Sustainable fashion and travel for the conscious woman

Sustainable fashion and travel for the conscious woman


What We Packed in Our Carry-ons for 1 Year of Travel Around the World

Updated February 2019

We traveled around the world for 14 months, through Latin America, Europe, India, and Southeast Asia. And now we’re back in Brooklyn, digesting all that we’ve experienced. So now is a great time to update this packing list!

Before we left, my husband and I did months of research getting ready for our trip. We found a lot of websites with advice, but a lot of advice that wasn’t useful at all, either because the packing list was by an early-twenties backpacker who is content to run around in shorts and a polyester tank top, or because it was from a male digital nomad who wears pretty much the same thing every day.

Still, we carefully conferred and cobbled together a Frankenstein of a packing list between us, for two style-conscious digital nomads who like to hike but also go out to nice dinners sometimes.

We managed to fit all of our stuff in two rolling carry-ons (mine with the expander zipper undone; we’ve been checking them for flights), two backpacks, and a personal item (my little crossbody purse.) This list does not include all of his DJ production gear, by the way–that’s a whole other post.

But yes, I’m quite impressed with ourselves!

Some General Guidelines

  1. Choose a simple color palette. As with any Capsule Wardrobe, you want to make sure you can mix and match. I went with white, black, navy blue, and red. He went with black, white, and grey, plus denim. I have a large caftan dress that is none of these things, but it’s its own outfit, so it doesn’t matter that it doesn’t really match anything else. My accessories match too: They’re either camel-brown leather, grey, or or gold.
  2. Flat pack and stuff sack. Everything should either lay flat in your suitcase, or come with a stuff sack. That includes your purse, your clothing, your hat, your puffy coat, your jewelry, your underwear collection, etc. I even stuffed my shower cap into a little cotton pouch. Everyone’s so about packing cubes – I bought a few and actually don’t find mine that handy, because then I have to pack around these two big rectangular things in my suitcase, and I don’t like how they require excessive squishing of my cotton things.
  3. Natural materials. Especially if you’re headed to hot areas or taking long plane rides, you don’t want to be wearing polyester (itchy and bad for your girl parts), rayon viscose (attracts and retains B.O.), acrylic (same), or pleather (sticks to skin, falls apart quickly). Merino wool wicks away moisture and lets go of odor (more on why I love wool), cotton is healthy for your skin for a whole day on planes, silk is lightweight and healthy for your skin, hemp is strong and long-lasting, as is linen, and artisan-made leather accessories will last you all year. (Why real leather for artisan-made items is better.)
  4. Washable and dryable. You’re going to find yourself handing your laundry over at some point to someone who does not understand the concept of “lay flat to dry,” I guarantee it. So pack items that will survive a trip through the dryer. And no “dry clean only,” for obvious reasons. Unless you’re staying exclusively in Four Seasons Hotels. In which case, why are you even reading this?
  5. Forget the resort wear  – You won’t wear it as much as you think, even in Central and South America. Pack things that you can wear in the city as well as the beach.
  6. Prepare for a small switch out when you cross to a new continent. It’s unavoidable, no matter how well you pack! In Europe you’ll want to add some sleek basics. In Southeast Asia you want to pair down to only the lightest, most casual stuff.

So here it is: the final packing list for a heterosexual couple (man and woman) who is traveling around the world:

These are the wardrobe items that were in my suitcase when we left NYC, and were still in there when we got back: white stain-resistant t-shirt, tie top, a robe dress and culottes from Par en Par, striped pajamas, MATTER pants, tank tops in white and black, 2 sports bras, athletic shorts, a striped long-sleeved tee, an steamer/iron, sunglasses, earrings and a pendant, Hobes shoes, Pons Avarcas sandals, sunhat, sarong, jacket, yoga leggings, caftan.

 

My Traveling Outfit

This was for leaving New York City in December and arriving to Mexico City. You might be different, obviously.

