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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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Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Daypack


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Travel Resources

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Reader Interactions


  1. Nancy Yates says

    I looked at the fabulous backpack you recommend which I find very expensive, but beyond the price, I wondered if the bottom end is reinforced in any way so as to prevent slashing a more than distressing way of being robbed of your bag contents when in a crowded place (a person comes up behind you and slashes open your bag taking all the contents). The zippers do seem to be fairly but not entirely inaccessible for crowd situations. So, I guess what I am pointing out is that despite the price, this bag seems to have some flaws. Not sure it would be a good investment.
    I would also like to point you towards a great travel skirt, Rip Skirt, which fold up so small and can be a big bonus for many situations – go from a dining room to beach to a cultural site; sometimes too a skirt is just cooler than pants when you are off some place warm.
    Happy travels.

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