To have clothes for a range of activities that work together, choose one color palette. Working with a base color like black or brown along with a contrasting color such as grey or beige and an accent color, makes sure that everything you’re carrying works together.

  • Shoes – two pairs total. one pair street shoes (or sandals) and one pair of dressier shoes. (if you need hiking boots, wear them on the plane. You can tie them onto your carry-on or backpack and wear your street shoes at your destination.) Shoes make or break an outfit so choose them carefully. Only bring shoes that have proven themselves comfortable.
  • Pants – three pairs total or two pairs and one dress or skirt. (Wear your most comfortable on the plane.)
  • Tops – five tops, one light sweater and one camisole (that works as an under layer for hiking and under a jacket for a dressier look).
  • One cardigan OR light jacket that can dress up or down depending on jeans/pants and accessories.
  • Belt, inexpensive jewelery, one scarf to dress up casual clothes
  • Pashmina scarf  – it has so many uses from head cover to beach coverup to protection from a wind storm.
  • Umbrella, scarf, gloves, rain pants, hat, vest, pair of sunglasses (depending on weather of your destinations)
  • Bathing suit
  • Pajamas, underwear, socks

Sounds like a lot but it’s not. Rinse clothes out when necessary. Count what you didn’t use when you get back and don’t pack it again.

Packing List for Men

A man’s packing list is not a lot different from a woman’s except that it’s easier. There is not as much nuance in what a man wears and, throw a blazer onto a guy wearing jeans and a t-shirt, and he looks great. So, here’s the men’s packing list.

  • Shoes – two pairs total. one pair street shoes (or sandals) and one pair of dressier shoes. (Like above, if you need hiking boots, wear them on the plane.) Only bring shoes that have proven themselves comfortable.
  • Pants / shorts – three pairs total. You know your style but one pair should not be jeans.
  • 4 t-shirts (make sure at least one of them is white to wear under a dress shirt). If you’re going some place tropical or humid, make sure that they are very light and pack more of them.
  • 1 golf shirt or casual shirt with a collar.
  • 1 dress shirts
  • One blazer. (This is optional, of course, but really useful. Choose a light fabric.)
  • Belt and tie (if you’re into that look)
  • Umbrella, scarf, gloves, rain pants, hat, vest, pair of sunglasses (depending on weather of your destinations)
  • Bathing suit
  • Underwear, pajamas and socks

Packing Light Tips

  • Don’t pack the bulky things – wear them on the plane.
  • Follow carry-on rules according to your airline. Be really careful about the weight. Just because you can fit it into a carry-on does not mean they will let you on the plane with it.
  • Watch the restrictions on the size of bottle liquids and other items you are allowed to carry on board.
  • Be considerate of other passengers and don’t hog the overhead space.



Related posts:

  • EPOC

    Love Monaco, and Nice.

  • Mark Northcott

    I started travelling in Dec 2012 and I am still going. I started with two big bags (one backpack and one with wheels) and a smaller carry-on. I am 191cm so it was hard work but manageable when I moved from place to place.
    I have reduced this by quite a bit Now I just have the backpack and carry-on and have left stuff with people as I go or given away to charity. I definitely took more than I needed.
    However, I would say that enough clothes for a week is a must, unless you love washing. Also for long term travelling, clothing for all weather extremes is very important (unless you know you wont be travelling to any places with extreme weather).
    I completely agree that you need something more dressy. You might use them rarely but when you do, you will be glad you packed them.

  • TravelDude

    Did anyone ask you anything or give you the impression that your negativity matters? You’re wrong by the way: if your backpack is light enough, you can give it a good swing and knock out the criminal. If it is very heavy, you can crush him with it. Shows what you know…

  • Carol Anderson

    Actually they do sell a brand of such tape called Duck Tape, comes in colors and patterns. I assume a play on the common mispronunciation. I get it at Michael’s.

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  • Margaret

    Methinks you are a tad jealous or just an angry person

  • Gwen Menz

    Very true about folks not knowing what you wore the day before. Long as you don’t get dirty or smelly (hiking, etc), there’s no sense in NOT reusing your outfit!

  • Gwen Menz

    The Sponge Bob backpack is an excellent idea! If I was a thief looking for a ritzy Prada bag (or something of that nature), Sponge Bob would not be looked at twice —- love it!

  • Janice Waugh

    Oh my goodness, I know better and yet still made the mistake. My sons would be horrified! Thanks so much for letting me know. It’s fixed.


  • John Yohalem

    There is no such thing as duck tape unless you use it to attach ducks to one another. Duct tape.

