Links updated: March 2022
When we decided on the itinerary for our one-month trip to South America, we realized right away that checking a bag on each of our planned flights would be a big hassle and an even bigger expense. I’ve been packing incrementally lighter for several years, but the idea of carry on only travel for a month is still intimidating.
I’ve always loved to pack for trips. Part of this is the excitement I get from thinking of all of the places I will go and trying to imagine being there and planning the things I will need. The challenge for this trip is that we will be visiting very different climates during the southern hemisphere’s fall season. Easter Island will be hot while Torres del Paine in Chile’s Patagonia region may get closer to freezing with wind and rain storms. So we need an all-season wardrobe that will keep us warm and dry, but won’t be a burden to haul around when we don’t need them.
Tips for Packing Light
Here are some general tips for packing light:
- Small backpack. I carry a Kelty Women’s Redwing 40 liter and my husband, Kevin, has a Kelty Redwing 44. We both really like traveling with these bags. Each one has a large main compartment that zips open completely, roomy side pockets and compression straps on the sides to shrink the load a little more.
- Quick-dry clothing. I pack mostly synthetic fabrics that are quick drying so that I can wash them in the sink when needed.
- Layer! I get cold easily so I bring lightweight clothes that to take off or put on as needed.
- A lightweight laptop (if you need one at all). I’ve never traveled internationally with a laptop. I’ve always been able to get by using internet cafes, computers at the hotel or hostel, and, more recently, my smartphone. But with the increasing availability of wifi, the need to back up the photos on our camera, and (last, but not least!) this blog, I thought it was time to try. I just recently upgraded to the 13″ Macbook Air. It is surprisingly quick, even when processing photos in Adobe Lightroom.
- Learn from past mistakes. One lesson I’ve learned is to never skimp on facial care products. Travel does awful things to my oh-so-sensitive skin. When I’ve tried to skip a step in my normal routine to cut the number of products I bring, I’ve come home broken out and regret it. Bring the things that are important to your daily routine, just, in this case, pour them into smaller bottles.
Here’s what I’m taking (minus the dog).
And again, this is a bit more than half of what my husband and I are taking together. I have all of our personal care, first aid and most of our electronics, but he will have our DSLR camera and accessories (NOTE: Here is our associated Men’s Packing List for Carry On Only Travel).
My all-season carry on packing list for women:
- Grey roll-up hiking pants — I have a pair I love that looks like this
- Charcoal gray quick-dry shorts. I have (and love!) this pair by prAna.
- Neutral gray or black skirt (I like this one)
- Black yoga pants
- Lightweight hoodie
- Long-sleeve thermal top
- Long-sleeve athletic top
- Black, quick-dry button up shirt
- 3 lightweight tank tops – good for layering or wearing on their own
- 3 t-shirts (preferably one that is a quick-dry athletic material)
- 3 pairs of quick-dry travel underwear
- 4 pairs of quick-dry socks (include one or more pairs suitable for hiking)
- Sports bra
- Thermal bottom
- Wind-resistant fleece or soft shell jacket–I have one similar to this one by North Face
- Rain jacket/outer shell–I have this one by Marmot
- Hiking sneakers–I have a pair like this (if I were doing a fall/winter city trip, I’d swap these for a comfortable, low leather boot)
- Chaco sandals
- Flip-flops. This sturdy (and cute!) pair is comfortable for walking.
- Hats (a cold-weather beanie and a sun/rain hat, important for hiking in Patagonia and Peru)
- Wind-blocking gloves
- A quick-dry pack towel
- Travel clothesline (When I’m at home, I use it in the laundry room to dry items that can’t go in the dryer)
- Money belt
- Change purse
- Both of our passports
- One credit card (Chase Sapphire Preferred, no international transaction fees)
- One debit card (Charles Schwab online checking–refunds all ATM fees, even international!)
- Health insurance card
- A handful of Moo MiniCards with our contact info (click here to get 25% off!)
- Folder to organize printed travel documents
- Assorted ziplock bags
- Toilet paper (for camping on Easter Island–I removed the cardboard roll so it could be compressed)
- Emergency whistle (per this post)
- Waterproof pack cover
- Lightweight nylon daypack (folds into its own pocket when I’m not using it)
- Packing cubes (I have a set like this one in medium. I love the colors!)
- A good travel guidebook, like those published by Lonely Planet. Personally, I prefer print guidebooks, but if you use a Kindle or tablet you might like their e-book versions (HINT: If you are only visiting one city or region and don’t want to carry the entire, heavy book, you can buy e-books or individual chapters of any of their book on their website. You can then use them on your tablet, e-reader, or print out a copy–and not feel bad throwing it away when you move on.
- Lightweight computer (with power cord and wireless mini-mouse)
- Smartphone (with charger) – I’m currently using the Google Pixel 5a and I love the photo quality!
- Steripen (UV water sterilizer) and a clear, wide-mouth water bottle (Clear, per the Steripen directions, and with a wide mouth so the device will fit into it)
- Eyeglasses and case
- Contact lenses, contact case, and a spare set
- Contact lens solution
- Sunscreen (I use this one on my face and body It’s effective, non-greasy, made with natural ingredients, and biodegradable, which is important if you’ll be swimming anywhere with sensitive, coral reefs)
- Lip balm with SPF
- Travel-size shampoo
- Travel-size conditioner
- Travel-size Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap (for body, laundry, and dishes)
- Toothbrush, toothpaste, and dental floss
- Retainer and case
- Tampons or menstrual cup
- Comb or brush
- Headband and a few hair elastics
- Clear TSA-compliant toiletry case
- Daily facial sunscreen–I love the ones by EltaMD. This one is not greasy and looks smooth under makeup.
- Cerave PM (I use it during the day under sunscreen and at night, and on body if needed)
- Face wash
- Oil-based cleanser (to remove sunscreen)
- Acne treatment
- Travel-size translucent powder
- Tinted lip gloss
- A few pairs of earrings
- A few brightly colored bracelets
Update: I shared more travel health tips in this post–> My Travel Health Packing List
- Pepto-bismol tablets
- Anti-diarrheal pills
- RX antibiotic (in case of more serious diarrhea)
- Motion sickness medication or Sea-Bands
- A few packets of powdered ginger tea (a natural way to treat upset stomach)
- Travel sized mosquito repellent with DEET (I usually recommend all natural products, but I wouldn’t mess around with mosquitos, especially if you are heading to a tropical climate.)
- Silicone ear plugs, like these ones or the kids size if, like me, you have small ears. Silicone ear plugs are much more effective than the foam ones but they are nearly impossible to find outside of the U.S., so I always bring a whole box! They are life-savers when you wind up in a noisy hotel room or you need to sleep on a bus, train, or plane.
- Small packets of muscle rub
- Antiseptic wet wipes
- Hand sanitizer
- Neosporin–this small tube is perfect for travel.
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What are your tips for packing light? What’s on your personal carry on packing list for women?
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