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How I Traveled for Five Months with Only a 40L Backpack

Laura Bronner 40L travels

The following traveling with only a 40L backpack post has been submitted by Laura Bronner. See all of our downsizing stories in one place!

Last year I quit my job in Korea, sent two fifty-pound boxes on a slow boat to America and packed up what was left into a 40L Karrimor Backpack.

When I left Korea it was mid-April and still pretty chilly. I wore a wool coat on the plane to Jeju Island. I’d confidently packed a bag that I was sure would take me through Spring in Japan, the start of Summer in Taiwan, a week of diving in the Philippines, a steaming hot June in Vietnam and the very humid, very wet season in Cambodia, Thailand and Laos.

I had five months and not much of a plan. I just knew I didn’t want to have to pay to check a bag every time I got on a plane.

Laura traveling

How I Traveled with Only a 40L Backpack

Instead I bought a set of four clear plastic 80mL travel toiletry bottles that I could fill to the brim with shampoo, face cream, sunscreen and bug spray (five months without conditioner was interesting). I knew it wasn’t going to be enough to last me the entire trip, or even through one or two countries, but I bet on the fact that restocking along the way would be much cheaper than paying for a checked bag on every flight I took.

After doing the math, I’m pretty sure my gamble paid off.

As for the rest of my bag, I packed things that I could wear through two seasons:

  • one very lightweight pair of jeans which I later left behind in Japan
  • five dresses
  • two pairs of jean shorts
  • one regular bra and one sports bra
  • one pair of athletic shorts (which I only ended up using to sleep in)
  • four t-shirts

There was the matter of my very heavy, very old wool coat which I left in a hostel in Kyoto because the owner promised to find it a good home.

As for shoes, I brought a pair of Rainbow flip flops which I swear by for comfort and cuteness, and a pair of flats for Japan and Taiwan that I threw away before heading to the Philippines.

I shopped for my toiletries at different markets and found that if I bought a few things at a time I could barter down for a really good price. I never had a problem finding sunscreen or bugspray like many websites told me I would. Even the markets in tiny villages in Laos had brand name shampoos and face creams.

Laura in Asia

The Secret to My Success

The key I found to keeping my bag light was not getting too attached to anything I brought with me. If it started to get worn out or I was tired of wearing it, I left it behind. It allowed me more room for souvenirs and new clothes to change with the seasons.

By the time I got back to the states in late September, the contents of my bag hardly resembled what was packed in there back in April. I managed to make it through my entire trip without having to check a bag (bar my flight home which included one). I kept my backpack light, changed up my wardrobe often and never spent more than I’d originally planned doing it.

>> Check out our 40L backpack reviews so you can travel small and light like Laura! Or check out Laura’s old post: Confessions of a Chronic Overpacker.

About the Author: Laura Bronner is a serial expat originally from New York. After graduating from college she set off on what was meant to be a year of travel (her bag was far too heavy back then). That was over five years ago. Since then she has lived in New Zealand, Australia, South Korea and is now spending time traveling Europe (this time with a slightly bigger bag). Follow along on her adventures at Collecting Labels or on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

5 months with 40l backpack

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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. Kate says

    Really interesting! I’m amazed – and inspired – to hear how little she was able to get by with over the five month. Packing goals for sure!

    • Brooke says

      As we say at HPL, pack the same amount for a month that you would for a week! Wash, re-wear, and restock on the road and you can go anywhere with a small bag. I hope you are inspired to give it a try! 🙂

  2. Svenja says

    I think the most important point is the knowledge that you can actually do laundry as well as buy almost everything almost everywhere – no need to schlepp a ton of toiletries or panties, socks & t-shirts for each and every day of your trip ?

  3. eli says

    I travelled a bit of Europe for a month with 38 litres backpack and it wasn’t bad at all! Considering that I have many allergies, I had to carry a lot of creams as well as a sleeping bag liner and a cotton travel towel but it was manageable and I actually had quite a few tops as well! It’s all about finding a way or arranging it all and I found packing cubes to be an absolute saver!

    • Brooke says

      Awesome job, Eli! 🙂 I think people hear 40L or 30L and think it just sounds small. They look at the bag and think it looks small, too! So they don’t give it a solid go. Once you start packing it up, you realize you can fit quite a bit in those bags!

      • Eli says

        I agree! 🙂 I was so surprised how much i managed to fit and like Svenja said – they help to keep everything so organised especially when its top loading!

  4. Isabel says

    THAT’S my weakness! Getting attached to an item. It would help to just let it go or… maybe buy cheap versions of my regular wardrobe beforehand (which is cheap and boring anyways #yogapants #tanktops)… Rolling in packing cubes is my new favorite technique for space too.

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