Ultimate One Bag Pack List
Behold! The pack list below is the work of years of trial and error. I have tried and tested dozens of products and many travel bags. Everything in my pack list are items that I take with me one every trip I take. I believe they are the best money can buy. If I don’t like something about a product or I haven’t used it enough to fully vouch for it I mention that in the description. There are no affiliate links, meaning I’m not trying to sell you something. If you want to skip to the downloadable pdf version click below. If you want an overly detailed explanation of every item I carry, keep reading!
Tablet or eReader – The primary purpose of a tablet was to have an eReader. By bringing only electronic books, maps and travel guides I really cut down on my weight. I also wanted something that was able to connect to wi-fi that would be a little easier to use than my phone. I decided to go with the Amazon Fire HD8 tablet. The table is relatively cheap, under $100, so if you lose it or break it, its not too big of a deal. It has a great display for reading and I really love the expandable memory. It can hold up to a 200GB micro SD card. This is more than enough for almost anything.
Phone – I currently use the Samsung Galaxy S7. You will probably take whatever phone you currently have. I decided to switch to an Android phone this year as I think it is better for travel. First it doesn’t look as expensive and flashy as an iPhone, so you don’t stand out as a target for thieves. It also has a giant expandable memory capability and takes great pictures.
Earbuds – I use the ones that came with my phone. They work well and I have a tendency to lose these so I don’t see the point in spending a lot of money here.
Chargers – Carry at least 2 chargers. A trip does not go by where I do not lose a charger, or leave it in a hotel room. I recommend having one charger that is 6 feet long. This will come in handy when you are in an airport or hostel with limited plug availability. You don’t want to leave your phone unattended while you sleep because the plug is 4 feet away and you only have a 3 foot cord.
Plug Adapter – The jury is still out on this one. Currently I am carrying a universal charger from REI. It works great and has 2 USB ports, meaning I can charge 3 devices at a time if I want. It is a little bulky for short trips where you only need one adapter. On longer trips requiring multiple adapters it works great.
USB Thumb Drive – I recently purchased a tiny drive from SanDisk. Its great but it is almost too small. I’m afraid I will lose it because it barely exists. However it does works great, and at about $10 for a 32GB drive it is a bargain.
Micro USB to USB adapter – This little thing is pretty handy if you have an Android phone. It allows you to plug a USB thumb drive directly into your phone. It’s great for downloading photos. On long trips this will be useful to download and mail your photos to a friend or family member for safe keeping.
Electronic Bags – Keep your electronics organized by using a small bag or packing cube. The one I use is the Quarter Cube by Eagle Creek. It fits everything perfectly and forces me to cut out extra items by being so small.
Your best bet is to buy as much merino wool clothing as possible. My tests with wool have confirmed they are the ultimate travel material. On my last trip to England I wore one shirt for 10 days. After arriving home I hung it up in my closet, two days later I smell tested it against a freshly washed cotton shirt. I could not tell the difference. You could survive with two t-shirts almost indefinitely with merino wool. Wear one for a week, wash and switch.
The biggest downside is the cost. Merino wool is expensive, at about $70 for a t-shirt and $120 for a long-sleeve button up. And they do itch slightly despite the claims to the contrary. I think attrition is the key here. Buy one shirt a year if you have to. It is worth it in the time, money and weight saved in the long-run. Treat them gently and actually follow the washing instructions.
T-Shirt – You should only need 2 shirts if you use Merino wool. One will suffice for short trips. Currently I have one shirt from Icebreaker and one shirt from Wool and Prince. They both work great. The Icebreaker shirt is 100% wool and does itch a little more. The Wool and Prince shirt is more comfortable but is only 78% wool.
Button-down Long Sleeve Shirt – I recently purchased the button down oxford shirt from Wool and Prince. It’s fantastic.
Socks – 4 pairs of synthetic socks will do.
Underwear – So far I use Exofficio give and go briefs. They work well. I tried a pair of Patagonia merino wool boxers. The elastic band doesn’t hold up and the material is flimsy. The search for the ultimate pair of travel underwear continues.
Pants – I like travel pants with zippered pockets that don’t look like travel pants. They need to look good and function well. Zippers make it easy to store money without the need for a money belt. So far my favorite travel pants are the REI adventure pants. They have a zippered wallet butt pocket, a side pocket and a secret zippered pocket inside the left front pocket. They’re also very reasonably priced compared to most travel pants. They also look great. You could wear them on a jungle hike then turn around and wear them out to a nice dinner.
Long-sleeve base layer shirt – This is an optional item if you are travelling to a cold area. The best way to pack light for varying climates is to bring layers. A t-shirt, long sleeve shirt, thin base layer and light jacket will allow you to be comfortable down to about 40°F. Consider taking a thicker version of everything if you are going anywhere colder.
Long base layer underwear – Same here, this is an optional item if you are going somewhere cold.
