What’s In My Carry-On


It’s the night before your big trip. You’ve cleared your inbox and put on your vacation responder. You’ve organized someone to feed and walk your dog, water your plants and shovel your walk. You’ve gotten your immunizations, renewed your passport and notified your credit card company you’ll be making charges from abroad. You’ve cleared out everything in your fridge that will most likely go rank (but probably missed some things too!). And now you’re staring down a pile of clothes and a pile of who-knows-what that needs to miraculously fit into a suitcase and carry-on in under six hours (if you’re anything like the procrastinator I am).

Oh, the dilemma! This scenario was all too common for me and finally, after years of being on the move, I’ve got my packing down to a science. Tackled in this post are the ideal contents of your carry-on. Check out our FAQs sections for complete pack lists when traveling to South America.

The carry-on bag

I always like my carry-on bag to be one that I’m planning on using daily on my trip as well. Pictured here is an affordable suede bucket bag from Zara. I always bring one that goes with all the clothes and shoes I’m bringing. I also prefer one that zips and that I can carry over my shoulder. Most of South America is safer than expected, but of course, as in many large cities in the world over, it doesn’t hurt to watch your stuff. This is not the forum to be bringing some lovely purse handed down to you from your grandma either. You wouldn’t want to end up devastated if you have to share a taxi with a bunch of pecking chickens or something!


What’s inside

  • A Good Read – I love to get into a page-turner that ignites my imagination about my destination. Isabel Allende’s House of Spirits is a gem. Photo via isabelallende.com.
  • Glasses – So you can read that book you brought! Pictured here are Chandler Ti by Warby Parker.
  • Journal & Pencil – It’s these quiet moments in transit that inspire the best reflections. I’ve had one too many pens explode on me in-flight so now opt for a pencil instead.
  • Water Bottle – An absolute must-have in my opinion. I fill it up after getting through security in Stateside airports to I can stay hydrated throughout my flight.
  • Scarf – Use this as a pillow, an eye cover or even to wrap those fragile souvenirs after your journey.
  • Wallet – I’ll never leave town without my Lauren Hobo oversized wallet. It’s got the perfect pocket to hide a passport and is great for keeping flight documents and maps organized. Don’t forget to pack some cash – always handy – and to notify both your bank and credit card company that you’ll be gone. Definitely stash your health insurance and immunization cards here as well. I keep copies of these and my passport in my suitcase. However, I only write down the numbers I would need to cancel my atm and credit cards. Copies of those only invite fraud.
  • Passport – Obviously. Make sure well in advance that it’s not expired. Also, if traveling with Knowmad, refer to your Buen Viaje documents for any instructions on getting through customs and acquiring your tourist visa upon arrival.
  • Wool socks – Who wants cold feet? There’s nothing better than toasty-warm, wool socks on a long flight.
  • Stuff Sac with Emergency Overnight Contents – It’s happened to all of us at some point – the travel gods simply just let you down. The worst is getting stuck overnight on your layover. Be prepared with your bare minimum toiletries, a shirt change and undergarments. I like to keep these all in a stuff sac to save room and keep the digging around to a minimum. Pictured here is a thermarest stuff sac.
  • Phone – I actually never purchase an international data plan when I’m traveling. The whole point is to disconnect, right? Wifi is so readily available everywhere you go now anyway that I just keep it on “airplane mode” and connect to a network if necessary. However, I do make sure that my Skype App is up and running before I leave home in case I need to make a phone call. Don’t forget your charger and a plug adaptor. Photo via apple.com.
  • Earbuds – For those in-flight movies or music. These Bowery Beech earbuds aren’t noise cancelling, but I use them so little I find it’s not worth the bulk and cost.
  • Camera – I always carry on my camera. Not only am I a little worried it could get swiped in my suitcase, but I also like to fiddle with it while I’m waiting around. For basic travel photography tips check out our informative blog post on the topic.

What’s stashed in your carry-on? We’d love to hear about what you can’t leave home without in the comments section below.

Un Beso, Tara

South America Travel Tara HarveyTara is the Co-Founder, Marketing and Operations Manager at Knowmad Adventures, a company dedicated to creating unique, private and custom trips in South America. She first traveled to South America in college and is endlessly inspired by the cultures, food, colors and idiosyncrasies she discovers there. Read Tara’s biography and more about the Knowmad team.