Packing & Traveling Light

I have used a single carry-on size bag when traveling for most of my life. I didn’t realize this was uncommon until my wife and I did a multi-week service trip in 1996. Both of us brought everything we needed for sub-freezing weather in carry-on sized travel packs. This permitted us to use two check-through bags for materials that we would deliver to the project without paying shipping charges. Our colleagues brought several bags for their own use. This post was written to answer their question

“How did you managed to get everything into a carry-on bag?”

The core content of this post hasn’t changed, but I have made updates in 2023 for clarity, fix broken links, and updated references to products. I am a bit more minimalist than when I wrote this post as I my appreciate of simplicity has grown. Today this approach is often referred to as “onebag” travel. I believe this term was coined by Doug Dyment in the late 1990s. There is an active /r/onebag subreddit which discusses this approach.

TL;DR

  • Enjoy the freedom of have luggage that isn’t a burden while on a trip to maximize your ability to enjoy the experience
  • Use a pack which is 20-35l rather than trying to find a maximum approved carry-on. The larger the bag, the more stuff you will bring whether you need it or not. Avoid wheels
  • Bring 1-3 set of clothing. You don’t need more. Make sure they are easy to wash and dry quickly.
  • Layer your clothing for varied conditions. “Base” layer, insulating sweater/fleece, puffy if cold, and a weather protective shell that can be used separately or together.
  • Use shoes you can comfortably walk in all day. Add a second pair if circumstances call for a specific kind of shoe
  • Don’t be influenced by the “spotlight effect”. You notice your appearance way more than other do. Relax

Advantages of Traveling Light

I have found when I am carrying a light bag (<16lb with load transferring hip strap, <8lb if just shoulder straps) I feel an incredible sense of freedom. My bag doesn’t weigh me down physically or psychologically. The following are some of the reasons I love onebag travel:

  1. Transportation becomes simpler and easier. You have a light bag you can manage yourself. You don’t have to find someone who can transport a number of large bags. For example, some remote towns use motorcycles with a sidecar as taxis. Imagine trying to hold onto a number of huge bags while sitting in a sidecar or on the back of the motorcycle.
  2. You are able to dynamically adjust your plans. If you have a tight connection you know your bag will be with you, wherever you end up. If you need to get something out of your bag you can. You can easily carry your luggage while engaging in fun activities. For example, we decided to explore Portugal’s Algarve coast. We didn’t know which town we would stay in. Our rail pass let us hop on and off in each city and explore until we decided where to spend the night. Only then did we book a room and drop our packs.
  3. Can be more focused on people and experiences, less on stuff. You will spend less time fighting with your bags and have less to keep track of. You will spend less time on the trip thinking about “Is this the right outfit?” “Should I use X or Y today?”
  4. Packing light lets you use your check through luggage allotment for medical supplies and other items for service trips. Or, if you found a large, perfect gift for someone, you can bring it back as your check-through luggage.
  5. You don’t need to worry about items in your bag being damaged, stolen or lost. Fun video of bags being loaded. To be fair though, less than 1% of bags are reported lost, though more are delayed or temporarily misplaced.

I would encourage everyone to taking a trip that is at least a week long while limiting yourself to a carry-on size bag. I think you will find it’s enjoyable and freeing. For a bit of humor and inspiration, check out Lessons Learned from Luggage Lost. When you return home consider simplifying your life. If you want to push things you could try packing like a camino pilgrim, downsize to a 7L fanny pack, or go for zero bag like this guy’s no pack.

Remember the traveler’s motto: It’s better to bring half of what you think you need, and twice as much money. Unless you are in a very remote / isolated location, you will likely be able to purchase anything you need.

Luggage?

One of the first questions people ask is “What bag should I get if I am traveling light?”. I generally recommend that It’s more important to figure out what you are going to carry inside the bag than which bag. Use hints below to select what you will bring on your trip. Bag selection will be easier when you know what it will contain. A bag you already own might work such as a classic nylon “book bag” or gym duffel. If you don’t have a bag which can hold all the things you plan to bring I suggest putting everything you plan to carry in a duffel or shopping bag(s) to a store like REI or Decathon and see how it loads into the packs they carry. In the best case you found your bag. In the worst case, you realize you have way too much stuff to carry comfortably and need to trim more. Most likely you know the size of a bag you are looking for, have identified one bag which will work, and can now do a bit of online searching to see if you can find a bag which meets all your criteria. There is a caveat to figure out what you are taking and then select a bag that will hold it…

A generalized of Parkinson’s law is that the demand upon a resource tends to expand to match the supply of the resource if the price is zero. When it comes to luggage it means that you will have a tendency to fill your bag. I mention this because when people start traveling light they often look for a bag that is a “max size” carry-on. This will often lead them to over pack.