  • mary

    My backpack has little wheels so I can pull it thru airports and wear it up hills. I’ve travelled for 3 weeks at a time hopping easily on and off motorcycles, buses, and ferries with just the one bag. I swear by the single colour trick and a couple of thrift store throw aways but I take all the underwear I can fit in and throw them away as I go. Fresh knickers make outer clothes go extra days and they’re ridiculously cheap to buy a new pack as needed. If everything is one colour, it all washes as one load if you do hit a laundry mat and I’ve met the most wonderful people for the hour it takes to hang at the laundry. My most versatile item is the light-weight shawl. It’s a pillow on a plane, a skirt in a church, a sun protector scarf, or a keep off the chill evening wrap and when not in use it ties to the pack handles. When I’m travelling to a one-stop destination then I get to take my big case and indulge my sandal collection or bring a little something back.

  • Janice Waugh


  • Limosch

    When I travel I usually go for a month and stay at each destination for about 3 days. Besides packing light I have found that organizing my stuff in Eagle Creek travel packing cubes make it much easier to find clothes and keep them wrinkle free. The other items that helps reduce the amount of clothes but allows you to feel like you have more than you are taking are convertible or reversible clothing. I have bathing suits, pants, shirts and dresses that can be used in different ways. With only a few things I can make at least 20 different outfits. :-)

  • vueweru

    yJqu Last years i used to be low on $$ and debts were eating me from all sides! that was Right Until i found out how to generate money.. on the INTERNET. I landed on surveymoneymaker period net, and started filling in surveys for straight cash, and really I’ve been greatly more able to pay my bills! i am so glad i did this!!! – DHsJ

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  • Claire Taylor

    I love the idea of showering in your sleep wear to keep cool! I’ll remember this for future trips :)

  • Claire Taylor

    When I first started out as a naive traveller on my way to Australia for a working holiday, I couldn’t comprehend the idea of not having a dressing gown (bath robe?) and a top pocket full of… stuff… Yeah, I liked my stuff. As a result I left the UK with an 80 (yes! Actually 80!!) litre backpack which I filled and struggled to keep under the airline’s 20kg limit.
    The more I moved around and realised how stuff is utterly unimportant and no, one really doesn’t need a dressing gown and a big, fluffy towel when staying in backpacker hostels, I’ve gotten my luggage down to a 43 litre backpack plus a smaller, carry on rucksack which doubles as my only luggage when I want to go on a few day tour. Even now, just during my day to day “real life” it only takes me and a mate to move everything I own when I move house in one go. And we take the bus.

  • movers Nebraska

    Thank you for sharing this post. Although I am a gent, it may come as a surprise but I also find packing very stressful. I seem not to be contented with what I put in my bag. I certainly need to learn how to pack light especially that I travel a lot. This list you shared is very helpful!

  • Sandra O’RourkeGlynn

    I only every take carry on luggage and travel a lot for up to 3 months at a time, places have washing machines, very seldom do I take a larger bag and normally that is only to the US as is the case next week Ill be in San Francisco for 12 days to check it out before heading to LA and San Diego and Houston so I need clothing for different climates. Ive been traveling since 1989 for work but solid for myself for the last 3 years and have never wavered on the hand luggage only deal.

  • Queenabbess

    Go Girl is an excellent idea. You would never carry around a “messy, dripping thing for hours”. If unable to rinse it at a sink, you would simply dry it off after usage with the toilet tissue.that I hope you would remember to bring with you. I store mine in a small plastic bag, which is then placed in a small drawstring bag. It takes up no room to speak of, and serves as an ingenious solution to those who don’t like squatting.

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  • sheila

    YOu can dress well and still pack it in a carry on. I traveled alot for my last employer. . It wasn’t unusual to travel to three different cities with 3 vastly different temperatures for one travel stint. I still managed to pack it in a carry on. The trick is to have clothes that don’t wrinkle easily that will layer as necessary. Make the bottoms all black and brown with 2-3 pr of shoes in neutral colors and that way the tops you bring will go with any bottom. I always carry an umbrella and a black cardigan that is long enough to belt and use as a dressy jacket it needed. Yes, I brought 2 stretchy belts, they dress up a basic outfit and make it look different from the last time you wore it. I still manage to pack a travel blow dryer, some jewelry and makeup, face cream, body lotion and hair supplies. Plenty of room! I roll my clothes. I would never ever take a back pack.

  • Janice Waugh

    It sounds like you have packing down to a science. Love the Sponge Bob Square Pants backpack!

