If you’ve ever searched “How to pack a carry on” or “What to pack in a carry on” then you’re in the right place! Get an inside look at our travel packing list — and download a carry on packing list too!
Prefer to WATCH instead of READ? Here ya go!
If we haven’t met, we’re Jana and Brett, Aplins in the Alps. Since we both work online and have dual Italian citizenship, we spend half of the year living in Europe! And we’ve done that by learning how to pack a carry-on really, really well.
I know it sounds crazy, but we pack up all of our life into one suitcase each plus one tech backpack. And then we live with only those 3 bags for at least 4 or 5 months a year.
Which means that you can definitely pack carry-on only for your next adventure! Whether you’re going to the beach, heading to the mountains, enjoying a cruise, or embarking on a road trip, you can also travel carry-on only.
(The only exception is if you’re traveling in the middle of winter. Since we only travel during the other 3 seasons, we pack just enough layers to manage during the chilly spring and fall.)
This is exactly what we pack, plus our personalized notes to help you customize the list to you and your travels. Get your travel packing checklist PDF today!
10 Essentials That I Always Pack (And Other People Don’t)
Since we first started traveling in 2016, I’ve read hundreds — hundreds — of travel packing lists. I just enjoy seeing how people prioritize what they bring, and how they squeeze countless items into one bag for full-time travel around the world.
I’ve found that my travels are less impacted by my clothing and more enhanced by these other essential items! So here are 10 things I never travel to Europe without.
1. USB drive: This should be included on every ultimate packing list. We put digital copies of all of our important documents on a USB drive, and we stash one in each of our bags. They’re password protected and encrypted for safety, but they’re also a backup for us in case any of our documents get stolen. Suggestion: Buy a 3-pack of USB drives. We haven’t used these exact ones, but they have excellent reviews on Amazon!
2. Collapsible containers: Zippered bags can be hard to find, and we take a lot of picnics. Instead of nesting containers (which we traveled with last year), we’ve upgraded to these collapsible ones because they take up even less space. Here are the collapsible containers we use.
3. Packable daypack: Most carry-on packing lists include a backpack, but not a packable one. I only like to travel with my suitcase and small purse, but not a backpack. Yet I need a bag for hiking. So this collapsible backpack does the trick. It’s not the most comfortable, but it gets the job done. It folds in on itself when not being used so I can stuff it into any corner of my suitcase. And it’s super durable because we’ve used these bags for years now! Buy your packable backpack here.
4. Laundry soap: Are you ready for one of the best carry-on packing tips? It’s tough to travel carry-on with liquids, so these foam laundry sheets are incredible! You can toss a whole sheet in the washer with your clothes, or just rip off a small piece if you need to hand wash something in the sink. These are my favorite laundry detergent strips.
5. Laundry bags: And the next best carry-on packing tip is similar. Some of our clothes need to be washed on delicate, but these mesh laundry bags also make sure that I don’t lose anything when I’m walking to/from the laundry room, and so that I don’t leave behind any socks in the machine either. Grab a set of these mesh laundry bags! Bonus tip: pack a paracord to double as a laundry clothesline!
6. Grocery bags: Did you know that you have to pay for grocery bags in European grocery stores? So we always pack a few thick, plastic bags for our groceries. And since we travel for months at a time, we do a lot of grocery shopping and cooking, so these get plenty of use during our travels. We don’t have a link for this one because we just bought them at the grocery store 🙂
7. Spices: You know how most airbnbs only have salt and pepper? Well that gets boring after a while, so I always pack 1 or 2 of our favorite spices to keep our meals tasty! Cajun seasoning is one of our favorites!
8. Sewing kit: You would not believe how many times we lose a button or get a little hole in our shirt. This sewing kit gets more use than you might think! Here’s a good mini travel sewing kit.
9. Thank you notes: Don’t forget to add thank you notes to your carry-on packing list! We love to leave handwritten thank you notes for our airbnb hosts or when we stay with friends, and even when we meet new friends at church, so a few thank you notes are a must for my bag. Tip: Store them in your planner, journal, book, or computer so they don’t get bent. We often buy a bulk set of blank multi-purpose notecards and envelopes.
