Article by Pier-André Doyon
At YPT, you might say that our backpack is our home. When you’re constantly in the train, bus or plane, you get the feeling that home is wherever your bag is for the day. As such, turning your luggage and travel gear into help rather than a nuisance is a necessity when it comes to long-term travelling. As in many things, less is more when it comes to packing your luggage and we can guarantee that you won’t regret following these tips.
But why should you pack light?
First, packing light allows you to quickly jump on any sort of transportation. Be it a crazy matatu in Africa or the increasing stingy budget airlines, travelling with only a carry-on luggage will save you both time and money as you avoid wasting time checking-in or having to pay luggage fees.
Travelling light also allows you to change itineraries or adapt at a moment’s notice. Picture this: your bus is late and you get into Kigali late in the afternoon. You really wanted to see the genocide memorial but it closes at 4 pm and tomorrow you’ve got to catch an early bus. If you’re carrying a heavy suitcase, you’ve got to go to the hotel to put it somewhere safe. If all you’ve got is a light backpack, you can head first to the memorial then check in, allowing you to do everything.
No matter how long or where you’re heading out, you should be able to pack under 7kg, which would allow you to board any budget plane.
If you don’t need it, ditch it
When people travel, they often pack as if the end of the time was a’coming. Truth is, the only things you actually truly need to travel abroad are: your passport, a way to get money (usually credit or debit cards) and something to avoid getting jailed for public indecency. The rest can be seen as luxury. Exception is any medication you might need, but even then, those things usually weigh next to nothing. The rest is all luxury. Seeing it in this way, you’ll figure out that whatever other things you bring are, in fact, only augmenting your comfort.
Myself, I go with the rule of three. Three shirts, three pairs of trousers (2 long, 1 short in hot weather, 3 long in cold weather), three pairs of socks, three pairs of underwear. And then, the rest depends on the weather of the places I’m visiting; a snow jacket (wear it, don’t pack it) or a swimsuit, boots or flip-flops.
PS: Bringing a hair dryer is outrageous.
If you can buy it there, buy it there
If you’re not going camping in Antarctica, chances are there’ll be shops where you are going. You don’t need to actually prepare for every single eventuality as you’ll be able to buy stuff on arrival.
This apply for trips covering many kind of weather, if you’re first visiting the Danakil Depression then heading to Siberia, you don’t need to bring a jacket from day one. You can probably buy it when leaving for Siberia, allowing you to reduce the clutter.
This is especially true for liquids. Most airlines only allow you to bring small bottles of 100ml of liquid. If you need shampoo, toothpaste and so on and can’t rely on the small bottles hotels will give you, buy it on arrival so that you can keep your bag with you. Bring an empty water bottle (even better, a water bag) and fill it past the security check. You probably don’t need your whole kit of makeup either; bring a few dry things if you feel you really can’t go makeup-free for your trip.
Wash often, carry less
If you pack less, you won’t have much clothes to wear. That doesn’t matter since, as long as you can find a sink and soap, you can wash your clothes anywhere. Washing every two days or so will only take a few minutes each times and your clothes will dry fast, provided that you follow the next tip.
Buy smart, buy less
Since you’re not investing in quantity, you can invest in quality.
The first thing you should do, is buy merino wool clothes. Socks, underwear, shirts – everything I wear on a trip is merino. These clothes are super comfortable, anti-bacterial (won’t stink if you need to wear them a couple days), breathing and weigh next to nothing. Finally, they dry in no time. You can look up the brands Underarmor, Quechua and Icebreaker, to name only a few.
Buy a set of clothes which will be your travelling set. You can buy clothes which are specially designed for trips. If you are in China, Decathlon on Taobao is your best friend. Often these clothes are specially made to dry fast and have loads of pockets. Which brings us to our next point.
Be careful here; it is easy to fall in the trap of buying lots of travelling gadgets. What you’re aiming for really is to buy a few essential and well-designed extras (inflatable pillow, power adapter, eye mask, collapsible water bottle), along with heavy duty and multifunctional clothing.
Every trip is an opportunity to test and adjust your gear. Keep what you like, ditch what you don’t until you’ve finely tuned a set of gear which will always be ready for you to jump on your next adventure!
Use your clothes
Buy clothes with loads of pockets and establish a system of where you put your things. I always put my wallet in the same pocket, my small change in a breast pocket and my passport in another pocket. Some jackets, such as the Baubax Jacket, contain loads of pockets and really cool functions such as incorporated gloves, eye mask, neck pillow and so on.
By having loads of pockets and a system to use them, you’re killing two birds with one stone. First, you’ll reduce the space you need in your bags. Second, awareness of your valuables will become second nature. If you forget something, it will feel off right away.
Sorry, but books are a thing of the past
Books are great, don’t get me wrong. But they are bulky and heavy. If you love reading, think about investing in a kindle or another kind of e-reader. With that, a good smartphone and a lightweight laptop (the last one can easily be ditched) all your digital and literary needs should be covered. Make sure to bring a travel adapter and the cables you might need.
In less technologically developed countries, however, think about printing important documents (tours confirmation, plane tickets, bookings, receipts, copies of passport and visas) and organising it neatly in a folder. This should take next to no space and fit well in your bag without weighing too much.
The choice of bag is important. Ideally, you want a bag that has different compartments, is waterproof, can be locked with padlocks and can be opened like a suitcase to go through security check or find your stuff swiftly. A suitcase-shaped bag that can by carried on your back is the best, since it allows important documents to lie flat while still keeping your hands free. You don’t want a big bag; aim for no more than 40L unless you’re going camping.
The way you pack your things matters too. Try rolling things neatly, as it takes less space and avoids wrinkles. If you’re bringing bulky things such as a jacket, think about investing in vacuum bags. They allow your clothes to be compressed and take a fraction of the space.
If you follow all these tips, I can guarantee you that you’ll enjoy your travels much more as you’ll feel light and free anywhere you go while feeling much more organised than those who painfully carry a complete bazaar in their suitcase.
Pier-André Doyon works as an international travel guide for YPT. Scuba diving, language and Maoist karaoke aficionado, Pier is travelling around hoping to create stories in all 193 countries of the world.