Ultra-Light Packing Guide for Any Trip

Category: Travel Tips
Date Posted: 2013-08-01

You know what's annoying? Garbage. You know what's even more annoying? Lots of garbage. That you have to carry around all day. My first time backpacking taught me the rather immediate lesson that less is more. My scrawny shoulders and inadequate athletic capability were no match for my thoroughly overpacked 55 liter rucksack, which I ended up never unpacking anyway because I was too lazy to get to whatever was at the bottom of the pack. "Damn, I'm only using...like...30% of the gear," I thought, a twinkle in my eye. "What if I just ditch the other 70%?" And thus the dream was born. Since then I've gone smaller and smaller, culminating in a 9-month trip through winter and summer, cities and villages, mountains and forests, with nothing but a 20-liter daypack that fit into the overhead compartment on the plane. It was a svelte and sensuous pleasure dealing with such simplicity, and I'll never go back to the overloaded "just in case" mentality of previous international hurrahs.

It's like one of those before and after weight loss photos.

Will it work for you? Maybe. But then again, you don't have to go this light. In fact if you just go half as light as I did, you'll hit the 45 liter sweet spot that allows you to bring your bag onto the plane as a carryon. That's a good target, and reasonable for anyone. Here's what to do:


How many outfits?

The super amazing secret to ultralight travel is to bring enough clothes for a week, and do laundry once a week. That's it. Don't worry, I'm not charging for this session. You probably know how to dress yourself, so I won't go into too much detail. 5-7 tops and bottoms of your choice, tailored to the climate, plus underwear, socks, a light sweater, and a jacket. Just make sure to bring versatile pieces that are stylish and comfortable, all of which match everything else, so you can bring fewer things.

This is what 4 sets of clothes look like. You can bring more, but this is usually plenty.

Ideally you should bring clothes that can handle a hike and look good doing it, but annoyingly, hiking clothing is rarely stylish. It's fine to bring a hiking outfit and a classy outfit, but aim for each being casual enough to handle a "regular" day, too. I'd recommend bringing 2 quick-drying, sink-washable outfits, in case you get stuck somewhere without laundry. In fact you could travel only with this setup, but we'll hold off on the advanced curriculum for now.


Puffy coats are your best friend.

What if it's cold?

This one's easy. Devilishly so. You know those puffy jackets? Not only are they lighter and more packable than fleece or other warm coats, but they're usually slippery enough to stuff into nooks and crannies that were just going to be air pockets anyway. Combine it with a light sweater (which is good to have year-round anyway), and you can go play in the snow. Add some long underwear, a hat, gloves, and a scarf, none of which take up much room, and you're done. Traveling in the winter shouldn't expand the pack more than a little bit, especially if you're heading straight into winter and you'll be wearing everything anyway.


What about my feet?

Shoes are the worst. That's why you shouldn't pack more than one. Yup, I said one. Instead of bringing hiking boots, tennis shoes, and dressy shoes, guys can just bring one simple pair of leather shoes. As long as they're not awful, they'll handle a hike. As long as they're not ugly, they'll handle a night out.

Okay, so they've seen better days, but just find something like this that isn't so disheveled and you'll do just fine.

Ladies will have some trouble with this one, since they don't seem to have anything as versatile, but you can easily get away with one pair of walking shoes, and one pair of evening shoes, which are pretty small anyway. Add flip flops or sandals, too.


I bring lots of little things. You can bring lots of things, as long as they're little.

What if I get dirty?

Toiletries are a good place to cut weight, as you can board the plane with mini bottles, and pick up a new bottle of shampoo when you need it. You'll probably find yourself in a store at some point anyway, so think about the time you'll save skipping the bag check and baggage claim, compared to the time it'll take to buy a new tube of toothpaste. Mini bottles win. Travel towels are tiny. I mean really tiny. Get a travel towel. And bring a sarong if you want to lie on a beach. They're more packable than regular towels.


What about Angry Birds?

Technology is something of a sticking point. Back when I first started traveling, finding public Wi-Fi might as well have been a yeti hunt. Nowadays it's everywhere, and laptops are tiny. Besides, you might need one for work. So okay. It might be worthwhile to consider a tablet or netbook, since they might be enough for you, and tablets double as book readers, saving even more weight. You can also skip the external hard drive if you take photos at lower megapixel settings. Your computer only ever bothers display 1 or 2 anyway. But again, these suggestions will depend on your needs. Just remember that internet cafés are fairly common, and you might only need a computer occasionally. I won't say it's the right way for you, but it's worth considering.


Really? That's it?

Yup. Several outfits, some cold-weather gear, versatile footwear, mini bottles, and whatever technological marvels you desire. Life is an adventure, not a freight haul. Have as much fun as you can!


About the Author:

Eytan Levy is a pretentious English major who can't get enough of traveling around the world, and discovering the sort of unexpected cultural differences that help people rethink what it means to be normal. You can find more of his work on 20literadventure.com and follow him on FacebookTwitter and Google+.