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Carry-On Only: Two Weeks in Africa in a 40L Backpack

*First off – I want to state that there is NO part of this post that is affiliated with any specific brand, product, or company.  I talk a lot about brands in this post, but I am purely sharing my opinion about fantastic products that I love.  I was not perked or paid in any way for writing this post.*

Good morning, guys!  Ok, can I just say – I can’t believe that I leave for Madagascar in TWO DAYS!?  How did that even happen?  Summer went by in a blink and now all of a sudden, here we are in the middle of October.  I swear, the older I get, the faster the days turn into weeks and the months jumble together into 5 years.

I am hella passionate about packing.  It’s actually a little embarrassing, but I look forward to packing sometimes even more than the actual trip.  I have an entire section of this blog dedicated to packing, an entire pinterest board about packing, and I have written several articles before on the subject of packing.  I love packing.

I finalized my packing on Monday, which took a lot of the pre-trip stress away.  My goal for this trip was to fit everything I wanted to bring into my Carry-On backpack.  Before I went to San Diego for the Rock n Roll Marathon in June, I purchased an Osprey Farpoint 40, after extensive research and watching tons of YouTube reviews.  That pack is the real star of the show here.  I don’t think I’d be able to do carry-on only in just any old bag.  I wanted a front-loading backpack with tons of storage that was realistically big enough for my travel needs (Vacations, Half Marathons Weekends, and, eventually, Long-Term International Travel) but small enough that it could be carried on on most major airlines.

Why carry-on, you may ask?  Well, let me tell you.  I will never pay to check a bag.  I will never have to worry about the airline losing my luggage.  I won’t have to worry about things getting damaged or stolen.  I will have everything I need (the ability to freshen up and change clothes) during long journeys.  And, best of all, I will NEVER over-pack.  This will be my first international trip with this pack, and I am confident that it will be exactly what I need.


The Bags:

Bags are a huge deal.  Packs, sacks, cubes…the whole lot.  What I’ve learned about bags is that you get what you pay for.  If you’re serious about minimizing your packing and you’re planning on doing a lot of traveling, I would recommend investing in some good gear.  It doesn’t have to be top-of-the-line, but spending a little bit of money now can go a long way when you’re on the road.

Osprey Farpoint 40 Backpack

-Lululemon Festival Bag

-2x Eagle Creek Compression Packing Cubes

-1x Toiletry Packing Cube

-1x Small Packing Cube (for electronics)

-2x Zipper Pouch Toiletry Bags (One for essentials in purse, one for first aid kit)

-Light, drawstring laundry bag

-Ziplock Bags (and a few extras)

The Clothes:

Typically, I would pack much less than this – maybe 3 or 4 shirts, 2 pairs of pants and 3 pairs of underwear – but I am going somewhere where I won’t always have access to running water so washing my laundry in the sink will be limited.  I typically stick to technical fabrics when I can, because they dry quicker and are usually higher quality.  For colours – it’s boring, but I normally stick to black and other neutral tones.  When you’re only bringing a few items, it’s important that they all mix and match well so you can build a variety of outfits.

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Clothing (plus a few accessories)
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Underwear, socks, bras, swimsuit and PJs
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Rain Coat

-5 Tank Tops

-2 T Shirts

-1 Pair Shorts

-2 Pairs of Lululemon Crops

-1 Pair Long Pants

-1 Sweater

-1 Dress

-1 Rain Jacket (Marmot Precip)

-7 Pairs of Underwear

-5 Pairs of Socks (moisture-wicking athletic socks are best)

-2 Sports Bras

-1 Regular Bra

-1 Bathing Suit

-1 Pair of Pyjamas

-1 Sarong / Pashmina (This also acts as a blanket, beach towel, shoulder bag, you name it)

-Flip Flops

-Hiking Shoes

The Toiletries:

Ah, toiletries.  Most traveler’s reason for not packing carry-on.  Look, I get it.  As girls, we (think we) need a lot of stuff.  My biggest tip for packing toiletries is to minimize, multi-task, and, if you need to pack lots of something (shampoo, sunscreen, etc) then pack lots of small bottles so you’re not over the 100ml limit.  Don’t forget to put all liquids and gels into a ziplock bag for ease at security, and also in case of any leakage.

First Aid Kit
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-2x sunscreen, 2x DEET Insect repellent, both under 100mls

-Polysporin & Band-Aids

-Medication kit including prescriptions, Advil, Benadryl, Imodium, Midol, Tums etc.

