We’re big believes in just bringing carry-on sized backpacks, no matter how long we travel. Packing that light can take some getting used to, but it’s very much worth it. 

1. Bring clothes that you can mix and match.

A small number of shirts, pants, skirts, etc that go well together means lots of different outfit combinations with just a few items.

I aim for a moderate level of formality, bringing clothes that I can wear to a nice dinner but that are also comfortable for walking and hiking. For example, I always wear leather shoes while traveling, rather than sneakers or running shoes. When in doubt, dress up; you can always hit the streets in nice clothes, but you can’t (or, shouldn’t), attend a symphony in athletic gear. (If you’re in Europe, you shouldn’t do anything in athletic gear except actual athletic activities.)

2. Wear your clothes multiple times.

Unlike being at home, where you probably see the same people everyday, no one you encounter while traveling is going to notice (or care) that you’re wearing the same thing over and over again. Many places are also somewhat more accepting of people’s natural scents, so having slightly-less-than-fresh clothes isn’t a huge deal, socially speaking. And if it is, again, you won’t ever be seeing most of the people you meet on your trip again.

The image on the left was from a 2 day trip. The image in the middle from a two week trip, and the image on the right from a two month trip. But in each case the backpacks were similar sizes.

3. Wash clothes in the sink.

We’ve written a lot about washing clothes in hotel sinks while traveling, so suffice it to say here that you could get by traveling indefinitely with just one change of clothes. I personally don’t like to waste time everyday washing clothes so I bring more than one extra pair of clothing, but the point here is that washing while you travel greatly reduces how much you need to bring.

4. Load all your books onto your phone.

We here at Tripping Over the World are very much proponents of travel books because they put a lot of useful information in one, easy-to-access place. During a road trip last year through Europe, we traveled with a veritable library of books.

Loading all those books onto digital devices has saved us from have to carry around a lot of weight that takes up the space in our backpacks.


5. Don’t bring things like curling irons and blow driers.

The best, happiest, and most successful travelers I know do not ever bring electronic bathroom devices. I realize that as a guy with a relatively low maintenance bathroom routine it’s easy for me to advise against these things. But really, unless you’re going to a wedding or a job interview or something, my experience on the road talking to hundreds of travelers over the years suggests that cumbersome equipment just not necessary or worth the hassle. Remember, you won’t be seeing most people again. Also, travel is supposed to be an adventure, so looking like you’re roughing it a bit — even in your pictures — isn’t a bad thing.

Related reading

35 Reasons you should never check your bags

Pack like a pro and wash as you go, in 7 easy steps

Travel should make the world a better place

— Jim Dalrymple II


Written by Jim Dalrymple II

Urbanism and travel writer. Also a journalist covering the news.

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