Family-sized to Bite-sized: The Evolution of Downsizing My Luggage to a 30L Daypack

downsizing luggage story

The following guest post about downsizing luggage was submitted by Marissa. See all of our downsizing stories in one place!

I used to be a heavy packer. Really heavy. I’d spend a week in the Dominican Republic, wearing a bathing suit or sundress pretty much every day and still bring a suitcase large enough for a family of four on the same trip.

I thought I needed to bring every summer outfit in my wardrobe, packing multiple options for each day – something to throw on before breakfast, something to wear to the beach or pool, and a separate outfit for the evening’s dinner or entertainment. Not to mention over-packing footwear and underwear.

Hand-washing in a hotel sink? Forget it! I was bringing enough clothes to wear something fresh for each activity I’d do on that trip. The bag was heavy, cumbersome, and I wound up packing a bunch of stuff I didn’t need or end up using, just to fill the bag. When I got home, I’d have absolutely tons of laundry to wash.

downsizing luggage to a 30L backpack
Marissa once took this luggage to California for a one week trip.

Experimenting with Packing Lighter

I slowly started downsizing my luggage as time went on, realizing that I could repeat outfits while on vacation. I wound up with a rolling suitcase that was much smaller than my family-sized monstrosity, but it was still too big. I often needed help to lift it, and that’s not a feeling I enjoy.

Then I spent three weeks in British Columbia with family. It was my first time flying alone and I was terrified that my luggage would get lost. I only brought a backpack. There had been a heat wave the week before I went, so it was easy to pack light. But when I got there, the weather returned to normal (a cooler, wet summer) and I had only t-shirts. My fix? I went with my cousin to the thrift shop and bought a second-hand sweater. Problem solved!

But this wasn’t the end of my evolution. The backpack worked for a family visit in another province with a pretty even climate, but I wasn’t fully converted yet. What if I needed to have casual and fancy clothes on the same trip? Hiking boots and high heels?

>>See how HPL’s Brooke traveled ultra light with just a 12 liter bag.

downsizing luggage to a 30L backpack
Marissa enjoyed traveling with less stuff while in Italy.

The Trip That Sealed the Deal

In 2014, my husband and I took a 14-week trip to Europe. We visited 8 countries and experienced a wide variety of climates – from cold and very wet Ireland in early March to sweltering Lisbon in June. We thought that there was no way we could pack only a small backpack, and we didn’t want to carry a heavy 60L backpack each. So, we each brought a 30L daypack and a carry-on size rolling suitcase, which we considered “light” given the length of the trip.

Big mistake. We regretted this decision less than halfway through the trip. Europe’s cobbled streets made maneuvering the rolling bags incredibly difficult, and the hilly cities we visited in Spain and Portugal made them a considerable burden. And despite the different seasons and climates, I still didn’t wear everything that I’d packed!

I resolved to only carry a daypack from then on, which was easy to do on a road trip or when camping near my home in Toronto, Canada. But how would I make it work for international travel?

>>Check out our daypack reviews here.

Downsizing to a 30L Daypack

Fast-forward to 2016, and I found myself on my way to Europe for two weeks with my husband and our respective mothers, each with only a 30L daypack – in winter! We’d booked a cheap flight to Lisbon and another to Tuscany, and had convinced our moms that the $100+ it cost to check one bag each way was simply not worth it. This was great motivation to pack light, and we were all happy that we’d done so.

downsizing luggage to a 30L backpack
Marissa taught her mother and mother-in-law how to travel light on a trip to Europe.

I focused on choosing basic cotton pieces, lightweight boots, and (with some hesitation) left my DSLR behind. I finally had come up with the ideal multi-climate packing system! Solid, dark-colored basics could be dressed up or down and layered according to the day’s forecast, and a pair of earrings and a nice watch made all the difference when visiting a fashion-focused city like Florence.

>>Read more about why layering is key for packing light.

Me and my backpack and dog
Marissa and her comfortable 30L backpack (and adorable dog!)

The benefits of traveling with a simple daypack are many. No waiting at the luggage carousel, no worries that your stuff will be lost, and no issues when you arrive in the wee hours of the morning and can’t check in to your Airbnb for 6 hours. Just head into town and bring all of your stuff with you! You have complete freedom of movement and don’t feel tied down by your belongings. It’s much easier to have a positive travel experience when you have a level of flexibility and can be spontaneous.

Next stop, Tokyo and Mount Fuji in August. Again, I’ll be packing for two very different travel scenarios — city and mountain climbing — but you can bet I’ll only be carrying my trusty daypack!

About the author: Marissa is originally from a small town near Niagara Falls, Canada. She’s always enjoyed traveling but after a few years spent living and working in Toronto (self-proclaimed “most multicultural city in the world”) she developed an itch to start globe-trotting even more. After some long-term travel, she’s temporarily settled in South Korea, where she teaches English and lives with her husband and their dog. You can check out her adventures at Ben and Marissa Do, or on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

downsizing story

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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

    • Marissa says

      Hi Michelle!

      I bought it from M.E.C. and I believe it was called the Agens, but they don’t make it anymore. They carry similar bags and honestly it’s pretty basic – one large zippered compartment with one interior zipper, a smaller pouch on the back, and a side pocket that nicely fits a water bottle. It’s super light, which is my favourite feature. 🙂

  1. Canon says

    I couldn’t get my toiletries in a bag that size! LOL It’s all well and good if you want your hair in a bun and no makeup on in all your pics or to wear the same thing in nearly every pic, but I just kinda like variety and style and I don’t like to look like I’m camping when I’m on vacation.

  2. Kathryn OHalloran says

    I really wish you’d put a big dog in the “before” phone, that had been downsized to a small one.

    I travel long term and have a backpack that expends from 35l to 45l. It’s amazing how much stuff you can fit in if you pack smart.

    • Marissa says

      Hahah! My dog has lost some weight recently, so she’s been downsizing too 😉 It’s true, when you really focus on using every inch of the bag’s capacity, you can cram a lot in there.

  3. Pat says

    I’m also bringing a <40L backpack on our trip to Japan this summer, and planning on climbing Mt. Fuji as well! Make sure to leave plenty of room in your backpack for souvenirs! Tokyo is my shopping haven <3.
    Safe travels!

  4. Kim says

    I am unable to see Marissa’s packing list. The link just doesn’t lead to anywhere. Would you mind reposting it. Thanks so much.

    • Brooke says

      Hi Kim- What link are you talking about? Marissa doesn’t have a packing list posted- this is just the story of how she downsized.

  5. Sara Conner says

    Since I am new to all of this…just a couple of questions
    1. Since you didn’t take your DSLR with you, did you use something else to take memories?
    2. What did you do about your wallet and passport for safety, security and ease of access?

    • Brooke says

      I’m not sure about the post’s author, but I use my smartphone for taking pictures and videos. I usually keep my passport and wallet in a purse (cross-body purse with hidden pockets, etc. for extra measure), but depending on where I travel, I might use a money belt or a pacsafe style purse.

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