  • simplyfantabulous

    I fly Spirit to Central America. I have a child’s backpack that precisely fits their specification for free carry-on. It has an applique for Sponge Bob Square Pants on the back, so I figure it’s high on the list of least-likely-to-be-stolen-as-a-fashion-statement backpacks. This was like getting coal in your Christmas stocking at first, but it’s actually pretty commodious once you realize you need only three days’ change of clothes on pretty much any trip. I don’t wash any clothes myself; the hotel maid always needs the money. On a February trip, the bag weighed 17.6 pounds on the way down and seven pounds was books. Twelve and a half pounds on the return.

  • Stephanie

    I’ve traveled in many countried where you have to use squat toilets and you get used to it. I wouldn’t take up room in a suitcase with a gadget like that. Not to mention you often don’t have access to a sink after going and then you have to carry around a messy, dripping thing for hours. Gross!

  • Anne Arnott

    I think this is a great post … A friend andI are going to Monaco for a week .. in a few weeks time…. I always know what to take ie Essentials,laptop camera , chargers ,etc etc,,,, but here goes …It is my clothes that I cannot decide on .. No matter where I go , .. but I do think I am getting a bit better .. :-) will keep trying,not sure I could be a “carry on ” lady though ..

  • Lisa Viviano

    What type of pants do you bring? My favorites for travel are cotton chinos, but I don’t know if they would dry quickly enough to only bring two pairs….

  • Jennie Dunne

    On my recent 6 week trip my bag weighed 8kg and I’m a woman!! I never bring more than one pair of shoes (two if I’m hiking), 3 pairs of undies, two pants, one skirt and two tops. The only time I would bring extra is if I’m going to a cold country and then I’d wear the warmer clothes on the plane. Shampoo, soap etc can all be bought locally. I travel every year for up to two months and never need to bring more than this. If you do need something extra you can usually pick it up there. I often bring clothes that I am happy to leave behind when coming home and a few times I’ve even traded my clothes at the end of the trip, my favourite being when I swapped my old hiking boots for a Moroccan rug.

  • Chris

    I think you could cut the quantities in half for men if you really want to travel light. Also, do you really NEED paperwork etc these days? Just put everything on your kindle/ipad. I doubt you could fit all of whats listed above in a carry on bag, umbrella, rain pants, tie, vest – really?

  • Adriana Saulo

    I travel cheap & hostel most of the time.Tend to go off the trail.Never bring a cel phone, or laptop or reader. Most hostels have internet & free books. I use skyp to call home. Carry a cheap $100 digital camara. Use a money belt for cash & passport. Carry a back pack with less then 20 lbs & make sure I can carry it comfortably at home for a couple of miles before my trip.Use daypack too.Layer clothes so you can adapt to temps.

  • Roni Faida

    I don’t carry a backpack, I prefer a rollerboard carry-on. But I also pack lightly and never check a bag. It has worked well for me over the years. And our packing lists are almost identical! Great minds…

  • Roni Faida

    How ridiculous that you would be so mean. Good thing your opinion doesn’t matter to her.

  • Leah

    you can definitely dress yourself well from a carry-on bag. You just don’t have as MANY outfits. And you have to learn to mix and match (which a good dresser should be able to do anyway). But you don’t need so many when you are travelling. You won’t see the same person twice so it doesn’t matter if you’re wearing the same thing you wore two days ago.

  • Leah

    if you’re in a different town each day you’re travelling too fast. How do you have time to see anything? Unless of course you’re on a business trip. I took 5 pairs of underwear when I travelled in Europe last year and really underwear takes up such little room that the extra 2 pairs are negligible. But you could definitely survive on 3 – and I’m a woman! If it doesn’t dry overnight, put it in a plastic bag before re-packing it and when you get to your destination hang it up again. We had to do that with some thicker clothing items in Europe but never our underwear.

  • Tina Warner

    I am going to Vietnam and China in a couple of months. I never, ever check a bag and use one carry on and a day pack. The China part of the trip is for Habitat for Humanity. The work you do is very dirty so I take throw-away clothes for that part and discard as I go along making room for anything I want to bring back, which is usually not that much. I love the idea of putting copies of documents on a memory stick…didn’t even think of that. The list you provide is excellent but I would change a couple of things out because of the work we are doing with Habitat. I usually lay out everything I would like to take and then cut it in half. I take three pairs of shoes. One pair of old tennis shoes, to be left there after the Habitat work they are spent anyway, a pair of Teva-type sandals for hiking and sight seeing and a pair of flat shoes for the slight “dressing up” that we might do. Packed, these flat shoes are about 1/2 ” thick. The one thing I would add to the list is a “Go-Girl”. I am trying one out for the first time on this trip as squatting over a hole to pee isn’t very pleasant when the Go-Girl allows you to pee like a guy. It’s kinda weird at first, but it works really well. Also pack some TP for trips like this as in some countries it is not always available . And of course small packets of disinfectant wipes.

