It’s been almost five years since I became a serious convert to minimalist packing. I now travel around the world using carry-on baggage only. It’s fast, easy, and less stressful than playing the luggage-lug-around.
Aside from making travel itself far less of a pain, I also continue to enjoy the pragmatic challenge of refining my travel kit. I’ve certainly learned a lot from experience about what and what not to do. (Heck, I once even weighed my underwear to get it right.)
Anyway, I’m long overdue to write a catch-all gear post discussing my current travel kit. What follows is just that: a current (summer 2017) breakdown of what I use, complete with purchasing links where applicable. (And, hey, if you use the Amazon ones to make a purchase, you’ll help support me and this site.)
I’ll explain a little bit about some of my choices as I go along, but I’m also going to try to keep the details from getting in the way of this just being useful as a list.
TRAVEL KIT 2017
All gear breaks down into categories, and for my purposes these categories are often compiled into bags that pack into bigger bags. I promise it makes sense. Read on.
When I travel I’m typically giving a speech or two, hitting some great restaurants, and probably climbing some mountains, exploring some ruins, or trudging fields looking for a battle site. Needless to say, my clothing needs to be flexible enough for a wide range of activities. It also needs to be durable and very much able to be hand-washed in a sink as I nomad around. That also means quick-drying. Oh, and I need to be comfortable in a diverse set of conditions: from days of sweltering heat to nights of bone-chilling snow. (Layers, my friends!)
From left to right, starting at the bottom row:
- Underwear. I go with Uniqlo Airism. Not only did these beauties win my testing some years back, but they’re comfortable. I especially enjoy the front pouch design for a fella’s bits.
- Socks. I’m all over the place on these, honestly. The short ones are Uniqlo (there was a sale), while I also carry a longer pair or two of either merino wool or technical bamboo socks. The ones with the yellow stripe in the middle are compression socks from Under Armour. They’ll pack in a different spot, as you’ll see.
- Pants. My beloved Bluffworks chinos. If I had to wear one pair of pants for a year no matter where I was going or what I was doing, these would do perfectly.
- Shorts. The ones pictured here (on top of my Bluffworks) are from Eddie Bauer. I’ve recently ordered a pair of Aviator non-stop shorts. I’m hoping they’ll better fulfill the combined need for a short that I can run, swim, and go to dinner in.
- Shirts. Weather variant, but usually it’s a couple of polo shirts (here I have one Scottevest and one Columbia) and then a couple short-sleeves or long-sleeved button-ups. All wrinkle-free and typically a climate-cooling fabric. I also usually pack at least one undershirt. Again I’ve chosen Uniqlo Airism. It’s so light I didn’t notice it wasn’t visible here. Oops.
These pack into various packing cubes as seen below. On the left are the pants, shirts, and shorts. On the right are the socks and underwear. (That “packing cube” on the left, by the way, is just the zippered package that a cheap set of sheets came in. Recycling for the win!)
Because of my life, I need a shoe I can wear hiking or running or wearing to a professional lecture. I also need it to dry fast if it gets wet, stay cool if in the heat, and be light and comfortable enough for weeks at a time.
From left to right, starting at the bottom row:
- Do-everything shoe. Mine is the La Sportiva Bushido. It’s perhaps a little flashy for the lecture side of things, but it fits the overall bill better than anything else I’ve found.
- Sandals. Good to have for a change of pace, or something to wear in a communal shower or at the beach. I’ve been using these “barefoot” huaraches from Xero Shoes for years. They’re comfortable and they pack flat into near nothingness.
- Change of shoes (optional, up top). About 20% of the time I will toss in these discontinued all-leather African-inspired shoes from Vivobarefoot, which pack insanely small and look tremendous.
From left to right, starting at the bottom row:
- Toenail Clippers. These are holding down the fort until I splurge on some of those Henckels beauties.
- Kleenex. Always nice to have a packet with you.
- Sewing Kit. I’m hardly a seamstress, but I’m ready to fix the basics if needed.
- Insect Repellent. Standard carry is a few DEET wipes for when the bugs get really bad. If I’m headed to swamps or the tropics, I’ll obviously pack more.
- Deodorant. I use the bigger crystal stick at home, but on the road I have this wee travel size.
