Downsizing Stories: Life After Overpacking

downsizing stories

If you’re thinking about downsizing your backpack, just do it. Your back will thank you.

Caroline Eubanks

Most of us who travel carry-on only have a luggage downsizing story. We didn’t just magically know how to pack light, or even that we should. But over time we realized carrying a heavy bag around wasn’t worth the effort. We made changes, packed fewer things, switched to smaller backpacks and suitcases, and we are happier travelers for it.

Why Caroline downsized her beloved backpack

Caroline wearing her 65L Kelty backpack (left) that she eventually replaced with the 36L Osprey (right).
Caroline wearing her 65L Kelty backpack (left) that she eventually replaced with the 36L Osprey (right).

BEFORE: When Caroline set off for her working holiday in Australia, she packed her Kelty Arch 65L backpack to the brim. She packed all sorts of things she never used, including a year’s worth of toothpaste. Later she remembered, Australia has stores too. She could purchase things there instead of weighing herself down with unnecessary items.

AFTER: Eventually the bag became too much of a burden. Things got lost at the bottom, it didn’t fit in some hostel lockers, and it was causing her back pain. Caroline made the decision to replace her lovely purple 65L backpack with a more practical 36L Osprey Sirrus (affiliate link).

>>Read more about why Caroline downsized her backpack.

How downsizing my luggage was a great decision

REI Trail 40L backpack - downsize your luggage
Ali with her REI Trail 40 backpack

BEFORE: I’m a worrier by nature. This used to bleed over into my packing style and caused me to pack all sorts of things just in case. But I never did need those extra items, and the big bag was just weighing me down. I finally decided to try traveling with less.

AFTER: I cut back on the amount of clothing I packed because you can do laundry in other places, and no one cares if you wear the same shirt 2 or 3 times. I started limiting my liquids to 3.4 ounces/100ml to comply with carry-on allowances and avoid checking luggage. I used past experience to determine which items could be left out of my backpack, and eventually I went from a suitcase I could fit inside of to a REI Trail 40L backpack.

>>Read more about my decision to downsize my luggage.

Why Georgina is glad she travels with 40L

Why I Travel with Just 40L
Georgina and her Eurohike 40L backpack.

BEFORE: Georgina remembered traveling in Sydney with a huge 70L backpack. It was heavy and unwieldy, and it magnified her stress as she tried to find the right bus stop. She also remembered desperately throwing it to the ground and sitting on it when she got frustrated.

AFTER: Now she travels with just 9 kilograms in a 40L backpack. She’s much more calm when she’s orienting herself with a new city because she isn’t weighed down by a heavy bag. She can walk around for long periods of time without getting worn out or sore from her backpack. Less stuff equals less stress for Georgina.

>>Read more about why Georgina travels with just 40L and thinks you should too.

Laura’s before and after downsizing stories

Laura Bronner and her 80L backpack suited up - downsize your luggage
Laura before: in desperate need of some luggage downsizing

BEFORE: Laura packed up her 80L backpack several times for long trips, and each time she felt weighed down by her heavy luggage. Once at the airport she was told her backpack weight 19 kilograms, or almost 42 pounds. As she dealt with back pain from lugging this weight around, she started digging through to find the problem.

She found shoes, clothes, and even camping gear she hadn’t used in months. She was also carrying around a small library of books because she hadn’t switched to an e-reader yet. Finally she admitted to herself that she needed to make some changes.

AFTER: Laura downsized to a backpack half the size (40L!) to limit what she could pack. She was more practical about the amount of toiletries she brought and thought through her clothing choices better. She knew she could restock on the road and replace any items that wore out. Winter clothes she no longer needed could be left behind, t-shirts could be purchased in warmer climates.

>>Read more of Laura’s story of being a chronic overpacker and how she recovered and now travels with a 40L backpack.

Marissa’s evolution of downsizing to a 30L backpack

marissa downsizing luggage story

BEFORE: Marissa used to pack bags big enough for a family of four to travel with, and she suffered many travel inconveniences because of it- including not being able to handle the beast on her own. This fact alone is one of the reasons we generally recommend downsizing luggage while you travel.

AFTER: But Marissa’s downsizing didn’t happen overnight; it was truly an evolution. Through many trials and errors, she finally decided that 30L backpack travel was for her.

>> Read more of Marissa’s story of her downsizing evolution.

Rowena’s family downsized to 25L each

The family's small bags ready for departure.
The family’s small bags ready for departure.

BEFORE & AFTER: If the thought of traveling and managing your own luggage sounds daunting, then imagine what it’s like to have to worry about your children and their luggage as well. That’s pretty good reason to downsize, right?

Rowena thought so as well, and to help make her family travels a less stressful and worrisome experience, the family of 4 have gone carry-on only on several international trips. In fact, each person in the family travels with less than 25L in luggage each!

>> Read more about Rowena’s family downsizing experience.

Rachel went prepared and not paranoid

rachel downsizing before after
Rachel downsized her main backpack from 60L to 30L.

BEFORE: When Rachel went away for several months the year before, she hated the amount of luggage she brought. When waiting for her luggage at the baggage carousel, she secretly hoped hers had gone missing!

