Carry-On Travel Packing List Review

There are countless online article about what to pack for travel, including my own here, but there are very few articles that revisit the subject after the adventure is over. When reading a pre-trip packing list I’m always left wondering: How did the items perform? Did you survive without jeans? Were the hiking boots overkill?

In an attempt to remedy the paucity of packing-list post-mortems, I’ve revisited each of the items in my pack to let you know what worked and what failed. I’ve also called out a bunch of items that far exceeded my expectations, and a handful that were big disappointments.  By the way, I’m not in any way affiliated with any of these brands—these are just my opinions.


A big thumbs up to the REI Vagabond 40-liter pack. Having a carry-on size pack was possibly the best decision I made during the whole seven months I was away. The material was durable, the straps were comfortable, the pockets were sufficient, and the sleek look of it always made me happy. If I were in charge of making the pack, I’d add a third compression strap, make both side pockets expandable instead of just one, and reverse the top pocket so items wouldn’t fall out when the pack was laid flat. But otherwise, this pack was a total winner. 


The little REI compressible daypack was also a great item. I didn’t use it very often, but it was always there when I needed it. Instead of keeping it stuffed in its own pocket, I usually just rolled it up and stuck it under a compression strap.


I made a few adjustments to my casual clothing throughout the trip, partly out of necessity, and partly out of Wardrobe Boredom:

  • The grey shirt revealed too much when I leaned over, so I bought a more modest shirt in Istanbul.
  • I also bought a lightweight long-sleeve shirt for when I was in Muslim countries and couldn’t walk around in a tank top.
  • The short shorts only saw the light of day in Greece, so I got rid of them after that.


The Prana Monarch convertible pants were definitely the best clothing item I brought with me. The material cleaned easily and was very durable. The little zippered pocket by the right knee was perfect for a debit card and some cash. Best of all, they were cute enough in both pant form and capri form that I never felt unattractive in them despite wearing them every day for seven months. Do you know how rare that is? I’m going to buy another pair just in case Prana stops making them.


Both my outerwear items were big winners. I wore the long-sleeve Wunderer shirt by Kuhl almost every day, especially in Muslim countries, and it never let me down.  I’m really happy I went for the vivid blue color: it broke up the monotony of my wardrobe and really popped in photos. This shirt fit perfectly, had excellent ventilation, and the sleeve roll up to a fashionable and functional length. 


The GoLight raincoat was also perfect—it packed down so small it hardly counted as ‘occupied space’ in the pack, and it looked remarkably classy when on.  It kept me surprisingly warm when paired with the long underwear top and Kuhl shirt.  Unfortunately, GoLight went out of business while I was gone, but at least I got this jacket before that happened.


Every single underclothes item was a winner! Hurray! The Paradox long underwear top and bottoms were essential layers for all the freakishly cold weather I encountered in Morocco and Jordan. The Target/Xhileration underwear were comfortable and durable, and only $4 each.


The biggest success was the Madison bra by Paramour. I never had to worry about anything bra-related the whole seven months. That kind of comfort and peace of mind is priceless. The only thing in this category that I changed is that I added a second pair of Smartwool hiking socks before I left.


This is the area that went through the most edits. The only shoes that made it the whole way were the Chaco sport sandals. Those shoes are damn near perfect, I swear. I wore the ‘cute and casual’ Jambo shoes once in the first three months, then ditched them. It’s not that they weren’t good shoes, it’s just that my Chacos were all I needed.


The hiking boots were great, but it ends up they were a little overkill, even in the Alps. I swapped them out for this amazing pair of Solomon hiking shoes and never looked back.


What can I say? My toiletry selection was damn near perfect. The move to contacts instead of a combination of glasses and squinting was great; taking care of contacts on the road was not a problem. Keeping my hair ties around my deodorant was a good move, too. Another winner was the loofah: it dried quickly, made showers more efficient and effective, and added just a tiny bit of normalcy to life on the road.


Right before I left I changed my mind about feminine care, ditching the tampons/pads for the Diva Cup, something I’d used for years a couple years ago. I’m so glad I went back to it. Being able to go 12+ hours at a time without thinking about…that…well, it’s another priceless item.


Along with toiletries, I’ve really got this medical kit thing figured out. The medicines I brought—ibuprofen, acetaminophen, immodium and an antihistamine—were all used by myself or other grateful travelers. I bought antibiotics for traveler’s diarrhea in Egypt ($1.25 for a full round) rather than buy it in advance in the US for ridiculous sums of money.


My favorite medical kit item has long been, and still is, a digital thermometer. Do I have the flu or did I just drink some bad water? Am I just tired, or do I have Ebola? There’s nothing like the certainty of definitely having a fever or definitely not having a fever to determine the next steps when you’re ill.


The electronics section was where I experimented the most, and, consequently, where I had the most failures.

I absolutely loved my little Asus Transformer T100 netbook. The lightning-fast boot up, downright tiny size, full computer functionality, and detachable touch-screen were all excellent features.

The Amazon Kindle e-reader was another (tried and true) winner.

The blue ribbon definitely goes to the SteriPen Adventure Opti, my second SteriPen, and a nearly flawless piece of equipment that I consider essential for any developing-world travel. The only flaw I found with the SteriPen was the expensive batteries. A USB-chargeable version has hit the market and looks like a great upgrade.


The electronics that I ended up disliking never failed on me, but rather they just weren’t worth carrying around the world. The GoPro, a camera I love having at home, hardly saw the light of day. The X-shot camera extension never got used. Both items created a lot of unnecessary bulk and weight.

The Canon SX280 HS camera was a major letdown. The picture quality was not what I was hoping for, and the power became horribly glitchy after just a couple months. I was able to replace it under warranty, but not until after my trip ended, so seven months of disappointing photos later. The replacement seems to be a lot better than the defective one. Lesson learned: don’t buy a new camera just two weeks before starting your huge and important trip.


And, finally, those items that were classified as “random” in my original packing list because I forgot to include them in the appropriate pictures.


  • The paper pocket calendar was great for making plans without being glued to my computer, and for taking detailed travel spending notes.  Check out my post-trip budget breakdown here.
  • The miniature Moleskine notebooks became part of me. I never went anywhere without them, and the notes I made in them will be essential in the eventual book-writing process.
  • The travel padlock was essential for locking my pack and keeping my belongings safe (note that a thicker hasp is needed for most hostel lockers).
  • The simple US–EU plug converter was all I needed to make my electronics international. I loved it, especially when compared to gigantic converter contraptions many other travelers were using.
  • I used the eye mask and earplugs in almost every hostel (because I’m old now).
  • The Petzl Tikka headlight was also a daily item, especially the hostel-friendly red light for when I didn’t want to wake my neighbors.
  • I probably brought too many business cards, but hey, it was good motivation for handing them out.


That’s all I’ve got!  I hope this post-trip travel packing list is helpful when you’re making your own travel packing choices.  If you have any questions about any items I did or did not bring, feel free to ask in the comments below!

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  1. This information is so helpful. Thank you. My other questions about items I will ask you in person or direct email.

  2. Thanks for posting this. I still carry way too many things when I go packing and try to cut down on stuff but can’t seem to do without some of my extras.
    Margie recently posted…Gear Review: Exped Air PillowMy Profile

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