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.
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.
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.
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.
Join the Her Packing List email community!
Get our latest packing lists, gear deals, and travel news by email.