How to Pack Lightly for a Backpacking Trip

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Packing lightly for long (and short) trips is a fine art, one that has taken me a long time to learn, and one that I am still perfecting! I was 18 when I went on my first solo overseas adventure, and knew that I would be on the road for the next six months. So what did I take with me? Just about everything except the kitchen sink! Luckily, I had family in Berlin who would serve as my ‘home base’ while I was away, so I was able to shed a few kilos of luggage early on, after quickly learning how much easier life would be without them.

Five years later, I am now a much more cutthroat packer. My shoulders and arms thank me for it and yours will too. Following the tips below will help you avoid making the same mistakes that I did!

If you haven’t worn it in the last month, it’s not coming with you!

This rule has a few exceptions, of course. But in terms of clothing, if you haven’t worn that t-shirt in the last month, the chance that you are going to want to wear it on your trip is very slim. You might think “but what if the occasion arises”. Trust me, it won’t. If you haven’t worn it in the last month, it’s not coming with you. Simple as that.

I mentioned that there are exceptions, though. This includes seasonal items that you may not have needed recently, such as a rain jacket or polar fleece.

Avoid unnecessary bulky items

I have met many travelers who have taken sleeping bags with them. My advice to you, however, is to avoid taking a sleeping bag, unless you are absolutely certain that you will be camping. 99% of hostels and backpackers will provide sheets, or at least give you the option to rent them. In the few rare instances in which a sleeping bag would be useful, you can always make do with other items, such as a sweatshirt or a scarf. The same goes for pillows or large beach towels. Most of the time you won’t need them. If you do, there will always be other items in your luggage, which you can use as an alternative.

Avoid heavy items

This includes items such as heavy shoes, books, electronics or paper. Don’t make the mistake of carrying multiple books with you. I know having reading material is great for killing time on long journeys, but try loading some books onto a kindle if you have one, or choose one book to take. After you’ve read it, do a swap with another traveler or leave it at the backpackers for someone else to enjoy. The same goes for other electronics, and paper. I tend to print off all important documents and tickets that need to be printed, and have the others ready to present on my smartphone. I also avoid carrying a laptop, because it is both heavy and valuable, and you’ll spend half your time worrying whether you’ve locked it away safely or not.

Limit the footwear

Similar to the point above, shoes can add unnecessary bulk and weight, and lets face it, you can do without the luxury of having a massive shoe choice for a while. When traveling, trust me, no one cares if you have your favourite heels on when you hit the bars or not. Pack footwear which is light and versatile. For shorter trips, I tend to pack a pair of flip flops, my favourite converse sneakers, and if I really know I’ll be doing a lot of hiking or walking, a pair of lightweight trainers. That’s it.

Limit the liquids

When you are at your home base, having a variety of shampoos and products at the ready is a luxury. Traveling is not the time to be high maintenance in your appearance! Take the essentials, the things you need to feel clean and comfortably presented. I promise, no one is going to judge you for not having perfectly styled hair or a full face of make up when you are on the road. Personally, I tend to pack small bottles of shampoo and conditioner, sun block, moisturiser and foundation (in case I am feeling like I need a little extra coverage one day!). But everyone is different, so pack what you need to feel comfortable and confident without overdoing it.

Pack versatile items

We saw this already with the shoes example. This advice can be extended, however, to include clothing and other items. For instance, one of my favourite items to pack is a pashmina or similar type of scarf. They function as scarves, blankets and pillows, or to cover your head or knees when visiting temples, churches or mosques. Pack a cardigan that you can wear with any dress or outfit. Pack shorts that you can pair with any t-shirt, or wear for hiking. Pack dresses which can be worn in winter with tights, or in summer without. Avoid packing items which can only be worn in a particular way, for a particular type of event, in a particular type of weather.

Hopefully these tips will help you decide what passes the test and comes with you on your trip. And remember; if in doubt, leave it out! Happy packing 🙂

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