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Can a girl manage with just 35l of space on long term travel? YES!

I’ve actually got around to finishing my packing list!

You can see every single item that is filling my 35l backpack (not a ‘mini suitcase’ in the end) and marvel at how I fit it all in. Going ‘hand luggage only’ is one of the best choices we could have made and it pays off every single day we are not struggling with a massive bag (or losing our luggage at an airport.)

female packing list 35 litres backpacking with hand luggage only

Packing List, As of April 2012

This is a post I have been wanting to write for ages. We read so many helpful lists in the months before our departure that proved really helpful and the online packing lists and reviews influenced many of our choices. Also, because we’re travelling with hand luggage only, it may be of interest to some people how we are ‘surviving’.

Henry was the one who proposed that we do the trip with just hand luggage, right at the beginning. I was apprehensive at first but I soon got used to the idea (thanks to reading about ‘flash packers’ and ‘digital nomads’) and I was positive about it until just before leaving. Going from a 3 bedroom house to a 35 litre bag is quite a shock. It did not take long to adapt though and now I am pleased 98% of the time that we are carrying so little.


I would say to anyone considering a big 60-80l+ backpack for a trip around India “don’t do it!”. We see so many people struggling in the heat with an enormous bag on their back and another on the front; often squeezing to fit 2 people and 2 backpacks into a rickshaw. It does not look fun. You can go ‘hand luggage only’; we’re proof! (If we were having to deal with a colder climate then I would not be so sure, but, I would give it a go.)

Henry has a 33l North Face backpack which is never as tightly stuffed as mine. His could almost be a school backpack. When moving around he fits his laptop and cotton day bag inside his backpack so he just has to carry that and his guitar or, at the moment, the drum. (Edit: the guitar was sold last week and the drum donated a few days ago.)

Often, other travellers, hotel staff and taxi drivers are surprised by how little luggage we have. Some wait expectantly for another bag to appear and others assume we are on a 2 week holiday and are shocked to learn what we have is for a year.

This is what I am currently carrying:

The Bag

In the end I went for the Caribee ‘Recon’ 35l backpack:

This is a good, solid bag which I usually pack very tightly. (I don’t use the laptop compartment for the iPad, because I fear the pressure from everything squeezing against it would be too high for the screen!) When we’re on the move the iPad fits snugly in my handbag (see below) which means I’m a lot less bothered about the backpack being thrown about on busses etc. The zips seem to be holding up well to the strain I put on them and there are plenty of compartments. I like that you can get into the main section easily. Many of the bags I looked at were ‘top loaders’ and I don’t think they would have suited me at all. Also, it has a secret rain cover which is stored in the bottom, as yet I have not needed it as we have only had 5 minutes of rain since November.

I had planned to get a wheeling mini suitcase type bag (hence the name of the website!) which was also a backpack. Lots of research, visits to shops and agonising later I plumped for no wheels. The bag is heavy enough anyway and only just got through at Gatwick as hand luggage. (with Emirates the limit is 8kg plus a handbag or laptop bag) The wheeled bags are much heavier; the wheels would have tipped me over the edge. I think I would have been able to use wheels perhaps less than 50% of the time so I don’t think about those wheels too often. A big thank you is due to the staff of Complementary Education who kindly gave me some money as my leaving present: it allowed me to buy not just this but many of the items on the list.


iPad 2 32GB wifi + camera connection kit + Yoobao leather cover + charger + speaker headphones + red pencil case

Sony HX5V digital camera + Acme case + Gorillapod tripod + SanDisk 8GB Extreme SD card + spare battery + charger + clear pencil case

ZTE Idea Blade smartphone + charger
iPod 3rd Gen 8GB
JLab J4 earphones + case
LED Lenser K3 torch
X-Mini (II) speaker (now carried by Henry)
Omron digital pedometer
Travel adapter with USB charger

My Handbag / Daypack

I’ve always been a one for a handbag and it was pretty hard to chose what to go for but in the end I’m convinced I made a great choice: The Healthy Back Bag, Medium in nylon. It has been excellent. All the pockets mean that everything has a place and can be located instantly. It is light when empty and packs up small enough to fit inside my main bag (although it never has; I’ve always wanted a handbag with me). The main opening of the bag is on the inside, next to my body, which makes it much more secure. The large outside pocket holds a litre of water or an umbrella and there is an extra secure zipped inner pocket for my passport and a keyring clip. It usually contains:

RFID leather passport wallet containing: passport, credit card, debit card, driving license, some travellers cheques and local currency (having all the really important things together works for me)

purse (for small money)

camera (see technology)

phone (see technology)


soap leaves (I found these for pennies and they’re fab to have) (Henry carries the anti-bac hand sanitiser)

pen and notebook

toilet roll

sunscreen and insect repellant

torch (see technology)

watch (Casio digital waterproof with light)

our current key

pedometer (see technology)

silk scarf

playing cards (in the evenings, for mealtimes)

a crystal good luck charm from a friend



Clothes take up the majority of the space in my backpack and change regularly. Most items are easily and very cheaply replaced and many of mine have been for a variety of reasons. (They become too worn or baggy, get a stain, get blown away or left behind or just get replaced by something I like more when I’m shopping.) I do some washing by hand on average every 2 – 3 days (when possible – some hotels ban it) which means we usually always have something clean and manage well with what some people would consider to be an impossibly small wardrobe. The current list is:

2 x very light Indian cotton cropped trousers (pack small and dry very quickly)

1 x long Macabie travel skirt (not worn as much as expected, a little warm)

1 x silk mix sarong (useful also as a sheet)

3 x tops with little sleeves (lots of places where you need to cover your shoulders)

2 x vests (worn in beach areas)

1 x salwa

1 x long sleeve cotton mix black cardigan (only worn a few times, all other long sleeve tops have long gone but I can’t not have a cardigan!)

