Then of course, when I actually book a trip, I get even more crazed. It’s all I can think about. So I do tons of research in order to channel some of my energy (otherwise spent dancing around the living room) into something useful.
Thus, when we decided to spend 9 months backpacking around Europe, I read a lot. Particularly about other people’s experiences with longterm travel. I was trying to figure out the best ways to eat, sleep, and see each city on our list.
But if I’m being honest, I was probably the most concerned with what I should pack.
Living out of a backpack seemed really daunting to me before we left. Now that I’m on the other end of things… I can say that it’s been surprisingly awesome. I love my backpack and my travel gear, and I’m really happy with how I packed.
Michael has shared his wisdom with you. Now it’s my turn.
A quick heads up… I’m going to link to the products in this post where I can, but the internet is a fickle beast, so prices may have changed. We were in the planning stages of this trip for a long time, so we typically waited until things were on sale, bought them used, or made do with something we already owned. A few items, we received as gifts. (Also FYI, some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you click one and buy something, I’ll get a small cut of the sale, at no extra cost to you.)
Now, without further ado, let’s break my pile of stuff into smaller piles of stuff, so I can tell you about it in detail.
The one piece of advice I kept seeing over and over again for longterm travel was to pack less. Soooo many travel bloggers said their biggest mistake was bringing too much stuff and then having to lug around a bunch of useless crap.
I hate useless crap. So after weeks of research, I decided on the Osprey Porter 30.
Y’all, this bag is amazing. So amazing, I wrote an entire blog post about why I think it’s the best carry on backpack for longterm, budget travel.
I’ve already decided that I will never travel for an extended amount of time with anything else. Plus, I’m pretty sure I get some major travel blogger kudos. Because I can confidently say that I did NOT overpack, which is probably 100% due to this bag.
Packing clothes for 9 months in a carry on backpack is particularly tricky for ladies, because (due to idiotic social norms) we’re somehow expected to have tons of different types of clothing and outfits for different occasions. While Michael was able to wear the same exact outfit to a casual karaoke bar in Barcelona and a fancy dinner in Santorini, I felt obligated to have different levels of formality for different outings.
Aaaand that’s why the Chrysalis Cardi gets its very own section. This one, simple piece of fabric can be anything.
I never thought that I would describe a piece of convertible clothing as “cool,” but this thing is somehow simultaneously functional and fashionable. It can be a scarf, a shirt, a poncho, two different styles of dress, and a cardigan.
If you’re willing to be a little adventurous, it can also be a maxi skirt or a high-low tunic.
The Chrysalis Cardi is my secret weapon for longterm travel around Europe. It allows me to be a budget backpacker without necessarily looking like one, which is fantastic. It’s also super soft and dries quickly.
I have an entire post dedicated to my love affair with the Chrysalis Cardi, complete with pictures of me wearing it in a million different ways. So if you’re interested in hearing me gush about this thing in more detail, please go there.
My next tip for packing light is merino wool. Because merino wool is a miracle fabric. This stuff is actual heaven on earth.
Merino wool helps regulate body temperature, so it keeps you cool when it’s hot, and warm when it’s cold. Among other things, it’s breathable, durable, anti-wrinkle, and quick drying. It naturally protects you from UV rays, wicks away moisture and sweat, and is even fire resistant (though I’ve never personally tested that claim).
All of this is wonderful, but the best part is that you can wear merino wool clothing for several days in a row, and it doesn’t get stinky. It has natural anti-fungal and anti-microbial properties, so bacteria doesn’t hang out on your clothes and make you smell like a human garbage can. (Sweaty people of the world unite!!!)
Unfortunately, because merino wool is the clothing equivalent of turning water into wine, it does cost a bit more than other fabrics. To me, it is worth every penny, and you will see a lot of merino wool in the next section.
You’ll also find that I’m also a big fan of neutral colored clothing while traveling. That way, everything matches, and I can throw on anything with anything.
- Minus33 Merino Wool Short Sleeve Crew (1x Black, 1x Charcoal Gray) – I made the mistake of only packing one of these when we left, and I ended up loving it so much that I got another one during our trip. I wear one of these shirts pretty much every day. They can dress up or down, and I even use them as an extra base layer on cold days. Of note: my regular size did fit, but it was very tight (not the look I was going for). I returned it for the next size up and find it to be a much more comfortable fit.
- La Redoute Merino Wool Shirt (A discontinued style in black) – This shirt has a looser weave of merino wool, and also has black lace along the sleeves. It’s a semi-fancy top compared to my plain Minus33 tees. However, we are not particularly fancy people, so it gets less wear, and I’d consider leaving it out of a shorter packing list. (FYI, La Redoute also sells some things on Amazon.)