  • Organic cotton yoga leggings – I recommend these. They’re so versatile, flattering and comfy!
  • Ably white t-shirt – Again, has stain-resistant technology, which is crucial if you’re traveling!
  • Merino wool hoodie – I used this constantly. A dark grey color ensures if you layer it under a scarf or poncho, no one will know it’s for hiking, and merino wool is so soft, and wicks away moisture and odor.
  • Uniqlo ultra light down jacket –  This comes with a stuff sack, so I could actually fit it inside my mid-sized purse if the temperature fluctuates a lot. When it’s on, however, it’s pretty warm. If you don’t want to buy Uniqlo, Ecoalf makes an alternative, but I can’t vouch for how small it gets for packing purposes.
  • Sports bra
  • Comfortable undies in natural fabric
  • Wool socks – I love merino wool because it wicks away moisture and odor.
  • Trail running shoes – I would pack these if you think you’ll be doing any hikes that are longer than two hours, or any muddy hikes. We did several and I was grateful for these. In black, these aren’t super dorky looking, and are smaller and lighter than hiking boots. Just add wool socks to make them warm in cold weather and dry quickly if you have to tramp through a stream, like we did in Hawaii. But if intense hiking is really not your style, then I would suggest black sneakers, that you can wear in the city with jeans or even a skirt, for exercising, or a light, non-muddy hike.
  • Mini crossbody purse or bumbag – I got into the habit of carrying a mini crossbody purse when I travel, because it gives me quick and secure access to my passport, wallet, and tickets, without me having to take off my backpack. O My Bag has a ton to choose from, and Marlow Goods has some great ones as well. Then I got to Berlin, and saw how everyone slings bum bags across their chest and looks very cool and stylish, and I switched to that. I recommend Zamt for some vegetable-tanned and stylish bumbags.
  • Passport and Passport case – bring one with pockets, because I stuck my Mexican visa in here, and still had it when I found out that you need to present your copy to leave Mexico, or else pay for a new one at the airport. I also have my yellow fever vaccination card, extra visa photos, and my international drivers license in here.
  • Phone
  • Charging cord
  • Mini wallet – There’s lots to choose from at O My Bag.
  • Sunglasses – here’s my shopping guide to the best eco sunglasses

Backpack

I started with a Fjallraven, but I didn’t like how anyone could reach right into the back pocket, and it also wasn’t waterproof. I had grünbag in Denmark custom design me a new eco-friendly, waterproof, pickpocket-proof backpack. They liked the design so much, they put this particular model up for sale on their website, with the name Alden!

  • Portable phone charging batteryThese by Nimble are ethical and eco-friendly
  • Earbuds – traditional jack for laptop/airplane console, and a dongle if you have the newest iPhone
  • Camera and lenses, extra battery, battery charger, extra memory cards – I love my compact but powerful Fuji x-t10, with a wide angle lens for landscape, architecture, and room shots; and a 50 mm lens for portraits and food.
  • Macbook Pro and charger 
  • Laptop hardcover – I feel like my Macbook is too shiny to have peeking out of my bag or on an outdoor table at a cafe in a developing country. So I bought a case for it and slapped a black sticker over the light-up Apple logo. You could get one of these pretty (but not eye-catching) wood covers. My laptop is so old they don’t make my size anymore, so I ended up getting a cheap one off of Amazon. It’s already peeling, but I don’t mind that my laptop looks worthless now. That’s the point.
  • Matador lens bag and camera bag
  • Moleskine
  • Chico reusable bag with stuff sack – Also a good thing to get as a souvenir as you travel!
  • Wide-mouth reusable coffee cup with sealable lid – Can be used for coffee, or also as a to-go container in a pinch for soup, fruit, snacks, etc.
  • SPF chapstick
  • Mini tube of SPF cream. It’s so great to have this in your backpack or purse at all times, because you’ll find yourself walking around a sunny city and think, oops! Should have put on sunscreen! Here are my favorites.
  • Hand sanitizer – It was common in Latin America that the public bathroom wherever doesn’t have any soap available. Or, if you’re like me, that you’ll want to pet a friendly stray cat or dog!
  • Bamboo travel utensil set – so you don’t have to use disposable one in areas that have terrible or non-existent waste disposal. Make sure it’s plastic or wood (not metal) so it doesn’t get confiscated by airport security (whoops).
  • Reusable straw – Most drinks don’t need straws, but mojitos and coconuts do!
  • Pack of tissues – this isn’t for your nose, so don’t think I’m advocating this over a reusable handkerchief. It’s for bathroom emergencies.
  • Reusable handkerchief – Yup, this one is for your nose, or you can use it as a napkin.
  • Travel pen with carabiner – so handy! I haven’t lost this pen in the past nine months, which is astounding.
  • Portable pillow – always bring this, even on a side trip if your plane ride is an hour. You never know when it will be delayed by five hours until 2 am, as happened to us in Zihuatenejo. I bought mine in Singapore – it converts from a neck pillow to a square pillow.
  • Matador droplet wet bag