Even experienced travelers are susceptible to over packing. Over the last fifty years I have taken trips to the same destination which were of identical duration with the same expected conditions. I generally used whatever was my “standard” bag of the time which has ranged ~15L-46L. Each trip generally filled the bag with things that I asserted were “needed”. What was the difference? Some of it was experience and more compressible items, but mostly it was the smaller bags forced the question “Is this necessary?” The smaller the bag, the more frequently my answer was “no”.

If you are new to onebagging, I often recommend getting a bag that’s a bit smaller than you think you “need”, because you will discover there are several items which aren’t actually needed. I can’t remember ever regretted carrying a smaller bag, never felt like I didn’t bring something that would have enhanced the trip. If anything, the trip was more enjoyable. When I carried the larger bags I sometimes did regret bring as much as I did because items ended up not being used and on long walks the bag felt like a burden.

In my experience, many people will be well served by a bag that is 25-30l with dimensions of 7.8×12.5×20″ or less which virtually every airline permits as carry-on. This size bag might fit under the seat in front if you, though with the smaller seats and intruding infrastructure they sometimes need to go into the overhead storage. There are exceptions to this recommendation. The first are people who are big. For example the clothing of someone who is 7ft tall with size 47 feet will have troubles fitting into a bag that works well for my 5ft wife. The second exception are people who are engaged in special activity which required a lot of gear, or gear which can’t be carry-on and they aren’t going to rent at their destination. Special note to photographers. Do you actually need 2 bodies, 6 lens, numerous filters, 6 batteries, and a pocket camera? If you are doing a wedding the answer could be yes, but often a single body and 1 or 2 lens might actually unlock your creativity and improve your eye. Finally, there are people who are going to be in a location for an extended period and the supplies and items they need for day to day life can’t be acquired locally and won’t fit in a bag which is carry on approved. In some cases the supplies won’t fit into a single check-through bag.

My ideal bag is small enough to fit into a “personal item” sizer for the low cost airlines I fly such as RyanAir 43x25x20cm (16.9x10x7.8in). My bag is technically larger than this, but so long as it’s not overstuffed, it has be able to squish into the sizer, and I have never been forced to pay the fee for a carry-on bag. This is my primary bag and what I used 90% of the time. I also have a 40l back country backpack when I need to carry heavier loads / more volume. I like keeping things simple. Many people who travel a lot mm have a stable of bags so they can select the bag which meets the exact needs of a trip. Often these people treat their bag collection as a loaning library helping friends and family, learn how to one bag.

There are several airlines which permit large volumes for carry on such as 22x14x9in (56x36x23cm). Many airlines used to define carry-on bags as being 45 linear inches which enabled the use bags / objects longer than 22″ such as a garment bag or back country backpack. These items often had to go into the overhead bin sidewise which means someone else might not have room for their bag. It’s possible to overstuff soft side bags to the point that they will not fit, even it the bag is theoretically the “permitted” dimensions. There is a summary of common carry one restrictions, and an exhaustive periodical table of carry on size limitation. When it doubt, check with your carrier. The packhacker site list which airline a bag is guaranteed to qualify as a carry on.

I generally recommend people use a carry-on sized travel packs. If you are going to be walking a lot, I suggest going for a trekking pack. I would suggest staying away from wheeled bags. They cost more, add weight, and hold less than other options. Wheeled bags are a pain to use on stairs, cobblestone, and other uneven surfaces.

There are a variety of reasons people might need to carry more than what will fit as carry-on, and where wheels might make sense. I have been impressed with the quality of Briggs and Riley which is backed by a lifetime warranty which you typically don’t need to use. Downside is that it’s pricy and heavy. TravelPro, especially the Platinum Elite line are well designed, have a lifetime warranty (that you will likely use… especially if you bag is a spinner), and as light as you are likely to find. I have heard moderately good things about AWAY (budget), Rimowa (pricy, striking design), Pelican Air (maximum protection for contents), and LuggageWorks (heavy, ugly, but durable with replaceable parts). I prefer bags made from ballistic nylon to hardshell for three reasons. When there is a tight fit they can squish, they hide signs of wear. and the don’t crack… failure is recoverable.

Daily Use Bag

All but the most minimalist travelers typically want a smaller bag for “daily” use when they aren’t in transit. Some travel packs have a zip-off daypack which I generally don’t recommend. The attached daypacks typically makes the main bag too thick to be carry on legal and rarely has the characteristics I would want for my day use bag. The exception for me is the Osprey Daylite that combines with the Fairview/Farpoint. The Daylite (and Daylite+) have a decent set of features, and can hang off the shoulder straps in front of you making more useful than when it hangs on the back of the pack.