- ExOfficio Give-N-Go Tank Top (Black) – This top is made of nylon and lycra spandex, with a microbial treatment to reduce odor-causing bacteria. It’s lightweight, moisture wicking, and quick drying. It’s been pretty good, but I think merino wool looks and feels better. This tank top is more like an athletic jersey. But it’s much cheaper than merino wool, so there’s that.
- WoolOvers Lambswool V-Neck Sweater (Pepper) – A somewhat boring sweater for colder days. It’s technically machine washable, but WoolOvers recommends a slow spin (600 rpm or less), a low temperature (30 degrees max), and non-bio laundry detergent. Hostel washing machines, random laundromats, and crazy Airbnb washers didn’t always allow me to adhere to these specific instructions, so I have ended up patching a few small holes. This sweater also runs big, so I sized down for an accurate fit.
- Outerboro Motile Breeze Pants (Black) – I looked long and hard for travel pants that were decent looking, lightweight, durable, water-resistant, quick-drying… and that were long enough for my legs. I’m tall, and unfortunately there are not a lot of pants options for tall ladies. These have a 33″ inseam, and fit all of my other criteria, so this is what I got. My one complaint is that they don’t have a back belt loop, so I had to have one added. Otherwise my belt hiked halfway up my back, and looked really stupid. If I weren’t tall, I might also consider the Anatomie Skyler Skinny Pant for a similar style. (Update: PrAna has tall sizes now! And regular. And petite.)
- Eddie Bauer Ponte Pants (Black, Slim Ankle) – These pants fit like leggings. I’m on the leggings-can-be-pants-as-long-as-they-aren’t-see-through team. And since these are super thick, there’s no chance of accidentally flashing strangers. I also layer them under my Outerboro pants on really cold days, and they sometimes serve as pajama bottoms.
- Toad&Co Paseo Skirt (Black) – A simple pencil skirt. It comes to the top of my knees and it’s nice for hot days when I’m trying to be slightly more conservative or slightly more dressy.
- H&M Shorts (Black) – I’ve had these shorts for years. I bought them on a whim for $10 and they’re awesome. I don’t have a great picture of me wearing them, but they kind of look like this. (Update: I’m wearing them here.)
- Nike Tempo Running Shorts (Black) – Good for hikes, beach days, lounging around hostels, and PJs.
- Smartwool Hide and Seek Socks (x2) – These socks don’t have a ton of padding, but I wanted socks made of merino wool that didn’t show above my shoes. The heels and toes on these got pretty worn down, but never got any holes.
- Woolly Crew Socks (x1, Currently out of stock) – Also merino wool, but for colder days. A lot more cushion and much less wear after 9 months of walking every day. The odor-resistance is an awesome feature for someone who owns exactly 3 pairs of socks. (Also, I probably should have packed an extra pair of these.)
- Thinx (x1) – I packed one pair of Thinx period panties, and these are a serious game changer. They can be a back up (or even replace!) pads and tampons, depending on your flow and which style you choose. This link gets you $10 off your first order.
- Other undies (x5) – These don’t take up much room and they also dry quickly.
- Ibex Bra – I wanted a merino wool bra and found this. It’s awesome, but has zero padding, and thus shows off a bit more than I would like. I solved that problem by using these guys with it. This bra has been great for travel because it takes up almost no space in my bag and I don’t have to worry about underwire getting wonky in my backpack. (Update: I’ve since heard great things about the Knixwear Evolution Bra – something to consider!)
- True&Co Feathers T-Back Bra (discontinued style) – A more traditional/normal bra. I looooove it, but it’s not the best for traveling. It’s not odor-resistant, it takes up way more space, and I definitely worry about the underwire twisting out of shape when it’s in my bag.
- Sports Bra – Good for hikes and running.
- Ibex Freya Full-Zip Cardigan (Pewter Heather) – The most frequent email I receive is people describing a picture of me wearing this jacket and then asking me what it is. (I totally get it. Finding decent looking women’s travel clothes can be tricky!) I like the asymmetrical zipper, because it makes it look slightly cooler than just a regular jacket. Also, when you wear it unzipped, it kind of cascades down in a more flowy cardigan type way.
- Calvin Klein Double Breasted Trench (Black) – A good outer layer, particularly for Europe. It’s a pretty basic wardrobe staple that allows you to blend in anywhere. This one has a button-off hood and zip-off inner flannel liner, so it can be worn across several seasons. It also makes packing an umbrella unnecessary.
- Vans Authentic Low Top (Pewter/Black) – I’ve worn Vans and Converse pretty much my whole life, so I’m really used to them and I think they’re comfortable. (I can see how other people might want some Dr. Scholl’s inserts.) Of note, we have walked A TON in the last 9 months, so they’ve definitely seen some wear and color fading.
