My Carry On Travel Experience and Packing List

My trip to South Africa and Germany was my first international trip with only two small bags rather than a huge rolling luggage.

I was inspired by my fellow travelers who seemed to do it effortlessly. It worked well for me during my domestic trips, so I thought to give it a try.

I started with these two bags:

Two Carry On Bags | Zaakirah Nayyar


I made it to South Africa with these two bags (thanks to my aunt for lending me her bag):

My Two Carry On Bags | Zaakirah Nayyar


By the time I was flying in between Cape Town and Durban, I had to check both of the bags as they were too ‘heavy’ to carry on for the low-cost airline, Mango.

By the end of the trip, because I ended up doing some shopping, I checked at least one of the bags, so that I can use my personal backpack for a second carry on item.

I packed for two seasons but little did I know was that it would technically be 3 seasons (Spring in Cape Town, Summer in Johannesburg and Durban, and Winter in Germany and New York City) as well as two each of most clothing items.

I packed the following:


My Carry On Packing List | Zaakirah Nayyar

Clothes and shoes:

  • 2 skirts (black & white, blue and brown)
  • 2 turtleneck shirts (gray and black)
  • 2 skinny pants (blue jeans and black
  • 1 pair of leggings (gray)
  • 2 neck scarves (gray and black)
  • 4 African scarves originally from Senegal (white & Blue, white & Pink, green, purple (I can do multiple things with them because they are so long)
  • 2 head scarves (black and white)
  • 1 thicker black long sleeve shirt (I would have packed a second, but there were oil stains on the bottom)
  • 1 pajama pants (red & turquoise)
  • 1 pajama dress (pink and blue)
  • 1 black satin head wrap
  • 2 tank tops (Red and Black)
  • 1 black dressy top
  • 1 pink sundress
  • 1 white long sleeve throwover
  • 1 black short sleeve shirt
  • 1 White short sleeve shirt (I ended up purchasing because I left the other one due to it having a hole at the bottom)
  • 1 long waterproof winter coat (the only thing I had an issue with carrying when I didn’t need it
  • 1 winter hat (my favorite and only winter hat)
  • Waterproof Winter boots
  • Black and White Sneakers
  • Flip Flops (I ended up buying black and gray sandals as I did not actually have any comfortable ones)
  • Towel and washcloth (in case any of my accommodations did not provide)

Personal Items:

  • 3 bras (1 push up, 2 regular)
  • 4 panties
  • 2 white socks
  • 2 fuzzy socks (to walk around in and to keep my feet warm in the cold)
  • 2 thermal shirts (black and white)


This travel sized case is from CVS and it includes entirely 3-ounce items in containers. The Go Gear bottle was also from CVS.

Toiletries Travel Case from CVS | Zaakirah Nayyar


  • 2 Containers of Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap (for multiple uses)
  • 1 container of Cetaphil Facial Wash
  • 1 bottle of Cetaphil Lotion
  • 1 bottle of Listerine
  • Neutrogena Sunscreen
  • 1 container of shea butter
  • 1 spray bottle of 6 in 1 hair oil
  • Nivea Cream
  • Burt’s Bees Body Lotion
  • Burt’s Bees Facial Wash
  • Roll On deodorant without aluminum
  • Refresh Eye Drops
  • My prescribed eye drops
  • Hair Scrunchies, bobby pins, and hair clips
  • Cetaphil Face Wipes
  • Moist hand & body Wipes
  • Q-Tips in a travel size container
  • Glittery hand sanitizer (Which I knew wouldn’t be as effective but I packed it anyways)
  • Hand sanitizer (not as effective over there)
  • Lens cleaner
  • Tissue Packs
  • Washing Gloves
  • Shower Caps (for other uses)
  • Plastic Ziploc bags (can’t travel with your liquids spread out)


  • Bandaids
  • Cough Drops
  • Over Counter Allergy Medicine
  • Notebook to write down my addresses in case phone battery dies or gets lost
  • Water bottle (during the summer season, it gets hot and its cheaper to refill than to buy a bottle)


I packed in a fully covered zipped up pouch, 12 menstrual pads, but little did I know, due to my irregular period, I would need to buy more while in Johannesburg

I intentionally chose simple colors as simplicity is key for me to alternate the outfits for reuse, but you are welcome to choose whichever color best suits you.

As you can tell, a lot of clothes were rolled to save the space; they are not a perfect roll, but it makes a difference.

I packed two space bags that I have had forever which also saved space.

In this space bag are the underwear, thermals, and tank tops

I also utilized a tip that I slept on which is put the socks into the shoes, in this case, I put them into the boots to keep them in shape when I am not using them.

So, although it taught me to pack less and not pack for the ‘just in case’ as we women always tend to do, I don’t think team carry-on is for me for International trips. I need space.

But I will always remember the looks on people’s faces when they see me with only two small bags when traveling for 3 weeks.

The list above is just the general packing list as I carried a few other things, such as electronics (phone, camera, laptop, battery pack for phone), glasses case, hearing aid case, and more purses to wear with various occasions. But I hope it was helpful nonetheless!

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Carry On Travel Experience | Zaakirah Nayyar