If your daily carry is moderate, I recommend using a light courier / messenger / guide style / crossbody / front sling bag because it’s usable when when a travel pack is on your back, provides easier access than a daypack during the day, and allows your back to breath. I like the $9 Decathlon 15L packable courier. If you are carrying a bit more I recommend using a “stow-away” or “packable” daypack. These packs have no structure so you have to use care in packing them. I have found the Mystery Ranch In-and-Out Pack and the daypacks from Gossamer Gear are the most comfortable to carry. I have been happy carrying 10lb in these for moderate distances. The Matador packable daypacks including the Beast which has a foldable frame were pretty good, but not as comfortable as the packs from Gossamer Gear for me. I have heard good things about the Aer Go Pack 2, but it doesn’t have a sternum strap and I have no need to try another packable bag. Many of the other packable daypacks I found to be uncomfortable, even when packed carefully… but your experience might be different. For example, my wife likes her first generation ultra sil nano daypack made by Sea to Summit.

My Choice

These days I mostly use an older / lighter version of the Gossamer Gear Vagabond Jet (review of Vagabond). When I need to carry more than what is comfortably handled in the Vagabond I use my wilderness backpack, a Hanchor Tufa. The Tufa is larger than I need, and doesn’t have good organizational features but it fits in the carry-on sizers and enables me to comfortable carry up to 25 lbs for many miles / hours. When carrying less that 10lb I like to use the lightest possible backpack that stays close to my back. Between 10-20 lbs, I like a bag that transfers at least some of the weight onto a hip belt and is relevantly easy to access. Having the pack made from stiffer material like X-Pac or having foam sewn into the fabric makes access easier. When I am carrying more than 20 lb I want a well designed suspension and a pack that maximizes capacity vs backpack weight..,. everything else is a bonus. For around town I used a Decathalon Packable 15L Courier Bag which weights just 4oz and costs 8 Euros.

Clothing for the Journey

Limited Number / Easily Combined: If you are going on a trip that is more than a week, plan to wash your clothing rather than trying to bring outfits for every day of the trip. We will talk about washing clothing later. There are two strategies people take having a limited set of clothing. The first is to look the same everyday. Have all your clothing be the same color so things always match. Black or grey are common choices. Another approach is to select clothing which can be mixed and matched: colors which coordinate and layers which can be varied for look and comfort. Some simple accessories like a scarf can transform they way you look. A good way to overcome the common fear of “running out of clothing” is to take the clothing you are planning to use on the trip, and use just those items for a couple of weeks at home. This can’t always be done, for example if you live in a tropical climate and are traveling somewhere that is sub-freezing, but in most cases you can run some simple experiments at home to build confidence.

Layered: If are are facing moderate to cold weather you should take a layered approach for warmth. Seasoned travelers and backpackers are very familiar with the idea of layering which combines a next to the skin base layer, with 0 to several “mid” or insulating layers, and finally a shell for protection from wind and/or rain. Once the temperatures are below 45F, using high loft / puffy insulation is typically recommended since it saves weight and packing space. I have found that the combination of long-underwear, hiking pants and shirt, a wool sweater, a puffy insulated vest, light weight waterproof/breathable jacket, scarf, hat and mittens keeps me comfort when active down to 10F. I can mix and match the various layers so I am comfortable when it is 30F, 50F, and even 70F.  For a more thoughts on this, see my clothing page. Sidenote: fleece are versatile outdoors, but a nice wool sweater can make you look more “dressed up” as well as keep you warm. I typically bring a light weight windshirt because they are so useful. If I expect rain and cooler conditions, I will bring a rain jacket, and add rain pants if I am going to spend an extended period of time outdoors. If it’s going to be warm and/or dry, I will sometimes skip bring a rain jacket, bringing a small umbrella or go without and just get wet.

Localized: You should adjust the style of your clothing to the local sensibilities. For men, the level of formality typically drives clothing. In some situations slacks, a button up shirt, blazer and a tie are normal and appropriate. Other situations it’s perfectly acceptable to wear flip-flops, boardshorts, and a tee shirt into a high end restaurant. Since COVID men can typically get away wearing running shoes, jeans, and a polo shirt in many situations. Women aren’t so free. When away from “international class” cities women are often expected to wear skirts or dresses which go below the knee and blouses that at least cover the shoulders. Women not so clothed are assumed to be prostitutes or “loose” and could find themselves harassed by local men.  In many Muslim countries women are expected to keep their heads covered with a scarf or a hat. Sometimes people worry that they will look like a tourist. They want to blend in. The fact is no matter what clothing you wear you will look like a foreigner. Your body language, they way you move will give you away (not to mention you language or accent) even if you are wearing exactly the same clothing. I have a friend who looks Indian and spent the first 18 years of his life in India. When he returns home as a 40-something he is immediately identified by the locals as a foreigner because he no longer moves like a local, maintains too much personal space, etc. Don’t worry if you look a bit different so long as what your are wearing doesn’t not violate some taboo.

