My perfect packing list for carry-on luggage

One week from today I’ll be jetting off with my husband for the trip of a lifetime. This will be our first trip back to Europe since we lived there over 12 years ago!!!

I’m all kinds of emotions at the moment.

A huge part of me (the mom part) is feeling stressed and anxious about leaving my kids for so long (10 days is the longest we would have BOTH been away from them in forever).

Another part of me (the planner part) is feeling a bit out of control. I’m NOT in control of this trip. I’m leaving all the planning up to the friends who’ve invited us and it feels very unnatural. I’m usually totally on top of our itinerary but I’m having to let it go!

Of course, I’m feeling excited too (that’s the adventurer part). I’ve never visited this country before and from the pictures on Pinterest it looks INCREDIBLE. Plus the way we will be exploring it – by yacht – is just totally awesome that it doesn’t feel quite real yet. Someone pinch me!

Anyway our route to get to to our final destination is slightly complicated due to the fact that we wanted to cash in on some free air miles and so our trip will be taking us via Addis Ababa AND Istanbul before we arrive and our layover in Istanbul is for a few hours so I’m really quite keen to see some of the sights if time will allow so for that reason, and for the fact that the yacht we will be sailing on doesn’t have space for suitcases, we’re packing light!

The lightest I’ve ever packed!

Yip. We’re aiming to take only carry-on luggage for this trip which will allow us the ability to take advantage of a few hours in Istanbul, plus we’ll be on a boat so what more do you need than swimsuits and sarongs, right?!

The beauty of traveling with carry-on luggage only also means that there’s less chance of loosing your luggage en route… and when you’re forwarding address is a sail boat at sea you don’t want to have to wait a day or two for your luggage to arrive! (this happened on my very first trip overseas, our honeymoon to Mauritius, and I didn’t have a swimming costume for the first 3 days and lived in only 1 dress! Not ideal!)

I don’t think I’m the only person whose experience this nightmare. In fact when you chat to professional travelers (aka travel bloggers) most suggest traveling with ONLY carry-on luggage for every trip, every where.


So I’m in the process of packing my carry-on luggage to be the most efficient ever…


My perfect packing list for carry-on luggage


Right first things first…. you aren’t going anywhere unless you have your most NB travel documents with you!

  • Passport (plus photo copies of these, better yet save copies in your email or Dropbox)
  • Visas (or print outs of electronic visas applied for online)
  • Boarding pass
  • Proof of your travel insurance (if you have local medical aid you may already be covered for this, just phone to inform them of your travels)
  • Copy of complete flight itinerary
  • Copy of any transportation or accommodation plans
  • Physical address of where you are staying (You will need this to complete immigration forms and it may be helpful to share with cab drivers as well so they can easily look up directions)
  • Details for your emergency contacts
  • Notebook & pen


In transit comfort

Flying long haul or overnight is not especially comfortable when you’re stuck in Economy class, so stock up on a few items to make the trip more bearable.

  • A travel pillow (I’m packing this Siesta Travel Pillow for this trip as it’s really unique design allows you to sleep with your head facing forward so you don’t end up with that terrible crick in your neck! It inflates in a couple of breaths, has an easy air release button so you can customize the firmness and comes with a small pouch for storage.)
  • Ear plugs (My preferred pair are the moldable silicone ones that are soft, comfortable and can be fitted into your ear cavity to block out all noise but don’t hurt!)
  • Eye mask (I like one that is soft, quite large to block out all light and isn’t too tight around my head.)
  • A pashmina-style scarf or soft cotton sarong (to use as a blanket)
  • A sleeping tablet (if you need one)
  • Compression socks (I am a bit paranoid about Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) which can cause blood clots following long-haul air travel in cramped conditions. For flights of four hours or more you can significantly reduce you risk by wearing these, plus they keep my feet warm on the plane!)


Entertainment equipment

Try to keep your equipment to a minimum as this is expensive to replace if you loose it or happen to have it stolen. Download your favourite music or a book onto your phone, tablet or Kindle (or Kindle app) before leaving home, download your favourite series or movies from Showmax or Netflix before leaving home. It’s also a good idea to download the map of the area you will be traveling to on the Google Maps app before leaving wifi. Be sure to remember to turn off your cellular data to avoid roaming fees.

  • Phone
  • Headphones (A good pair of noise-cancelling headphones is a wise investment for frequent travelers but compact, earbud style headphones work well too.)
  • Laptop or tablet
  • Kindle (or similar) or a good book (I love reading a “real” book on holiday but these can be bulky)
  • Guidebook on your destination (Or download one onto your phone or tablet. There are hundreds of travel apps to help you plan your trip)
  • Charger cables & voltage or plug adaptors for the country you are traveling to
  • Power bank (or in the case of a travel blogger, 5 power banks!)


This is the tricky part! Us girls like to “be prepared” and pack for every eventuality but when you’re traveling with carry-on only that gets tricky! Ideally you should only pack clothes that are lightweight, can be layered, don’t crease easily and all work together across a colour palette. Roll them as small as possible when packing your bag and wear the bulkiest clothes and shoes while traveling.

