Carry On Packing; 4 months in Mexico Packing List

Tom and I both travel with just one carry-on sized bag each and I cannot recommend it enough. Not only are airlines charging more and more for checked luggage, but it also just makes life easier. Odd fact about me; I don’t like carrying things in my hands. This is especially true when I have a backpack on and don’t even get me started on the small bag on the front/big back on the back feeling. I know some people don’t mind, but for me it is the WORST! It just makes me feel hot and uncomfortable and irritable. So for a happy life Tom and I just have one carry on bag each and we make sure we can put EVERYTHING in it when we go from place to place. This means we always try to leave a little extra room in the bag to put snacks and things. I literally need to carry on to keep calm.

We usually have our bags packed for full-time travel covering undetermined amounts of time and undetermined weather conditions. For our time in Mexico we knew that we wouldn’t be hitting any extreme cold (e.g. snow) and so we were able to leave behind some of our extreme cold weather gear. Though, we do fit that into our carry on bags as well. So, here it is, we are baring our bags for four months of traveling around Mexico. At the end of this post, I think you will find yourself more amazed by HOW MUCH crap we travel with than how little. I know it looks like a small amount when it’s all packed away in our bags, but you’d be surprised at how big of a mess we create as soon as we make ourselves at home somewhere. Basically, every time we unzip them there is a stuff-plosion in every direction that covers every available surface of wherever we are currently staying in a mish-mash of everything we own.

carry on packing couple

Our Carry On Bags

Tom and I always travel together and what often happens in these situations is you split up certain things. For example, I carry all of the toiletries, and he carries all of the electronic gear except for my computer and my kindle. Our actual bags are the Osprey Farpoint 40 (Jenny) and the Tortuga Backpack (Tom). Though the bag I use is called a 40, it is actually 38L (because I use the S/M size) and Tom’s is 44L. We switched to these bags about 5 months ago and so far we really like them. They both have laptop sleeves, which is the main difference from our previous bags. Tom feels like his bag is “too blocky” and I am not a fan of the net water bottle sleeves on the outside of mine, but other then that they are darn near perfect!

What’s in Jenny’s Bag

carry on packing list for Mexico

    • Everything is held in the Sea to Summit Toiletry Bag that I love. It’s the perfect size for us and is super light, strong and water-resistant
    • GoToobs, which are amazing, squeezable bottles with suction cups on the back, filled with shampoo and conditioner
    • Small, solid bar soap, which can be dried out and wrapped in paper for traveling
    • Face Sunblock
    • Body Sunblock
    • Razor and razor re-fills
    • Spin Pins, which are amazing and totally revolutionary if you have long hair, especially if you want to put that hair in a bun.
    • Small comb
    • Hair bands
    • Earth Science Liken Plant Deodorant. It took us a long, stinky time of trial and error to find a natural deoderant that worked, and this one is the best!
    • Toothpaste
    • Dental floss
    • Philips Sonicare Electric Toothbrush with Rechargeable USB Travel Case with a head for each of us.

I know many people think we are nuts for traveling with this and not good ‘ol fashioned toothbrushes. What can I say, we take dental care seriously and since we are never sure when (or in what country) our next dental cleaning is going to be, we take our Sonicare everywhere. The USB chargeable travel case is pretty rad too.

A lot of people don’t travel with first-aid, but a lot of people don’t hurt themselves as much we (ok, I) do. We try to have just a little of everything on hand on then can buy more of anything if and when we need it.

  • One pill bottle filled with a mixture of Excedrin migraine, ibuprofen, Imodium, sleeping pills (for overnight flights) and allergy pills
  • Tums
  • Prescription medication
  • Digital thermometer
  • Individual alcohol wipes
  • Band-aids
  • Neosporin
  • Ear plugs
  • Uncle Bill’s Precision Tweezers These tiny, travel tweezers are super strong and grippy!
  • Swiss Army Victorinox Nail clippers
  • Small, travel sewing kit

Clothes & Shoes

  • 7 pairs of ExOfficio Underwear. I could write an entire post about how much I love these travel chones, but i’ll spare you and just say, it’s all about wash n’ wear.
  • 2 pairs of socks
  • 2 sports bras. The Victoria’s Secret Incredible, and The Victoria’s Secret Angel. Victoria’s Secret is not anyone’s first thought for sports bars, I know, but they really know boobies and do a fantastic job with both of these. They are comfortable, durable, supportive and wicking.