Washing: So let’s get back to washing clothing. If you are staying someplace that has a washer, and even better, washer/drier you are in a great situation. If you don’t have easy access to a washing machine you can go to a laundromat, use a service, or hand wash your clothing. Many long term travelers are prepared to hand wash clothing. The more minimalist packers will often wash their clothing each night as part of the bedtime routine which allows them to eliminating the need to carry a change of clothing. Many people use a small bottle of Dr Bronner’s soap for their laundry. There are also detergent sheets which don’t have the risk of spilling. A single sheet should be able to cover 4-8 sink washings. I haven’t figure out what the optimal number is. It’s possible to use shampoo or body wash. I know people who clean their clothing while they shower. I have tried this but had trouble getting my clothing completely clean. I will note that machine washers are more effective than my hand washing.

Fast Drying: When you don’t have access to a drier, it’s extremely useful to have fast drying clothing which can dry overnight. This means avoid clothing made from cotton. Fast dry clothing is typically made from fabric that don’t absorb much water such as light weight polyester, nylon, or <160gsm merino wool. Fast drying clothing can be washed at the end of the day and dry over night. You can speed the drying by squeezing excess water out, roll the garment in a dry towel, and then twist the towel to tighten around the garment. Unroll after a few minutes and hang up your garment. Some people carry a small clothing line, though I haven’t found one necessary: most lodging will have something that will let you dry the clothing (clothing line, hangers, back of a chair, etc). When in a rush, you can squeeze excess water out of fast dry materials and put them on wet. They will be uncomfortable for a bit, but movement and body heat dry them in around a hour.

How Many Clothing? Some people feel compelled to wear a different outfit every day and are afraid that others will notice they are wearing the same thing over and over. Get over this fear. Many successful people wear a “uniform” every day. Guess what. either people don’t notice as described by a female art director, or it becomes something of a trademark such as Steve Job’s turtleneck & jeans. There are several approaches. The first is to have a single set of clothing that you wash and dry over night. This works, but there might be times when you are wet / muddy from a day of hiking without time to clean your clothing before a nice dinner. Many minimalists I know bring go with sets of clothing so they have something to wear while their clothing is being washed or 3 sets: wear, wash, drying. Most of the time clothing doesn’t need to be washing after one day of wear. The number of times a garment can be worn without washing varies depending on the type of fabric, your unique biology, environmental conditions, your activity level. I am normally comfortable wearing denim jeans two days in a row, but if sweating heavy from heat or high activity, I might want to change after just a few hours  On the other hand, I am happy to wear pants made from light weight Schoeller fabric treated with nanosphere three days in a row in warm weather and five days in cold weather. Likewise, I have found wool shirts resist odor build-up which can allow them to be worn comfortability for more than a week straight provided I don’t spill food on them. I typically bring 2-3 sets of clothing, and 4 pairs of underwear which lets me go a week between washings. I strive to use a machine which is more effective than my hand washing. I have been known to wear my rain gear while doing my wash so everything gets cleaned. There are some people who love clothing and want to bring many sets of clothing to have a lot of variety. People who want this sort of variety typically need to bring a larger bag or get their variety by having a small core with accessories.

Recommended Brands? There are a number of companies which make clothing for men that is particularly well suited for travel including Bluffworks, Outlier, Makers and RidersWool and Prince and Western Rise. Maker and Rider have finally released a women specific line. I know some women who really love the Lightheart Backpacking dress (or similar products from Columbia, Patagonia, Decathlon) because they are light and fast drying, the Infinity Dress because they can wear it in multiple styles, and Macabi Adventure Skirt because it can be worn as shorts, pants, or a skirt. My wife really loves the travel dresses from Decathon. There are plenty of other travel friendly clothing for men and women from ExOfficio, prAna, Royal Robbins, lululemon, and many other companies that are associated with the “active life” and sold at stores like REI. These cloths are marketed as being for fishing, hiking, or travel. Often you can find bargains at places like sierra.com. While the above are brands I recommend, you don’t need expensive clothing to travel lightly. You likely already own some fast drying clothing. Examine the materials your clothing are made from, especially clothing for sports, yoga, etc. My clothing pages have low cost options at the bottom of the page and I have some hints for finding low cost backpacking gear which will overlap with adventure travel.

Hats! Don’t forget to bring a hat. If you are going to be someplace sunny, you should bring a hat with a wide brim to reduce the risk of sunburn, keep your head cool, and protect your eyes from too much light. It is best to bring a hat which can be rolled/folded up and can take a lot of abuse. In hot, sunny conditions I would recommend the geeky, but highly effective hats from Sunday Afternoons, the classic Tilley Hat, or something like the compact OR Sunrunner Cap. If cold weather is at all likely, bring a wool or polyester stocking hat or a buff. It will take up very little room, and will help keep your warm. In modest conditions you lose 10% of your heat through your neck and head, but the percent goes up to almost 50% when a person is so cold they are entering hypothermia. In other words, the colder you feel, the more important it is to protect your head and neck.

