A look inside my travel bags: clothes, electronics, and other essentials

This post is for the women who’ve asked what I take with me on the early retirement budget travel world tour. Most of the women who’ve reached out to me are considering or preparing to live my kind of vagabond lifestyle.

First I’ll show you a picture of the clothes and explain why I chose those pieces. This is what most women really want to know – what clothes I bring. Geography, climate, comfort, and ease are my considerations when deciding what to wear, carry, or buy. When locations change, clothes will change.

It took me awhile to get around to this post because I waited until everything was laundered and ready to pack up in order to give readers clear visuals. Then I wrote to the pictures once we got to our next long stop. Thanks, ladies, for your patience.

As promised, here are the clothes I travel with right now.


This pile of clothes was good for elevations of 5,000 to 7,000 feet in the Guatemalan and Mexican highlands this summer, and also back down seaside to Zihuatanejo and now Mazatlan. This wardrobe will change as we travel to new locations and different climates. For example, not pictured are a pair of jeans I bought in San Cristobal. I’ve already left those behind in Oaxaca, when we left the higher elevations.

This is everything. From the bottom of the picture up, left to right on each row, starting on the floor: flip flops, walking sandals, sneakers.

ClothesBottom row on the bed: one beach cover-up, one loose tank top for the beach, two bikinis, one one-piece swimsuit for exercise laps, one bra, one three-quarter length sweat pants, one pair of cargo pants (they can be rolled up to three-quarter length or shorts), one pair of full-length yoga pants, one pair of light, cotton pants, four pairs of shorts, two sun hats.

Middle row: three workout tank tops, three workout bras, three workout shorts (with key pickets and inner-underwear), one jean jacket, one button down short-sleeved shirt, seven tank tops, one nightgown, six injinji socks, one Turkish towel, one washcloth, one scarf.

ClothesTop row: 12 pairs of underwear (mix of thongs, briefs, boy shorts), one ball cap, one zippered sweatshirt with inner pockets, one long-sleeved polyester shirt (good for warmth as a thin layer), one polyester-cotton blend sweatshirt with thumb holes to half-cover my hands in chilly weather (that I stole from my sister), four T-shirts, one thin purse, one skirt just below the knee, one ankle-length skirt (that I can also pull up over my bosom as a three-quarter length dress), one skirt just over the knee with several pockets.

These clothes fold up into two medium and two small packing cubes.

Packing cubes

One of the small cubes goes into my backpack. In case something should happen to my larger bag, I would still have a change of underwear, socks, one set of workout wear, all my Injinji socks (not easily replaced because they’re not sold everywhere) and a hat. I also wear the Turkish towel as a scarf (I love that thing – so versatile and not easy to replace because it’s not sold everywhere). I also keep a few clothes pins in the small take-with-me cube in case I have to hand wash in a pinch.

So two medium cubes and one small cube go into my large, structured backpack on wheels. You’ll notice there is still a lot of room in there. Tedly likes to travel with pillows, because not all the rentals we’ve been to have the kind of pillows he likes, so we shove a pillow in there.

Cubes in suitcase

I use packing cubes because they are easy. Pull ’em out by a handle and you don’t have to unpack everything. For example, in between Zihuatanejo and Mazatlan, we spent just over 48 hours in Mexico City. So I put everything I needed for that quick trip in a small cube and only had to pull that cube out for our stay.

Side note on the cubes. My creative, smart parents had a great idea –  jumbo 2.5 gallon zip lock bags could be used instead of packing cubes. So last year, they bought a box of them as we packed up to hit the road again, and Tedly has been using them ever since. (I had already bought my packing cubes.)

The plastic bags are cheaper, but the cubes weren’t a ton of money ($30 for six – I don’t even use the large ones). You can see everything in the plastic bags. With the cubes, you can see most of your stuff but not all. The plastic bags are highly water resistant; the cubes are breathable. So, take your pick.

Here are just two of Tedly’s several bags. Toothpaste tube for size reference.

Tedly's plastic cubes

In my backpack

While I sometimes check the green backpack/suitcase on wheels when we fly, the regular backpack acts as a carry on piece. When we bus it, I take it onto the bus with me. This has items I consider more important than the majority of my clothes. In addition to the one small clothes cube I showed you earlier, here are the other things I carry in the backpack.

First, I’ll call this the ‘gear’ picture.


Assorted electronic-type stuff including Apple chargers, USB extension, a small Bluetooth music player, and flash drives fit into that leopard pouch (also my iPod and earbuds, not pictured).

Those blue tubes are “LifeStraws” – a genius invention given to us as gifts from Tedly’s world-travel savvy, wonderfully thoughtful mom. You use the straw to drink water from virtually any source, and it filters out the bad stuff. We haven’t used these yet, because a giant jug of water in Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala only costs a few cents. But I totally see where this will be handy in the future – or for an emergency – and so I carry them.

I carry a small assortment of toiletries in the backpack. Most of it fits in a small padded case. My toothbrush, toothpaste, and a large comb are in a separate plastic bag pictured further down.


I also carry Avon Skin-So-Soft moist cloths and a compact New Outlander day bag. I’m not brand loyal, but when I bought this, it was cheapest with the best reviews that also was water resistant. It was $20 on Amazon in September 2016. This bag has gotten a ton of use by both me and Tedly – everything from beach days to grocery shopping trips. Now he wants one.

Mine looks a bit scruffy on the outside from so much use, and there is a plastic coating that’s peeling inside, but overall it still works just fine.

One small clothes cube, the gear pouch, toiletry pouch, plastic bag with toothbrush, toothpaste, and a few razors, my ultra-portable Yoga laptop, compact umbrella, some eyeglasses, compact day bag – all fit in a traditional backpack with a little wiggle room for any odds ‘n ends that inevitably need to get stuffed inside (like our surge protector, which is not pictured because it was charging Tedly’s device when I took these pictures).

