7+1 tips to keep your bag small and light during your trip
I started my five month long travel in Southeast Asia last October, with a 30 liter capacity backpack. It was 7 kilos and I brought it along as a hand luggage all the way. My bag’s size didn’t change significantly, I arrived home after five month with the same, small backpack.
I’ve been to cold places: during my Indonesian mountain adventures, in Northern Thailand and Northern Laos during winter-time, in the Bolaven Plateau, and in hot & humid in the Gili Islands, and in the pre-summer Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia. I visited religious places that required clothes to cover full body and islands that require bikini only (or not even that). I had super intense yoga time in the sweaty climate in Thailand. It would be a easy to say, that it is Asia and I only needed two T-shirts and a pair of shorts, but it wouldn’t be true. So, how did I do it? Here you have my tips.
1. Take multifunctional pieces with you
Take the clothes with you, that you can use in multiple situations, environments. My favourite example is a large shawl, that you can use as a scarf, a shawl to cover your shoulders, a sarong to visit religious sites, a beach towel, a cushion, a change “room” on the beach, bed-linen and so on. It is compulsory for girls. But shoes are also good examples. I only had a pair of flip-slips and a pair of trekking shoes (actually approach shoes, who knows what opportunities arrive on the way). My trekking shoes assured my safety on the mountain excursions (Rinjani, Ijen, Bromo, Batur) and on unstable terrain (Pai Canyon), but as those are super comfy, they were essential on every long walk to discover the beauties of the world. The flip-flips are good enough for everything else.
My softshell trekking trousers and artificial-dawn jackets were a hit too. I used them in the mountains, in the cold, in the over air-conned busses/trains, on the long flights and when arriving home in minus 8 degrees Celsius. My technical, stretchy and quick-dry yoga wear appeared to handle the intense use and frequent washing really well, and were perfect as a base layer in the mountains and in the cold, as well as street wear in the super humid Thailand and Malaysia. And I could go on and on.
2. Take with you the clothes that you love
Many make the mistake to pack only the clothes, that are okay if they break, get holes, get damaged during washing, get lost, loose color. As these all will happen, I can tell. An as we only have “expendable” clothes with us, we won’t feel sorry for them. Well, I see this totally differently. On one hand, I think, that all clothes are “expendables”. On the other hand it is important to have clothes with me, that I love, as I will wear them a lot. Actually I will wear them all the time. And if I don’t like what I wear, it is harder to resist to buying new, better/prettier things. I loved my clothes that I had with me on my last trip. On the day following my arrival home, I was standing in front of my closet full of clothes, but the only things I really wanted to take on were the ones, that I was wearing for 5 months, every day. Because I don’t really need anything else. (Okay, a huge, fluffy, warm dawn jacket came handy in the below zero temperatures.)
3. Buy only things, that you really need
I won’t tell you not to buy anything. That would be stupid. But do you really need that fifth T-shirt? Or the next elephant pants? Or that coconut-bowl? Or a new backpack? Well, yes, I also bought some stuff. My micro-usb cable broke, so I needed a new one. I bought a plastic container, that I used as a breakfast bowl in Thailand and packed food for long travels. And I bought two huge Thai shawls, that I used as a bedcover and a decoration on the wall in my sad-white bungalow in Thailand, as comfy-wear in the evening in the hostels and as everything else I listed in the first section.
Of course it is even harder to resist the call of purchasing new things, if there is a good cause behind, like supporting a local ethnic group by buying their products. But are your sure you can’t support them by donation, without purchasing something you don’t really need? Especially if that something ends up in the trash.
4. Don’t buy gifts
My approach is the same in regards of gifts. I don’t bring anything to anyone. Not even for myself. It was not always like that. My parents still have the stone toucan I bought in South-Africa (once it fell face-down and broke its beak, and only I had tears on it), and the Bobby-hat from London in the room of my brother, that only my nice puts on her head, if she still does it. And the many exotic spices in the storage room of my mom, that she never uses. And the many fridge magnet at my friend and my kitchen, and the bowls, and the Turkish rag… But I don’t do it anymore. Because one part of them would be a just another dust-catcher on the shelves and people only keep them to be polite. Because only we have nice memories connecting to them, only we fill them with life, and our loved ones don’t really know what to do with them, and by the time they end up in the trash, and finally at the ocean. Do you really want this?