- Dexflex Comfort Flats (Nude) – Super comfy and a classic look. I was glad I had them for nicer occasions, but they could probably be skipped for a more casual itinerary.
- Flip Flops – For beach days and hostel showers.
- Belts (x2) – Kept my pants up, and made me feel slightly dressier when my shirt was tucked in.
- Patterned Scarf – One I already owned. It’s much lighter than my Chrysalis Cardi worn as a scarf, so this one is for chilly (but not freezing) days.
- Beanies (x2) – One black, one gray. I get cold easily and a beanie is an easy way to add another layer.
- Behind the Head Ear Warmer – More protection against the cold. This style is nice because I can wear it with my hair in a ponytail or bun (unlike a beanie).
- Agloves – These are touchscreen gloves, so they keep my hands warm while still allowing me to use my phone.
- Bathing suit – For beach days and intermittent hot tubs.
- Jewelry – My everyday jewelry is a necklace, my wedding rings, and a watch. But if you want to see everything I packed, here’s a picture. Despite the fact that I had a very small wardrobe, the same outfit felt different when I changed out earrings, necklaces, and bracelets. So that was nice, even though I’m not usually a big jewelry person.
- Giani Bernini Crossbody Purse (Cappuccino) – This was the purse I used before our trip, so it’s nothing fancy or specifically made for travel. I do think a crossbody purse is best though, because it’s relatively small and allows you to be hands-free while you wander. It also deters would-be pickpockets.
- Sunglasses – I’ve gone through a few pairs on this trip. Thankfully they are cheap and easily replaced.
- Dr. Bronner’s (Peppermint) – This soap can be used for anything: shampoo, body wash, dish soap, and laundry soap when handwashing clothes in the sink. (Okay, it’s not the *best* shampoo ever, but the multi-function use can’t be beat for longterm travel.)
- Liquids Bottles – Originally filled with Dr. Bronner’s. Then refilled with various other liquids (e.g. shampoo, sunscreen) as the Dr. Bronner’s got used up.
- Oral-B Electric Toothbrush – A small electric toothbrush for only $5! Plus, there’s no wall charger. This baby runs on a single AA battery. And I haven’t had to replace the battery yet! Even after 9 months of use, 2-3x per day, with at least 2 mins of brushing each time. Seriously, I promise I brush my teeth. The battery just lasts forever. (Update: finally had to replace the battery after 1 year of use.)
- Makeup – A few basics, including red lipstick to make a boring outfit pop.
- Sedu Dual Voltage Travel Hair Dryer – Dual voltage means that I don’t need a transformer to use it in Europe, but it’ll also work in the US with just a flip of the switch. (Of note, I don’t mind the way my hair looks when it air dries, but I am NOT going outside on a cold day with wet hair. And there were plenty of cold days this year, so it was worth packing.)
- Aroamas Parisian Solid Perfume Stick – I didn’t end up using it a ton, but it smells nice and I like not having to worry about perfume spilling in my purse or luggage.
- Wet Brush Original Detangler – Flexible bristle hairbrush made for use on wet or dry hair. I got the American flag one because I’m silly.
- Goody Spin Pins – These things are awesome. They allow for quick and easy updos that stay in all day.
- Contacts/Glasses – I’m blind without them. (Plus, travel themed glasses case!)
- Liquids Bag – Various liquids in travel sizes. Contact solution, conditioner, lotion, eye drops, nail polish, nail polish remover, sunscreen, dry shampoo.
- Menstrual Cup (in the picture above, mine is sitting on a Diva Cup carrying case, but it’s actually a Luna Cup) – Ladies, DO YOUR RESEARCH ON THESE THINGS. I hadn’t used a menstrual cup before this trip, but it’s been an absolute lifesaver while traveling. They hold a lot more than a tampon, and you can leave them in for up to 12 hours. (Which is extremely helpful for day-long bus rides, where bathrooms are few and far between.) And while I personally think exploring unfamiliar grocery aisles and buying strange products abroad is a fun adventure, I’d prefer to avoid mixing “adventure” and “feminine hygiene.” A cup lasts at least a year, and sterilizing it is as simple as boiling it for a few minutes.
- Sony RX ii Camera & Bundle – I own a DSLR, but I didn’t want to lug it around due to it’s size and weight. This camera is a really high quality point and shoot, and it easily fits in my purse. (Plus, it let me take cool pictures, like this one, that I would never get on my phone.) Also FYI, I actually use the tripod from this camera bundle, because I prefer the flexible legs.
- iFox Bluetooth Shower Speaker – This is one of my favorite things in my bag because it allowed me to listen to music (and sing loudly) in any Airbnb shower. I also used it along hiking trails and at the beach. It floats and is capable of being fully immersed in water up to 3 feet deep, so it’s good for swimming pools and lakes too. (Update: I now also have a BOOM Swimmer Speaker because I’m a crazy music lady, and I love it too.)
