You can always tell a first time backpacker by the size of their bag. Overpacking is a problem, and it doesn’t have to be. Here are my tips for how to travel light enough that your backpack will pass as carry on luggage with most major airlines. This list is designed for city travel with some countryside, not hardcore trekking. So no tent, hiking boots, or sleeping bag.
You never need as much as you think. It’s better to have to pick something up than discard things along the way. One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made travelling was buying a wardrobe just for that trip, before I went there. I bought with the climate in mind (I was going to South America) rather than my own personal taste. If you wouldn’t wear it at home, you’re not going to enjoy wearing it while travelling.
Don’t bring: clothes that are only useful for clubbing. So no heels or sparkly and impractical dresses. They take up a lot of room, and you just won’t get the use from them to justify it.
Do bring: clothes that go from day to night. Shorts with a nice top, maxi dresses, and little black dresses that are casual enough for day wear too are all good choices.
Don’t bring: jeans. Jeans are heavy, impractical, often quite uncomfortable to wear for a long time, and they take forever to dry.
Do bring: leggings. Leggings are the traveller’s secret weapon. They can go under shorts to keep you warm, they’re comfortable on a hike, and they can also be worn at night in a hostel or at a couchsurfer’s for some modesty. They pack small and they dry fast. I usually travel with 2 pairs.
Don’t bring: a million accessories. I hope this one goes without saying, but you just don’t need 5 different choices of scarves and hats.
Do bring: a versatile scarf that you love. Try to find one that can double as a shawl when it gets cold. If it’s colourful it will make all your outfits instantly brighter.
Don’t bring: impractical footwear, new footwear, and shoes that don’t dry and absorb water fast. If it rains and your only walking shoes get soaked you’re going to have nothing to wear tomorrow. Or you’ll have wet feet, which will make you sick, and being sick when away from home is miserable.
Do bring: a comfortable pair of shoes that can withstand miles of city walking and light hikes, and a pair of flats or sandals that are small and light and will transition from day to night effortlessly.
Weird tip: I met a woman in Colombia who swore by traveling with thongs. I tried it and she was right. If you can stand them, they’re smaller, pack better, and dry faster than regular underwear.
Don’t bring: bottles, they’re heavy, space consuming, and they don’t last.
Do bring: bars. You can get solid bars of soap, shampoo and conditioner. They’re airplane friendly, they don’t take up space and they last for ages. You can also use your soap to wash your clothes with in a sink, if necessary.
Don’t bring: all your make up.
Do bring: essentials and one extra thing. I travel with basic make up: spf foundation/BB cream, mascara, eyeliner, blush. My one extra is a bold red lipstick for the evening, as it instantly detracts attention from travel-worn clothes.
Don’t bring: a hairdryer. Most places have them to rent.
Do bring: straighteners, at least if you have crazy frizzy hair like mine that triples in size when humidity is mentioned. Having nice hair makes such a difference to my mood, and my willingness to appear in travel photos.
Electronics and extras
Don’t bring: all your chargers. This is a massive space waster.
Do bring: cables that will fit multiple things. Some cameras and most electronics will charge via usb, and usbs will go into laptops, meaning you only need your laptop charger to go into the wall – this means you only need one bulky charger.
Don’t bring: your big laptop, if you can avoid it.
Do bring: a netbook or a tablet. Much better than nothing, as it saves using slow hostel computers and it means you can blog, send couchsurf requests, and upload your photos from the road. Battery life is also much better than most large laptops.
Don’t bring: paper books.
Do bring: a kindle/ereader. I was so against them until I got one. Now I can’t imagine traveling without it. It saves space and gives you choice of what to read.
Don’t bring: a suitcase, or anything with wheels.
Do bring: something you can comfortably carry on your bag for hours, and something good quality. A good bag is worth investing in, as it will accompany you on the road for years. Find something with a waist strap that fits you well: taking the weight off your back is crucial.
My current favourite travel buys
Lush shampoo and conditioner bars
At about $12 each they’re not cheap, but 1 1/2 of these got me through 3 months of travelling in South America, and my hair smelled amazing and was soft and clean.
Buy them here. They’re also almost all vegan, and they’re all cruelty free.
These are without a doubt the best thing I bought before I came to Taiwan. If you’re going to a hot, wet country, buy these. They’re incredibly comfortable, not un-stylish (they don’t look like crocs) and they’re durable and totally waterproof. I can wear them in a typhoon in summer, and it’s no problem.