What I Packed into 1 Carry-On & 1 Personal Item for 1 Year Abroad

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For the next year, I will be living through 4 seasons in 3 countries on 2 continents with 1 carry-on. 

I flew out of Orlando, Florida, for in Frankfurt, Germany, landing on Sept. 13. The temperature was a drastic change from the casual 90s of summer heat to Germany’s mid-60s in mid-September.

In February, I’ll be moving to Warsaw, Poland, and in June, to Dalian, China. Now, if I was planning on cozying up in these cities, maybe I’d check a couple bags. But I’m the type of person who finds it inefficient to stick within the confines of one town when I could be hitting up destinations on my To-Go List.

So here I am with cheap flights booked and in mind (I booked this one on Kayak.com), flights that tend to have fees for anything they can get, especially luggage. Sacrifices are essential.

Actual photo of me at 3 a.m. before catching my connecting flight to Germany. A ski jacket, a personal item and a carry-on are all I brought for 1 year abroad. (Photo by Jess Howard)

Fewer bags = more flexibility. Aside, I’d much rather spend my money on fresh clothes in new places than lugging old rags around the world.

I will be crossing out the things I brought that I could have left behind.

I’ve seen people with carry-ons stuffed to the brim. I didn’t, and I recommend not. All it takes is one airport attendant to throw your bag into one of those measuring boxes. Plus, you might want to bring  souvenirs (or a more fashionable wardrobe) home.

My goal was to pack as little as possible, without feeling like I would need things while abroad.

Okay, so here are some quick tricks:
- take your sleeping bag out of its stuff sack and have the stuff sack on hand when finalizing your packing.
- for those who carry purses: pack a purse that can fit into a backpack — I packed mine with all the necessities so it was easily accessible in the outside pocket of my school-sized backpack.
- bring a refillable water bottle and keep that in your personal item. Save money and the planet. Of course, sometimes you will have to buy bottled water, like I did, as drinking water was not available during my layover in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
- most airlines allow you to carry a jacket on board. Let this be your biggest one. I stuffed my hat and gloves into the pockets of my ski jacket and carried it on the plane with my carry-on and personal item.
- wear your boots. I brought waterproof Timberland’s specifically to wear in the city, and hopefully they suffice for hiking as well. My Lowas were in the pile, but their rugged exterior was not as versatile with professional attire.
- I also wore a flannel, but I think I could have gotten away with wearing a jacket aside from the heavy one I carried on. Would consider wearing a medium jacket next time.

Packed in the personal item:
- purse (or no purse, whichever) with headphones, iPod, wallet and passport (if these aren’t in your pockets), make-up, gum, comb, floss, fork/spoon utensil (rather than the plastic throw-aways) and sunglasses in their case.
- water bottle.
- Stanley travel coffee mug/french press. YES. Coffee machines are not always a thing where you could be staying. If you need a cup before you go out to get a cup, this is the thing.
- YOUR PERSONAL STUFF. In mine, I packed pens, a journal, my planner, camera gear and other miscellaneous technological items – one other lens, Zoom recorder, chargers, adapters for the countries I’m going to, USB sticks, memory cards, and batteries.
- your toothbrush. Mine’s electric, so it’s a little bigger than normal toothbrushes, but it still fit next to my purse in the outside pocket of the backpack.
- a tiny travel first-aid kit and emergency survival blanket.

Packed in the carry-on:
Note: Often the outside pockets of carry-ons have the capacity to exceed the size limitations of your carry-on bag if filled.
- in the outside pocket: clear quart-sized ziplock bag of toothpaste, moisturizer and exfoliator. Or whatever your desired liquids may be…
- in the other outside pocket: a book. I brought “Becoming,” by Michelle Obama.
Inside the main compartment of the carry-on:
- at the very bottom: Monopod.
- On the very top: laptop.
- climbing shoes, shoved into my running shoes. (Climbing shoes are compact and tiny, so it worked well.)


- two cylindrical Tupperwares that clear soup came in from the Japanese restaurant Tokyo. The idea was for saving food, or taking food to go, or for “takeaway,” as they say here in Cologne, Germany, BUT I have only used one of them once, in the nearly two weeks I’ve been here.

tweezers, nail clippers (I am an adamant short-nail kind of person) and beeswax wrap for saving food — which I haven’t used at all, and a reusable loose leaf tea bag, which I also have not used at all, inside the tupperware.
- Hair ties.
1 bar of shampoo soap and 1 bar of goat milk soap (from Sally’s Soaps!), along with a soap holder/dish. (I am currently staying in a month-long AirBnB in Germany, and the tub is immaculate. Before I left I decided I’d rather pack this simple item than irk the people I live with with sticky residue and risk get kicked out. People are particularly particular.)

- formal attire: 1 business jacket, 1 pair of nice pants, 3 button up collared shirts (2 of which could pass with casual attire), 1 nice dress.

- Rocks.

- 1 stuff sack with everything casual: ski pants, casual dress, 3 pairs of leggings (1 as “pajamas,” 1 for sports in the summer, 1 insulated for sports in the winter… these all also double as under layers), 2 sport tanks, 2 t-shirts, 1 pair of sports shorts1 pair of jean shorts (which I brought on ACCIDENT! I meant to take those out), 1 pair ultralight long johns, 2 long-sleeve under layers, and 1 one piece bathing suit and light board shorts (these were probably a little extra).
- Cards.
- 2 sports bras and 7 pairs of underwear (they are quick-dry, so I really didn’t need that many, but I also didn’t want to think about it every other day, this time.) I shoved these into any spaces in between other items.
- 8 pairs of socks (2 pairs of long wool socks, 2 pairs regular black socks, 1 pair short sneaker socks, 1 pair wool sneaker socks, 2 pair Wolverine wear-around-the-house socks.)

Even as I go through bolding the good stuff, I can’t help but feeling “extra.” It seems like an incredible amount of stuff. Considering this feeling, and seeing it all written out on screen, next time I’ll bring less and may even shed some stuff along the way. Any ideas on what to cut?

I would love to trade out my carry-on for my backpack. 

Things I Cut from the To-Bring Pile Before Leaving the U.S.:
- sleeping bag
- sleeping bag liner (it gets super cold in Germany and Poland and they do not use the heater like we do in the U.S.)
+ warm medium jacket
+ leather jacket (For style points…would reconsider wearing onto plane next time.)
- jean jacket (Perfect for 1 week of weather here, not worth bringing so far.)
- water filter, because you never know when its going to be your city with the water problem.
- Deuter pack. Originally, I wanted to bring everything in my carry-on in my backpacking backpack. LOL.
+ yoga mat travel towel. I would reconsider bringing instead of my travel towel. (I ended up buying a mat here.)
+ headlamp. (I feel naked just saying that.)

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