Since we spend the vast majority of our time in the tropics I have come to really hate regular bras. I basically always want to be wearing a sports bra, or better yet a bathing suit or a tank with a built in shelf bra so I don’t need another piece of clothing at all. Everything just gets so sweaty. TMI?

  • 1 regular bra
  • 1 yoga tank with built-in shelf bra
  • 1 pair fitness shorts (they look like lace and have pockets so I wear them out or for exercise)
  • 2 pairs yoga pants (most people probably just need one of these, but I basically live in spandex)
  • 1 bathing suit top. I love this Jolyn top that is made for athletics
  • 2 bathing suit bottoms
  • 1 rash guard shirt for snorkeling sans sunburn.
  • 1 button up lightweight long sleeved shirt. This is my #1 NEED to have travel item. It covers up from the sun, is super lightweight, and easy to throw on and pull off. I go through these faster than any other item of clothing because I wear it all the time. I have a different one every couple of months.
  • 4 tank tops. One is the Athleta Chi Tank which is a great workout top, and the other 3 are cotton.
  • 4 t-shirts
  • 2 Athleta skirts. They are comfortable enough for hiking or tree climbing (one is a skort!) but also look nice.

I should say here that recently I’ve gotten really into Athleta. A friend recommended them for their “unstinkable” fabrics (great for travel!) and amazing guarantee (you can return clothes if you don’t like them, even after wearing them on a workout). I accidentally discovered their clearance section and went a little ape, replacing quite a few of my clothes. Everything is stretchy and comfy and has pockets and feels like wearing yoga clothes but looks a little nicer. I also tried out a few items, and decided after a couple of wears and a wash that I did not like them. I was able to return them with no problems or questions asked!

  • 2 pair shorts
  • 1 pair Athleta pants.
  • 2 lightweight long-sleeved shirts that can be layered. I have the unique ability to get cold anywhere.
  • 1 Marmot Rain Jacket that folds up really small
  • 1 pair Chaco Hiking Sandals
  • 1 pair sneakers (i like Onitsuka Tigers, they are light, comfy and make me feel like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill)
  • 1 pair gold Salt Water Sandals It’s great to have a pair of shoes you feel comfortable going out to a nice dinner in, or walking along the town or beach in. Erin of Never Ending Voyage loves the Tieks Ballet Flats, and wrote a great review of them, but I really like the look, feel and price of the saltwaters.
  • 1 pair of small flip flops

I try to find a healthy balance between travel-friendly clothing, and clothes I would wear in “real life.” That is why I don’t travel with pants that zip off into shorts and other (obviously) technical travel gear. I am happier and more confident when I am wearing things that I like, even though that usually means ripped up t-shirts and spandex pants.



    • REI flashpack 18, which is the perfect day bag. It folds up super small and light to be stored in my bag while we are traveling from place to place, and has a pouch for a hydration bag.
    • Platypus Big Zip Hydration System
    • Headlamp
    • SPIbelt Sport Belt / Waist PackThis is a tiny little bag/belt that is great for holding an iPhone, keys etc. It is meant for running or long walks, or could act as a money belt. If you are a runner, it’s probably fantastic but I don’t use it enough to justify carrying it, so I think it may get left behind soon.
    • Sarong. My sarong is the most versatile thing I own. Not only is it a beach cover-up, but it can also serve as a tablecloth, picnic blanket, shawl, changing room screen, or even a fancy pencil skirt to cover up shorts when visiting churches or temples.
  • Bandana. The second most versatile thing I own.
  • Yoga Paws (mini yoga mats for your hands and feet!) Read my review of them here.
  • Sunglasses
  • Accessories. Since I am wearing the same things over and over, I like to add a little pizzazz to my outfits. A ribbon, scarf, or hairclip are great, but all it takes is a big pair of cheap “gold” hoops to make me feel fancy.
  • Tilley Hat I love this hat and think it is not only cool, but also the ultimate travel hat. Tom says it looks kind of dorky. Truth be told I know it looks dorky but it protects from the sun and I love it. As a good friend of mine once said, “once you go hat you never go back.”
  • A couple of ziplock bags, you always need ’em for something!

