3 Months, 10 Countries, 1 Carry-on Bag

You may have heard (if you follow me on Facebook or Instagram) that I recently travelled around the world for 3 months on an amazing adventure. Before leaving I pondered ways of saving money, time, stress, and slightly reducing my carbon footprint.

One of the biggest decisions I made that helped on all four counts was setting myself the challenge of doing the whole trip with next to no gear - just a single carry on sized backpack.

That plan went out the window really fast when I realised I would be in climates between -5°C and +45°C, and had to fit a sleeping bag and sleeping mat in there as well, and one bag became one carry on sized backpack and one definitely-pushing-it personal item back pack, which basically every airline will allow. It was definitely overweight when fully packed, but when challenged at one airport I successfully got the big bag down to 8kg (maximum carry on for that airline) by putting on about 5 layers of clothing and shoving my book in my pocket. Success. 

I swear Kathmandu did not sponsor this blog post...

A friend asked me recently what the single best purchase I made for my trip was and, without hesitation, I said it was these two bags. Anyone who has ever tried to walk around for any amount of time with a badly fitted pack will tell you that this can change your entire experience. 

I shopped around for a while, because I didn't really have what I knew I was looking for, and eventually found this blue beast at Kathmandu in their new line. It wasn't cheap, in fact it was the fourth most expensive thing I had with me after my phone, my boots, and my sleeping bag - but I would spend the money again in a heartbeat. 

The bag has a full harness that can be zipped away when I'm throwing it into overhead lockers or when it's in the back of the car and wants to be kept tidy, and can be taken out when I need to carry the bag a longer distance. The optional single shoulder strap makes the bag look more subtle and carry-on like than wearing it as a backpack. 

The bag has one main pocket, which is a brilliantly flexible space that opens up like a suitcase for easy access of everything. I packed it with packing cells to keep everything organised, so one big space is exactly what I wanted. 

It also has a couple of sneaky lockable flat pockets which were great for all my documents, passports, and the couple of souvenir paintings I brought home. 

Finally, it is exactly the maximum carry on dimensions of the majority of airlines when full. Maximising space like a boss. 

As I mentioned before I use packing cubes, or packing cells, and section up all my things. This means I can have a cell for undies, a cell for t-shirts, a cell for pants and leggings, and a cell for electrics, etc. I love the way packing cells keep everything organised and mean that even when its dark and I'm tired it's easy to find whatever I am looking for. It also means it's really easy to get at things that have shimmied their way to the bottom of my bag, because there are only a couple of big items to move, rather than digging through loose stuff. I picked my cells up in Malaysia for a couple of dollars, and I would have paid a lot more now I know how useful they are! 

My second bag, the smaller 'personal-item' one, was also a brilliant buy, on special from Kathmandu. It is a single wall bag, very simple, a reasonable size, and semi water resistant. I used it almost every day I was away, and it was the perfect size for a water bottle, all my zero waste bits, a jacket or raincoat, and some snacks. I also took it along when we went on a few little hikes and it held everything I needed. 

Here's a cute photo of Jaime modelling it in Athens at the Acropolis - 

And Ross modelling it in Istanbul! 

And just to prove that I actually carry my own stuff sometimes - here's me in Baku!

And now, I hear you ask, what was inside them?? 

Well, a surprising amount! 

10 pairs of undies
2 bras
1 sports bra
4 pairs of socks (in future I'd take 6, as I wore holes in all but one pair really quickly...)
2 pairs of hiking socks 
1 thermal top
1 bikini 
6 t-shirts
2 tank tops / vest tops
1 black dress (I went with a cotton dress that was easy to dress up or down, for flexibility)
1 pair of long pyjama pants (these doubled as my flying pants because they are super comfy)
1 pair of short pyjama pants (I bought these in Athens because I was DYING of heat, luckily they packed down small)
1 pair of shorts
1 pair of leggings (I wore these so much while hiking that they fell apart and I had to buy new ones...)
1 pair of jeans (I also destroyed these by wearing them without washing them for a month... oops...)
1 pair of hiking pants
3 thin jumpers that are good for layering, two knitted and one grey outer layer
1 soft-shell outer layer 
1 good rain coat
1 black skirt 
1 pair of finger-less gloves
2 cotton scarf / sarong / warp thingies with many uses
1 beanie / warm hat
1 cap

Then there were my shoes, which I kept trying to reduce, but I ended up with 5 pairs anyway.... The challenge was that I was doing so many different activities that required different footwear - 

trainers (running, short walks, long walking days)
jandals / flip flops (showers, around campsites, driving days)
chucks / street shoes (comfy, acceptableish for clubbing or walking around cities)
hiking boots (a good pair of boots is invaluable when climbing big hills! Ankle support, y'all!)
formal shoes (because part of the trip was a conference and I needed something 'business appropriate')

So that was pretty much it for the clothing side. I had a bit more than I wanted, but I used everything I had almost to death, so I don't think I could go much lighter unless I was only packing for warm weather. 