AFTER: Her next big trip was moving to Costa Rica for half a year, and she vowed to make improvements to her packing. Instead of a 60L backpack for her main luggage, she downsized to just 30L – which is literally cutting her luggage in half! The secret to her downsizing was coming prepared and not packing for the paranoia.

>> Read more about Rachel’s downsizing experience here.

Mary and her husband packed into one 36L backpack

blending luggage with a partner
Mary went through the process of blending luggage with her partner into one 36L backpack.

BEFORE: Mary had always been an overpacker, but when she got married, the problem got worse. Not only was she stuffing her luggage to the brim, but she was also using space in her husband’s luggage for extras. A month-long trip to England the year before had been the kicker. There was too much luggage juggling and drama getting around by train.

AFTER: Mary knew her habits needed to change, so she went to the complete opposite end of the spectrum for a trip to New Orleans. She and her husband packed into one 36L backpack!

>> Read about Mary’s story and her tips for blending luggage with a travel partner.

Tips to help you downsize your luggage

The following posts offer helpful advice to help you reduce the weight and amount of stuff you pack, switch to a smaller backpack or suitcase, and enjoy the freedom packing light gives you.

Have you downsized your luggage? We want to hear it! Share it in the comments below, or email us to pitch a post!

downsizing luggage inspiration

Written by Ali

Ali Garland is a freelance writer, blogger, and travel addict who made it to all 7 continents before her 30th birthday. She enjoys travel planning, encouraging others to see the world, and packing carry-on only. She and her husband are expats living in Berlin. You can find Ali at Ali's Adventures and Travel Made Simple.

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Gear We Use

Organization

Packing Cubes – Organize your luggage with the lightweight, durable and compressible Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Compression Cubes.


Backpacks + Daypacks

Pacsafe – Since they come with extra theft-resisting features, Pacsafe bags make you a more confident traveler. We especially love this bag.

Sea to Summit – Of all the Sea to Summit products, our most recommended is the fits-in-your-palm, super packable Ultra-Sil Daypack.


Personal Care

Nalgene Toiletry Bottles – These leak-free toiletry bottles and tubs come in all sizes – even super tiny, helping minimalists pack it all without bulk.

Turkish Towels – They’re thinner than most travel towels, and they actually cover your body! We can’t get enough of Turkish towels for travel.


Clothing

Speakeasy Supply Co. – They make the awesome hidden pocket infinity scarves that are perfect for stashing secret cash, lip balms, and passports.

Anatomie – Anatomie travel pants come with luxury prices, but they offer many benefits for travelers. See our review of the famous Skyler pants.

Travel Resources

Booking Airfare

Dollar Flight Club – Get flight deal alerts for your preferred departure airport. There is both a free and premium version (recommended for more sweet deals). Members save on average $500 USD per flight!

Skyscanner – Skyscanner is our preferred site for searching flights. They offer unbiased search results and are free from hidden fees. You can also book your hotels and rental cars.


Accommodation

Airbnb – Airbnb is the best place to book out apartments around the world. Sign up using this link to get $37 USD off your first stay booking + $14 USD towards an experience booking!

Booking.com – Search for hotels, hostels, and apartments using this one resource. Use it for flights, car rentals, and airport taxis as well.

Hostelworld – For hostels, Hostelworld remains our number one source for booking stays. Choose from straight up hostels, budget hotels and bed and breakfasts.

Trusted Housesitters – Save money on travel accommodation by becoming a housesitter. Housesitters often have extra duties, like caring for pets and gardens.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Kamilla says

    Packing carry-on only does really make travelling easier and much more enjoyable 🙂 Last summer I went for a 2-week vacation in Vietnam with only 5 kilos in my backpack. Believe me or not, I still had some items there, that I never used. This summer, I’m going to travel in Thailand for about a month. This time I won’t pack epilator, camera, nice little bag and clothing that can’t mix and match with other items.
    I’ve grown up in the culture of chronic overpackers (I’m from Kazakhstan), most of us pack like moving to a new place forever. But the decision to switch from a big suitcase (20 kilos) to carry-on backpack was quite easy to make after reading the stories and tips here. Thanks to HPL community 😉

  2. Stephanie Be says

    Downsizing and streamlining is a fantastic traveling tool- it helps simplify and enhance the experience! Love this post.

  3. Svenja says

    I’ve managed to downsize my luggage to carry-on pretty well, at least on the way to my destination. Shopping abroad keeps being my downfall, especially as I love wearable souvenirs, so I still check a bag on the way home, which is not a big deal as my husband is still not a carry-on convert 😉

  4. Kalina says

    I travel to Ukraine several times a year for work in the Humanitarian field. When I’m there I’m travelling on overnight trains in small compartments. Sometimes, depending on the time of year, knowing what to pack is hard (half cold and half warm forecast!) This last time that was the case and I packed a good assortment and my suitcase was so heavy I could not manage it. Add a large wheeled carry on and I was in trouble. I have a goal next time to pack only a wheeled carry on and then a small 20L backpack. This website is invaluable….I discovered compression packing cubes on here! I’ve ordered a set and anticipate being able to get more into a smaller space! I’ve also decided to make do with 3-4 outfits ONLY. And the toiletries….oh dear. I’m high maintenance but am going to try some multi use beauty products. Thanks for all the tips!

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