What’s in Tom’s Bag


  • 7 pairs underwear. Tom swears by Express microfiber sports trunks. They have all the travel-friendly features of Exofficio but he finds that they fit better and are more comfortable
  • 1 pair socks
  • 1 bathing suit
  • 6 t-shirts
  • 1 tank top
  • 1 breathable, athletic style t-shirt
  • 1 short sleeve button-up
  • 1 long sleeve button-up
  • 2 pairs shorts (tailor-made in Vietnam with extra, zippered, travel pockets)
  • 1 pair Levi’s Commuter 511 Pants. These pants are built for bicyclists but have great travel features too. They resist wrinkling, have a little stretch in them, and have a reinforced crotch so they can be worn a lot and not get holes. Tom loves ’em, but found when he was trying them on in the store that each pair fit a little differently and the sizing was pretty off. Definitely something you want to try on before you buy.
  • Marmot MemBrain Waterproof Jacket
  • 1 pair flip-flops. His Chacos just broke and he can do pretty long hikes in flip flops cuz he crazy like that. Though he does miss his chacos for their superior arch support and plans on replacing them when we are back in the States.
  • 1 pair boat shoes to serve as nicer shoes, closed toe shoes and walking around town shoes.
  • Leather money belt.
  • Leather minimalist wallet.


traveling with tech

This is also a good time to bring up an important point, don’t forget travelers insurance for all of your gear! We use World Nomads, but if you live in the U.S. and have renter’s insurance it will usually cover your gear when you are traveling.


I know the Steripen is controversial. Some people think it’s a waste of space, BUT it is tiny and USB charged and has saved us on a few occasions when we have not had any water. Yes, if we plan perfectly we will never find ourselves parched in a hotel room at 1:00am, but no one is perfect and we are so thankful to have this when situations like that come up! Truthfully when we are staying at long-term rentals we get garrafons of water, and very rarely use this. But, if we are quickly moving from place to place we hate buying small bottles of water and wasting all that plastic (and money) and so we use the Steripen quite a bit.

Important Stuff

How it all fits

It’s a surprising amount of stuff for a carry-on, right? The biggest secret is not what you pack, but how you pack it! As most travelers do we discovered the necessity of packing cubes right at the start. We have tried a lot of them, but these Eagle Creek Travel Gear Pack-It Specter Compression Cubes are the lightest and most durable ones we have found. The extra zip for ultra-compression is also a great feature. We recently discovered the even greater joy of vacuum bags and are loving the Eagle Creek Compression Sacs. This high-speed video of our willy-nilly packing process shows, sometimes it is just shoving and sheer force of will that makes it all happen.

What you may notice is not in there
We regularly critique what we are carrying and get rid of anything we don’t use all the time. We used to travel with all of these things, but they got left behind when we realized we didn’t use them enough:

  • Travel towels, everywhere we stay these days has towels.
  • Sleep sacks, it’s been a long, long time since we have stayed in a room with questionable sheets. If you need a sack, we just wouldn’t stay there these days.
  • Hammock
  • Mosquito Net
  • Pants that zip off into shorts (and other uber-technical travel clothes.)
  • Hiking Boots. I have found that unless I am doing a multi-day trek, or am hiking in cold weather my chacos are fine.

Packing is very individual
We make our living online and work full-time while we travel, both on our company, Touch Autism, and on this blog so we travel with a heckuva lot more electronics than other people. I know some people may think, why do you need a camelpak, or a feather pillow, that’s crazy! While others think, I didn’t see mascara on this list and nothing makes me feel good like lacquering up my lashes. Everyone’s bag is going to be little different but after four years of research and trial and error we have found that these things work for us!