Next I had my toiletries, which were pretty minimalist - 

moisturiser (sunflower seed oil in a reusable bottle, easy to top up on the road!)
half a bar of soap
conditioner (about 50ml lasted me the whole trip, I only use it when my hair feels weird)
toothbrush (bamboo and biodegradable!)
floss (biodegradable silk!)
cotton buds (biodegradable bamboo ones, of course)
razor head (I only shave under my arms, so the handle bit isn't necessary and this saved space)
travel towel 
hair ties
condoms (you can never be too prepared)

Because I had to be all business formal and went out a few times I took a few bits of make up

(some of these brands are tested on animals and are bad, but they are really old and I'm going to use them up before upgrading to 'kind' products)

pale gold eye shadow
eyebrow pencil

Next we had some technology

battery bank (so important, especially when camping in un-powered sites!)
battery bank charging cable
travel adaptor
cellphone cable

A small first aid kit

hand sanitiser
sleep drugs
panadol and ibuprofen
iron and vitamin supplements (vegetarian diets aren't always catered for in some countries...) 

All my zero waste supplies
water bottle
chopsticks & spoon
KeepCup coffee cup
silk bulk shopping baggies
canvas bag
metal tiffin
hankies (so useful for so many things!)

Because I was camping so much I needed a meal kit of cutlery and a bowl anyway, so this didn't actually add much that I wouldn't have had anyway. I also always recommend even if you aren't planning to try reduce your waste that you always have a container with you for things like carrot sticks or packed lunches, as this will help you save money and be less messy! :) 

Camping things - 
sleeping bag in a compression sack
thermal sleeping bag liner (easier to wash than the sleeping bag and increases warmth)
pillow case (I stuffed this with clothes to use as a pillow)
blow up mattress (borrowed from Ross, who is a total champion, because his was much smaller)

And then miscellaneous other things
laundry powder
ear plugs
copy of my passport (I had this digitally and a paper copy printed out in my wallet)
business cards
important numbers written on a piece of waterproofed paper
cash (not vital,  but many places will have a few things that are cash only, like taxis or bus cards)
New York metro card (I had one from a past trip, you get good discounts if you use it enough)
extra duffel bag (I'm not sure I'd take this again, though it was good for one flight where I overflowed from my small blue bag because of my large air matress before I borrowed Ross's)
wallet and back up credit card (I've had my card stolen before, never travel with just one!)

The biggest thing that I bought while I was travelling was a reasonably sized handbag, which fits my tiffin, a water bottle, my cutlery, general handbag bits and bobs, and my phone and wallet. It's something I have been looking for for a while, as it is exactly the right size for a day in town or a night out dancing, or exploring a new city when the backpack is a bit much. Once I bought that I was decidedly over my carry on allowance, but if I put on an extra jumper I could fit it inside my smaller bag to get down to just two items again. 

I cheated a bit on my carry-on-only challenge when it came to my Scouting events. The events required specific and rather bulky things which I wouldn't need for any of the rest of the trip, so I asked my friend Ross to bring them over when he joined me for the events. He then took them, along with some of my extra jumpers and badges and souvenirs, home with him when he left so I wouldn't have to carry them around for the following month. 

It should also be noted that I didn't need to carry my own tent, because I was always travelling with people who had them. I also didn't need to carry any cooking gas for the same reason. 

What were the down sides?
I couldn't carry a knife with me, which would have been problematic if I had been travelling with others also not checking bags, as we wouldn't have been able to prepare food on the road as easily. 

I wore holes in some of my favourite clothes because I wore them so much more intensely without washing them often enough.

I had to do washing a bit more often, and the occasional emergency undie wash in the sink.

I had little variety in clothing choices, so if my dress was dirty and I was invited out I had to wear less 'out appropriate' clothes instead. I'm sure someone with better fashion sense would be able to put together a better capsule wardrobe to deal with this though! 

Would I do it again?
Absolutely! This is pretty much the only way I plan to travel now! It's so great not worrying about bags getting lost by airlines, you save loads on budget airlines (up to $50 per flight!), and I never felt like my bag was awkwardly large or heavy and getting in everyone's way. 

What advice would I give others wanting to travel with less?
Think about how you can use things more than one way. My scarf for example was a wrap around skirt, a beach towel, a picnic blanket, and an eye mask when the sun didn't set.

Remember that you can get away with as little as you need between clothes washes. If you have constant access to washing facilities you can take just a couple of things and wash more often. 

Take clothes that all match each other. When travelling this is so useful, because you never know what'll end up in the wash first. I chose to go with a mostly blue, grey, and black wardrobe as these colours match well and I like blue. 

Don't buy stuff. We all occasionally fall into the souvenir trap, but I find that the easiest way to avoid spending all your time shopping is to find your 'thing'. By that I mean, choose one or two 'things' that you'll allow yourself to collect, and only buy that. Personally, my things are paintings and blanket patches. These are the only things I bring home, so my home stays clear of clutter, my bank account stays fuller, and my bag stays light. 

So, that is about it. You are now prepared to travel around the world for as long as you like on just a single carry-on bag! 

Do you have any plans for your trip? Or any other questions about packing? Leave me a comment or send me a message and I'd be happy to help!

See you somewhere, 

xo cait

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,