Footwear! The best footwear to bring will depend on the local conditions and weather. In most cases I recommend bring a pair of trail runners of the appropriate color for your wardrobe. In very cold locales, insulated boots are wonderful. Many of my urban oriented / fashion conscious friends seem to love Chelsea boots (Blundstones, LEMS, etc). In hot climates sandals are great. You should always bring one pair of shoes that you would be comfortable wearing for a whole day on your feet while walking several miles. If these shoes are not be appropriate for everywhere you want to go, then bring a second pair of shoes which would be appropriate. I typically wear Luna sandals, though sometimes I bring trail runners. If I need to be extra dressed up I will bring a pair of Vivobarefoot Gobi II ankle boots. There are a number of minimalist shoes which others find effective which include VivobarefootLems Shoes and Xeno Shoes. In many international locales you will want to have shower thongs (or use your sandals) when you take a shower or go into the bathroom since the floors can be nasty.

Thrifting Approach: Just bring underwear and buy clothing in your locations. If you love putting together outfits try Jessi Arrington approach: go thrifting, when the clothing, and then donate or sell the them to a thrift store.

Make-up, Toiletries, First Aid, and Safety

One of our companions on the China trip said to us “There is no way I could fit everything into a carry on bag, my make-up would nearly fill your bag, leaving room for little else. My response was that I understood that she wanted to look her best and this could be accomplished with less than she was carrying. My wife Jackie is often noticed by others (in a good way) due to her unique style, her great smile, and her enthusiasm for life. Her inner life shines out. In the Bible, I Peter 3 says “But let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious”. Jackie brings make-up: a foundation to keep her skin health (and protected from the sun), and eye liner, and a lipstick or two. It all fits into what used to be an eyeglass case. Most people over estimate what others notice, this is called the spotlight effect. Unless you have a very unusual condition or are a runway model, it is likely that only you, and maybe some overly critical women will noticed if you don’t have “perfect” make-up. From what I can tell, most men notice make-up less than women do.

All of my toiletries, first aid, and repair items can fit into a quart size Glad BigZip plastic bag.  In recent years I have switched to a small nylon bag to avoid creating plastic waste. I now use a 100sense body bar carried in a flatpak soap case which removes my need to bring “liquids”. Liquids normally need to be taken out of your bag when passing through security and must be in containers no larger than 3 oz.  In the past I have been able to reuse containers made for samples and items provided by hotels.  If you can’t find containers to reuse, you could buy some from easytraveler. Don’t take full-size items (normal size bar of soap or a tube of toothpaste), but use the travel/sample size, if not a smaller amount in an appropriately size container. Hint: try measuring the amount of toiletries you use for the duration of your trip when at home, and then pack that amount. For example, a full size (6.3oz) shampoo/body bar gets me through approximately 170 showers. In parts of the world, toilet paper is not common, nor are flush toilets. You might want to bring some toilet paper / wipes.

Dehydration can be an issue for travelers, especially when you are flying. Make sure you drink enough. Safe drinking water is extremely important. In some countries, the tap water is not safe to drink. These days the filters are small, easy to use, and extremely effective. Make sure whatever filter you get is able to remove or kill viruses. You should always have something to carry safe water in. I like the Platypus Water Bags because they are durable and collapse nearly flat and Zojirushi Double Walled Mug because it insulated better than any other double wall container I have tested and has a flawless design.

Pick-pockets are common in some locations, especially where travelers/tourists carry significantly more money than the average daily local wage. Naïve rich tourist (and that is how we are viewed most places) are often careless, and might have more than a month’s wages for the easy taking. Don’t be a victim. Carry your valuables in a travel wallet under your clothing. Note: the classic travel wallets don’t work well for all people. For example, short women who need to wear dresses might have problems finding security wallets which do not create an unsightly bulge not to mention being able to get to the wallet without undressing. I have found that the ankle security wallets work pretty well. There are also a number of the travel companies sell vests which are specifically designed for traveling. These vests have pockets inside which can be sealed against pickpockets. While some travel vests make you look like a foreign correspondent (lots of oversize pockets), there are a number of very fashionable vests which can add color to wardrobe and don’t make you stand out as a “tourist / photo-journalist”.