Wool Jacket – I am wearing the Men’s Sierra Long Sleeve Zip jacket by Icebreaker. It’s a light jacket that’s breathable and works well with layers. They don’t carry this model anymore but you can still find it on Amazon.
Swim suit – A must have item regardless of where you are going.
Walking shoes – You need something versatile because you will only have one pair of shoes. There is no need to have multiple shoes as they will fill your bag up quickly. A sturdy pair of preferably leather shoes is a good option. You want something that you will be able to walk all day in while looking good enough to fit in during your trip to the museum.
Belt – A belt is possibly an optional item. I use the Patagonia web tech belt, but it really doesn’t matter here.
Handkerchief – This isn’t necessary but will come in handy more than you realize. For the weight it’s worth it to carry a small handkerchief in your travel bag.
Quick dry towel – These are fantastic. You want one that is small, but not too small. You can use these for showering, or as a small beach towel. They are absorbent enough to dry you off while drying very quickly.
Toothbrush – This isn’t the place to skimp on size and weight. Use your favorite full sized toothbrush and don’t bother with those mini travel sized foldable ones. It isn’t worth it.
Toothpaste – You can find <1oz. mini travel tubes of toothpaste in the trial sized section of any Superstore.
Shampoo – Silicon bottles work well for shampoo. They don’t leak and are refillable. The tubes I use are from Eagle Creek.
Hand Sanitizer Gel – Carrying alcohol based hand sanitizer is a great way to ward off illness while abroad. Purell makes a handy 2 oz. size that is perfect to keep in your daypack. These can also be found in the trial size section.
Sunscreen – Bare Rebulic makes a 1oz travel size of their natural mineral 50 spf sunscreen. This is perfect for cities but you might need something bigger if you’re going to the beach. I can’t seem to find this size online anywhere but they do currently sell it at Target. You can always buy a larger bottle and sq
Deodorant – Crystal deodorant uses a natural mineral salt to prevent bacterial growth. It is free of heavy metals, chemicals and fragrances. It is also great for travel because it isn’t messy and their small travel size tube can be used for months.
Disposable Razor – I prefer to carry the disposable ones for travel. They are lightweight, cheap, and you can buy them anywhere.
Fingernail Clippers – Useful for a trip of any duration.
Dental Floss – Again, probably not worth your time and energy to try and hunt down a mini travel sized box of floss. Save your mental energy and just bring whatever you have in your bathroom.
Toilet Paper – How much of this will depend on where you are going. It’s always a good idea to have at least a small roll of this. Best case scenario you can use it to blow your nose. Travel tissues work well or unroll part of a tube of toilet paper and put it in a zip lock baggie.
Electric Razor – I’m in the beta phase of testing travel worthy razors. Anything small enough to be worthy of one-bag travel is probably only going to be good enough to trim a beard and cut sideburns. That being said there aren’t a ton of choices out there. I want something small, lightweight, and that runs on batteries. I don’t want to lug another charger around the world. The razor that I am currently testing is the Wahl Travel Cordless Battery Trimmer. It works but it’s not great.
Toiletry Kit – The best kit I have been able to find is the Pack-It Specter Quick Trip from Eagle Creek. It boasts a 3L capacity while weighing in at only 1oz. It has two three pockets and a hook to hang in the bathroom.
Passport – Check the expiration date. Most countries require you to have 3 months before your passport expires to travel. The U.S. State Department recommends your passport has at least 6 months validity.
Debit Card – I recommend having two checking accounts if you don’t already. The main reason for this is if your card is lost or stolen you have a backup. It could take days or weeks to get a new card shipped to you if you are abroad. Having a second debit hard removes this hassle completely.
Credit Card – Check your foreign transaction fees, if your card has them consider getting a card that doesn’t. Most chip cards don’t require you to contact your bank before travel but it’s a good idea to check. Check your PIN numbers. You can usually take out cash from a credit card using a cash advance. Not something you want to plan on doing as the fees and interest rate are usually high but it’s another backup option if something goes wrong on your trip.
Second Form of ID – It’s a good idea to carry a second form of identification when you travel. You can use it to verify your identity if your passport gets stolen. A driver’s license or a passport card etc. work well.
Boarding Pass – Phone apps and screen shots are useful. I like to carry a paper copy of my boarding passes in case my phone isn’t working.
Printed Reservations – Depending on where you are going you might need to provide proof of accommodation for your first night in the country. You also want your reservations printed as a receipt that you paid and to have a copy of the address and contact information. If you get lost you can always show your hotel address to a taxi driver and they can take you right there.
Itinerary – As detailed as you have it. Include flight info and hotel reservations if you know them. If you aren’t a planner at the very least have a rough outline of where you will be and when. Send a copy to your mother.
Photocopy of Cards and Passport – Another emergency backup. If you lose your cards, cash and passport it will be way easier to cancel your cards and get a replacement passport if you have photocopies of them all. Keep this in a separate location from the originals.