 

In My Suitcase

I have a Samsonite carry-on with expansion that is made with recycled water bottles. Here’s a list of eco-friendly luggage options.

  • Black-and-white striped long-sleeved tee – Long-sleeved striped tees can go from high summer to winter, and it’s saved me from many a sunburn! I got my Gap one used, but I wish I had gone with a higher quality, since mine already has holes in it. I now have a Saint James tee, that I know will last for years.
  • Elizabeth Suzanne reversible washable silk tie top – I’ve worn this to the beach and out on New Year’s Eve. Tie it in the back and it’s a lovely top that goes with any bottom, from jeans to a skirt. Tie it in the front and it’s super sexy.
  • Par en Par robe/dress – I can wear this as a beach cover up, a dress, or a robe. Having a robe on hand is so helpful!
  • Par en Par culottes – modest, fashionable, and comfortable, they’re super versatile, from the beach to a restaurant to a temple.
  • Linen long-sleeved button down – I got my J. Crew one secondhand. It’s versatile and can be worn from daytime, to nighttime to guard against mosquitoes. But I ended up replacing it with a linen shirt I got off a friend who I was hanging out with in Nicaragua. Tradland has some great new versions
  • Jeans – Either black or denim, depending on your style. Crucial for when you’re in a city! I wore my black ones until they turned grey, and got some secondhand indigo faded ones in Berlin. Here’s a list of eco-friendly denim brands. 
  • High-waisted shorts – Either in denim or cotton. I chose black cloth, because I’m getting to old for short jean shorts and cloth is lighter than denim. You can find some at Yoox.
  • Caftan dress – modest yet flattering, great for everywhere from Panama beaches to Bali temples. Doubles as a personal mosquito net when you’re in tropical locations! I love this one at Accompany.
  • Midi skirt – I got one in a jersey cotton, and wear it in hot casual weather as well as the city.
  • Yummy sweater – You will want something warm, trust me. A lot of cities even in the tropics are at high elevation and get cold at night!
  • Leather jacket – A must for every city in the world in which it gets chilly at night. Go with a lightweight, soft one that folds and packs small. So no stiff motorcycle jackets.
  • MATTER pants – A must for traveling, these pants will take you from the city to the temple.
  • Hobes shoes – They flat pack and look super cute on.
  • 2 tanks in black and white – For layering under your day outfit or for a hot hike. I packed the scoop necks from Groceries Apparel, or try a stain resistant one from Ably.
  • Pons Avarcas walking sandals in camel brown – These last forever and are super comfortable and versatile. Read my full review. 
  • Birkenstocks  – At first I packed pretty sandals. Then I hardly used them, and finally realized that Birkenstocks are both fashionable and useful, so I got those in black. I’m still on the lookout for super comfortable strappier black sandals that pack more flat, but I keep trying on ones in the store and can’t find anything as comfortable as Birks!
  • Chila Bag from Noa Trade or leather backpack from Raven + Lily– Both serve the same function as a flat-pack stylish bag that holds a lot. I’ve used both and love them both.
Here the things I picked up part way through my trip I wish I had the whole time: pointed-toe flats, sneakers, Birkenstocks, belt, small backpack, light wash jeans, nicer tank tops in white and grey.
  • Rain jacket with hood by Marmot – Folds up tiny. I’ve been so grateful for this multiple times.
  • Patagonia athletic shorts – for hiking, doing yoga, or working out. I originally brought two, but I realized I only needed one pair.