-Minimal Makeup (check out the only makeup I travel with)

-Makeup remover

-Lip Balm

-Face wash & Moisturizer


-Hair Elastics

-Pocket Soap Leaves (Sea to Summit)

Lush Solid Perfume

-Tide Detergent Sink Packs

-Individually wrapped Personal Wipes


-Minimal hair products (curl enhancing cream & hairspray for me)

-Cotton Swabs & Cotton Pads

-A few tampons (for emergencies)




-Wysi Wipes (read my review)

-Nail File



-Conditioner (which will also work as shave cream in a pinch!)

-Hand Sanitizer

The Accessories:

If I’m being honest – I’m an accessory junkie.  I love gadgets.  I’ve had to learn to minimize my gadgets for this trip, but here are the basics that I brought.

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Electronics Bag

-Headlamp & extra batteries

-Charging cables

-Portable Power Bank (I like the Sinoele 10,000mAh – charges my iPhone 6 4x+)

-Adapters / Converters


-iPhone (Will serve as camera, movie theatre, e-book, and computer)

-Silk Sleep Sack

-Pack Towel

-Guide book

-At least one actual book (for times I don’t want to kill my phone battery)

-Journal & Pens

-Local Currency

-ID & Credit Cards


-Photocopied passport & ID, stored elsewhere




-Eye Shade

-Inflatable Travel Pillow

-Minimal Jewelry (optional – all I’m bringing is this bracelet and a pair of simple earrings)

-Watch (optional – I am traveling with my FitBit Surge)

-A printed copy of my hilarious People-Watching Airport Scavenger Hunt, Flight And Seek

Snacks Etc.

I have a sensitive stomach, so sometimes I like to have some basic items for when I’m somewhere foreign.

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-Small bag of Airplane Snacks – mostly junk food, honestly.  Think M&Ms and Skittles.  Something has to keep me occupied on my 29 hour journey.

-Granola bars, fruit bars, Vega Sport protein powder

-Treats for the kids I meet – such as individually wrapped lifesavers

-A few of my favourite tea bags

Nuun Rehydration Tablets


Ok, now on to the fun part…how I fit ALLLLL of that stuff into my little backpack.

  • I left out my bulkiest outfit for what I will wear on the plane.  Lulu Crops, a tank, my sweater, my Sarong/Pashmina (to wear as a scarf and use as a blanket on the plane), one sports bra, one pair of underwear, one pair of warm socks and my hiking shoes.

    Photo 2016-10-11, 10 41 29 AM.jpg
    Travel Outfit
  • Next, I packed my Festival Bag (purse).  This is the bag that will be under the seat in front of me on the plane, so I wanted it to contain all of the things I might need during my flight.  Passport, travel wallet with cards, documents, travel pillow, eye shade, headphones, USB cable, journal, pen, earplugs, makeup, an individually wrapped makeup removing wipe for my overnight flight, iPhone, and my plane snacks (all contained in a Ziplock).  Use your discretion and make sure you have whatever you think you might need in flight.

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    What’s in my purse
  • Then, I put all of my other snacks into one large ziplock bag.
  • I packed my “first aid kit”…medications, pills, band-aids, sunscreen and insect repellant.  (Liquids and gels in a ziplock.)
  • Toiletry bag – liquids and gels in a ziplock inside the bag.Photo 2016-10-11, 10 58 24 AM.jpgPhoto 2016-10-11, 10 59 02 AM.jpg
  • Electronics – Cables, adapters and head lamp all went into a little packing cube.
  • Clothing – Underwear, PJs, socks and bathing suit went into the smaller compression cube, and all the rest of my clothes went into a large compression cube.  I kept my rain jacket out (it folds up into its own mesh pocket) because you don’t want to be digging through your bag when you need your rain jacket RIGHT NOW.
    Photo 2016-10-11, 11 10 30 AM.jpg
    All of my clothing in these two little cubes

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    My Marmot Precip Jacket packed into its own pocket
  • I arranged everything neatly into my Backpack, so that it made sense.  Things I knew I’d need in the airports (toiletries while going through security, guide book, etc.) were easy to access.Photo 2016-10-11, 11 13 46 AM.jpg
  • Zip it up, cinch it in, put it on.


So, there it is.  My life for the next two weeks on my back.  If this goes well, I might just never check a bag ever again.  Stay tuned on the blog for The Madagascar Diaries and don’t forget to follow along on Instagram to see all of the photos from my adventure!

Have you ever traveled with carry-on only?
What are some of your favourite multi-purpose travel items?

Ashley Dempster is a twenty-something Canadian Travel and Adventure blogger based in Calgary, Canada. Her passions include good food, minimalist packing, running, music, and chasing down every opportunity for adventure.


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