Travelling Even Lighter – Backpacking With As Little As Possible

A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog post about how I tend to travel light – with only hand luggage – and what I managed to carry in my backpack. Even at the time I said that I was always still learning about what I should be taking, and that every trip I realised what I needed & didn’t have, and what I took that I never used.

I still use that backpack, but I tend to only take it on longer trips, or for adventures where I need a wider variety of clothes. Or, for reasons I can never fathom, trips I take within the UK, no matter how long they are. I took more for a 5-day trip to Manchester & Yorkshire in August than I did for two weeks around Israel/Jordan … but sometimes, for short trips, I’ll back something even smaller.

Even smaller backpack
Laptop bag – good enough for two weeks’ travel. Feet for illustrative purposes only.

This may be my firm’s standard laptop bag. But it is quite amazing just how much you can fit into it.

Essentially, once I know I’m going to have to do clothes washing anyway, it’s just a question of compromising on how often. I am aware there are some hardcore backpackers out there who take literally two t-shirts (the one they’re wearing, and one other), and go from there, but I’m a little more of a flashpacker than that. Generally I aim to wash my clothes about every 4-5 days; it sometimes doesn’t work out like that but it’s amazing what you can do with some shower gel…

The other thing is just how little else I take. The way I see it, when I’m at home I don’t use a lot of extra ‘stuff’ aside from my (desktop) computer, so why would I take much with me when I travel ‘just in case’. I will concede I’m unusual in some respects though – I don’t tend to listen to music when I travel for instance, and I have a very stereotypical backpacker hygiene regime (!) – so I will naturally pack less than many other people. And because I aim to be always ‘busy’ (looking round exploring, walking, or lost in the wonderful world of local beers), I tend to not carry much to ‘pass the time’ with, as I try to make sure I don’t have a lot of ‘downtime’. Even when I’m on a bus or train, I’ll spend much of the time looking out the window so won’t need to distract myself with other stuff. Even at night. Through Ohio. I’m easily pleased, evidently.

This is what I packed for my two week backpacking trip from Vancouver to Los Angeles via Seattle, San Francisco, and Albuquerque, in November/December 2017. Remember of course I’m British and therefore have a slightly unusual sense of cold & warm.

Contents of laptop bag
Pretty much everything that was packed into the laptop bag, save what I wore on the plane (as I’d always be wearing *something* so some stuff would never be packed).

For the plane out I was wearing a shirt, long trousers, underpants, shoes-and-socks-shock!, and a jacket-thing. I was also ‘wearing’ 2 handkerchiefs, a camera, a money pouch, and a pedometer, mostly attached to my belt. So in the bag itself I was carrying:

1 x trousers, 4 x boxer shorts, 3 x short-sleeved shirts, 1 x t-shirt, 2 x sock pairs, 1 x minimalist sandals

1 x tablet, 1 x e-reader, 1 x USB stick, 1 x plug-with-USB-hole, 1 x plug adaptor, 2 x USB leads, 1 x fitted plug, 1 x power adaptor. The latter two were for my camera which I could presumably charge simply via the USB plug/lead, but it came with its own adaptor and I’m loath to travel for a while only to find out I needed them…

1 x toothpaste, 1 x toothbrush, 1 x travel shower gel, 1 x travel shampoo, 1 x travel deodorant, 1 x nail varnish

1 x notebook, 2 x handkerchiefs, 3 x pens, 1 x earphones, 1 x spare money pouch containing my daisy barefoot sandals, 1 x small tripod for camera, 1 x daypack, 2 x small stuffed toys. Because #BabyIanAndDave need a holiday.

Yes, all my electronics charge from the same USB lead. This is why I could never have an iPhone. The e-reader is probably the most ‘luxury’ item; I don’t ‘need’ it but it’s much easier to read on that than on my tablet, not that I read all that much to be honest but it’s my only nice-to-have-just-in-case item.

Laptop bag being worn
This is what the bag looked like when carried – this pic from Albuquerque. I am partial to the one-shoulder ‘look’, yes.

Things I haven’t taken that most people would include a towel. I am aware that you should always know where your towel is, and indeed I do. It’s back at home with all my other stuff. I don’t travel with one for a number of reasons, but mainly because everywhere I stay I can tend to either use or hire one, and also because unless I’m travelling in a hot country, it’ll take a while to dry and I don’t want to pack my luggage with something big and wet. I also haven’t taken hand sanitiser; this is the first thing in my backpack when I visit somewhere hot and dusty like SE Asia or West Africa, but I figured I could forego it in a climate and environment similar to home.

I was tempted to take my ¾ length jeans but decided at the last minute to take long trousers instead. This proved to be the wise choice given the conditions, but certainly I’d have taken both had I been using my bigger pack.

The advantage of going this small is that the backpack is small enough to fit under the seat in an aeroplane or coach, never mind the luggage rack, making it much easier to transport. Also, even when full it’s not all that heavy, so it’s not a hassle to walk a while with it, meaning travel and accommodation booking is much easier and I can be much more flexible (that train gets in at 8am but I can’t check in till 3pm? That’s no problem, I’ll go for a wander!).

It is incredibly unlikely I’ll ever go for a two week journey with just my daypack (I need my tablet too much!) but it is very interesting to try to push the limits of what’s considered possible. Would you be tempted to pack this light?

I talk more about this on my podcast episode dedicated to travelling with only hand luggage.

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Packing Tips for travelling with merely a laptop bag!

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