How to Pack for a Year Round the World Trip in a Carry-On

PDX carpet + my bag

Packing light is one of the top questions I get about my RTW career break. We all know that person who drags a mammoth rolling suitcase on vacation and many of us have encountered the smelly guy who brags about only carrying a daypack. I like to think that there’s a happy medium that anyone can accomplish.

Packing Tips:

  • Backpack size is important. People often comment on how small my pack is. I have the Marmot Diva 35 2,100 cu in (no longer on the market, I got mine for $70). While it looks tiny compared to a lot of packs, keep in mind that for being 5′ 3″ and 125 pounds it’s the perfect backpack. If you’re small, your pack should be proportionate to your size. Ladies, I recommend something in the 35 liter range and getting one built for women is usually going to be more comfortable on your back.
  • Ziploc bags are your friend.  Gallon size freezer bags are great as cheap/disposable compression bags. Stuff, sit on, zip.
  • Don’t let your toiletries get out of control. Chances are, if you’re going to be gone for a year, you’re going to have to replenish your shampoo etc anyway.  I pack 2 oz bottles and then repurchase every few months or refill when staying in a hotel.
  • Bring what you’ll use. Don’t let the “experts” say what you can and can’t pack.  If a blow dryer is really important to you, then buy a travel one and bring it.  Besides, I’ll probably ask to borrow it! ;)  My “Packing Nazi” no-no item is a pair of jeans.
  • Think about layers.  How do you pack for snow in Japan and surfing in Australia, for museums and shopping in Barcelona and mosques in Istanbul?  It’s all about layering. And a scarf goes a long way.
  • Skip the hiking boots. I’ve met so many backpackers over the last year, with the obligatory pair of huge hiking boots tied to the side of their pack. My anecdotal research tells me that most of them have only used them once if that, and it could have been done in running shoes.  So if you don’t already hike in hiking boots, you probably won’t need them.  I hiked for 6 hours in the mountains in Morocco with my Diesel slip-ons – granted they were nicely broken in and kind of like low profile running shoes.
  • Leave room for purchases. I pack 1 scarf and 1 skirt, and always come home with about 4 scarves and 3 dresses!  It’s fun to pick up clothes along the way, but I try to save most purchases towards the end of my trip.  By the time I came home from Morocco in November, I was lugging an extra: 2 huge pieces of material/blankets, 5 scarves, 2 dresses, 1 leather purse, a leather belt, 10 pillow covers, and a cardigan.

The Ultimate Packing List

Diesel tennis shoes (or low-profile running shoes)
Havaianas flip flops
dark jeans
hiking pants
cargo khakis
3 pairs shorts (2 short, 1 long)
Helly Hansen Fleece or hoodie
Columbia Packable rain jacket with hood
7 tank tops for layering
3 tees
1 skirt
2 long sleeve shirts
1 button-up camp shirt
1 bikini
2 bras – black, nude
1 sports bra
10 undies
4 pairs of socks
Pashmina scarf

Toiletries etc.
REI toiletry bag
2 oz shampoo / conditioner
3 oz mint body wash (keeps the mozzies away)
toothbrush / toothpaste / floss
nail clippers
face lotion
face sunscreen
Burt’s Bees chapstick
Misc. travel meds
small pack of tissues
Antibacterial hand gel
REI Quickdry towel

Electronics/Fun Stuff:
ipod charger
iPod Lego block speaker
Swiss Army knife/usb drive
SD card USB reader
Black Diamond headlamp (way cooler than a flashlight)
camera battery charger
Otter Box for camera
extra 1 GB SD card
universal adapter
PacSafe Wrap Safe Lock

REI mini Clothesline
Sea to Summit Silk Sleep Sheet
laundry kit (soap and sink plug)
Travel Guidebook
Reading book
Moleskine Cahier pocket journals
money belt (which I’ve never actually used)
visa photos
insurance info
Moleskin 2008 info journal
Mildew free wet suit bag

The following items didn’t make the cut, after my first 4 months on the road packing list:

  • cell phone
  • collapsible water bottle
  • Malaria meds
  • beanie
  • fleece (I switched to a hoodie)
  • Nike running shoes (I switched to Diesel city shoes)

What’s on your packing list?


  • You may not need the ipod, but a gps system of some type like an iphone will be invaluable.

  • Hey there, I stumbled upon your blog when looking up round the world packing lists, and I’ve been an avid reader since. I’m 27, just quit my job, and am about to embark on a 10 month trip alone (just got my vaccines!), so a lot of what you’ve written here is really inspiring. Also a vegetarian, so it’s good to know you can still eat well abroad. Anyway, I just wanted to say hello and let you know I love your blog–thanks!

  • thanks so much for this post!! one question- I’m in the midst of packing for a round the world trip and wondering, are you able to fit everything on this list in your diva 35 pack? or are you selective in what you bring? what can you fit? thanks so much!!

  • I would add a Kindle reading device for trips in non-English speaking areas if you are an avid reader. Couldn’t have survived in S. America for the year I was there without it! Plus, while I did bring 2 bras, I lived in my Norm Thompson built-in underwire bra camis. I had 1 white, 1 black and 1 red. They were great as tank tops in tropical areas, and were perfect for layering under everything else when more modesty or warmth was called for.

  • Fabulous tips for packing. This would be very helpful for frequent travelers. I would like to know some tips on vacation safety travel.

  • Great tips! Taking a trip around the world has always been my dream since I was a kid and I’m sure I’m going to be able to accomplish it one of these days.

  • Thanks for the valuable tips you have given to us. It is very valuable information for all the travelers of the world.

  • Thanks for sharing these helpful tips. I agree with the principle valid for anywhere you go: pack what you “really need”, buy everything else “locally”, leave room for purchase! My personal tip: if you do not want to bring fotocopies with you store all your docs/data on a USB-key, it’s handy and fits everywhere. For handwashing bring with you an universal rubber sink plug, very useful! If you need any advice and tips for Australia visit my website.

  • Ziplock bags are fantastic. Perfect for organization, keeping dirties apart from cleans and extra waterproofing in heavy rains. Personally, I put a couple of dryer sheets (simple bounty fabric sheets) into the ziplocs to help keep clothes moderately fresh.

  • oooh that’s a lot. takes a lot of budget too! im jealous. how i wish i could go around the world and one whole year as my leisure time too.

  • Zip lock bags are the best. They can save you alot of trouble in terms of organizing and keeping your toothpaste from getting all over your clothes.

    I tried to take my iPod and I lost it so I’m wary of taking many gadgets. My next round the world trip I would get a netbook instead of a full laptop. Much lighter and great for Skype, email and updating the blog.

  • I love traveling with an iPod, and for me it’s one of my essential items! It can be an excellent “pick me up” on long bus/train rides or when you’re trying to fall asleep in a hostel full of noisy people. I don’t suggest listening to it 24/7, but for long travel days it’s a keeper!

  • The boots were not necessary for my trip. Lots of thin layers was the most critical factor to keeping the weight down.

    Leave the iPod at home. I never used it and I eventually lost it somewhere in SE Asia. I really never needed it.