Why You Should Pack Light and How to Do It

Why Packing Light Is Important and How to Minimize What You Travel With

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One of the earliest lessons any first-time traveler learns is the importance of packing light. I've seen countless backpackers lugging 90 liter backpackers across cities and along beaches, stopping every few minutes for a rest and complaining about how hard travel can be. It doesn't take long for these new travelers to realize that packing light is the way forward.

Here's why.

You have to carry everything

While buying a huge suitcase and packing it full of everything you might need seems like a good idea when you're sitting in you room at home, it'll probably only take until you get to the airport before you start to regret your decision. The heavier your bag, the harder it is to lift and carry -- and you'll be doing plenty of both on your travels whether you like it or not.

Cobbled streets in Europe quickly take the fun out of anything with wheels, as does trying to drag a 70 pound suitcase out of a longtail and across a beach in Cambodia. I've seen people doing both many times, and it's painful to watch.

Even those with heavy backpacks don't fare much better - it's not unusual to have to walk a mile or more with one on your back when hunting out transport and accommodation. Combine that with fierce summer heat in many destinations and you've got a recipe for some very unpleasant travel days.

To concentrate on experiences

The good news is that, as you'll quickly find, possessions don't matter anywhere near as much on the road -- you need very little of the items you view as necessities back home.

When you force yourself to travel only with the things you need to survive, you start to realise just how little you need the things you've left behind. It can be incredibly liberating.

With less objects to carry and less things to worry about you can be free to focus on the adventure and the experiences. After all, isn't that why you left to travel in the first place?

For security purposes

There's so many ways that packing light can help improve security. If your bag is small enough to be hand luggage then there's no chance of losing your backpack on a flight, and you can have it with you at all times on buses and trains. The smaller your backpack, the less attention you'll attract and the less likely you'll be mugged. Finally, the less expensive items you're carrying, the less of an annoyance it is if you lose them or have them stolen.

If you've now decided that you'd like to start packing light then you're probably wondering how to do it without feeling miserable.

Buy as small a bag as possible

When you first start coming up with packing lists for an upcoming trip, it's tempting to buy as big a backpack as possible so that you won't have to leave anything important behind. Unfortunately, you'll still end up filling it up before you leave -- everyone does! If you don't have a size limit then you'll convince yourself that you need hair straighteners and perfume and high heels and four pairs of sneakers.

I travel with a 44 liter pack and yes, there was indeed a minor panic attack the night before when I realised I wasn't able to take everything I thought I'd need... and then a month into my trip, I had thrown out a quarter of my things when I'd realised I didn't actually need them. It's true that you can pretty much buy anything you could need while you're traveling, so don't feel like you need to pack everything you own.

So now that you've bought yourself a small backpack, here's what you can cut down on.

Clothes

One of the downsides to packing light is having to repeatedly wear the same outfit. Look to buy multipurpose items that can be worn in a variety of ways to jazz up your wardrobe, and look for neutral colors that will go with everything.

Fortunately, clothes are cheap all over the world so it doesn't usually cost much to replace a couple of t-shirts.

Shoes

I currently travel with hiking shoes, Vibrams and flip flops. Before falling in love with hiking, I managed to travel for 18 months with nothing but flip-flops. If you're going to be spending the majority of your travels relaxing on beaches and exploring cities then you'll only need to pack flip-flops or sandals. Vibrams are also fantastic if you want to do a small amount of hiking. They're small, lightweight, and you can even fold them up to fit them in your bag.

For ladies, drop the high heels -- they're bulky and heavy and you'll rarely use them. If you want to carry dressy shoes then go for a pair of cute sandals or ballet flats that you can roll up in your bag.

Technology

Where possible, try to condense the amount of technology you bring as this will help substantially with the weight of your backpack. Could you get by with a tablet instead of a laptop? Could you use a phone to take photos instead of a camera? Do you really need to take a phone or can you just use Skype on a laptop or tablet?

Toiletries

You'll want to find toiletries that are reasonably small so that means no huge bottles of shampoo, conditioner or shower gel. I carry a bar of solid shampoo from LUSH that is tiny, lightweight, lasts for around three months while still keeping my hair soft and shiny. I also recommend carrying a bar of soap instead of shower gel too.

You can also find tiny bottles of shaving gel that last for around three months to save on carrying large bottles that you'll have to replace every few weeks.

Medicines

Fortunately, medicines are small and lightweight so if you overpack it's not going to be a big issue. I carry paracetamol, birth control pills, band aids, Imodium, rehydration sachets and motion sickness pills. Aside from anti-malarial tablets if you'll be traveling to somewhere with malaria, you don't need to be carrying too much more.

Look for travel-sized versions

Finally, look to see if brands sell travel-sized versions of their products. I love my travel towel because it folds up extremely small, dries quickly and weighs next to nothing. Travel-sized bottles are also a great way to carry around a small amount of body lotion, sunscreen or perfume.