Please note: We are affiliates of many of the products in this post and will earn a small percentage of your purchase if you buy them through these links, at no extra cost to you. Thank you for helping the money not run out!

Carry on packing list


I think of California as officially "home" but can usually be found a lot closer to the equatorial belt. After finishing a Masters program in 2011 I found myself trying to decide between a couple of different high-powered career options. I decided I wasn't quite ready to "grow up" and went with an entirely different plan which involved selling off everything I owned with my partner Tom and buying a one-way ticket to Colombia. Our plan was to travel "Till The Money Ran Out" and then go home to start our grown-up lives. Instead, we started our own app development company on the road and have been criss-crossing the globe, traveling, working, eating spicy food and refusing to "grow up" ever since. You can find me on Twitter, , Facebook or send me a message using our About Us page.

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33 Responses

  1. Philip says:

    Funny how much of the same stuff we travel with; although I have not managed to ditch my big backpack yet. I do just carry on for my flights around the region though. ES liken–used for decades–there is no other! Chacos–you can have them repaired, re-webbed or replaced for free by chaco when you are back in the states (I did) or send them along ahead of your return. How’s the GP4 working? I’m selling my Hero2 ’cause I never use it anymore. Tried an Alfa antenna awhile back but after I upgraded my MacOS it was no longer compatible. I’d be interested in knowing how that plays out. All in all a great post loaded with tons of useful info.

    • Jenny says:

      It is amazing how much of the same stuff we all end up with 🙂 So far we love the GoPro as an underwater camera and for taking video. We are still in the “Honeymoon” stage with it though, so maybe we will eventually stop playing with it too. I will definitely keep you posted on the alfa, though to be honest I think it may get kicked to the curb…

  2. My husband and I retired last year before 40! We just started our adventures! You guys are very inspiring. I will just be starting our blog, your gave me a lot of ideas

  3. Nikki says:

    My husband and I have been living and travelling in a sizable RV for the last three years, so we have tons of room for stuff. I’m always trying to minimize my wardrobe, and after reading this post I’m definitely inspired to (with the exception of my Athleta clothing!). I find I cycle through the same few pieces anyway, just adding or removing layers depending on the weather. Thanks for baring your bag!

    • Jenny says:

      Thanks Nikki, I am glad you liked the post! Sometimes when I look through photos I am amazed at how often I wear the same things too. Even with only owning 6 shirts, I basically just wear two of them 🙂

  4. Amy says:

    I love a good packing list! I’m also super impressed by how much you have managed to fit into your relatively small packs. Andrew and I travel with a 35L and a 40L pack but we’ve accumulated so much more stuff since living in Hanoi that’s it’s going to be hard to adjust to living with what only fits in our packs again 🙂

    • Jenny says:

      Thanks, Amy! I am always amazed by how much is in there, but yet there always seems to be room for one more thing. We end up collecting more when we are in one place for a while too. Good news is, you can always leave it behind and collect more when you need it again 🙂

  5. Katie says:

    I use the tortuga also and LOVE it. I’ll never go back from a carry-on only travel. I’ve found that packing cubes help me stay organized. I use merino wool underwear and only bring two pairs that I wash and wear. It’s amazing. I am with you on the natural deodrant – it took me FOREVER to find one that actually worked. In the mean time I was a stinky mess 😉

  6. Rob says:

    Wow a full size pillow! Extravagant 🙂

    Id enjoy a packing list. Kel loves her 40l Osprey, I’m on the 50l and it suits me just fine. I’m impressed ypu can fit everything in your bags, we had day packs too.

  7. Patti says:

    Looks good to me! It’s not easy, packing just the right amount of stuff. We are currently traveling for 14 weeks and 6 of those weeks we will be walking the Camino de Santiago. My big goal was weight. At 18 pounds I feel logically my pack isn’t that heavy, but walking 500 miles with 18 lbs on my back, I suspect logic will go out the window!