- Headphones – For when other people don’t want to hear my music. Also for podcasts on travel days.
- MacBook Air – For blogging, finding silly pictures of cats, and watching Beyoncé videos.
- European MacBook Duckhead – This allowed me to plug my laptop straight into a European plug instead of having to daisy chain the converter in there. Worth a couple of bucks.
- iPhone – We generally haven’t had cell service this year, but thankfully there’s free WiFi almost everywhere, so our iPhones have still gone a long way. Google Maps and Google Translate (both free) have been life savers. I also use the Kindle app (in-app purchases) to read books on my phone.
- iPhone Screen Protector – Protects against my clumsiness.
- Little Green Army Man – This is a very low tech smartphone tripod. His feet suction to the back of my phone to prop it up for pictures. (I refuse to use a selfie stick.) It’s also good to hold my phone while I FaceTime with family back home.
Storage & Organization
- Eagle Creek Pack-It Bag (only the smallest in that set) – These bags are feather light! I use this to store my socks and undies.
- Eagle Creek Pack-It Toiletry Bag – For makeup and toiletries.
- Striped Bag – Something I already owned that holds a bunch of random stuff (see misc section below).
- Polka Dot Bag – Where I store all of my jewelry, with each piece in a mini ziplock bag, so they don’t get tangled.
- Loksaks – These bags take a lot of damage and don’t fall apart with heavy use. They are also water and weatherproof. I keep important things in here, like medical information, doctor’s prescriptions, extra credit cards, and my passport. I also use the smaller one for my phone on beach days, because it keeps it from getting sandy or wet, but I can still use the touchscreen through the bag.
- Cable Lock – For locking my bag in hostel lockers, or the bag itself when I leave it in luggage storage. The flexible wire guarantees that it’ll work in pretty much any situation. The combination lock guarantees that I won’t have to stress out about losing a tiny key.
- 35L Backpack Rain Cover – This is the one thing in my bag that I’ve never had to use! Definitely worth having for peace of mind, but hopefully it will stay neglected in the corner of my bag forever.
- Panda Eyemask – To make sleeping on trains, planes, and buses a little bit easier.
- Compression Stockings – I have a history of DVT, so I wear medical grade compression stockings on travel days.
- Shandali Microfiber Towel – A little small, but it’s done the trick for beach days and the occasional hostel that doesn’t provide linens.
- Kiva Key Chain Tote – A tiny, foldable shopping bag. It’s been good for carrying groceries home from the store.
- Striped Bag – I keep random stuff in here: wet wipes, Tide stain erasers, a small flashlight, a sewing kit, an extra battery for my toothbrush (that I never had to use!), safety pins, paper clips, and rubber bands.
- Collapsable Water Bottle – Mostly used for hikes. It rolls up, so it doesn’t take up much space.
- A small notepad – For jotting names, details, and quick notes. Also for drawing terrible cartoons.
- Pen/Pencil – To write/draw stuff in said notepad.
- Passport – Pretty necessary for international travel.
- Doctor’s Notes/Prescription – I took copies of past medical records, laboratory results, a doctor’s note detailing important health info, and an extra copy of my prescription. (And again, all of this was kept in a Loksak.)
- Thank You Cards – A weird quirk of mine. I always travel with thank you cards because people are always super kind and helpful while I’m traveling. They take up virtually no packing space, and are an easy way for me to show my appreciation when someone goes above and beyond.
Things I Use From Michael’s Bag That Would Be in My Bag If He Didn’t Exist
- USB Drive – For occasional printing.
- USB Battery Cylinder – We rely pretty heavily on our phones for Google Maps, so having battery to get back to our Airbnb, hostel, or hotel is pretty crucial.
- Earplugs – Super cheap and worth having to ensure a good night’s sleep.
- GoPro and floaty backdoor – Mostly for paddleboarding pictures, but we also took it hiking sometimes. (This was something we already owned and I like having a waterproof camera option.)
- Medicine – Some basic medicine (e.g. Tylenol, DayQuil+NyQuil, Sudafed, Benadryl) has come in handy.
- First Aid Kit – Bandaids, Neosporin, and alcohol wipes.
And that’s all my stuff! I definitely packed a bit more than Michael did, but everything still fits in my backpack pretty easily.
I know that if you’re planning a similar trip, you will probably still read, research, and obsess juuuust a little bit. That’s kind of how it goes. But I really hope this post helps other ladies who are looking to travel longterm with a carry on bag only!
And at the very least, I hope that it has drastically cut down on frantic internet searches, and made more time for dancing around the living room.
If you have any questions, please let me know! And if you missed Michael’s packing post, be sure to check it out too.