1 x cotton dress for nightwear

1 x swimming costume

5 x pants (the 3 pairs of ‘magic’ travel pants (from Ex-Officio) are wearing well and dry quickly; much better than Henry’s (from Tilley) which are getting tatty and take longer to dry than his other pants)

4 x bras

1 x socks (other pair ditched, this pair only worn occasionally to help moisturiser soak in)

2 x cotton scarves for wrapping around my head

1 x silk scarf (packs up tiny, lives in my handbag just in case I need a cover up to visit somewhere)

I also carry the washing powder and a few pegs and Henry carries the two washing lines (1 x travel line with hooks and a piece of string, both used all the time)

Most of the clothes pack in to these Eagle Creek packing cubes (the red and blue ones) which are so useful. Henry and I have different colours and sizes so we can always grab something quickly. It makes packing and staying organised quick and easy when you have everything compartmentalised before you stuff it into your bag. Without these cubes and my pencil cases, opening my bag would result in an explosion of clothes and wires.

I don’t want to forget my Birkenstock shoes! The pair of lightweight Merrell trainers I wore on the flight were posted back in the first week so I have just one pair of shoes. My Birkenstock Arizona Soft Footbed sandals have been super comfortable, are wearing well and are perfect for our trip. I’m very glad I didn’t go for the ‘sports sandal’ type of shoe with a strap at the back as you would be there forever taking them on and off to go inside shops.

Wash Bag

The next item takes up more space than it needs to and I could cut it down (and most of the liquids should be used up before the next flight). My wash bag is made by Life Venture and has lots of lovely pockets (6 in total)

1 x small brush

1 x comb

1 x Tweezerman tweezers (yes! I sneaked them through security by wrapping them in a metal sachet!)

1 x toothbrush (Design Go battery toothbrush, Henry carries the toothpaste)

1 x shampoo (Lush bar lasted about 6 weeks)

1 x conditioner (Lush bar was rubbish, I brought normal conditioner in the first 2 weeks.)

1 x deodorant

1 x all purpose natural balm

1 x razor

1 x nail scissors

1 x aloe vera gel

1 x Oil of Olay SPF15 day moisturiser (one of the few facial moisturisers available here which does not have a ‘skin lightening’ action)

1 x tiny pot of eye cream

1 x tiny pot of face scrub

2 x emery boards

cotton buds

various hairbands and clips

sanitary towels

some makeup (hardly worn, but when I have, the Urban Decay mini eye pencils, mini mascara and powder have performed brilliantly – I can’t bear to part with them)

mini atomiser with Chanel Coco Madamoiselle (another hardly touched luxury)

pencil sharpener

1 x earrings

1 x moonstone pendant and chain

4 x ear plugs (used regularly)

1 x eye mask (only worn when ill so far, would have been used on the flight if it had been more handy)

Also, but not in the bag:

1 x Gelert Anti-Bacterial Travel Towel (at least 80% of places have provided a towel but it has also been handy for the beach; takes some getting used to as a towel)

toilet roll

I also carry a small sunscreen and insect repellant in my handbag and Henry carries the larger bottles and the soap.

Medical Kit

I’m in charge of all things medical and I have quite a comprehensive kit including:

plasters of various sizes

antiseptic wipes

wound dressing

safety pins

medical tape

small bandage

anti-histamines (Henry especially has needed these for his bites, we’ve got them over here easily)

paracetamol and ibuprofen (both obtained out here and extra strong)

1 week of antibiotics prescribed for me (in case of ear infections etc)

anti- diarrhoea tablets (we now have Indian ones)

rehydration sachets

malaria medication


mini emergency dental kit

spare soap leaves

1 x pair of Henry’s contact lenses

It all fits nicely into a see through wash bag. As an extra feature, the bag doubles well as a wipe clean mosquito killing tool when there is no newspaper available.

Other random bits

In my small Eagle Creek cube I have the things that don’t fit anywhere else:

mini sewing kit (used several times already)

small wooden door stop (for keeping doors open and closed, used quite a lot)

spare batteries for torch and toothbrush

mini combination padlock (purchased to go on the backpack but never used for that, has been more helpful in locking doors)

worldwide travel adapter with USB charge point (see technology)

x 2 online banking card readers

small roll of electrical tape (my dad advocated having one with you at all times, used a few times)

marker pen (left over from sending a parcel)

small packet tissues

vitamin B tablets (rumoured to repel mosquitos but they have not worked for us)

I also have:

spare copies of our passports and visas (as do Henry and Dropbox)

spare passport photos

other travellers cheques

some photos of friends and family

a kitchen knife (for fruit etc)

mini kettle element + metal cup + coffee (new purchase in Arambol, less than £1 for element and cup and working out very well)

money belt (not used as yet)

candles + small brass candle holder (for power cuts)

anti mosquito coils and incense

bag for washing

spare Smints

freezer bags and spare carrier bags

Before packing it all looks like this:

And then, packed up it looks like this… So, what do you think? Are there any surprise inclusions or omissions? Looking at my list I think I have quite a lot and do well to fit it all in!

Note: I left the umbrella (seen in some photographs) behind a few weeks ago and some of the other photos are a little old too. This list is correct as of the end of April 2012.


I now have some more recent posts on packing. I did a complete packing list for both of us in March 2013 and to celebrate 600 days on the road (July 2013) I did a post featuring my top items to pack (and what not to bother with) for long term travel.


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