    • Jenny says:

      I suspect you are right! We’ve been hearing a lot about the Camino de Santiago recently! I think it’s a sign that we need to do it 🙂

  8. Sarah says:

    I’m always interested to see what other people pack. I’m backpacking around AUS for a year and am trying desperately to get rid of stuff but I still have two bags packed to the brim. I’m going to come back to this post when I take another look at all the crap I have!

    • Jenny says:

      I think it’s easy to adapt to not having something, the first step is just getting rid of it, we are amazingly adaptive creatures 🙂

  9. Gillian says:

    Fantastic post, thank you! Leah and I were just discussing how we need to make notes from this last trip about what will and will not make the cut for subsequent trips and this is super helpful, especially the packing cubes! I hope they may help stem the stuff-splosion!? 🙂

  10. Jen says:

    I hate carrying things, but I also want to be prepared. So…packing stress!

    Thanks for posting your list. I had just decided (after much back and forth) NOT to take my Sonicare…but you have changed my mind. You make some really great points. I’m always worried about my teeth, which is why I bought it in the first place. Although, I do have one longer trek planned that may not allow charging, so … perhaps I’ll be leaving a few things behind while I’m there. But I’ll be taking it everywhere there is electricity.

    The SteriPEN – I do not understand how these work, but it’s something I want to have on hand. I think the space it takes would be worth it.

    Underwear is such a pain. I thought I found some good ones, but they ride up. This is unacceptable. I’m always open for suggestions in this area. Perhaps I’ll give the ones you use a try. Why not, right?

    Do you use your pack on long, backpacking treks too or more for moving hostel to hostel/hotel to hotel/whatever? I can’t really tell what type of waist belt it has. I have a Deuter pack that I really like, but I’m looking into something lighter.

    I’ve had the Flash pack from REI and loved it, but the mesh shoulder straps ripped where the adjustable straps were sewn to them. I have no idea how to explain that differently, but it seems mesh wasn’t a great idea for a sturdy reinforcement point. I have an Osprey daypack that I like, but it’s a bit thicker than the REI and doesn’t pack down as small. Bit it does have outside water pockets, which I like. But if I get a bladder, it won’t matter. I’m torn.

    Are you happy with the Playapus bladder? I’ve never used one. My biggest concern is getting it clean and making sure it can dry properly so there’s no mildew growth. Mildew freaks me out. These would be so much nicer than a huge water bottle.

    How is the camera case waterproof? It doesn’t seem to close completely. Am I missing something?

    Ok. I’m going to stop there. As you can see, I’m a little nuts about the packing bit. It’s never going to be perfect, but posts like this are a HUGE help! Thank you SO much!

    • Jen says:

      I’m so embarrassed by the length of that comment. Didn’t seem so long when I was typing it….

    • Jenny says:

      Hey Jen,

      ha! Please don’t be embarrassed, it’s great! It is so easy to obsess about your bag, if you only get one of each thing, you want it to be the best one, right??

      I love my Sonicare, and so I am happy to have brought you to the dark side of a large toothbrush, I think it is so, so, worth it! The steriPEN is also tiny, so why not always know that you have clean drinking water?! It works by using UV light to sterilize the bacteria in water. Literally making it sterile so it can’t reproduce. Apparently the bad stuff making babies in your belly is what makes you sick. We have used it to clean and drink tap water all over the world and have never gotten sick 🙂

      I LOVE my exofficio underwear and am literally still using the same 5 pairs I bought 4 years ago, so I know durability is not an issue!

      You should be able to take your flashpack into REI and they will replace it. They have an amazing guarantee for all of their products and we have gotten several things replaced from them, no questions asked. My last main bag was an REI bag, and a piece of it ripped off and they gave me a full refund. I would have gotten the same bag, but they discontinued it so I used my refund to buy the Osprey.

      I haven’t used my bag on long backpacking treks, but I wouldn’t hesitate to, the waist belt is really good. It doesn’t really have much of a “frame” though so I am not sure if it would work for a really long backpacking/camping trip.

      I am happy with the platypus, but that said – mildew totally freaks me out too and we have replaced the tube on it every 6 months or so. We have tried everything to dry it out all the way, but traveling in the tropics = mildew in your tube after a while. We have just bought food grade tubing from tool stores, and have also bought the actual replacement tube from platypus. We are on our 3rd or 4th tube. I am really sensitive to mold though, and if I think I smell it or taste it all; I replace the tube.