- Sunscreen. SPF50 because I don’t like to burn or get skin cancer.
- Lip Balm. Because chapped lips suck.
- Compact Toothbrush. I bought my wee electronic one on clearance at a CVS in Atlanta.
- Tooth Powder. Better than a gel at security checkpoints, plus it lasts longer and packs smaller than toothpaste.
- Body Balm. Usually some variety of Tiger Balm. Great stuff.
- Simple Razor. For years I’ve used a Schick Xtreme 3 to keep my face and head so shiny. Nothing else feels as comfortable to me.
- Shaving Oil. Lasts longer and packs smaller than a can of shaving cream. Big fan of the brand here.
- Body Lotion. This doubles as a general sun-blocker, too, as it’s SPF15.
- Pill Box. For daily supplements and medications.
- First Aid Kit. This is got the basics for stomach bugs, colds, and headaches. I’m not a portable hospital.
- Drain Stopper and Laundry Soap. Packing light means hand-washing clothes on the road. A few Woolite packets like this will do for a couple of weeks. The stopper is for washing clothes or taking a bath when the drain doesn’t work.
- Travel Towel. Microfiber: both soft and quick-drying. It sucks to need a towel and not have one.
- Clothesline. This is awfully handy for drying the aforementioned clothes.
- Hangers. These are inflatable. I take two.
You’ll see here how this all starts to bundle up:
- One is my main toiletry bag, which is a re-purposed red first aid bag that I got free with a pharmacy purchase at some point.
- Another is my clear, gonna-save-me-from-bombs TSA bag — this will slip into the top of my packing bag, as you’ll see in a moment.
- The third bag is a little smaller than a pencil case: this is my “toiletries for long-haul flights” bag. It’ll have toothbrush, deodorant, lip balm, and an (unpictured) selection of Vitamin C lozenges, ear plugs, an eye mask, headphones, and an airplane audio adapter. For seriously long flights (like the one I have coming up), I’ll also toss in a pair of compression socks. Basically, this little bag is intended to help me feel human when I arrive at my destination.
- The other items you see here will pack into a spot in my bag.
Depending on when and where I’m traveling, there’s an assortment of other gear that moves in and out of my kit.
- Water Bottle. I’ve raved about this beauty in at least one guest podcast stint. It’s a Grayl water purifier and bottle. Amazing piece of equipment that ensures I always have clean water to drink no matter where I am.
- Extra Daypack. If I know I’ll be taking some day-trips, I’ll just toss this little beauty in my kit. Unfolds into a usable little bag.
- Lenscope. This is enormously useful for archival work examining ancient or medieval manuscripts.
- Swim Goggles. These are AquaSphere Kaiman goggles, and for travel I pack them into a pouch rather than this hard-plastic case.
- Rain Jacket. Needs to pack small (sense a theme?) and do its bloody job. This one (surprise!) is from Uniqlo. As an added bonus, it’s got hidden Mickeys all over it. You gotta have fun, yo.
- Puffy Jacket. This will move in and out of my kit depending on expected weather conditions. On trips when I need this kind of thing, though, I need it to be super warm while packing super small. Uniqlo wins again with an ultra-light down parka. I got mine in this bright orange-red because (a) I like it, (b) it was the color that was half-off that day, and (c) in white-out conditions it could be handy. Yes, I try to think of everything.
I’m pretty much to the point that I can’t function without electronics. Sigh.
- iPhone (unpictured). I have an iPhone 5S. I’ll upgrade when it dies. As an iPhone case I use a Tech21 Impact Case, because I once visited an Apple Store and every single employee I saw was using one. It’s legit.
- Watch. Some months ago I picked up an Apple Watch Series 2. It’s a remarkable piece of equipment, though whether it accompanies me in traveling is a question of my annoyance with having one more charging cord. Speaking of which …
- Headlamp. Smaller than your average flashlight, it has the advantage of being a light-source that can comfortably be strapped to your head if you need both hands free. It’s small, long-lasting, and it has some great safety beacon features, too.
- Universal Travel Adapter. This one from Kikkerland is the smallest one I’ve ever found. It’s brilliant.
- Splitter. Turns my one travel adapter into three sources of power. Super!
- iPad. My beloved iPad Air 2 has long since replaced my laptop and desktop for nearly all my needs. Yes, I write my books on this.
