When you're jumping around the globe, especially with carry-on only luggage, you're making the statement "I want to travel light, cheap, and easy." You don't want unnecessary things weighing you down, you don't want things you're going to use once. You want things that are going to;

  • Improve your travel experience particularly with transport
  • Disproportionate value for the space that the item takes up
  • Multi-use items so you're not stuck with it after using it a few times

We'll cover the most useful essentials, why they're so great, and where you can get them. Note that this doesn't include what type of clothes and shoes you should bring, these are only travel specific items.

1 | Carry-on Backpack - Osprey Farpoint 40

The Osprey is a Thrifty favorite. It's the perfect dimensions for carry-on only travel so you don't have trouble getting it on 99% of airlines. It's a clam shell open for easy access, fits everything easily with it's 40L, and looks mint. Highly recommend reading the full review below.

The Best Carry-on Travel Bag For Backpackers in 2020 | Review
If you’re a backpacker and want to save hundreds of dollars by not paying check-in luggage fees — I’ve got the perfect carry-on backpack for you.
Osprey Farpoint 40 Review

Having the right bag is absolutely essential when going carry-on only. This thing is made out of quality material, you can squish things inside, put your laptop in the dedicated front sleeve, and tie things down on it.

Here's an Amazon link: https://amzn.to/2RB7An8

2 | Packing Cubes/Compartments

If you want to fit everything you need, these things are a lifesaver. Because this is what happens when you leave for your trip.

  1. You pack perfectly
  2. You arrive and unpack
  3. When you repack you suddenly have twice the stuff

And you wonder "How the hell did I pack all of this?" This is where the packing cubes can sort out everything. They're zippable bags (get the breathable ones) where you can organize your clothes however you want.

They look like this:

Bagail 6 Set Packing Cubes,3 Various Sizes Travel Luggage Packing Organizers(Black Net)
Travel Packing Cubes

But you can get them in different shapes, sizes, more rigid, more flexible. Have a look before committing.

Here's an Amazon link for the one above: https://amzn.to/36mpuOu

Side note: Here's a tutorial on how to fold your shirts so they all fit in your bag as compact as possible. This is good especially if you're going to skip buying those packing cubes.

How To Fold Your Shirts For Traveling | Compact Cylinder Style Fold
How to fold your shirts in a super easy backpacker style so that they’re compact cylinders and don’t take up a lot of space for travel. Step by step guide.

3 | Travel Neck Pillow

On your trip there's going to be countless times where you're going to be taking medium to long-haul transport. It could be on a bus, train, or plane but the same problem exists - sore neck and a bad sleep.

Looks something like this

Travel neck pillows are absolutely the best solution. They don't take up space because you can just leave them dangling off the side of your bag and they practically weigh nothing. You can always wear it while going through baggage weighing too, never had a problem there.

This also saves you money because it lets you take longer more uncomfortable routes that are cheaper, all because you're actually able to get comfortable.

Here's an Amazon link: https://amzn.to/35YUtQ6

4 | High Quality Earplugs

Hostels and transport can be a mixed bag. From someone snoring in your dorm to a kids demonic screeching on a plane, if you get some high quality earplugs it's going to lesson your pain.

There's actually plenty of hostels and airlines that'll give you earplugs if you ask for them, or they'll just offer it to you free of charge. I opted for this option as it was cheaper (initially) but then found out the difference that good earplugs make. So I'd recommend getting a dedicated pair.

Here's an Amazon link: https://amzn.to/2E0SeAz

On a separate note, getting a dedicated set of High Fidelity Concert Earplugs is also on my must have list. If you're going to the Thai Full Moon Party, pub crawls, party islands, techno clubs in Berlin and beyond, you really want to protect your hearing. Getting high fidelity earplugs is an amazing way to drown out the noise and hear the music in clarity.

They look something like this, and usually come in a key-chain carrying capsule.

My High Fidelity Earplugs

Here's an Amazon link: https://amzn.to/35TUc0P

5 | Eye/Sleeping Mask

The final item in the chronicles of that sweet sweet sleep we were talking about earlier. The eye mask is the 3rd musketeer when it comes to the trio that also includes a neck pillow and earplugs.

Getting a high quality eye mask lets you get knocked out while traveling much easier, it's also good for rooms with too much sunlight in the mornings, and of course day time naps - a favorite.

Here's an Amazon link: https://amzn.to/2thCbMt

6 | Slim High Capacity Portable Charger

The amount of times that this is going to save your life, you're going to bend reality and technology to email me a box of chocolates. Sometimes there's no power ports, no opportunity to charge up, a delayed flight, and a million other reasons you can't get your phone to charge - it's always when you need it the most.

Do yourself a favor get yourself at least a 10,000 mAh power bank. They've gotten really good and most are slim and have fast charging so you won't be sitting around with it forever. 10k should charge your battery fully 2.5x  over - 20k is even better, especially if you're in remote locations.

Here's an Amazon link: https://amzn.to/2u1MAwg

7 | Universal Power Adapter

Especially if you're bouncing around multiple places like Australia, Asia and Europe - you really need to sort this one out. They're cheap, they're widely available, and they don't weigh much.

Don't make the mistake of buying one every time you get to a different location or you'll end up with several hard bits of plastic and metal swimming around your backpack.

You can get the one I have on Amazon, but there're some others that are a few dollars cheaper: https://amzn.to/2QXWAj9

8 | Travel Towel

Hear me out, yes a normal towel works too and you might prefer it, but the key difference with a travel towel is that it's lighter and dries much faster. A lot of them are made out of microfiber and quick dry materials so they're ideal for travel considering you're on the go and don't always get the opportunity.

You can take it 1 step further and get microfiber and quick dry material in your clothes. Tons of shirts, shorts and more out there with the same material.

Here's the Amazon link: https://amzn.to/2s92EeC

9 | Foldable Day Pack

You've got your 40L Osprey with your entire life on your back. Easily being able to move around from country to country, that's going well. But day to day in the cities you're visiting, you want to go even lighter. Something to put your sunscreen, water bottle, and other bits and bobs in. But you don't want a second bag, that's the whole point of going carry-on only right?

This is where the foldable day pack comes in.

These are usually made out of a thin nylon or polyester material and can fold down into itself weigh practically nothing and being able to fit in your pocket. But when you need it, boom, second bag.

Foldable Day Backpack example

Here's an Amazon link: https://amzn.to/2YzC0HK

10 | NFC Blocking Wallet or Travel Wallet

A popular scam in some places are people walking around with NFC pay point devices that they'll sneakily run passed you so your card is debited for the maximum amount they can.

A travel wallet that blocks NFC signals is great for this and come standard these days. Ones that have clips are even better to secure your physical cash and belongings to your person as well.

Travel Wallet with Straps for Waist

Here's an Amazon link: https://amzn.to/2RsTO4y


Those are the main items that you want to have when heading off on your Carry-on only trip. There are tons of things that I didn't mention for a host of reasons, the main ones being that you'll get them abroad or they're basic requirements that aren't travel specific. Think sunscreen, hat, toiletries, underwear or other clothes and commodities.

But with the items on this one, you should be absolutely prepared for your Carry-on only backpacking trip!

Safe travels!

Sah