Congrats, you’re getting out there and it’s time to pack your life into a bag! Whether it’s a summer backpacking Europe, two months in Bali, one week in Mexico, or a weekend in San Francisco, there is one thing that I have learned about the optimal pack job:
Keep it simple. And then take out half. Before my first long trip, I had this strange perception that the rest of the world did not have stores or necessary items. I packed everything in two big rolly-bags like the absolute newb that I was. Obviously if you are going to an extremely remote area you should plan accordingly, but even tiny towns have the essentials. You will want to have room to pick up unique pieces along your way..because Thailand pants are more fun than yours!
A great backpack is a great investment. My backpack’s name is Blue and we became one during our time in Europe..love that guy. Unlike rolly-bags you don’t have to drag it on ancient cobblestone streets, carry it through dirty uneven roads or feel lopsided with a big sloppy bag on your shoulder. They keep your hands free and make it so much easier to get around! Try to find one with a waist strap—it transfers most of the weight to your hips which is clutch for long walks and staircases. Blue is the perfect size to *just* fit inside European budget airline size requirements – which is amazing. It is a 58liter pack from REI, so I can confidently recommend that size. Here’s the link for the one I have so you can find something similar! If not, remember that carry on size limits for budget airlines are generally smaller than on domestic US flights.
I reckon that you will want to document your travels. What kind of camera should you get? It depends on your experience with cameras and your lifestyle. So unlike me, be honest with yourself. I got all starry eyed about becoming a pro photographer the week before leaving to backpack Europe and proceeded to purchase a big DSLR Cannon 60D and a nice lens. I ended up hardly using it because A. I really didn’t know how(haha)–it’s more complicated than I thought, B. It was so big it wasn’t fun to lug around and C. I felt like I constantly had to babysit it (not leave it on the beach while swimming, not take it on dirty dusty or water adventures). So, I ended up just using my GoPro Hero4 Silver alongside my good old fashioned iPhone6. Pros of a GoPro include: It can accompany you on any adventure! It’s waterproof, small, durable, and you can kind of fling it around, drop it and be a little more reckless. It’s great for underwater shots. And to top it off, the photo quality is amazing. For these reasons, it works perfectly with my style of traveling! After selling my DSLR, I researched a quality camera that would work better for traveling and was easier to manage. I chose an Olympus Pen E-PL7 because I love the old school look of it, the smaller size, and quality. Figure out what works for you and throw it in your bag!
1. Bring clothing that can have multiple uses. For example, I always have some sort of flannel/button up long sleeved top. They double as a light sweater when you’re chilly, and tie on your hips when you’re warm. Sarongs are so awesome –it can be a towel, beach blanket, skirt, shirt, scarf, and window cover.
2. Keep things mostly neutral so you don’t have to worry about clashing. Trust me, when you have a bag of clothes and are due for a laundry run, you’ll be glad you can just grab any top and bottom.
3. This mostly applies to ladies, but I end up wearing rompers and dresses a lot because you only have to grab one item out of your bag. Sounds lazy but hey, sometimes you’d just rather make one decision than two.
4. I would bring one pair of boots(I do combats), one pair of good quality walking sandals (Hi Birks!), and a pair of hiking/running shoes! Heels are SO silly in the vast majority of situations.
5. Bathing suits/undies are best in a separate small mesh bag
6. Bring a garbage bag to separate dirty clothes. Try your hand at washing/hanging your own clothes!
7. Hang your shoes from the outside of your backpack to save room and keep your clothes inside clean. Roll your clothes instead of fold, it saves room!
If possible, avoid bringing super valuable items. However, you will likely have a phone, cameras, maybe a laptop etc. Do not put valuable things on the outside, easily accessible pockets of your bag. I suggest getting a smaller backpack, putting your valuables in that, and wearing it on your front so it’s always within view.
You will save money if you’re able to make travel sized toiletries work and avoid checking your bag. Keeping it carry on is also a great way to avoid an airline losing your bag, which is a total disaster if your whole life is in it and you’re on the move. Once you’re out of travel sized shampoo/lotion and such—don’t panic! You can just grab more at a convenience store. Promise. Find a small organizer for your toiletries to put in your backpack to keep it under control in there.
Long Flight Survival Kit
The personal, smaller bag you keep at your feet should include your valuable items and:
- Music/Podcasts accessible in airplane mode
- Pen for immigration forms
- An eye blind and foam earplugs
- Portable phone charger
- International outlet adapter
- Ibuprofen/personal meds
- Wallet and Passport
- Chapstick and small lotion
- Face Wipes
- Extra small toothbush/paste
- Neck pillow
- Warm socks (my toes are always freezing on flights)
The lighter the bag the happier the traveler. It’s hard to keep a pep in your step when you’re weighed down! You will amazed by how liberating it is to live with minimal belongings. So when in doubt, take it out.