Flying with Children

Flying with infants is fairly strait forward. They tend to sleep alot. When they are awake play is easily done in the seat. You make sure they are drinking or sucking on something when the plane is taking off and landing to encourage their ears to equalize. Toddlers are a real challenge. They want to MOVE. Most have a short attention. Having an infant as a lap kids was no big deal. A toddler as a lap kid is typically an exercise in patiences and good humor. If you can afford to buy a seat for them, I would strongly encourage you doing that, especially if it a long flight. Whatever rules, practices etc you have at home… hold onto them loosely while flying. For example: no screen time, if a movie or iPad entertains them, take the win. Key is to recognize when your child’s attention span is at its limit and introduce some new activity. Things that worked for us, or we have seen work for others:

  • Age appropriate applications / videos
  • Reading a book… we would bring a couple of favorites and ideally a new book by the same author
  • Play dough
  • Vinyl sticker that can be placed and removed. I have seen parents use simple post-it notes or masking tape
  • Yummy Snacks!! Especially those they like but normally don’t give them
  • Games with small movements like patty cake
  • Observation games like “I spy”
  • Look at photo album of the people we are visiting
  • Finger puppets

An idea from others which makes good sense. Create a “gift bag” for the people in the seats around you. Use a zipper lock snack size bag filled with some combination of:

  • Pair of foam ear plugs.
  • chewing gum
  • chocolates
  • AND A note that says:

“Hello! My name is [child’s name]. I’m sitting [in Seat 4A if not on SWA] with my parents, [your names]. But this is my first flight ever. It’s all VERY new to me, and I don’t know how I’ll react. I’ll do my best, but I may be scared and anxious. My parents are going to do their best. This baggie isn’t much, but it’s a small gift to help with the flight. And — please stop by the say hi!”

The older they get, the easier travel will become. Someday they can take you on a trip. It’s only fair :).

For people without children. Have a bit of compassion and don’t let a fussy kid be an excuse for a bad mood. You can’t control the circumstances, but you can decide how you respond. At least be grateful that YOU aren’t having to care for a very unhappy child.

Extras

One of the best things you can bring back from your trip are pictures. Use your cell phone and/or bring a camera. Modern smart phones can now takes very respectable picture in daylight and acceptable picture when lighting is less than ideal. If you are on a trip focused on sporting events, wildlife, or night time activities I would strongly recommend bringing a camera with a high quality sensor and a lens with appropriate level of magnification. Take a look at the “How to Use a Point-and-Shoot” or read David Pogue’s Digital Photography: The Missing Manual before you go on your trip.

In the USA, especially in larger hotels, it is common to get clean linens every day. At a minimum you expect to have fresh linens when you get a room. All hotels are not like this, especially if you are far from mainstream tourist areas or in a budget hotel. Even if you don’t normally use pajamas, you might want something that you can sleep in. I know a number of people who bring a pair of silk pajamas because they feel nice and take up almost no room. Long underwear can double as pajamas if you need them to. Some people like using “sleeping sacks” (maybe treated with permethrin to reduce the risk of bedbugs). Having a clean pillowcase to lay your head on is also very nice.

Gift giving is common outside the US. You might want to bring some small gifts. Especially if someone makes you a home cooked meal or shows great hospitality. Handmade items are always appreciated. A small needlework, a drawing, a small bag or pouch decorated by hand. Postcards from your home town, chocolate, small pins, LED lights, small calculator, or a key chain with something nifty on it. A great way to delight small children is learn to make animals out of balloons.

Cell Phones: If you want to use your cell phone when traveling internationally there are several options. People on T-mobile or Google Fi just go. International roaming is very reasonable, though data speeds won’t be great. For everyone else you have four choices. (1) Get a local SIM.  Typically if you are in a country for 1 week or more, this is the most economical option plus data speeds with be significantly better then roaming. (2) Enable international roaming on your existing phone plan and pay large sums of money. Often >$10/day, $100/month (3) Use a service like Gigsky or Airalo which gets you an eSIM on the go (4) Switch your phone to WiFi only, and just use your device when there is WiFi present.

Noise Reduction: Planes and trains can be quite noisy. Noise is fatiguing so it’s good to cut it down. There are a number of companies such as Bose that make noise reducing headphones which use active sound cancelling to reduce noise. Sound isolating in the ear monitors are able to deliver higher quality sound and are able to block more sound that active sound cancelling systems. Check out Etymotic, Shure, and JH Audio.

Other Technology: Many people feel compelled to bring technology with them. Tablets, computers, gaming handsets, all sorts of electronic devices. There is nothing wrong with any of these objects. It is possible that each of them can enrich your journey. But before you pack your favorite electronic gear, ask yourself questions like Do I really want to bring this with me? What will happen if I don’t hear the latest news? Maybe I will relax more? Am I really going to use this laptop, or is it going to be a three pound weight around my neck? Make sure how you have a backup plan in case your electronic device gets broken or lost. I often need to do some work while traveling so that typically means I bring a work laptop with me, and possibly either a portable second screen or an iPad I use as a second screen via Sidecar.

