How to Travel The World Out of a Carry-On Bag

I’m out for a 10-day trip to NYC and Las Vegas, and my bag is smaller than a breadbox. Here’s how to pack when you have no idea when you’ll be back.



Here’s the full gear list:

Ultralight Travel Gear List (Updated!)

1. Vivobarefoot Gobi


Minimalist shoes make perfect travel shoes if you allow yourself a few months to build up strength in your feet. With no padding or cushioning, they pack down almost completely flat and weigh very little. I love my Gobi’s for all of these reasons, and because I can stay comfortable and pack light without looking like a hopeless tourist. These ones are particularly durable; mine are starting to look “worn-in” but they’re holding up fine everywhere.

2. Prana Stretch Zion Pants

Prana Zion

The ultimate travel goal is to bring one pair of pants for everything. I’m pretty sold on the Prana Stretch Zion’s. Stretch is subtle, but I consider it essential to long-term comfort. I spend too much time sleeping, sitting cross-legged, mounting bicycles, climbing, and hiking to bring a pair of nylon pants that don’t move with me.

These dry so fast, I don’t carry rain pants. They’re so comfortable, I wear them in 90º heat and -18º northeast winters. The side pocket is perfect for things you don’t want to lose with two zippers, and the snaps on the bottom let me roll up the cuffs at the rock gym. I can’t speak highly enough of these. One flaw: the built-in belt can slip a bit, so get the right size or consider cutting it off to use the belt loops with your own belt.

I usually wear Merino wool underneath, so I only have to wash them once every few days. If this is too “camper” for your personal style, try the Ministry of Supply Aviator Pants. Not quite as comfortable, but definitely more innocuous.

3. Patagonia Micro-D 1/4 Zip


This 8oz fleece is a bit hard to find, but they’re likely due for a re-release next fall. 8oz is about half of what most fleeces weigh, and this fleece feels positively airy. With a raincoat, I can stay comfortable down to 30º. I like the softness, too; it’s perfect for sleeping. A lack of pockets and extra features keeps weight down and prevents your outfit from looking exceptionally busy.

4. Cocoon Silk Travel Sheet and Travel Pillow


Bringing a bed with you is pretty practical when your hosts fluctuate from day to day. For just a bit of weight, I’m ready for sleeping anywhere, including airports on long layovers. I use the Cocoon travel pillow and silk travel sheet coupled with a Thermarest Prolite Sleeping Pad  for a full portable bed that weighs just one pound (less weight than my shoes).

5. Food


Part of traveling on the cheap is keeping food costs down. I do this by using supermarkets. This is obviously an American spread, but you can do this virtually anywhere. Eating out constantly costs 2-3x more than buying food the old-fashioned way.

I saved a lot of money with this shopping trip (totaling around $45) because all of these foods are high-calorie and highly nutritious. This is about 4-5 days worth of food.

6. Prana Mojo Shorts


These are great travel shorts, which double as a bathing suit. For a weekend in 50º New York and 70º Las Vegas, these and the Zion pants complement each other perfectly. Again, I’m going with Prana here for the stretch. It’s an intuitive fabric that is most comfortable for me when my itinerary includes 2-day train rides or 5-hour flights.

7. EMS Helix Anorak


A good raincoat can turn a 2-hour wait for a bus from a nightmare into an adventure. Being wet is no fun, and since rain is an inevitability, I simply plan for it and make it part of  my trips. The Gore-Tex Menace is dead, and companies are getting more and more leeway to develop their own proprietary waterproof-breathable fabrics. Polartec NeoShell is my personal favorite; it has just a bit of stretch, a face fabric that feels like a softshell, doesn’t make noise, and is ultralight (this jacket is only 11oz). I have stood in pouring rain for hours and it still won’t wet through.

Plus, the price on this particular coat is right; it’ll serve just as well as high-end raincoats three times the price.

8. Platypus PlusBottle


A flexible water bottle weighs much less than a conventional one, and being able to fill up without paying another $2.50 for water saves a lot in the long run. I can fold this one into wallet-size so I forget I have it until it’s needed.

9. Tom Bihn Side Effect

This little bag is a great addition to my kit. It’s an organizer in the pack and a camera bag outside the pack, and is low-profile enough not to attract attention. I keep my passport, camera, and notebook in here, along with a mini first-aid kit (bandages, gauze, and Aleve), a bandanna, a headlamp, and some zip ties.

