He who would travel happily must travel light.
-Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
It was the morning of the fourth day of my trip when I noticed the threading was frayed near the straps on my day pack. To say I was worried would be an understatement. I needed the pack to hold my most valuable belongings: my money, keys, passport, and phone. I sorted through the many small items in the bag, looking for the heavier ones to eliminate. I found a great deal on the day pack in Hong Kong and I loved its size and that it had many small pockets. But, I ended up regretting that I had not spent more to purchase a higher quality bag.
Understanding your packing habits can go a long way in staving off the panicked feeling when you scrounge through your chosen belongings. One of my struggles was finding a balance between conservative packing and too-conservative packing. These tips are for a conservative packer bringing a single backpack or luggage on a trip, and not for those who have multiple bags staying in a resort. Space is limited!
1. Necessity vs Luxury
Pack only the necessities. This tip is probably the most obvious, yet the hardest to follow. My goal is always to pack the minimum amount that I would require on a trip, then cut that down by about 1/3. I tend to pack items that emanate a sense of safety like a flashlight, extra batteries, or a spare set of headphones. Yes, these items are small, but the purpose of these items are mostly a result of emotion and don’t make for smart packing. These items are the ones that end up in the bottom of your pack and end up getting in the way.
2. I was going to change my clothes, but I changed my mind instead
My primary concern when packing are always clothes. It is important to do a little research on weather to be prepared (I know it’s not the most exciting prospect!). Rainy seasons vary around the globe and trying to pack soaking clothes is a hassle and a invitation for mold.
It might not be ideal, but for most of your travelling destinations, you can purchase a cheap article of clothing if the need really arises. For my month-long trip to Europe in June, I only packed one sweatshirt and one pair of jeans, knowing that it would be cooler in Copenhagen. I was freezing early in the morning and on some of the planes, but packing warmer clothing did not make any sense when I knew it would just add bulk.
Bring plenty of socks, shorts, undergarments and undershirts! My mentality was to pack as little as possible and I missed having clean socks. Many times, I did not know how long I had to go without a laundry machine. An extra few pairs don’t add too much bulk or weight.
3. But what about my style?
The difficulty with packing minimal clothing is that you can’t show off your style when capturing yourself around the most beautiful scenes in the world. If you are living off one backpack, it is impossible to bring clothes for every occasion. You may be hiking the Alps or dining in a Michelin-star restaurant in Paris. How can you pack for every occasion?
My suggestion is to pack clothes that can be used for multiple purposes. I brought a casual dress shirt that I could wear to a restaurant or throw over some clothes when walking around in a church. For girls, a sundress or a blouse can serve the same versatile purpose.
4. The proper bag
I can’t stress enough how a sturdy, durable and accessible backpack can make your life easy on the road. If I were to splurge on any purchase before a trip, it would be on a nice backpack. Living in hostels and rented rooms, you don’t have the luxury to unpack all your belongings and repack them every day. I had multiple situations where I had to root around in the dark for clothes and toiletries just before bed, growing frustrated at my inability to find what I needed.
Get something with lots of external pockets and some compartments. Separating items that you need to constantly access is a great idea. Also, I love having an easily reachable external pocket to keep my liquids and electronics stored at airports and an internal pocket to securely store my valuables.
5. Are you not entertained?
I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.
I am incorrigible when it comes to choosing my entertainment. On long journeys, I cure my boredom with music and reading. Unfortunately, when backpacking, I was unable to bring any books with the fear that I would have to drag them from place to place. I am not a fan of reading from a screen, so instead I brought a journal. Luckily, I wasn’t too bored, as most of the time I was enjoying the scenery and experience.
I strongly advise not to bring too much in form of entertainment. There are always random people that you can strike up a conversation with if you get bored.
6. Down and dirty: the essentials
For me, I thought a DSLR was essential. The hardest packing decision I had to make was to leave my DSLR at home and bring a water-proof, shock-proof, bomb-proof camera that I could easily tuck away. For most adventures, I would bring a nice camera, but it does limit what you can do. I would have been afraid to leave my belongings on the beach or in a hostel because my camera would have been expensive to replace. I wanted beautiful photos, but the value I placed on photos would not be entirely related to their quality, but as a reminder to my experiences.
Pack the toiletries that you need with the knowledge that you can buy small items if they become necessary. Once I landed in France, I bought soap and shampoo for two weeks of travel, as I would not be boarding a plane again for two weeks. Decent priced contact solution was especially hard to find in Europe, never mind finding a travel-sized bottle.
The best tip I received before travelling to Europe was that many hostels in Europe charge or do not provide a towel. Towels are bulky, but I was glad that I brought my own. Bring a few plastic bags to separate your dirty clothes from your clean clothes if your backpack doesn’t have too many compartments. If not, all your clothes will be contaminated.
Travelling light isn’t the most comfortable way to travel, but I feel that leaving all the luxuries behind is a great way to learn more about yourself. I realized that I could survive on only two pairs of shorts (barely). Carrying all my possessions on my back gave me a greater appreciation for what I had back at home. When I finally ended my trip, I had a journal and camera full of brilliant experiences, which was all I really wanted.