- iPad case and keyboard. The Anker Bluetooth keyboard and folio case is purely and simply amazing. Highly recommended.
- Charging cords (unpictured). These are all dual-voltage, so I don’t need a voltage converter for international travel.
The Main Bag
So now I’ve got a series of bundles: toiletry, clothes, jackets, and such.
All this now packs into my primary travel bag, the Minaal Carry-on Bag. It has some rather bothersome limitations, but I’ve not found anything that improves upon my Minaal travel bag enough to justify purchasing it. I have the 1.0 version of the Minaal, and the 2.0 version seems a decent upgrade, so go with that if you can. So let’s pack this beauty.
The 1.0 version of the Minaal has two relatively flat compartments at the bottom of the bag. The one on the left houses my travel towel, clothesline, and inflatable hangers — the “extra” stuff from the toiletry kit. (It’s hard to see, but there’s a bulge to the left of this that is the Minaal’s built-in rain cover, making all this weatherproof!)
The bigger mesh pocket here has my “optional” Vivobarefoot shoes and my Xero Shoes huarache sandals layered atop one another. I have big feet, and to get two pairs of shoes into what’s an inch of space at most is amazing. The third pair, of course, is on my feet.
Atop those initial pockets comes the packing cubes. I’ve got all my clothes and my toiletry bag piled up here, and I’ve gone ahead and thrown a thick corduroy jacket on top just for good measure. Yes, all this will fit.
The main compartment of the Minaal is now zipped up. There are two smaller zippered pockets at its top (facing the camera), and into those will go my TSA liquids bag, my cords, charger, and converter, and my airplane toiletry kit. Remember: this whole thing is going to be carry-on luggage. I’ll be wearing it as a backpack, most likely, and when I get to my seat I’ll pull out the few things I need and then slide the bag comfortably into the overhead bin.
There’s a second, bag-broad pocket on the bag that you see is here unzipped. In this picture I’ve already loaded it with my iPad, my research notes, writing supplies, business cards, and all my travel documentation. Because my next trip is taking me to the battlefields of ancient Greece and it’ll be 100 degrees in the shade, you can see that I’m about to see if I can also fit in a full-size CamelBak in its own backpack holder.
It fit just fine.
After this I’ll close it all up and slap on a few external items if needed. I’ll get to what that looks like down below. First, though, let’s take a look at another wee bag I sometimes carry.
The iPhone has a really solid camera, but I’m often taking pictures of ruins or landscapes that will eventually appear in print. On those kinds of trips, I need a quality camera.
- Quality Camera. This is my Sony A6000, which is small enough for travel but powerful enough for professional work. I got an open-box kit from Crutchfield that included two lenses (similar to the package linked here). Great deal on a great camera. It came with a simpler camera strap, but I replaced it with this hand-woven one from the Peru highlands. Also, be sure you load the camera with a Massive Memory Card. Running out of memory might be worse than running out of power. I’ve linked to a 64GB card. Consider that the floor.
- Camera Batteries and Charger. I carry two extra batteries and small charger because nothing sucks more than running out of juice. Well, except maybe not having enough memory. On that, see above.
- Camera Tripod. As ever, I want small and functional. This beauty easily bears the weight of the camera.
All this camera stuff packs into its own bag, which is a Lowepro Adventura:
Whew! So, when it’s all said and done, I’ll be carrying something like this:
- Minaal Bag. See above. The water bottle is now aboard.
- Travel Pillow. The picture shows an Air Comfy inflatable pillow, which has done me good service. I may on my next trip try a more traditional U-shaped neck pillow that has some very un-traditional thermal capabilities.
- Wallet. My everyday beauty is a Slimfold soft-shell wallet, which is a minimalist marvel that still has RFID protection. Pictured here, though, is my wallet for when I’m crossing borders: the Pacsafe 150 Wallet and passport holder with RFID protection.
- Paracord Bracelet. Don’t always travel with this, but I have it a fair amount. You never know when paracord might be handy, especially in certain international, um, situations.
- Camera Bag. See above.
So that’s just about it.
I’m always looking to refine my kit, so if you have suggestions (or if you’re a manufacturer who wants me to review a product for these purposes) please drop me a line!
Until then, happy travels!