Image: Ali with her 40L backpack
Like so many travelers, I am plagued with dozens of “what if” scenarios that run through my mind before a trip. What if it gets unseasonably cold? What if I need something nice to wear? What if I spill something on my clothes? What if I run out of shampoo? As a result, I have often left for a trip with a bag jam-packed with tons of stuff I never used. All that extra stuff took up space and added weight to my back, and I finally had to reevaluate my packing situation.
So how did I downsize my luggage to a 40L REI Lookout?
Cut back on clothing
Clothes aren’t typically the heaviest things in your bag, but for me they’re some of the easiest to eliminate. You don’t need two weeks worth of clothes just because that’s how long your trip is. You can do laundry anywhere, and no one cares if you wear the same shirt three times.
- Going someplace warm? Pack a few T-shirts, a couple pairs of shorts, a bathing suit, and maybe one pair of pants and a jacket for cold airplanes and buses.
- Is a cold destination in the plans? Replace those shorts with pants and layer the T-shirts with long sleeve shirts and sweaters. But remember, you only need a few. Pack enough for five days to a week and you should be fine.
The determining factor for me is underwear. I will wear the same shirt multiple times if I have to, but when the underwear runs out, I need to do laundry. Decide how often you’re willing to do laundry, or if you’re ok with washing a few pairs of quick-dry underwear in the sink, and that’s how many you need to bring.
Say no to those “what ifs”
Sometimes it’s hard to ignore those fears when you’re packing. Suddenly you find yourself packing a big wool sweater for your trip to Thailand, five nice dresses for a one week trip, or a four month supply of shampoo. Those “what ifs” are adding unnecessary weight to your bag.
Only pack clothing that is appropriate for your destination. If you do want a nicer outfit, just pack one. Even if you want to get dressed up twice, you can wear that cute dress again. Or bring casual clothes that can be dressed up with a scarf or some earrings.
Toiletries can be replaced. If you’re backpacking around the world, buy more shampoo or contact solution when you run out. There’s no need to pack enough to last your entire trip. Remember that people in other parts of the world use these things too, so you will find what you need abroad.
Look back at past trips
Unless this is your very first trip, you can probably think back to what you packed on previous trips.
- Did you wear everything you brought with you?
- Did you pack too many pairs of shoes?
- Was that bulky beach towel worth it?
- What other items did you frantically shove in your bag that you never ended up using?
Use those past trips as guides to your upcoming trip. Remembering what you packed and didn’t need will help remind you to leave it at home next time. If you’re not quite ready to buy that smaller bag yet, pack as if you have less room to work with. This will help reduce the amount you carry and show you that you really can manage with a smaller bag.
The luggage downsizing continues
Now that I’ve started downsizing, it’s become a bit of an addiction. How low can I go? Can I eliminate even more stuff and further reduce the weight on my back? For me, downsizing my luggage has been a slow process, and I continue to cut back. On a seven week trip through Europe this summer, I left my normal daypack at home and just brought a purse. I also had a stuffable bag from REI that I could pull out when I needed a daypack.
Next up is a seven week trip in Southeast Asia when my husband and I are planning on using my old 50L backpack for both of us, plus our daypacks. It’ll be tough and I still fight against those “what ifs” but I’m confident that reducing the amount of stuff we pack is a good thing. It means less weight to carry around, less stuff to worry about losing, and a better chance of staying within the carry-on size limits.
But mostly I just like the feeling of freedom that comes with a smaller backpack and less stuff.
About the Author: Ali Garland encourages people to travel, shows them how to plan trips, and helps them overcome their travel-related fears on her site Travel Made Simple. She has been traveling for almost 20 years and made it to all 7 continents before her 30th birthday. She and her husband are expats in Germany. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Ali writes about her personal travels at Ali’s Adventures.