How to Travel Light: What’s in My Backpack?

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Camel Driver

I used to think that packing five novels, a flashlight, two bottles of deodorant, and a pillow would come in handy when I’m on the road. Now I would call it madness.

I’ve been using my current travel checklist religiously as a blueprint for the past three years, and I’ve never had the need to add anything to it. Don’t let the length of your journey hold you back; I battle-tested this checklist when I was traveling in Europe for two months and every subsequent trip (each spanning over at least three weeks), and it has never given me any problems—quite the contrary.

Here, take a look. I’ve bolded the items that should be worn on your person.

Essentials

  • phone
  • phone charger
  • power adaptor (if necessary)
  • earbuds
  • wallet
  • passport
  • flight tickets
  • travel insurance card
  • hostel reservation printouts
  • mini towel (MSR PackTowl, read below)
  • 5 pairs of underwear
  • 5 T-shirts
  • 5 pairs of socks
  • 5 long-sleeves
  • jeans
  • sneakers
  • toothbrush
  • toothpaste

Since the bolded items are already worn, we’re pretty much just left with additional clothes, and some toiletries. These should go into your backpack—your only piece of luggage. Lugging an additional suitcase with 40 pounds of unnecessary clutter will only make your journey cumbersome. So just stick with one convenient bag that you can use everyday (the contents can stay in your room). You can always ship off any bigger souvenirs you happen to purchase.

You can also choose to buy a toothbrush and toothpaste at your destination, but I personally prefer to have everything I need so that I can comfortably wash up and go to bed anytime upon reaching my destination. Trust me, you should at least have a toothbrush and some toothpaste with you, because the last thing you’ll want to do is wander around looking for a convenience store while trying to look for your hostel at 2 AM (which happened to me in Seoul where convenience stores are supposed to exist on every corner).

What you might want to buy at your destination later are nail clippers, razors, sunblock, and skin cream. (Note: Nail clippers and razors aren’t allowed in your carry-on luggage.)

Be sure to keep a copy of your passport and other travel documents in your email for backup.

I usually pack my additional clothes (apart from the ones I’m already wearing) in sets of five. Having a limited supply of underwear and socks forces you to do the laundry at regular intervals, which prevents dirty clothes from piling up. It doesn’t take up that much of your time in the end anyway. You can easily handwash your underwear and socks in the sink, and take the shirts to the laundromat every three days or so.

When I travel, I’m usually fine with just a single pair of jeans. But if I happen to be traveling in summer or in a hot climate, I’ll want to pack an additional pair of sweatpants or shorts. And the same applies to colder countries as well: jackets, gloves, and hats are a must if the average temperature falls below 15 grados centígrados (59 F).

Finally, the towel that I use in my travels deserves a paragraph of its own. Thanks to Tim Ferriss’s video on traveling light, I came across a very compact and travel-optimized towel called the MSR PackTowl. This rather inexpensive piece of travel gear is crafted from a polyester/nylon microfiber blend and is designed for fast drying. It’s ultra-thin, dries up extremely fast (it took about three hours to dry in Hong Kong, where the air can be humid as hell), and efficiently absorbs water. I highly recommend it.

Enjoy your journeys, and let your mind be free of material possessions! :) Got more tips? Please leave them in the comments below.

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