  • 3 bras and 8 pairs of underwear. Here’s my 5 rules for packing undies for travel.
  • Wool socks – Merino wool keeps your feet cool or warm, and wicks away odor and sweat.
  • Long-sleeved white tee – Cute enough to wear in the city, at night against mosquitos, but also great for hiking. Get one from Ably, so that it resists stains.
  • Sarong – Great as a cover up, towel, or beach blanket. I got mine in India from Anokhi, but of course you can get these anywhere!
  • Pajamas – I chose this set because I could wear the t-shirt separately out in public (and did!), and the shorts to the beach.
  • Jewelry? I’ve been having so much fun jewelry shopping, that I actually wish I hadn’t packed anything except my ear studs. I’ve been adding to my collection and it’s getting a little unwieldy. So, you might want to just pack the very basics: studs, a ring, one favorite delicate necklace.
  • Skinny beltThis one from Nudie is the perfect size for me, because the last hole let’s me use it for my jeans, and the first hole let’s me wrap it around my waist.
  • Lightweight large scarf – I love my Slow Factory BANNED scarf, especially for a year of travel!
  • Small scarf – I use this for wrapping my hair a lot. I had a white cotton one, but colorful is fun too!
  • 2 bathing suits – 1 one-piece and one bikini. I have a Black Vitamin A one-piece and a pink bikini. Here’s my list of favorite sustainable swimwear brands.
  • Packable wide-brimmed hat – You’ll be in the sun a lot, whether at a beach or doing walking tours in the city.
  • Sports bra
  • Teva’s or other watershoes that strap on – Not just for hiking or waterfalls, also helpful with it’s raining buckets!
  • Extra sunglasses – Beyond the city-style ones, you’ll want beach-y, festival style ones, too. Here’s my list of eco-friendly sunglasses. 
  • Casual watch
  • A hand fan – A must for festivals or dancing on the beach to music. You can also buy this as a souvenir while traveling from literally any museum.
  • PurSteam traveling iron/steamer – this thing is tiny, but crucial!
  • Solar lamp by Luci – When the electricity went off in India, this thing saved the day. It’s more of a lamp than a flashlight, so you can eat by it or read by it without getting light into your companion’s eyes. The new one has a USB charger so you can charge it up or charge your phone.
  • Travel yoga mat – So you can get a good long stretch in every morning, regardless of where you are. I fold mine up and pack it inside the suitcase
  • Universal sink plug – So you can wash your clothing in the sink. I use mine constantly.
  • Travel dry line – Drying something on a line as opposed to over the railing or on the floor makes a huge difference in time spent. (I lost my bikini top in Hawaii drying it on the railing!) I like this one because it comes with a stuff sack.
  • Waterproof reusable laundry bag – Things will get wet and you’ll want to put them in something waterproof…so synthetics wins out on this one.
  • Travel sewing kit – I’ve used this several times.
  • Reusable sealable bags – I got these on recommendation from a digital nomad blog, and I’m so glad I did. We’ve been using various sizes already for things that come up, but they take up no room in my suitcase side interior pocket.
  • Luggage locks – Bring two! When we’re in a camping situation with no safe, I put one on my suitcase and one on the tent zippers when we step out.
  • Travel first aid kitGet a basic one, then add in medications you’ll need, like malaria pills, altitude medication, ibuprofen, imodium, etc. You can always get more medicine where you’re going, most likely, for cheaper than in the U.S.