That large envelope holds my mammogram films from earlier this year. When I get another mammogram in the coming weeks, the radiologist will have something to compare the new images to. (I had a surgical breast biopsy in Mexico, thankfully with benign results.)

Items for backpack

I am not a fan of this backpack, it’s just the bag I had laying around when I started this kind of lifestyle in August 2015. It’s not designed for a woman’s body: it hits my tailbone, the shoulder straps are as shortened as they can be which makes the whole pack on my back uncomfortable. Also, there’s too much padding- therefore, added weight. Not the best travel bag for me, but it’s what I have for now until I get something better.

Backpack packed

In my large-sized purse

I also carry a large-sized purse, which never leaves me. It’s the ‘small personal item’ when we fly.

This is a handy bag to have. It will fit an iPad (which my husband carries), has a detachable small zip pouch, and a hidden pouch. All that, and the on this gem can convert into a mini-backpack if needed. It’s also water resistant and lightly padded. I think I paid 25 bucks for it more than two years ago. It’s a Baggallini, and I would definitely go with this brand again, though I’m no longer necessarily brand loyal to anything.

Inside this bag are the most important things I carry. Two of three eyeglasses, one pair of prescription sunglasses, one of two solar shields, both of our passports, iPhone and a second charger (not pictured) a little money, a few small inexpensive but sentimental pieces of jewelry, and a translation dictionary I can whip out anywhere.


I’m a little paranoid about my eyeglasses, because without them, I can’t see a thing. I currently have three regular eyeglasses: one for the beach because salt and sand trashes the lenses, one for workouts and day-to-day wear because they’re on nose pads and they are lightest on my face, and my most recent pair, my “good” pair with progressive lenses that I use for computer work and reading at home.

I also have two sun shields to fit over my regular eyeglasses and two prescription sunglasses: one for running outside because they are light on my face and another for swimming with a leash. (Currently my swimming pair are busted from some rough waves near Zihuatenajo and I need to get them fixed.) I haven’t worn contacts in more than two years, but that may change once we start Europe. Contacts save a lot of space, but they’re not practical for beach life.

My eyeglasses take up a lot of room, but I can’t compromise on this, at this point. Two of my cases are large enough to fit two eyeglasses, and I’m always wearing one. If I’m super anal-idiosyncratic about anything – it’s definitely this.

So, all packed up, minus some of the heavier clothes (and/or a few layers) to wear on my travels:

All packed up

Now, I wanted to leave clothes behind in Zihua, because I’m getting the hang of this thing called traveling light. For Mazatlan, I would have ditched the flip flops, one bikini, two pants (yoga and sweats), two shorts, one hat, one workout bra, two workout tanks, one workout shorts, one sweatshirt, two T-shirts, two skirts and the washcloth. Seriously, I could do that.

Clothes- lightened load

Instead, Tedly asked me to take these items to Mazatlan because I’ve carried them this far so he said why not take them where we’re going to be next. I sometimes let him win these disagreements simply because it gives him some peace of mind. As a guy who still carries a giant backpack and a regular backpack, he hasn’t let go of as much of his ‘stuff’ yet – although his progress is definitely impressive.

Inside Tedly’s giant backpack, he usually carries a few bottled goods for me that I mentioned earlier, so I don’t have to buy them again when we get to someplace new.

Inside his regular backpack, he carries my iPad with bluetooth keyboard that I don’t even use anymore because he has stolen it from me. (I’ve got the phone and the Yoga.) We try to share my Kindle Paperwhite on beach days. Not easy. We only have one at the moment because my old original qwerty Kindle died way back in Ajijic.

That’s just about everything. So ladies, I hope this helps. It’s not easy at first – to give up everything in your wardrobe to travel light. It got easier for me when I realized how little I really need. Hand-washing isn’t so bad, and laundry services are always available. I buy used clothes as needed, which I’ve previously written about, and I buy cheap new clothes as needed.

Tedly and I will have to lighten the load considerably because when we get to Europe next year, airlines have even more stringent rules for carry on bags. To quote the spouse on airline baggage rules, “We are going to play the game, and we are going to win.” This means I’ll wear lots of layers and stuff my pockets in addition to tightening up the goods. I’m lucky to have a small frame. (Too bad the majority of airlines don’t take body weight into consideration, because then I could carry more weight in a bag.)

I’ll be honest and tell you I have an occasional fleeting desire to don a schnazzy outfit with heels and boots and belts and purses and the rest. The trade-off to letting go of the vanity is the opportunity to experience new places, people, cultures. At this point in my life, I’ll take those new experiences over any attachment to anything I wear on any day.

Me wearing my white-gold hoops
One of the more sentimental things I travel with in that little plastic bag of jewelry — my white gold hoop earrings. These were a gift from my parents years ago.

(*Note, unlike other travel bloggers, I’m not compensated in any way for any brand name that’s mentioned.*)


3 thoughts on “A look inside my travel bags: clothes, electronics, and other essentials”

  1. Thank you so much for this post. I, for one, had asked you about this a couple of months ago. Really really appreciate it. Very helpful and I will refer to it as I start my packing.

  2. Thank you so much for all of this….a lot of work and much appreciated. I’ve learned over the years how to cut back and pack much like you. With the fee now to check bags on airlines I find it a struggle to stay within all their carry on rules…especially liquids, gels, lotions blah blah blah….small scissors….it all drives me nuts….we often fly somewhere for a few days and do not want to spend time & money buying these things when we arrive. I also buy very thin travel clothes (eg Tilley) with packing and weight in mind….they last forever and dry quickly….keep on keeping on Miss Ellie…we love your blog!

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