10. Kuhl Wunderer Shirt

Lightweight nylon at less than 5oz, this travel shirt is pretty generic- but that’s not a bad thing. A simple nylon dress shirt has a lot of utility in a one-bag travel list. it’s sun protection, bug protection, good-looking enough for formal events, and comfortable to wear all day.

11. Smartwool Lightweight Boxer Briefs

I’ve lauded Merino Wool before. I use three Merino Wool shirts and nothing but merino socks and underwear when I travel. it simplifies going several days in the same outfit- you don’t necessarily need to do laundry, and when you do, everything dries quickly so you can get back out there.

These are also extremely comfortable when you’re sitting for long periods of time. They’re moisture-wicking, because sitting on an airplane can be a perspiring experience. I have a hard time wearing anything else, now that I’ve converted, so invest cautiously.


Altogether, I think my gear list for this trip totaled about 15lbs, plus the food and some water. Here’s the complete list!

One-Bag Gear List (Updated!)



31 thoughts on “How to Travel The World Out of a Carry-On Bag

    1. I really wanted to love them, but swinging my leg over the bike tore the pant leg about 1 full foot one day. I was apparently pulling at one of the cargo pocket seams every time I stretched the crotch mounting the bike.

      I don’t consider any pants “commuter” or “cycling” pants unless they stretch. Period. Otherwise, it’s just marketing.

      Too bad- the commuters ARE nice pants. Just not ideal for travel, I don’t think.

  1. Could you explain why you say the “Gore-tex menace”? On two levels, why do you consider them a menace, and why do you say they are now “dead”?

    They are a company that relies heavily on trade secrets with their water proof breathable polymers, and has been ranked among the best places to work, in both the world and the United States, for more than a decades (with frequent top ten appearances). They don’t truly market their products for the public, and have only ever worked with one polymer type, so exploration by other companies has always been possible, Gore was just better at it for quite a long time.

      1. Just want to point out that the article even acknowledges that there is no tangible evidence for the accusations being made by other companies. Depends how you look at it, I’d make the argument it is quality control from a premium product. Ensuring retail companies maintain their internally proven performance standards. But we can all interpret it our own way.

        Thanks for the read though. I like the pants a lot, I will look into those.

  2. I absolutely love this list! Thanks for sharing. One thing I personally would change is using Under Armour heat gear shorts as the underwear instead of merino. They don’t hold in stink, last FOREVER, are anti chaffing when cycling in combination with an over short, and dry even faster than merino. Have you tried them? Any reason you chose merino over Under Armour?

    Again, thanks for the great recommendations.

    1. I do own them! I use them sometimes. I cycled in them for 30 days straight.

      Basically… I have big thighs from cycling. LOTS of muscle. They’re too tight. I now use Smartwool Briefs because they’re not so tight.

      Compression might be a good thing, but the muscle in my thighs tapers at the top of my hip joint, so they rise up all the time.

  3. $80 for a pair of underwear shocks me. Your gear bag may weigh less than 20 lbs but it costs over $500!

  4. No soap, no towel, no (pegless) clothesline …. I don’t think I’d like to sit next to you on the bus or plane …

  5. Hello. Nice list. What kind of watch is that in the first picture? Looks nice! I’ve been looking for a simple, clean, functional, and durable watch. Thnaks

  6. I think this is one of many most significant info for me. And i’m
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  7. Great guide.
    I’m about to go on my first solo adventure to Peru. I decided to go ultra minimalist and only bring a few things along.
    I’m eyeing the Scottevest convertible pocket pants.
    I hadn’t thought about getting some that don’t convert into shorts for hot weather. Thanks for the idea!

    Also the water bottle you linked to is almost twice as expensive as this one :
    Same concept, you can also get filters there.

    1. Nothing wrong with Vapur, but the plastic is more crinkly and less durable. Platy bottles are a little more reliable.

      The only filters I really trust with my health are the sawyer squeeze and mini.

      Have a great trip!

  8. Hey! I was wondering what kind of merino socks do you use… I bought some from Icebreaker, but they seem too thinck and warm for the summer. Did you manage to find thin socks that are not too warm?

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