In My Toiletry Bag

  • Travel toiletry bag – So, I ditched my eco-friendly but not very organized travel toiletry bag. Illich ordered two sizes of this nylon one, and gave me the larger one and I love it. It has a travel mirror, so many pockets, and isn’t stiff so it takes up less room.
  • Argan oil – I can’t live without argan oil for making my hair shiny and smooth, plus sealing in moisture on my face after a shower.
  • Coola Tinted SPF BB cream – This is my absolute favorite tinted SPF moisturizer. It’s not too thick and makes your face glow!
  • Micellar water – I love traveling with Micellar water, because you don’t need to use water for it. I like Yes to Cucumbers, which you can find in the travel size in your local CVS or Walgreens.
  • Reusable cotton rounds
  • Ultra moisturizing night face cream – For when you’re in arid, mountainous regions. My night regenerative balm from Apoterra was a lifesaver in Mexico.
  • Body lotionthis one from Osea comes in the travel size.
  • Travel toothbrush and toothpaste – I have to admit, mine is plastic, because I wanted a compact toothbrush with a protective cap.
  • Deodoranthere’s my roundup of my favorites.
  • Mini hair iron and/or hairdryer – I did not have room to bring both, though I wish I did! I went with the hair iron for my bangs.
  • Mini hair brush
  • Tweezers
  • Hair elastics
  • Reusable metal nail file – great for both filing and digging crud out from under your nails.
  • 1 matte lipstick – I like Jane Iredale lipstick in red
  • 1 lip tint – Something more subtle and beach appropriate
  • Mascara
  • Eyeliner
  • Shower bag – Having all my shower stuff in a separate bag is crucial to ensure I don’t leave things behind in the shower, because I see the empty shower bag when I’m packing and remember I need to fill it up.
  • Shampoo and conditioner – I use conditioner for shaving, too. At first I packed full size, because I didn’t want to keep buying and ditching plastic bottles, but damn, they take up so much room and I finally gave up and got two travel sizes. I refill them whenever I’m in a hotel or place that keeps large bottles in the shower.
  • Shower cap – I got one from Shhhowercap that wouldn’t be thrown away by the cleaning people the way small plastic ones are, but it came in over-the-top, wasteful packaging, so I don’t recommend it. But once I had it, I stuffed it in a little cotton bag.
  • Safety razor and razor blades – I switched to this because it’s easier to find razor blade replacements abroad then the fancy heads that come with whatever fancy razor blade you can get from your drugstore in the U.S. I got a replacement pack of 4 blades for $3 in Ecuador! It’s also less wasteful and less expensive, and the replacements take up no room. I thought Illich and I would share, but then he went and got his own! Just be aware that you have to check the bag with razor blades because security will confiscate them.
  • Sunscreen – Here’s my guide to non-toxic sunscreen.
  • Dr. Bronner travel sized – Great for if the place you are staying doesn’t provide hand soap, or if you need to wash your clothes in the sink.
  • Ear plugs – Get them on a string so you don’t lose them when they fall out
  • Safety pins
  • 1 bottle nail polish and 1 bottle top coatread my reviews of the best non-toxic brands
  • Nail polish remover pads – get ones that come in a little screw-shut container, instead of individually wrapped ones.
  • 1 mini bottle LURK perfume
  • BugsprayMy absolute favorite

Men’s Travel Packing List

I’ll start this by saying Illich is not a sustainability freak like me, so not everything in this list is eco-friendly. I’ve snuck a lot of things in there over the past four years though that are. So you’ll find a split between items that are just plain useful and items that are also sustainable.

