Hand luggage only – How to pack for long term travel

As much as I love traveling, I hate packing and everything about it. Packing for long term travel is giving me headaches, to say at least. While admittedly there isn’t really a fix for it, I learned from trip to trip to diminish our baggage. With it the amount to pack, to carry, and finally to unpack again. 

With a lot of annoyance, a bit of ambition, and fancying some improvisation and minimalism, you can at least travel light. Each item you are not packing – score!

As a family of four, we are traveling as much as possible with hand luggage only. To be fair, my children are no toddlers anymore, which makes it clearly easier. We don’t need to worry about highchairs, sippy cups or strollers. (Check with your airline if you can take baby/kids items for free on board). Also we are only taking the bare minimum on toys, if at all. There was more than one vacation where the backpack of the boys remained closed until we returned.

Despite all minimalism, we do need to carry along car booster seats though. This small packable booster is a good alternative to dragging conventional car seats around the world with us or renting them when hiring a car. Their small travel size is not really interfering with the ambition to travel light and with roughly 1 pound they aren’t too heavy neither. When traveling with children, it’s safety first anyway.

Packing list that allows you to travel only with hand luggage

We are traveling as a family of four which means 4 cabin size carry-ons and maybe 4 little backpacks. Idea is to start small and not to overpack. We are counting one carry-on per adult, one for the kids and the fourth one for everything else. .

Don’t miss this guide if you need to know more about the luggage regulation of the different airlines.

We are traveling the world, not Mars. In most places we can purchase whatever might be missing. Even an additional bag if needed.  It’s better to start as a ultralight traveller and top up than to cart tons of things along that nobody needs in the end.

Must have items packing list – our travel essentials

Apparel 

  • Clothes for 7 days. Yes, it is challenging. (check out our lightweight traveller tips below) Keep in mind that nobody knows you and no one will realise that you’re wearing the same shirt the 3rd day in a row. Consider your outfit your travel uniform and wear it with pride
  • rain jacket, long pants, sweater or fleece jacket. Even if you are travelling to warm regions. You might even want to think about taking a packable light weight jacket. There always can be a chill night or a too cold air-con that makes you want to get cozy.
  • hiking shoes or sneakers. We really like Hiking Shoes from Keens for the kids; they are easy to put on, drying fast and are having enough grip for easy hikes
  • flip flops/Birkenstocks
the easiest tip when it comes to packing light for long term travel: pick warm destinations!

the easiest tip when it comes to packing light for long term travel: pick warm destinations! For example the Algarve Coast in Portugal

Hygiene, Health and Safety

  • I discovered Hammam Bath Towels recenty and they proved to be a great travel all-rounder: as a beach towel, a cover in air conditioned busses or as a towel at a pinch. The advantage over normal towels is clearly their light and quick drying.

  • First Aid Kit and emergency medication
  • we are normally using one toiletry bag hanger for all of us, as it’s simply super practically not to unpack something. To reduce charge, we are mainly buying products that all of us can use, travel sized if possible. (keep carry-on liquid regulations in mind when taking the plane!). Most toiletries can be bought at your destination,
  • Travel Clothesline and Headlamp Flashlight are always useful 🙂
  • Booster Car Seat for kids from 4 to 11. Our top item for everyone who doesn’t want to carry a normal sized conventional seat along or rent one from car hire company. It’s approved to the EU Safety Standards R44.04
  • we like to take as well a Dry Bag As per definition it keeps your stuff dry if needed. A dry bag is perfect for boat trips, rafting tours or even hikes. Your phone, camera or other small electronics are save, even if your bag falls into the water. It floats! But you can hack it also into a “washing machine”:  insert your clothes with some washing powder/Shampoo and shake the bag for a couple of minutes. Don’t forget to rinse your wear with clear water though
  • heavily depending on where we are going, how we’ll be lodged and how much space we have left in our bags, a travelsafe can be a a very useful item to have – an uncuttable, lockable and with a wire attachable bag that keeps your belongings safe

Check out our series about budgeting and learn how you can save up for an extended trip! 


Travel essentials – Electronics

Hiking shoes are probably the most bulkiest travel item ever. Hence, wear them! Also, nowadays offline maps are a good and space saving alternative to folding maps

Hiking shoes are probably the most bulky travel item ever. Hence, wear them! Also, offline maps are a good and space saving alternative to folding maps (photo by pixabay.com)

Tips to succeed in packing light for long term travel

  • don’t take a bigger bag than a carry-on: this gives you no choice but packing light
  • Don’t pack anything that you don’t need at least weekly or that serves a purpose related to security or health
  • if a garment is not versatile: don’t take it
  • we love our packing cubes; it helps you sticking to the minimum and keeps your luggage in order

click to see the best offers for Packing Cubes

  • don’t sneak in anything last minute, stick to your initial light packing list.
  • Don’t pack any clothing that requires maintenance. Choose wrinkle-free, quick drying, light garments that are not showing stains easily
  • buy toiletries at your destination. This saves you space, weight and the struggle with airport regulations when it comes to liquids
  • Pack entire outfits that you can combine, 1 skirt, 1 short, 5 shirts and 2 dresses give you enough to wear for an entire week or longer.
  • prefer items that are serving several purposes (for example our Hammam Bath Towel: it serves as a beach towel, picnic blankes, cover and emergency towel)
  • wear your bulkiest things during travel
  • If you have shoes in your bag, use it as extra storage for socks, underwear and other little items

Keep in mind: if you really inevitably missing something, you can buy it at your destination.

What are your best travel hacks? Share them below by leaving a comment, we would love to hear more about it!

Disclosure: this page contains affiliate links. This means – at no additional cost for you – I will earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase. I am independent and the opinions expressed here are my own.

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19 Responses

  1. Spanienbloggen says:

    Thanks for sharing. Very inspiring for me to read. I always pack way to much 🙂

  2. Jas says:

    First Aid Kit! I don’t know why I’ve never thought to bring this on trips. Great reminders and packing tips and yessssss packing cubes! They’re life savers!

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