The first time I ever traveled abroad, I had an extra large suitcase that was already over 50 lbs before leaving on my trip. The last time I went to Europe, I lived comfortably out of a 40 liter backpack.
These days, there are a plethora of packing videos on YouTube for any climate and duration. I used many of them for reference, including HeyNadine and the VagaBrothers, among others. Many travelers adopt a minimalist lifestyle on the road, because we find that we don’t need nearly as much as we think we do when we travel. So here are some tips that I found to be helpful while traveling in Asia, Europe, and across North America:
- Lay out everything you think you need on your trip to fit on your bed. This includes clothes, toiletries, shoes, and literally everything that will be fitting into your pack or suitcase. It shouldn’t exceed the surface area of the bed, and nothing should be stacked on top of each other. Got that? Now cut that in half.
- Packing cubes are my best friend, and I can’t believe there was a time in my life where I didn’t use them. You can buy packing cubes on Amazon or from any travel goods store. They’re these sort of bags within a bag that you use to organize your pack. They’re also useful to pack away your shoes to prevent them from getting your clothes dirty, and can also act as compression cubes, to give you more space.
- If you decide that living out of a backpack is the adventure for you, I would do a lot of research before investing in a quality pack. The VagaBrothers have a good comparison video to help you decide. After my overweight suitcase debacle, I decided backpacks were the way to go. I used a Kelty 60 liter for a long time, but found that I could go even smaller. I now use my beloved Osprey Farpoint 40 for all of my travels.
- Consider your limitations. If you’ve never stepped foot in a weight room like me, you probably can’t be lugging around a lot of weight for extended periods of time while you’re waiting around at airports or on public transit. Nor will you want to stand out as the inexperienced tourist dragging around your entire closet and every sentimental item you’ve owned since infancy.
- The smaller you pack, the more likely you will be able to travel carry-on. That can make a huge difference if you’re worried about finances, because checking in luggage is not always cheap. Traveling with a carry-on also avoids the hassle of waiting at the dreaded baggage claim.
- If you’ve never done your own laundry before, now is the time to learn. Count on having to do laundry throughout your trip, and this can cut your packed wardrobe in half. When I solo travel, I account for this by choosing hostels or AirBnBs with laundry facilities.
- Create a capsule wardrobe. There are plenty of articles that exist on this, but the idea is generally that you take high-quality staple pieces instead of half of your closet. All of your clothes should match and be cohesive with one another, so that pieces can work with multiple outfits and be multi-functional. This can and should be based on research you do on your host country. For example, I would never wear the beachy tank top or cut-off shorts I would wear in Southeast Asia to Japan.
- If you give yourself the space in your pack, you’re going to be tempted to fill it. Don’t. You want to leave at least ⅓ of your pack empty, so that you can fill it with souvenirs or clothes you buy along the way.
- As a reassuring piece of advice, almost everything you need can be bought on the road, sometimes for cheaper than you would be buying it in the States. The only necessary items I would say you can’t always get on the road are prescription medicine, prescription glasses, and tampons.
This photo shows everything I packed for a 3 month trip to Asia, half of which I got rid of along the way. It might seem impossible, but packing lightly just requires some planning and practice!
By OGO Peer Advisor Mailé Nguyen