  • Merino wool zip-up layer – Soft, healthy for your skin, moisture and odor-wicking and long-lasting, merino wool is your best friend when traveling.
  • Uniqlo ultra down jacket – This goes in a stuff sack, for easy packing when we were in hot climates
  • 2 Ably cotton t-shirts – In white and grey. Stain-resistant, they lasted him all year without getting yellow under the arms.
  • Uniqlo undershirt
  • Hemp long sleeve button down – By B Label. Hemp is sustainable, strong, and only gets softer with wear. This is a nice style that straddles the line between professional and chill.
  • White cowl neck t-shirt  – something stylish for his DJ gigs. This made it almost through the whole year, before and incident with a drugged motorcyclist in Cambodia ruined it.
  • Nudie jeans – these were already more than two years old when we left. They were his only pair of jeans all year through thick and thin. They just finally ripped a month after we got back home. Read my full review of this eco unisex brand.
  • Caravana black men’s cardigan – This might be a little out there for you if you’re not the type to go to Burning Man, but this was so incredibly useful to him. He can wrap this as a simple scarf in the city when it’s cold, or wear it as a poncho in resort areas or festivals, and use it as a lightweight blanket in a pinch.
  • Black sleeveless cotton tee 
  • Outlier black pants – Illich hiked for 7 hours in these in Hawaii, but they look good enough for dinner or the office… if you work in a cool office.
  • MATTER shorts – He wore these every other day until he got a custom pair of drop-crotch shorts made in Morocco.
  • Light modal pajama pants and matching top
  • Nike Dri-Fit sleeveless and regular t-shirts
  • Columbia convertible hiking pants – These were the most lightweight plus came in a tall enough size for him (he’s 6’5″)
  • Fair Harbor grey shorts – These eco-friendly shorts look like normal shorts, but they can be worn as swim trunks, or to yoga. They don’t have an interior, ahem, support system, so he didn’t fully replace the need for swim trunks with them, though.
  • Swim trunks
  • 7 pairs Smart Wool socks 
  • Palladium boots – They look cool enough for the city but he can hike in them too.
  • All Birds runners
  • Fjallraven belt
  • Ecco hiking sandals
  • Baseball cap
  • Cheap Ray-Ban style sunglasses – He didn’t want to bring his real ones and lose or break them. A good thing, because he had to replace them a few weeks into the trip!
  • Cheap watch by Casio  – It was cheap, but lasted through the whole trip easily, even after three years at Burning Man. Great value, yet he wouldn’t be devastated if he lost it.
  • Marmot rain jacket with hood
  • Black sarong – He can use it as a light scarf, towel or a picnic blanket
  • Lifestraw water bottle and crochet sling – We never got a stomach ailment during our entire 14 months of travel, and I partly attribute that to this purifying bottle. You can take the filter out when you’re in cities where tap water is drinkable. And the sling is a pretty manly way to carry your water bottle around the city, actually. I appreciated him having this so I didn’t have to be the one providing all our water needs all the time.
  • Camelbak backpack – For day hikes and any time when he needed a non-huge backpack.
  • Headlamp – We stayed in several place where a headlamp was required for walking around at night.
  • Foldable duffel bag– Goes into a mini stuff sack – great for side trips to the beach or the jungle for a couple days.
  • Travel towel

In His Backpack:

  • Smartphone
  • 2 phone charging cord  – in a normal length and extra-long length
  • Car USB phone charger – this was so helpful whenever we rented a car.
  • Laptop and charger
  • Laptop heat lap pad
  • Screen cleaner spray and cloth
  • Cable pouch/organizer
  • Portable phone charger battery
  • Moleskine sketchbook
  • Short extension cord with multiple plugs  – So we could share an outlet when we were working side-by-side. We used this a lot.
  • Passport and passport wallet
  • International vaccination certificate
  • International driver’s license
  • Extra photos for visas – definitely came in handy to have extra photos!
  • Fold up reusable shopping bag
  • Travel pen with carabiner – this was super helpful. He lost it after 8 months, but it was a good run.
  • Inflatable travel pillow
  • Earbuds
  • Earplugs
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Portable spork – So we don’t have to use disposable plastic cutlery. Make sure it’s plastic or wooden, not metal, which will be confiscated by airport security.
  • Reusable bamboo straw – You never know when you’ll encounter a coconut.
  • Pack of tissues  – For bathrooms without toilet paper
  • Reusable handkerchief

His Toiletries:

  • Small nylon travel toiletry bag – He liked it so much that when it got a hole in it in Mexico from an unprotected razor, he took it to get it repaired.
  • Electric toothbrush
  • Travel toothpaste
  • Deodorant
  • Safety razor and razor blades  – I only recommend this if you are checking your luggage. Airport security will confiscate the extra blades.
  • Mini hairbrush
  • 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner
  • Tweezers
  • Dental floss
  • Nail clippers
  • Soap
  • Soap box
  • Chapstick
  • Akamai skin and hair oil
  • Swiss Army Knife  – I have this in his t

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