  • venkat

    It was one of the
    nicest places that I’ve stayed. Hopefully you’ll find a way to make it happen

  • Caidy Charles

    You look utterly gormless with those backpacks and a great target for criminals. Ridiculous.

  • Sarah Bellum

    I love the purse idea and donating something to make room for new treasures. I find if you choose undies with the right material, they dry faster (exofficio, etc). Also, sometimes you can just put them on. Even if still semi-damp, your body heat will dry them quicker than the air. In Italy, when staying where there was no air conditioning, I would wash my undies, myself, and a T-shirt then hop into bed nice and wet. Kept me cool all night, and everything was dry by the a.m.

  • Sarah Bellum

    Great list. I found to travel even lighter I replaced the kindle, the computer, the phone, the camera, and the journal with just an iphone (and possibly a thin, fold-up, wireless keyboard). I can do all those things quite well on it: photographing, surfing, posting and journaling every day. Less to keep track of, worry about, or carry. You can also substitute a brush with a flat wide-toothed pick, and Castile soap works well as a multi-use soap for body, hair, clothes, shaving, etc. (Some even use it as a toothpaste, but I’m not going that far).

  • B. Berger

    I tend to pack light as I always say no one knows what I wore yesterday. No one knows me so I wear the same thing for several days. Tops and bottoms don’t get dirty in a day. Took a 2 week trip on a motorcycle (not much space there) and managed very well with minimum clothes.

  • Angela

    I can’t see a woman scaling back her packing to fit in her carry-on luggage if she usually dresses herself well.  At least this will never happen with me.

  • Janis

    You are my hero(ine)!


  • Car Rental Services

    while packing we are not able to decide that what should we leave and
    what should we not leave.Reading your article I got some idea on that
    how should we deal with that situation.

  • Kristine

    Super glue (or whatever the generic name is) comes in handy for a lot of things that need emergence fixing (broken glasses, mending shoes, even suturing wounds) and can easily fit in a carry-on or side pock of luggage.

  • subra mani

     I should bookmark this page because when i go travel i should check out this list, so that i would not miss anything to carry

  • Florine Foulon

    … Is that me or the packing list for women is longer than the one for men ;)?

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  • Andrews0110

    Every trip I take, I bring a small 4Gb memory stick containing my travel and emergency info, room for pictures and more.

  • Linda Luah Castle

    I would also recommend to download copies of your passport , tickets paperwork etc onto a USB stick. I also download photos as I go so  I don’t need to buy more SD cards. To cut  down on cloths I don’t bring t-shirts but nice cotton tops that can be worn casually or formally. I only have a pair of trousers,  a couple of cotton leggings , several light tunic dresses again can be worn casually or formally. One pair of high heels, a pair of sandals as well as a pair of trainers. I like to drag my tired body to a nice hotel or restaurant at the end of a holiday hence the smart cloths. Most Airlines in EU and Internationally allow 7-10 kg hand luggage. 5 kg is usually for budget airline. For luggages most airline allow a 2-3 kg over …just smile at the staff it works. PS I never compromise on underwear :) Bring old ones that can be thrown out or buy a set of value ones that can be left or thrown out as you go……

  • Linda Luah Castle

    You can always nip into the shops especially in England to buy a pair if you need any. In Italy my sandals broke and sandals are expensive there…. new sandals lasted 24 hours, my new sandals came apart ( it has a few rhinestones etc) when I was at the airport on the way home ! But England plenty of cheap sandals or shoes from supermarkets or shops like Primark etc etc . You can dispose of them when you leave if you don’t want the weight.  I don’t know about France but will tell you after June when I will be in France!

  • Positiveageing

    This was a timely article for me as I am about to pack for a 34 day stay in England & France.
    Will be hard getting by with just 2 pairs of shoes!!

  • Robin Burks

    I usually get by with a carry-on and one larger checked bag. The checked bag is important if I want to bring souvenirs (generally wine) back with me to the states. I’ve tried packing lighter but then ended up regretting not having space in my luggage to bring things home. And international shipping can end up being very expensive.