      The camera case is not waterproof in that you could submerge it in a bucket of water, but it will protect it from the rain. It wraps all the way around the camera and velcro’s, so not a water-tight seal, but it is protected enough for us.

      I think I got them all, but feel free to e-mail me if you have any other questions, I love talking packing!

  11. Jen says:

    Exactly! You’ve got it completely! So little space. I just want the best options for me.

    I think I’ll pick up the steriPEN. I had a salad in Ecuador, and I never want that experience again if I can help it. It won’t help with a salad washed in local water, but you know what I mean.

    I did return the flashpack to REI, but since it was really a design flaw, I opted for a different pack…which I didn’t like AT ALL and promptly returned. I’m on the third one…and I’m debating whether to keep this one (weighs a little more than the flashpack but has vents in the back and pockets for water) or get another flashpack and hope for the best. I did like that bag!!!

    That’s a good point about the frame. My biggest struggle is that in the middle of a (no specific plans, so the time is mushy) round-the-world trip, I’m doing a two-month backpacking trek. So, there are all these considerations for the 2-month trek that will not be a factor (probably) in much of the remainder of the trip. I need flexibility and light weight. Makes for a lot of….mess, really. And the thought of traveling only with a carry on! PURE BLISS!

    I didn’t realize you could replace the tube in the platypus! NICE. That makes a difference. I also like that the main bag has a large opening. I like things I’m drinking from to be clean!

    I recently bought a new camera for travel photos. I had downgraded from a DSLR to a Canon G-12 (a point-and-shoot plus, in my opinion), and I miss the DSLR options, but not the weight. I read about mirrorless cameras and bought one about a month ago. I think it will work perfectly. I wish I’d had it in the Galapagos! I’ve used it for my last two blog posts, and I’ve been quite happy. The color is amazing. Not happy with the case I bought, however. I think something like what you have makes more sense since it will probably be inside another bag any time when it’s not being used.

    Ok, I’m saving this list. Thanks again!

    • Jenny says:

      No problem! I know my friend Erin of writes a lot about the mirrorless cameras and her photos always turn out really well. She also does some great packing lists if you haven’t checked them out 🙂

  12. Jen says:

    Yes! was one of the first travel blogs that really caught my attention. That’s how I learned mirrorless cameras exist! And I’ve checked out her packing list. It’s fantastic!

  13. My husband, almost-3-year-old daughter and I are just beginning full-time travel, and in a year of research this is by far the most helpful packing post I’ve found! Thank you! We are doing slow travel staying in each place a few months at a time so I had rationalized that we could tote more stuff since we didn’t always have to be on the go. But I’m realizing that I aspire for our packing to be this streamlined! I got such a feeling of simplicity, freedom and ease reading this. Thanks again!

    • Jenny says:

      Hi Kayla, so glad you found us and liked the post! Wow, traveling full-time with a toddler, how exciting! Can’t wait to follow your adventures too. Where are you starting?

  14. Jen says:

    Jenny! Another props to your gear list! I bought a neoprene case for my camera from a store I love, and…it’s just too big. It’s too lose, and when I grab for the camera quickly, it’s not easy to get a good grip. And when you have a nice (i.e., expensive) camera, you want a good grip! I returned it and decided to try the Neoprene Waterproof Camera Pouch you use. I used your link, bought the thing for 1/4 of the price of the other one, and IT FITS PERFECTLY! Because of the design, you can almost adjust it to fit your camera.

    So, thanks again for posting this list! I’m still getting gear, so I doubt this will be my last comment.

  15. Rachel says:

    I’ve got the same osprey and it was great on a (much shorter) trip through a few destinations in Europe.

    Gotta say though, I winced seeing your IDs in that photo! Be safe, blur out your info.

  16. Brandon says:

    Nice choice on the backpacks! Anne and I also use the Tortuga + Osprey Farpoint combo 🙂

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