and survived to tell the tale

When I booked a United Basic Economy ticket there was a little popup message warning me that my ticket tier was personal-item only. Even though a carry-on was a tiny bit more money (was it $5? it was something insignificant) something about the wording (or my mental state) meant that my response was challenge accepted.

I’d started my six months on the road with a carry-on. I wasn’t really sure what I’d pare down, but I was confident I could do it. Now, after six weeks of living out of a personal item, I’m not totally sure what I had in my carry-on that I really need. Although, to be fair, my carry-on had space for more snacks and gifts.

One of the things in my carry-on was a small backpack I’d picked up at Target. It doesn’t have any structure, so I can roll it up and it takes up no space, but it’s still large enough to hold my laptop. It’s also small enough to be considered a personal item on United (and WOW Air and every other airline that has a tier where you have to pay extra for your dignity).

All the clothes I’d packed already matched each other. Somehow I don’t feel like I’m missing anything, even wearing the same things over and over. Anyone I see more than three times (and sees all three of my outfits) is a good enough friend that they don’t care, assuming they notice. I think the amount of dog hair on my clothes at any given time is more of a concern than the outfits themselves.

A black sweater with black pants is my go-to outfit for anything where I have to look vaguely professional. Luckily, every time I’ve had a meeting where I should have dressed nice there’s been snow on the ground, so my boots have been totally acceptable.

The one thing I would add to this is a lightweight tote bag. I sort of assumed I’d end up with a super light reusable bag or a cute tote, but nothing’s found its way into my life or caught my eye so far. I unpack my bag where ever I’m staying and just use my backpack.

I’m curious to get back to my office and see what the heck I had in the carry-on that I left behind. The fact that I’m not sure what these things are really suggests I don’t need them!

travel the world without a carry on

Laptop & charger

Essential, obviously. My laptop is pretty ancient and starting to feel a little slow, but I’m going to ignore that for a while longer.

Phone & charger

I have the OnePlus and I love it. My first smartphone was an iphone and it felt pretty slow and buggy and impossible to customize considering how much people rave about them. I was pretty happy with my old Samsung Galaxy, but it also had bugs that were pretty frustrating. The OnePlus is the first phone I’m actually happy with.

I’m pretty sure those headphones are from my old iphone.

External charger

This is just a security blanket. I haven’t used this at all. But when you need it, you need it!


Finding a coat that would keep me warm walking around for hours while also not looking like I’d completely given up on life was not an easy task. I’m pretty happy with my Merrell coat. It’s like wearing a duvet.

It’s tough to find a women’s jacket with a hood that’s actually useful, good pockets, and doesn’t leave you an entirely shapeless blob. This hood will stay up in gale force winds, has pockets that could probably hold everything I’m traveling with, and keeps my legs warm.

Several people commented that my coat didn’t look warm enough, but I’m not sure if they were being sarcastic. Maybe I look like I’m wearing a duvet, but I guess I’m just going to have to embrace that. I’ve also gotten some compliments, probably from cold people.

It’s not designed to fit into a tiny bag (I think about getting one of those) but it does smush down pretty small with a compression sack. I’m pretty sure I would have frozen to death in a packable down coat this winter, but maybe that’ll be my answer for the fall.


Essential to living, especially when you’re walking dogs 2-3 times a day.

There were times I wished I also had a scarf, but not enough to justify carrying one around the rest of the time.

Button down shirt

I brought a cheap flannel from H&M figuring I’d replace it along the way. I’ve tried on a bunch of shirts, but it hasn’t happened yet.


There have been a couple days when it was so warm in Boston (in February!) that I went out (at night!) with just the cardigan over my flannel.

There were (more) other days when I was wearing both of them indoors.

V-neck sweater

Early on in the trip I went to UNIQLO to replace the black v-neck sweater I’d brought with an identical one made of a slightly lighter wool. It felt a little ridiculous, but it was such a good move. Materials that keep you at the right temperature and lightweight pieces to layer are so much more comfortable than something that’ll be too hot.

5 shirts

I have a little stack of interchangeable tank tops in various shades of gray. People may or may not realize I have different shirts.

2 pairs of pants

I resisted leggings as pants for a very long time. The problem is that jeans take up way too much space and take too long to dry. My answer has been UNIQLO jeggings (I know, I know). They look like pants, are super comfortable, and are great for packing.


These work for layering and pajamas when pajamas are required. In a pinch, these work on laundry day, since my cardigan is long enough to keep things G-rated.

5 pairs of lightweight socks

I wear running socks and it’s been pretty life changing in terms of foot pain. Plus, they’re all moisture-wicking and anti-microbial, so tossing my dirty laundry in the same tiny bag as my clean things is no big deal.

2 pairs of warm socks

Usually I’m layering these on top of lightweight socks. I guess technically they’re a medium-warm pair and a warm pair.

5 panties & 2 bras

These, and my socks, are jammed in the bag my travel towel came in. No underwire or padding means bras take up no space at all.

ideal boots for traveling


I started out with a pair of Bearpaw boots because they were lightweight, water resistant, and didn’t look hideous and bulky. They kept my feet dry through weeks of trudging through the snow in Montreal and New York, although my plan of “just don’t go in snow deeper than your boots” didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped it would. I was so naive about December in Montreal!

The problem was that they were not high-tops and that suede looks like crap after it gets covered in salt. I was in the snow every day, so no matter how much I cleaned them, I felt like I was looking pretty unkempt. Given the fact that I’m living out of a bag, it’s super important to not look like I’m living out of a bag.

I only went into DSW to kill time before meeting a friend for lunch (it was cold!) but I found these Keds and I love them. They are my favorite boots, ever. They are so lightweight. They’re super waterproof. They look like normal shoes, not like something you’d wear for an arctic trek. And they’re really inexpensive. They don’t have an inner lining to get gross, so you can wear whatever sock situation will keep your toes toasty. They’re not suede, so I can walk through things much worse than salt and it comes right off.


I get so many compliments on my Bearpaw sneakers, it’s kind of weird. They are super light weight and pack practically flat, which is perfect for cramming everything into a personal item. I walk somewhere between 5 and 20 miles a day, so having comfortable shoes is essential.

Travel towel

I haven’t used my travel towel in the last six weeks, but there are other times when it’s come to the rescue.

Water bottle

I love this one because it’s completely flat when it’s empty.

Toiletry bag

For whatever reason, I thought your liquids had to be in a plastic bag for flying. This is not the case at all and I’m much happier with my little mesh bag.

Not wearing makeup makes my life simpler, as does the diva cup. I have contacts in there, even though I haven’t worn them at all. Just in case, right?

I tried just using the same soap for everything, but after the first week I gave up that idea and bought shampoo.

Laundry on the road

Everywhere I’ve stayed on this trip has had laundry facilities, which has been wonderful. However, I’m way too eco-conscious to run a load of laundry every couple days. I typically wash things by hand every night or two with Dr Bronners and do a load of laundry in the machine when it’s time to wash the linens.

Wearing dark colors and lots of heather gray means I haven’t had to worry about stain treatment, but soaking things in dish soap has served me well in the past.

I’ve been doing this for so long it’s just a normal part of my routine, I don’t even think about it.

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