10. Fabric pads: Gentlemen, you can skip this one because it’s just for the ladies. I highly recommend packing fabric pads and daily pads. They are super comfortable and perfect for long-term travel because you always have your feminine products with you — you don’t have to try to find products in the grocery store or pharmacy. I just toss them in a laundry bag and wash them with our clothes every week. I’m loyal to WeeEssentials handmade fabric pads.
Our Clothes and Toiletries
I’m sure you clicked this link expecting a detailed report of the ultimate packing list. So, we’re going to deliver! This is what we have packed for years, and what we give our friends when they ask for carry-on packing tips.
Our Other Favorites
Here are some of our favorite products that are already packed in our bag for our next season of adventures! As a bonus, these items are perfect for domestic or international travel packing lists.
*These are affiliate links and we earn a small amount if you purchase something through these links. We only recommend products that we actually use (and have already packed in our suitcases). We’re grateful for your support and hope you enjoy these as much as we do!
- Away Carry-on Suitcase: Wondering how to pack a carry on? Start with a good bag! If you’re looking to upgrade your old fabric suitcase or are tired of lugging a backpack (like we were), consider a flexible hard-shell suitcase like this one!
- Hikepro Packable Backpack: If you want a small, simple, packable backpack, then look no further! We’ve used this bag since 2016 and won’t recommend anything else!
- Travelon Crossbody Purse: Our travel packing list would not be complete without this purse! Locking zippers, RFID blocking, and slash proof. I’ve had mine for 3 years and it still looks brand new. Plus it’s a mini size that just fits my phone, documents, cash, chapstick, hand sanitizer, and a few other essentials.
- Ebags Slim Packing Cubes: Still wondering how to pack a carry on? Packing cubes are the answer. They compress and squeeze your clothes to help you pack more. (And then your suitcase will feel like a Mary Poppins bag!) These particular carry-on packing cubes fit perfectly into a carry-on sized suitcase!
- Collapsible Storage Containers: The picnic containers of your dreams that are also packable. Such a practical item to pack!
Laundry & Sewing & First Aid
- Laundry Detergent Strips: Never worry about buying and wasting a giant size of laundry detergent again.
- Mesh Laundry Bags: Stash your dirty clothes in here, use these to carry clothes to/from the room, and stop worrying about losing socks in the washer! Tip: Ladies, this is what I store and wash my fabric pads in.
- Travel Sewing Kit: Because when you wear the same few outfits over and over for months at a time, your clothes tend to get a little worn out.
- Travel First Aid Kit: Because no one wants to get a boo boo and not have a bandaid.
- Buff: This incredible piece of cloth is SPF and doubles as a scarf, headband, facemask, ear muff, hat, and so much more! We tried these for the first time in 2021, and I’m not sure what took us so long to buy these because we used them so often!
- Ladies Ponyflo Baseball Hat: Finally, a hat that fits your ponytail. This was an impulsive Instagram purchase that I’ve never regretted.
- Fabric Menstrual Pads: I think every ultimate packing list for women needs some sort of reusable, sustainable feminine products. Pick which size and style suits you best. Personally, I love the organic, breathable fabric!
- SPF Makeup and Sunscreen by Jane Iredale: Clean makeup and skincare products that are non-GMO, paraben-free, and all-natural. We switched to organic products a few years ago and I’ve loved everything Jane Iredale! (Use this link to get $20 off your first order of $50+!)
- Powder Me SPF 30 Dry Sunscreen: This comes in a sheer color, for both men and women. How to pack a carry on with minimal liquids? Use a powder SPF!
- Tinted Moisturizer SPF 15: When we’re outside all day long exploring, it’s important to have a basic SPF like this on our faces. We usually apply to the tops of our hands too.
- Translucent Lip Drink Lip Balm SPF 15: Not only does this nourish your lips, but it protects them from sunburn too! I actually swipe this on every single night before I go to bed to keep my lips hydrated, both when we’re traveling and when we’re at home.
- Loose Mineral Powder SPF 20: I started having age spots appear on my forehead after we spent a full summer in Europe. Wearing this SPF powder helps keep my skin tone even.
- P.S. Don’t forget to use this link to get $20 off your first order of $50+!
Now you don’t need to search “How to pack a carry on” or “What to pack in a carry on” because you already have the ultimate packing list!
Curious about our travel tech gear? Browse our tech travel backpack here.
Or see more on our Gear Page!
Prefer to watch? Here ya go!