I don’t bring gifts since a while. I bring photos, stories, share my travel stories with everyone with love and enthusiasm. I share my love for travel, my view ethical travel, talk about disappearing culture, traditions. I share my experience, my emotions, my learnings, the good and the bad. This is my gift.
5. If you buy something new, leave something old behind
Well, it may happen, that you really need to buy something new, or you can’t resist something very attractive. If this happens, I suggest to think it over, what are the things you carry with you, that are not good enough, or that you don’t use at all. Those are the things you can leave behind. These are the exact things, that you can really leave behind. Behind, but where?
I love the fact, that every hostel has a corner dedicated to things, that are free to take. It is a classic, that every hostel in a city with an international airport, or a place close to a border, is full of travel guides, that are left behind by people leaving the country. If I’d had travel books with me (tough I never have), I for sure would leave there before hopping into the adventures of a new country. I also used these books to gain additional information next to the electronic source I used. Or if you run out of books to read, you can find cool novels to take with you. But I’ve seen many other things as well, such as trekking poles, food, rain jackets and umbrellas, toiletries, sun cream… and endless list. I actually left many useful things, that I didn’t need anymore in Thailand at the place of the new friends I got to know there.
6. Don’t bring toiletries with you
And I’m not saying not to take a shower of wash your hair during your travels. But for me it doesn’t really make sense to bring these things with me from home. Why would you take shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, soap and body lotion with you? They are heavy, and you need to check the size of them and play around what you can or cannot take with you in the hand luggage. So I simply don’t pack any of them, but buy them at my destination. During my last travel I bought everything in Asia, that allowed me to choose local products and local ingredients as well. For example I used virgin coconut oil instead of body lotion. I loved it, as besides nurturing your skin, you can consume it (e.g. in your morning porridge) and is amazing to clean your mouth with. I bought my shampoo, conditioner, soap, sun cream and tooth paste locally. You anyway have to buy the refills there if you travel for a longer period of time, why wouldn’t to it on the first day? And if there is anything left at the end, you can leave them in a hostel. Maybe there will be another traveller in the need of only one portion of shampoo, before leaving for home.
7. Don’t bring books with you
You may expect long flights, long bus rides and train journeys and you want to prepare some entertainment for yourself. Or you need a practical travel book? Don’t bring a book with you, it is super heavy. Bring the ones you really need in electronic version. or buy a local SIM card in the visited countries or use the WIFI of your accommodation to reach the information online. I also had electronic travel books with me, but honestly I got much better information and travel advice from fellow travelers I met on the way. Talk to people, get social, this is the best entertainment for me during my travels. Find someone to talk to on the bus and train, even if they are locals and don’t speak English, so you will end up using your facial expressions, sounds and your hands to explain things – even more fun.
I considered the options, and ended up not taking books, music and movies with me. I know it is not easy to be with yourself. To love yourself to the extent to be happy to spend time with yourself. To love your own company. To get to know yourself even more. To meditate. To love the silence. But it was one of the best things ever for me on this journey. Though I also know, that all journeys are different, there is time for this style, but other times I also need something else, to keep my mind busy. But I really suggest to try out to be just with yourself sometime.
+1 travel in your heaviest clothes
The last one is and endless tip. Travel in your heaviest clothes. Especially trousers and jackets with pockets, where you can put some extra heavy things. You don’t spare space with this, your pack won’t be lighter and has nothing to do with how to pack smart. But in critical situations this is always a way to keep the weight of your pack within the hand luggage weight-limit. Well, I also had flights, when besides my phone I also had the chargers, the camera and my tablet in my pockets, to make sure that my backpack is only 7 kilo.