The best advice:: “pack the bare minimum and then take out a third!”
Of course bare minimum can mean many different things according to circumstances, but the point stands. If it is a work trip, a climbing trip or a camping trip, there will be some necessities – however almost invariably anyone returning from a journey will find unused items in their suitcase or backpack.
Nowadays there is a financial element to packing lightly. Almost all airlines have some sort of baggage fee, so people are learning to reduce. I would like to commend Southwest Airlines in the US for still allowing checked luggage at no additional cost and I would like to specifically highlight the extreme budget airlines in Europe such as Ryan Air for militant luggage policies. Yes flying is business and, yes people will migrate to the lowest published fairs, however the race to the bottom in the airline industry can virtually ruin peoples’ travel experience.
While on my soapbox I will also call out Jetstar Australia for making people cry with excessive weight fees and truly rude staff.
Packing lightly includes everything. If staying in reasonable hotels – the type used on most group tours, family holidays, etc, the hotel will provide little extras such as shampoo and soap. We all know this, yet travellers can be guilty of taking their entire bathroom on vacation.
Clothing is where we really overdo our travel preparations. If short an extra tee-shirt or fleece while travelling, buy one. It is really that easy.
A perfectly packed case is only perfectly packed on the day of departure. From that point forward laundry, purchases and travelling conditions will quickly fill any available space.
Over the years I have tried many different suitcase and backpack models and have finally settled on one of three options in addition to an excellent, small and attractive computer shoulder bag.
For business / tour travel of less than one week, I make do with a rolling, soft-sided carry-on case. I wear one pair of shoes and stuff my gym / sports shoes in the front pouch. I’ll wear my suit on the airplane.
For longer work trips – particularly tours of two-weeks or more and particularly to warmer destinations (where I may need two shirts in a day), I use a rolling duffel bag. These are tough enough for ice hockey gear and have often lasted a few years. I pack a shirt-a-day in a small garment folder (I can always iron in the hotel). I will have enough socks / underwear, etc for at least a week (it is so easy to find laundry – or hand wash) and half the duffel will be empty when I leave home – providing me with a ‘clean’ and a ‘used’ side.
On my own adventure or writing trips, I generally opt for a backpack. I prefer the simple 60 litre type. I do have a climbing specific pack and do use it, but I find the pack too busy with multiple compartments – good for specific equipment, but much less useful for general travel.
And as a specific reminder: use plastic bags for liquids. Airplane pressure can cause bottles to leak. Worse can be the treatment of cases on public busses. On Guatemala’s friendly buses (mostly re-purposed North American school buses), packs ride on top. As a result of a broken bottle, I passed a full day in beautiful Chichicastenago cleaning Kaluha out of my clothes…
Good, comfortable footwear is vital. Flip flops are a good space-saving back up, useful for warm weather and when using shared showers, swimming pools and beaches. I am very loyal to shoes I like and often wear them long after their best days. I do my best to find footwear that can go with the one more formal outfit I always take with me…. leading to another important point: backpacking or touring is fun and relaxed, but one really should make an effort to present themselves appropriately for the culture they are visiting. Or put more succinctly: be a hippie at home and show some respect when visiting another culture. Neutral clothing is safe, comfortable and usually appropriate.
My recent adventures in Colombia / Panama reminded me to remain vigilant about my possessions. The drug smuggler beside me could have easily put something in the top of my backpack. I can be guilty of being too relaxed with my belongings and in some parts of the world this can be risky.
The obvious fact of never carrying belongings for strangers is very important and remaining cautious at border crossings and airports is necessary. Smugglers are always looking for ways transport products and drugs can easily be hidden. A longer discussion about legalizing drugs is due, but not here. Undoubtedly there are people in prison in countries such as Indonesia who were unaware they were trafficking. This is really scary.
Passports & Money-belts
The fear of losing one’s passport is important, but not as life-changing as one may think. It is a hassle and in many countries you will have to travel to the capital and wait up to a week for a new passport. This is expensive, time-consuming and frustrating. Far too often embassies maintain restrictive opening hours and are palpably unhelpful.
Passports can still sell on the black market for upwards of $5000, but I really doubt with all the new technology a stolen passport is much use.
I do not use and under-shirt money belt for cash, cards or my passport mostly because they are uncomfortable. I do have my beloved murse – man-purse, with which I have travelled for many years. I know my passport is always there and I know I can put the strap around my wrist and hold on tightly if need be. And yes, I often do leave it is my hotel room, casually at the bottom of my suitcase.
It is always a good idea to have a few photocopies of your passport.
My emergency plan is in my belt. I have a very thin, nice enough looking belt with a hidden zipper. I carry enough money to buy a flight. The tightly folded $100 notes have stayed in that belt for several years.
Credit Cards, Travelers Cheques, etc
Travellers cheques are gone and useless. Don’t use them. Cards are very important and an easy way to secure local currency. Always be aware of your bank’s excessive fees (often fixed-fees for withdrawals and therefore it is better to take out larger sums), but do not lose cards. Also, do not lose your driver’s license. Having a bank card, credit card or driver’s licence re-issued abroad can actually be more difficult than obtaining a new passport.
My small backpack is good and sturdy and protects my computer. It has a small hidden compartment for extra money and whenever in crowded places I simply slide it around to my front to protect my belonging. I carry cash and other valuable items (i.e. my camera) in my front pocket!
We would love to hear your packing ideas and luggage recommendations. Please comment via social media or, as always, contact us directly. Happy travels!