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Downsizing to Just a 42L Backpack and Purse for Two-Week Trips

downsizing to a 42l backpack

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The following downsizing to a 42L backpack article was submitted by Emily Beck. See all of our downsizing stories in one place.


I used to pack more outfits for a week and a half than someone would need for an entire semester abroad. I love fashion and dressing to match the place I’m going, but I always ended up with too much.

Now I’m learning to manage packing supplies for my Crohn’s disease, as well as enough outfits and snacks, for two weeks at a time in just a backpack and a purse.

My Tipping Point

While in India, I admired a girl who carried everything in a 60L backpack. It was still large, but compared to my giant rolling suitcase that had to get strapped to the top of a jeep, it seemed like nothing.

I ended up buying a ton of clothes there to wear, and I found half the items I had packed weren’t useful. Instead, toting it around made my back sore, and I was always super sweaty and uncomfortable.

Although I had an amazing time, I still imagine how my new, much-less-invasive luggage would’ve been especially useful in India. 

Emily's backpack compared to her two full-sized luggages
Emily’s backpack compared to her two full-sized luggages

It had taken two trips, a trip to Italy and then to India, for me to realize that being a “just in case” or “mom” packer, didn’t suit me. (We at HPL call this succumbing to the inner worried mom voice.)

My endless energy I get while traveling was depleted by dealing with all my stuff, and it made me lag behind. Sure, I had enough snacks to feed the entire group, but it wasn’t sustainable.

How I Pack Light for Two Weeks

Most importantly, I’ve downsized my clothes; I’ve recently learned how to pack a capsule wardrobe! I used to let myself get carried away buying cute outfits for the upcoming trip. When the time came to pack, I was always having to take out new items.

Now I take more time planning and just enjoy the process of getting ready and only buying necessities (especially being recently graduated and on a budget).

Typically about a month before a big trip, I layout in a journal where I’m going and “guesstimate” where I’ll be and what I’ll be doing each day, even if it’s just a list of things I want or might have to do there. 

TIP: Make this a part of the pre-trip countdown.

Then I look at the weather, write down a range of temps and whether it’ll be sunny/rainy, and start a list of essentials from my closet. I have a clothing rack that I hang those clothes on and visualize all my outfits without holding back. 

Emily hangs her clothes on a rack to better visualize her outfits
Emily hangs her clothes on a rack to better visualize her outfits

Over the next month, I add things to the rack and can see my outfits. I think through how often I actually wear things so I know in the end what’s really going to be useful on the trip. This helps hold me accountable and turns my exciting trips to the store into me making more realistic purchases

I try to pick a day 1-2 weeks before that I can do laundry and run errands if I need to. At this point, I double-check the weather. 

TIP: I also leave out a grocery bag (try a reusable one) for those times when you wake up randomly in the middle of the night and remember something you just “cannot forget” that I throw things into.

Emily lays out the clothes she plans to bring on her trip
Emily lays out the clothes she plans to bring on her trip

Then I go through clothes, toiletries, shoes, and snacks, and lay them all out on my bed. I roll everything up, check to make sure it fits, and leave it until I forget what’s in there. 

Bringing out my backpack always makes me reconsider and put some things away!

After a few days, “pre-flight anxiety” usually kicks in, and I go through everything again. At this point, I almost always take out a few more pieces of clothing… this is my room for souvenirs

After this final review, I also take photos of outfits laid out on my bed so I’m sure to wear everything. (I don’t always use the photos though, because I pack things that match everything else so it’s easy to throw something together if I need to.)

The photos keep me from spending too much time getting ready at my destination.

Packing in My New Backpack

The first two times I traveled with a backpack, I used a 28L. Although this was impressive, I found that my things were crammed and inaccessible during travel. It made me just as annoyed and anxious as when I was trying to find something in my large luggage. 

To solve this, I recently splurged on a 42L Cotopaxi backpack that has a bunch of accessible pockets and nooks. It is perfect for in-flight outfit changes and post-flight freshening up in the airport bathroom (when you don’t want to take everything out and have to put it on the floor… gross!). 

It can get heavy, but I just apply a “28L mindset” while I’m packing.

Emily's clothes packed in double-sided compression packing cubes
Emily’s clothes packed in double-sided compression packing cubes.

I also use double-sided compression packing cubes. They are a dream! They keep my dirty and clean separate and allow me to still fit in a lot of cute clothes.

I had plans to go to the UK in March, but with the pandemic, we ended up postponing the trip for a year. I went to our family’s place in Cape Cod instead, for some quiet relaxation away from the crowds. It’s just a short drive, but I still packed for it in my same new lighter way!

About the author: A designer by day, Emily spends most of her free time at the beach dreaming up her next great adventure. She also enjoys horseback riding and is an aspiring renaissance (wo)man. You can find female travel-related design work, sketches, photographs, and paintings inspired by trips in her portfolio.

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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.

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