Before I left for South America, I was majorly stressed about how to pack. It’s not often that you leave on a trip with no end date in sight! Would I bring one backpack? Two? What about all my shoes!? After scouring the Internet for advice, I finally found some sensible packing tips that fit my travel style from blogger Indie Traveller. After reading his ebook, I purchased a 46 Liter Osprey backpack that opens flat similar to a suitcase, as well as a small Osprey Daylite pack. These would be the two bags that would carry it all. Why? Because that is all that I wanted to carry!
“Light” is relative and different for everyone. Some may not mind hauling a full 70L bag around for months on end. I consider myself fit, but I’m also petite and want to be as comfortable as possible when traveling from place to place. The first step in packing light is choosing a small piece of luggage – that way, you cannot over pack!
While many of the larger stereotypical backpackers’ backpacks have gone through several innovations, they still hold a lot of weight. For example, if you buy a 70L bag, you will find a way to fill the 70L bag before you go…even if you don’t need all that stuff! (Which you probably don’t.) I spoke to several avid travelers and employees at REI when I was weighing my options and learned that these larger bags were designed for backpackers who are trekking and camping for weeks on end. I’m a hostel gal myself so no tent or pots and pans necessary! I do enjoy sleeping in a hammock or tent on occasion to save money, and there are hostels that provide them for you.
Purchasing a smaller bag also meant I could keep it with me on the plane from LAX to Ecuador. Some backpacks meet the stricter international travel requirements, so be sure to check if this is important to you. After years of traveling, I try to carry on my luggage whenever possible. This is something that my dad and experience taught me. I know not everyone is on board with this approach yet, but consider this: When you carry on, you eliminate the risk of someone else losing your stuff, and it’s much quicker! It also keeps your luggage size and weight in check. For Copa Air, I had to keep mine under 10 kilos/22 pounds and within 46 linear inches (115 cm) length + width + height. I barely made the cut, but I’m glad I had some strict guidelines to help keep my luggage minimal. I’ve already met a handful of travelers whose checked luggage didn’t arrive the same day as they did. How stressful!
Now that I’ve been traveling for nearly 6 months, I can confidently say that I am happy with my decision. I even sent a few things home with my parents when they visited me over Christmas! When other travelers see my bag, they often comment on how small it is. Some even assume I’m a “short-term traveler.” Coming from a girlie girl, let me tell you that packing light CAN be done! I’m trying to start a movement here. You just need to focus, keep your eye on the prize (comfort), and go through at least 3 rounds of packing before you arrive at the perfect bag.
All that being said, here are some tips & tricks for keeping it comfy, practical, and minimal no matter the duration:
- Start with a realistic sized piece of luggage, which is probably smaller than you think.
- Have a second smaller bag and keep it stocked with the essentials: phone, noise canceling headphones, Kindle, medications, water, snacks. This bag will also come in handy for hiking and weekend trips.
- Consider your climate. I have 1 all purpose jacket and even though it rains here, decided to forego a rain jacket to save space. You can purchase a disposable poncho if you get caught in a downpour, or just embrace Pachamama!
- Stick to one color pallet so you can mix and match clothing more easily. Most of my pieces are earthy tones and blacks. (Don’t bother with white. While this is my favorite color for resort wear, it stains and turns yellow faster than you’d imagine!)
- Roll your clothing; it takes up less space.
- Take only 1 pair of all purpose tennis shoes for walking, hiking, and even running. (I recommend trail running shoes. Ditch the bulky hiking boots!)
- Throw in a pair of Tieks or other versatile flats that can be folded and go from day to night. I use these anytime I’m in a big city like Quito, but they stay tucked away when I’m living the beach life. Bonus: flats take up way less space than a pair of Converse! (Everyone is wearing Converse down here, I swear.)
- Get creative. Layer and wear your bulkiest items when moving from place to place. If it’s too hot, I tie my sneakers outside my backpack and stuff my jacket a linen bag to use as a pillow on long bus rides.
- Buy a few reversible clothing items to get more looks out of the same piece (like a dress or swimsuit).
- Don’t forget multi-purpose soap! I use this natural magic soap as my body wash and for hand-washing undergarments.
- Buy a Hip Sister to keep cash & cards close and safe.
- Remember that you can always buy things during your travels (toiletries, shoes, replacement items.) I purchased a warm hat and scarf on the street in Quito for $5 when I knew I’d be hiking at high elevation…subsequently, I ditched them in hot and humid Costa Rica.
- Start with travel sized beauty products to comply with the TSA 3-1-1 rule, and refill as you go.
- Try a life sans makeup or at least leave most of it at home! I wear mascara approx 1x/month at most, only for special occasions. Besides, I think I look younger this way?
- Get solid shampoo and conditioner. It weights less than liquid and lasts so much longer! Also, forego the hair products and try going au natural. Coconut oil is the perfect substitute and also works as a sand fly repellent.
Just remember. Start with a small bag and the rest will fall into place. If you’re interested, I can share my detailed packing list in a future post!
What have I missed? What tips do you have for minimizing your luggage?