Musical Instrument: Most people enjoy live music / singing together. There are portable guitars that are moderate size. A penny whistle, recorder, or harmonic can be fun. There are some modern electronic instruments which are compact as well as apps for smart phones.

Mindset

Let your trip be a growing experience… be willing to be pushed beyond your day to day comfort zone.  You might find books like The Art of Pilgrimage by Phil Cousineau & Huston Smith encouraging.

[The following text is copied from Eagle Creek Inc. “Responsible Travel” page published in the 1990s]

Travel can first and foremost be a learning experience. We learn about the culture and land we visit and we learn about ourselves. Traveling to remote and unusual places, far from the standard and well-traveled tourist destinations, can rekindle our adventure spirit and renew a sense of perspective in our daily lives. 

Such places are often very sensitive to outside disruption and exist in a delicate cultural or environmental balance. As travelers, each of us holds a responsibility to protect this balance. Eagle Creek offers the following suggestions for all of us: 

Understand and Observe Local Customs: Acquaint yourself with the culture and customs of the lands you visit and respect them. Other cultures may take offense to certain innocent and unassuming gestures. For, in some societies people do not wish to be photographed without their permission.

Support the Local Economy: Stay in locally owned establishments. It gives you better cultural exposure to the region and it is of direct economic benefit to the community. Avoid chain hotels, which often channel profits out of the region or country. Eat the local cuisine. Why waste your taste buds on totally familiar foods you have at home and are not indigenous to the area. Enjoy the provincial fare which supports the local eateries, growers, fishermen, wineries, etc. Buy local crafts. Avoid souvenirs mass produced in Chinese or Korean factories. Your purchases should support local artisans and help perpetuate their traditions, crafts and culture.

Be Patient and Positive: Remember that travel means strange languages and unfamiliar surroundings. Expect the unexpected. Try not to get frustrated and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Courtesy is usually responded to with kindness. Delays, detours, and other inconveniences will occur. Be patient, be positive, and remember to smile!

Before You Go

Find someone who will take care of your residence. You will want someone to pick up your mail (or have the post office hold your mail), water your plants, feed your pets, etc.

Pay all your bills before you leave. If important bills are likely to arrive after you leave, but come due before you get back, leave checks with the person taking care of your mail which have been filled out with as much information as possible and leave pre-addressed stamped envelopes.

Take care of any medical issues. Make an appointment to see your doctor at least three months before you leave. Discuss any health issues that you have been putting off dealing with, and find get whatever vaccinations you need. Likewise, make appointments with other medical practitioner such as your dentist or optometrist if you haven’t seen them recently. As long as you are taking care of yourself, go get your hair cut.

Learn the basics of the common dialect / language. I like Pimsleur and duolingo.

If you don’t have a passport and valid visa, start the paperwork. Passports used to take six-eight weeks to be processed which can grow to a number of months. Visa will often take a number of weeks. If you are unable to get a passport fast enough for your trip, contact you US congressman’s office since they can often speed up the process. There are a number of organizations that expedite visa if you are short of time. Make sure you leave someone with important documents such as your will, health information, copies of your passport and visa.

Pick up some local currency from your bank before you go. Many places will have a variety of business that don’t take credit cards. It’s good to have a modest supply of money as you arrive. For many currencies, banks often require an order to be placed a week in advance.

Example Packing List

The following was my packing list in early 2023. Items “*” are optional. For a more complete description of these items see my yearly gear for life list. I used a much simpler packing list from when I walked the Frances Camino Santiago. If a trip includes camping as well as travel in cities, my packing list will be based on my backpacking list.

Luggage

  • gossamer gear vagabond
  • osprey 20l drybag*

Pockets/Wear

  • hanchor wallet w/ cards, cash
  • iphone 12 mini t-mobile for international roaming
  • victorinox rambler / swiss-tech util-key if flying
  • uniball vision elite .5mm pen – doesn’t leak!
  • garmin 955 gps watch
  • n95 masks
  • tickets* – if not on my phone
  • passport* – if needed

Daily Life

  • zojirushi travel mug
  • apple airpod pro
  • edc electronics pouch: 3 usb-c cables, anker 523 usb charger, nitecore 10k battery, usb adaptors
  • nitecore nu20 headlamp with strap replaced with shock cords
  • 6ft tape measure
  • sleep mask

Core Clothing (Wear or Carry)

  • luna sandals – preferred when sandals acceptable
  • inov-8 ultrafly270* – rough terrain or close shoes required
  • xoskin anklet toe socks (2)
  • tommy john travel briefs (1), icebreaker anatomica briefs (1)
  • western rise evolution pants and
    • outlier slim dungarees – if many days <72f
    • new way shorts – if many day >=72f
  • icebreaker anatomica merino tee-shirts
  • arcteryx cormac hoodie
  • western rise limitless button down shirt
  • macpac alpha direct hoody – if temps <55F
  • montbell dry peak shakedry shell
  • montbell umbrero hat – for sun & rain
  • zpacks rain pants* – extended time outdoors in cool & wet

Toiletries/Health

  • rei micro toiletry bag
  • toothbrush
  • reach floss
  • razor
  • folding brush
  • nail clipper
  • mini first aid kit with superglue
  • toothpaste (dawn mist .6oz perfect size for shorter trips)
  • 100sense body bar in matador flatpak soap bag
  • extra n95 masks

High Intensity Exercise?