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  • OurExtendedStay

    Nice article! As a business traveler, I have not checked a bag in over 15 years.
     If it does not fit in my two bags to carry on it does not go.  I
    color coordinate and take pants that I can get a couple of wears and one pair
    of shoes.  Of course this is harder for women that tend to change shoes
    and bags with each outfit.  


    Ladies can choose to pack designer clothes that are travel friendly; St. John Knits,
    Chico’s Travelers or Exclusively Misook to name a few.  Packing your
    business clothes in dry cleaning plastic will reduce wrinkling.  Not sure
    that there is a solution for the shoe Divas out there other than shipping them
    to your travel destination.    


    What made me work at it was trying to make a connection in Miami and Atlanta with checked


    We encourage our customers to scale back their packing to fit in their carry on
    luggage, as airline bags fees are here to stay.


  • Richard

    Also, I shuld have mentioned
    the “gold standard” resource for light travel

  • Richard

    Check out the light travel blog and forum, One Bag One World at

    Many experienced international travelers there, and much valuable advice/suggestions.

  • solotraveler

    Good question. I would add a steripen for sterilizing water.

  • Diana

    Excellent, Janice! Anything in particular you would add for India?

  • solotraveler

    Hi Roger. Thanks. You’re right. The umbrella definitely belongs on the men’s list as well. Will fix that now. Depending on the style of the light jacket, it could work like a blazer. The blazer was not about warmth but fashion. I envy guys the blazer option.

    Thanks so much for adding to the conversation.

  • Roger

    Why no (compact) umbrella for men? An umbrella is essential in Europe, where it rains often – not so much in the western US. Alas, I left mine in a restaurant in Paris on a rainy night after dining with a fellow hostler in the first week of a 3 week trip abroad. (I probably wouldn’t have forgotten it if I was dining solo. ;-) I was able to buy another one in sidewalk sale, although it was flimsy and fell apart mid-way into my next trip to the UK – luckily I was able to buy one from the gift shop in the train station in a rural town.

    I would also replace all but one of the dress shirts with polo/golf shirts, unless you want to stand out as an American tourist as most other cultures dress more conservatively and a polo is just about as comfortable as a T. Similar to the women’s list, for men, I would suggest a blazer OR a light jacket (which would be more lightweight and less bulky to pack than a blazer.

  • Tara Boyd

    Love this! I always over pack and I never thought to look at what actually gets used on my trip when I return. Next time I travel I’ll be sure to make a note of it and leave it out the next time. I might find it hard however sticking with just two shoes. I’m just curious – why did you start including duct tape as part of bare minimum packing?

  • Janice Waugh

    These are great tips as well. I particularly like the purse idea. I bring 5 pairs of underwear which gives me flexibility as to when I do the rinsing out. I do it on the first night that I am staying in a place a number of nights.

  • Janice Waugh

    I think most of us have a core wardrobe that we wear and stuff that doesn’t get worn often. Go with the core when packing.

  • Janice Waugh

    There are pictures of a backpack as well as a roller bag because, depending on my destination, I’ll use either. My tech gear is limited to the list there.

  • Jkosmac

    Nicely assembled…but what about someone who has back problems and can’t use back packs? Any suggestions?…and could you provide a post on your tech gadgets?  Your phone, your computer, your ebook that you carry? 

  • Laurie

    Very helpful!   I tend to pack at least twice as much as I need (I think to indulge having a choice about what I’m in the mood to wear) but the pluses of packing light I think far outweigh the minuses of all that extra weight!

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  • Hometoitaly

    thanks J.  i read this before my last trip and still had difficuty.   I wrote to Rick Steves to tell him you cant travel with 3 pairs of underwear.  they dont always dry over night and i am often in a different town each day!   But following your list, if I dont carry anything dressy I can fit it in the suitcase.

    the one thing that saves me time washing every week is to bring throw away clothes.  T shirts, sweaters, etc that I can leave in a charity box when i head home.  Leaves me room in my suitcase for a treasure. 

    i make sure if I am going home to italy that I bring an old purse and replace it with something wonderful, leaving the old purse in the hotel.  

    now i make sure i include plastic zip ties.   Had to make a quick belt while at the airport and these worked great!

About Janice Waugh and Tracey Nesbitt

I'm an author, blogger, speaker and traveler. I became a widow and empty-nester at about the same time. And then, I became Solo Traveler... Here's the full story. >>

Tracey Nesbitt I’m a writer, editor, food and wine fanatic, and traveler. On my very first trip abroad I learned that solo travel was for me. Here's the full story. >>

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