Emergency Contact Info – You should have something that says who you are and basic information about you. Medical information, allergies, contact information etc. Also put the names, addresses, and phone numbers (include country codes) of everybody you would want contacted if something were to happen to you.
Address List – Mainly I carry this to send people postcards. In this digital era a personalized postcard with a foreign stamp is a gift anybody would love to receive.
Packing List – Carry your pack list so you know what you have. Double check it every time you leave a hotel.
Sunglasses – Take whatever you have.
Notebook –You want a paper notebook to take notes, journal, and use as a paper translator when you need help communicating. A notebook about 3.5” x 5.5” is a good size. There are many options, the Moleskine Cashier Journals are a good choice. A pack of 3 costs about $10.
If you want to get crazy Kevin Rose has a great podcast discussing the best paper notebooks
Pencil – You will need some sort of writing device for your notebook. Probably you should carry 2 in case you lose one (which you will). I like mechanical pencils.
Ballpoint Pen – You need a pen to fill out your customs forms before entering a new country. Carry one with you so you can fill it out on the plane or bus before you arrive. Nobody else will have one. You will make new friends.
Zip Lock Bags – Bring some, trust me, they are fantastic. I carry 1-2 larger gallon or two gallon bags. They are good for dirty laundry, or wet clothes. Smaller quart sized freezer bags are great for food. They can hold left-overs, or snacks and can be used to contain a leaky shampoo bottle. Carry a few of these, like 3, and don’t throw them away. The freezer ones work well as they are thicker and can be reused more easily.
Twist Wire Lock – You don’t need to make your bag thief proof, it just needs to be safer than the guy next to you. It is virtually impossible to make your bag invulnerable to thieves but a few simple tools can make it a difficult and undesirable attempt. Thieves are opportunistic, don’t give them an opportunity.
I carry two types of luggage locks. The first is a simple keychain style coated wire lock. My travel bag doesn’t have locking zippers. I’m not sure they are really all they are cracked up to be anyway. You can buy them in a hardware store, or buy one of these for $1 from Redoxx.
Flex Lock – The second type of lock is a flexible cable combination lock. It’s small, works well, and offers sufficient protection. The flexible cable allows it to be used on almost all luggage zippers or hostel lockers. You can use the wire cable to secure your entire bag to an unmovable object if you are looking to sleep in an airport or if your hostel doesn’t offer lockers. I can’t find the cable without the lock but here is the link.
Multitool – I love the Leatherman Style PS. This little multi-tool is super handy. It is TSA approved but I recommend placing it directly in a bin as you go through security as it will often be inspected. Make sure to tell them it doesn’t have a knife. Be sure to purchase the Style-PS, and not the Style-CS, as that model has a knife and is not TSA approved.
Utensils – You will save a ton of money by buying food at the grocery rather than eating out every meal. A nice set of utensils is super helpful and will pay for themselves in no time. A plastic fork will suffice but I like to carry something a little sturdier. Sea to Summit makes a great ultralight utensil set for backpackers that works great for travel.
Headlamp – Headlamps are much more convenient than hand-held flashlights. You want something small, with good brightness, and long battery life. I am currently using the Princeton Tec Remix headlamp. It has a bright 100 lumen light, multiple brightness settings, and a 150-200 hour run time on 3-AAA batteries.
Earplugs – I don’t find myself using these all too often but when you find yourself on a noisy train or in a hostel they are great. Again, the brand is probably not a big deal, try a few out and find ones that you like. These from 3M are a good option.
Cable organizer, document holder, and chip bag closer. These little magicians can do it all.
Emergency Flashlight – The smaller the better. This is something you will want to carry in your electronics pouch, or hidden away on a keychain ring. Flip the batteries around so it doesn’t accidentally turn on and go dead on you. Use it when you get lost at midnight in the wrong neighborhood in Thailand. Here are two good options.
Travel Wallet – I actually use two travel wallets. A larger wallet to hold my passport, boarding passes and print outs of hotel reservations. The smaller one is for day to day travel and is only large enough for credit cards and some cash. It’s actually a wallet for surfers to carry their keys and cash while in the water but it works great for travel.
Travel Bank Account – If you plan on doing a lot of travel do yourself a favor and look into getting credit and debit cards that don’t charge you foreign transaction fees . You will need to read the fine print of your cardholder agreement or call your bank. Most banks charge a service fee and anywhere from 1-3% transaction fee on all charges. Charles Schwab is known in travel circles for having one of the best fee free travel cards.
First-Aid Kit – There is no need to go crazy here. You don’t need to pack for every “what-if” scenario. They probably have stores where you are going. Almost anything you will need can be purchased on site. It is a good idea however to carry a small amount of commonly needed items. My minimalist first aid kit contains the following: Ibuprofen, Antibiotic gel, bandaids, moleskin, Pepto Bismol or Alka Seltzer, decongestant, a small amount of athletic tape, antihistamine, and Immodium AD.
Emergency Cash – It’s not a bad idea to have a small stash of cash ferreted away in a secret pocket on your person or in your bag.