  • Underwear (pack 5 pairs of panties & 1 bra & a small bottle of detergent to wash on the go)
  • 5 x socks (again, wash & wear!)
  • 2 x warm tops (one thin and one slightly thicker which I’ll wear on the plane)
  • 1 x long pants (I’ll be wearing a pair of dark blue jean jeggings to travel in, these can be smart but are also super comfortable thanks to their stretch)
  • 1 x jacket (we’ll be needing water proofing so instead of my usual Uniqlo puffer I’m packing a rain proof anorak!)
  • 3 x shorts
  • 5 x t-shirts
  • 1 x long sleeve t-shirt
  • 2 x swimsuits
  • 1 x sarong
  • 1 x buff or scarf
  • 1 x dress (one that can be worn smart or casual is preferable)
  • 1 x smart outfit or top to go with jeans
  • 1 x hat
  • 1 x set of pyjamas (alternatively wear a vest and pair of loose shorts or long pants. I love my Elephant pants I bought in Bali for this)
  • 3 x pairs of shoes (I always wear the bulkiest walking shoes on the plane but also pack a pair of ballet flats in black or beige for smarter events and a pair of sandals or slip slops for warm days)


Toiletries & Medication

It’s great to be able to freshen up on board just before landing or to use quickly in the airport bathroom before meeting your hosts or catching an Uber. Also it’s important to remember when traveling with only carry-on luggage that you can only travel with bottles of liquids that meet the carry-on size requirements (100ml per bottle). If you have a few minutes to spare on arrival at your destination it might be worthwhile popping into a local pharmacy to stock up on the toiletries you need in bigger sizes eg. shampoo, conditioner, sunscreen.

  • Face moisturiser or mist
  • A mini shampoo & conditioner
  • Lip balm
  • Toothbrush and mini-toothpaste & floss
  • Deodorant
  • Hand sanitizer (traveling is notorious for picking up nasty bugs so keep your hands clean!)
  • Face wipes
  • Face cleanser & body wash or soap
  • Hair brush & hair bands if you have long hair (the small Tangle Teezer brush is perfect for traveling with)
  • Razor (I love the tiny travel razor from Gillette)
  • Glasses/ Contact Lenses/ Solution & Eye Drops (if applicable)
  • Sunscreen – body and face
  • Insect repellant
  • Minimal makeup – think lipstick, mascara, BB cream, concealer & stick or solid blush
  • Sanitary supplies (traveling can wreak havoc on your body and throw out your regular cycle so take a few just in case!)
  • Medication you require regularly (incl prescriptions & birth control as well as a few you might need like pain medication, allergy medication and medication to treat nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting, motion sickness etc. You may be required to show proof of prescription for some medications so take those too!)



Always pack valuables in your carry-on bags. If you plan to sleep or find that your bag is stowed far away from your seat (due to a full flight), you may wish to bring your valuable items closer to you.

  • Wallet with credit cards and other important cards
  • Money (in both your own currency and the one you are traveling to)
  • Camera equipment & lenses
  • House & car keys
  • 1 x pair of Sunglasses
  • Jewellery (try to keep this to a minimum when traveling)


Food & Drink

If you’re a snacker who likes to eat healthfully you might like to pack a few food items in case the food on the plane just doesn’t cut it.

  • Granola/muesli bars or protein bars.
  • Fruit such as an apple
  • A packet of nuts
  • A packet of chewing sweets (to pop your ears)
  • Water (drinking lots of water before and during your flight can help with jet lag and fatigue but remember to buy this after passing through security)



Please note this list is just meant as a guide. Everyone has different needs and travel styles, and your list may vary based on your destination, length of trip, and if you’re traveling with more than one bag or person (esp if you’re traveling with lots of little people!) so feel free to amend it as needed.

It’s important to remember not to sweat the small stuff… Everything on this list is pretty much replaceable (just hang on to your passport!) If you’ve forgotten something at home it’s quite likely you can replace it in most places around the world.

I hope my perfect packing list for carry-on luggage will help you to pack perfectly for your next flight! Would you add anything to this list? Leave a comment below!

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Images: Kathryn Rossiter

Disclosure: 7 (travel pillow)



Kathryn Rossiter

Kathryn is a South African lifestyle blogger and mom of 2 who has been blogging daily for almost 7 years! She writes about travel, health, beauty, fashion, decor and family... but not food (unless it's food she's eaten made by someone else) as she is a hopeless cook. She only wakes up early for 2 things... a red-eye flight to somewhere exotic and early morning game drives. She has just finished an extensive home renovation and would prefer to never see another box again. She's never met a chocolate or glass of bubbles that she didn't like!

  1. I’m off to London next week for a trip with my best friend after we lived there 14 years ago – Hubby at home with 2 kids. Eek! Your list was super helpful as I have forgotten what it’s like to travel without nappies and wipes! Wanted to ask where you got your brown bag (in the FB photo) as it looks such a nice size and colour? Enjoy your trip! Ali

    1. Hey Ali! Hope you have an amazing trip! I certainly did. And I even came home with a few unworn items from this list if you can believe it! My bag was from Jinger Jack a few years back… they are a local company making the most beautiful leather bags of all sizes and shades!

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