  • heart rate strap
  • xoskin compression shorts
  • xenith polartec delta shirt*
  • visor*

Beach? – Items to be added if a lot of time will be spent at beach

  • board shorts
  • rashguard long sleeve shirt (UPF 50 when wet)
  • matador pocket blanket
  • snorkling?
    • neoprene socks* – avoid heel blisters
    • vision correcting swim mask*

Blazer Required? (these days black trailrunners, slacks, and button shirt get men into most places, so only needed for special occasions)

  • vivobarefoot gobi II ankle boots
  • bluffworks hopsack sport jacket

Cold? – Items to be added if spending extended time outdoors temps below freezing

  • montbell plasma 1000 down vest
  • polar buff
  • fleece gloves and/or rain mittens*
  • swap cormac hoody for minus33 turtleneck*
  • darn tough light cushion crew socks* (2)
  • patagonia micro puff hoody jacket*

Extras

  • macbook 12”*
  • macbook pro 14”* – when traveling by car
  • etymotic hf3* – extended flight noise reduction
  • platypus water bottle* – if longer hikes without water
  • water purifier* – if hiking where water is available but of questionable drinkability
  • immersion water heater* – if staying place without microwave, coffee maker, or stove
  • folding foon*
  • ultralight body size packtowel*
  • mld sleep sack + alpha direct 120gsm “blanket”* – staying in minimalist hostels
  • clothing line*
  • international power adapter*
  • binoculars*
  • gifts (handmade is nice)*

Aquire Locally

  • sun screen
  • aloe
  • insect repellent
  • snacks

lighterpack version

Interesting Packing Lists

I find packing lists of people who are “digital nomads” or engaged in infinite / perpetual / permanent travel quite interesting. The following are a few that I found particularly noteworthy:

Resources

My Travel Resources:  My other travel links. URL: https://verber.com/travel/

How to See the World on $25 a Day or Less: A wonder web site by John Gregory which suggests meeting people is the best part of traveling. Last update 2009. URL: https://web.archive.org/web/20220314025517/https://www.artoftravel.com/

Footloose and Fancy-Free in the Third World:  Great tips on adventure travel, especially in the 3rd world by Randy Johnson.  Last updated in 2011. URL: https://web.archive.org/web/20110527055428/http://www.ease.com/~randyj/rjfootls.htm

Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel by Rolf Potts. Good advise for extended travel across the world. URL: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B000FBFMKM/

Solo Guide: A simple site with around 180 brief city guides and some good recommendations on gear and packing. URL: http://sologuides.com

Joshua Project: Web site about distinct peoples (ethnic) groups of the world. List comes from a Christian perspective, but interesting to anyone wanting to discover different cultural groups. URL: http://www.joshuaproject.net/

Leo Babauta has written a lot about a minimalist lifestyle which includes thoughts about traveling. URL: https://zenhabits.net

How to Pack in Just a Carry-On: The thought process of trimming down what you bring from a minimalist perspective. URL: https://www.becomingminimalist.com/how-to-pack-in-just-a-carry-on/

Rick Steves’ Travel Tips:  Great recommendations, mostly focused on light weight travel in Europe.  URL:
http://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips. Also he has a 45 minute video about packing light

The Compleat Carry-On Traveler: What to Take, What To Take It In, How to Pack It. by Doug Dyment. My packing list was influenced by Doug’s. URL: http://www.onebag.com

Travel Independent’s What to Pack. Good write-up which is very similar, but has a prettier layout than this page. http://www.travelindependent.info/what-to-pack-travel.htm

Sierra Trading Post: Mail order catalog which has quality outdoor gear at 30-70% retail prices. URL: https://www.sierra.com

Magellan’s: Mail order catalog which has every imaginable travel gadget. Some of them are even useful. URL: https://www.magellans.com/

REI: The classic mail order catalog for backpackers and other outdoor enthusiasts. URL: https://www.rei.com

A major part of travel is to leave stuff behind. The more you leave behind the further you will advance…

Your enjoyment of travel is inversely proportional to the size of your luggage. This is 100% true of backpacking. It is liberating to realize how little you really need.

From Excellent Advise for Living – Kevin Kelly

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *