A guide to packing light
I was being shown around by a couchsurfer in Thailand, he picked me up in his car and drove me for breakfast. He said he was free all day and would drop me off at the airport for my flight in the afternoon. I had packed up my little backpack and put it in front of me. After breakfast he drove me back to the hostel.
“Oh, I thought you were free to hang out all day?”
“Then why are we back at the hostel?”
“To get your luggage”
“This is my luggage…”
The trick to packing light is to forget about the “just in case” scenarios. Yes there are a million things that COULD happen but it’s much more likely that you only have a few hiccups and when you do, you’ll be surrounded by others who packed something “just in case”. I of course have a very tiny emergency kit- plasters, paracetamol, diarrhoea relief and something for my travel sickness but it was very rarely used.
So, what did I pack?
Here is absolutely everything I took with me for 2 months in SE Asia, I’d probably take the same amount for 2 weeks- 2years.
First what I packed it in- I used a cheap Karrimor 30L backpack. I’d recommend getting something a bit better quality if you have the funds. I had room to spare so I could even fit my fleece inside. I cut off the raincover from my old 40L backpack and kept it in the side pocket (later I secured it with a safety pin as it kept falling off the bag).
1 pair of loose trousers
1 skirt which I later threw away and replaced with a pair of shorts (more travel friendly)
5 tops (combination of tshirts, sheer long sleeved and vests)
1 vest and 1 pair of shorts for sleeping
1 packaway raincoat
1 thin fleece
4 pairs of cotton pants
1 pair of socks
And that’s it.
I actually think it’s easier to pack less clothing as a woman. We have dresses to substitute for 2 pieces of clothing and our clothes are usually thinner and lighter than mens clothing so all the clothes can be neatly rolled up and packed into packing cubes. These are amazing for organization. If you’re on a budget like me, I used the strong plastic bags you get with bedsheets and old makeup bags instead. Also, men need to bring a nice shirt and shoes for going into some bars, whereas for us, anything pretty much goes. Also, make sure everything matches everything.
I got my laundry one twice: once because everything was damp and smelly and since it was $1/kg I got all my clothes washed for $1.20. The other time because laundry was free. The rest of the time I handwashed by filling a bucket with hot water and soaking the clothes with soap before washing each piece individually and leaving to dry, it didn’t take too long and dried very quickly. In Europe I was just able to use the washing machines of Couchsurfing hosts or AirBnB hosts.
Regarding underwear, I don’t like carrying dirty underwear in my bag so I wash it every night in the shower with my soap or whatever is available and dry it overnight. In theory I only needed 2 pairs but extra pairs saved me when I found my pants weren’t dry in the morning a few times and I had to pack them. You know what happens to damp clothes when you pack them up? They smell. So bad. And of course spares are handy if you lose a pair in the wash.
What didn’t I pack?
Jeans- great for cold climates as they hardly need to be washed but it was just too hot for them at the time I went.
A “nice” dress- as I mentioned, for women, anything goes when entering clubs or bars. I did end up buying one very cheaply from Malaysia by conincidence but I could have easily done without. Being a backpacker I would have felt OTT in what I could consider a “nice” dress. Also they’re heavy.
More socks- I only wore them for hiking or cold transport so as long as I washed them after use they were fine.
Another bikini- I hate the beach and managed to avoid it for the whole trip.
More clothes- I didn’t need more!
1 pair of Teva Sandals (on my feet)
These are great multipurpose shoes that I used for all terrains and hiking. They also looked good and were easy to slip off when visiting temples. On my last trip I only wore hiking boots which are great for Europe but are hard to dry off in Asian monsoon season.
What didn’t I pack?
Flip flops- I had my sandals! And I prefer to go barefoot indoors.
Trainers- I had my sandals! They were great for long distance walking and short hikes. For longer hikes I rented wellington boots with grip.
1/2 bar of Simple soap (more than enough for 2 months)
100ml bottle of shampoo (I only used half)
Soltan kids sun protection stick
Roll on deodorant
Toothbrush (I have a travel one that I forgot at home)
Incognito mosquito spray 50ml
Hair comb (I use at brush at home but cut my hair so I could pack a light comb instead)
Antibacterial handwash (only needed in less developed countries)
Epistick for hair removal (though I didn’t end up using it- they’re great and only 50p on ebay)
Sun cream if you need it, I only used a Soltan kids sun protection stick which is an amazingly greasy stick that I rubbed on my face most days and my body on extra sunny days. An added bonus is that it’s not a liquid: good for taking as a carry on. If hostels offer free shampoo or body wash (or even if there’s handwash) I use it rather than my own stuff to make it last longer. I find roll on deodorants to last longer than sprays and work well for hot countries. I can recommend this brand of deet-free mosquito spray it worked amazingly well for me and I tend to get bitten a lot. The spray was probably the most expensive thing I brought but it’s a fraction cheaper on amazon.
What didn’t I pack?
Makeup/contact lenses- My life was made a lot easier by the fact that I don’t wear makeup and most girls I saw were wearing minimal or no makeup too. If I’m leaving a place I shower and pack the night before (it takes 5 mins) and in the morning I just need to get dressed and brush my teeth. My average time was probably 10-15 minutes before being outside and not bothering with makeup or contact lenses helped me to do that.
Moisturisers- I’m already pretty moist
Conditioner- my hair looks fine without it
Portable charger (get a lightweight one and it will save your life)
Extra memory card for camera
USB with passport, documents and to take pictures from others
What didn’t I pack?
Ipad- I don’t own one
Laptop- I can go online with my phone and prefer to be away from technology when I travel
International sim card- having constant access to home takes away the adventure of travel in my opinion! It makes solving problems too easy and means you don’t need to be as creative when trying to get out of situations. Using offline maps works very well too.
Mine is Nikon D3300 in red, it’s small, looks good and takes great pictures. I actually love travelling without a camera as I don’t have to carry the camera bag with me but the pictures I’ve taken have been the most amazing souvenirs. If you don’t carry a camera I’d recommend investing in a phone with a good camera.
Small roll of strong tape (VERY handy)
Ribbons (again surprisingly useful)
Less than half a toilet roll
Rape alarm (easily accessible on day bag)
Scarf (amazingly useful- I always have one with me)
Silk travel sheet
Pen, I wish I’d taken a notebook
Combination lock for hostels, so you don’t have to look after a key
Small phrase book
Tote bag for carrying food or extra things around
A plastic spoon (I was so happy when faced with half a takeaway box of fish curry at 5am and the spoon finally came in handy)
Some energy bars (one “just in case” scenario you need to be prepared for)
Somewhere to stash money, could be a hidden fanny pack, a purse tied around your neck or even (as I did) a plastic holder clipped to the inside of my trousers)
Tons of Ziploc bags (very useful)
I brought a silk travel sheet in Vietnam but only use if you think you’ll be sleeping outside/it’s cold or you want to prepare for unpredictability of couchsurfing. I say “towel” because I actually took a tiny little cloth for a towel that rolled up to be about 5cm in size. Often I just let myself air dry or used hostel towels if provided. For colder climates I would use a medium microfiber towel (cheap on Ebay) or a hand towel.
What didn’t I pack?
Guidebook- so heavy and the most up to date information is available online.
Why pack light?
- Less shoulder pain
- Can keep your bag with you on transport to minimize theft
- Can carry your bag with you all day if you’re stopping off in a place just for a day
- Easy to fit into lockers
- Can take as carry on
- Easy to pack up and leave
- There’s always room for a little one with a little bag
There you go, everything I need for an indefinite amount of time on the road.Of course packing light means different things to different people and a few luxuries go a long way. So if you have some sort of upper arm strength I do not disprove of carrying a little bit extra. ‘