One of the most personal aspects of travelling is deciding what the hell are you going to pack. Whether for a few weeks or for a world trip, this bag of things will be your home, your resources and everything that you hold dear physically. I remember my first long trip, inter railing around Europe. I packed everything. My bag was huge, heavy and I couldn’t find anything. Majority of the back was rendered useless. Turns out in most cases and from observing people I travel with, you use at most 68.52% of your bag, fact. The chances of you using the portable shower mat, that also massages your scalp are very slim.
I have slowly learned the valuable lesson that less is more, but I still constantly battle with hoarding and picking up new crap. I found myself wearing the same clothes, wearing swimmers in place of underwear, never wearing socks, not needing my winter clothes nearly as much as I thought, wearing flip-flops (thongs) more than I wear the THREE pairs of trainers I initially packed. The golden rule I have learned to never disobey, pack 80% what you need and 20% what you want.
There are three important things to consider, What you want vs what you need, letting things go and getting new stuff.
1. WHAT YOU WANT VS WHAT YOU NEED
There may be the desire to pack everything that you hold dear as it looks good. Think! Do you need it? When packing my bag I looked through my clothes and realised I own all these pieces because I like them, so how can i possibly choose what I want to take. This is when I decided that my bag was going to be 80% what I need and 20% what I want. This rule allowed me to decide between all of my jackets… I left my two denim jackets and my long black one and packed my fleece that would keep me warm when needed. When was I ever going to need that many ‘stylish’ jackets? You are however going to want to pack some things that you like, home comforts or things that you really want to have with you, this is fine, however the moment you start prioritising style and desire over practicality and necessity you’re going to look hilarious when It comes to loading on your backpack, lunging around a back twice the size of you.
Once you have packed, repack and think to yourself… Do I really need that? If you’re like me you will try and rationalise everything. If so and you succeed in convincing yourself, get someone else to hear your opinions. Like me, they’ll probably tell you that you are crazy. For instance, I had a pair of trainers that had been with me for over five years. They travelled Europe, they had seen many adventures, they had tears and stunk, BAD. I tried to rationalise keeping them as a memento, they were god awful. I told my friend and he immediately told me I was crazy. So we agreed that when I wasn’t aware, he was to throw them away. This was for the best.
Once you get the skill of knowing when you’re being damn right crazy and you start to realise what it is you actually use, you can start shedding the load and you will know yourself what you should be taking.
2. LETTING IT GO
You are going to purchase things on your trip, you are going to find things and you’re going to be given stuff. This is all exciting and amazing, but when your bag is already heaped, where does it go? These are the objects and keepsakes that are going to remind you of your trip. You could, like one of my travel buddies fashion yourself into a human buckaroo adding bags and straps to your bag a you go. Or simply trim the fat, take stock every now and again and throw out the shit, the clothes you have never warn, the stained t-shirts you always pass over, the five ‘’booze cruise’ or ‘sunday funday’ vests you acquired in all different colours. The salad tongues you kept because you used them to fish out your shoes from a drain… because you know, what if it happens again?! Keep your bag rotating and keep it fresh. A spring clean should not only be during spring, do it whenever you are in a hostel with a good amount of floor space or you have a day of rest. You will feel cleaner and the next travel day you have will be much lighter and easier. Make like Rose from Titanic and just throw the inanimate shit off the board, you’ll always remember it, but you know, you don’t have to carry it around any longer.
Another aspect of letting things go is actually losing things. I have known people who have literally lost their entire big bags and everyone one of these people has had the same reaction, the same grieving process but all came to the conclusion that It was all only things and they will get more. There is not much they could have done. My first loss was not big, but hit home hard as it was my favourite T-shirt, I was distraught. A few days later I forgot I owned it. Things come and go, the memories remain. (The story is completely different for your valuables bag… Never lose that. I once thought I did and it ruined me for two days until the hostel found it).
Anecdote: My greatest loss was my favourite hat, it had survived countless adventures and falls off my head. Whilst horse riding, canyoning, rafting, diving, climbing volcanoes, stormy weather, whenever I lost this hat it would always find its way back to me. We were meant to be together forever. Or so I thought, one day I woke from a hungover nap on the top deck of a ferry crossing Lake Nicaragua and boom, it blew off my head straight into the water floating away into the sunset. There was nothing to do but laugh and appreciate that this hat now resides in one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, floating around two gigantic volcanoes. I let it go, It didn’t remember me but I always remembered it… until I got another one.
3. GETTING NEW STUFF
When travelling one of the best things is picking things up along the way, whatever it may be T-shirts, key rings, shot glasses… or in my case, literal rocks from hikes. This ‘hobby’ of mine has actually found me a piece of jade, quartz and many more minerals and it is cool as you always have a piece of that volcano or mountain you climbed. These are the things you should prioritise when packing, the things you do not have yet, leave a little room.
Having said all of that, it is completely irrelevant, it is your trip… Take what you want.
Here is a snapshot of what is inside my backpack, for a world trip. There have been times when I thought I didn’t need certain items, but for a world trip the stuff I have left in will come in handy. Take a look:
- 1 winter jacket – for the cold days.
- 2 rain jackets – only have two as I bought a fisherman’s yellow one as a group activity. You only need one.
- 1 hoodie – A must for those drinking around a table nights with a cold breeze.
- 1 fleece – It is Northface, so for me a must.
- 1 jumper – Bought in Australia to look acceptable in bars.
- 2 pairs of jeans – Same as above.
- 2 pairs of swimmers – I spend most of my time in hot places in these so I need a pair when I am washing the other, there are only so many times you can wash them in the sea.
- 1 pair of tracksuit pants – For the cold nights, long hikes and flights.
- 12 t-shirts – Too many, but I bought 8 amazing ones from a shop that I loved in Nicaragua and they never exceeded 5 dollars – A steal.
- 2 dress shirts – Quirky ones, for beaches and parties, look like a twat.
- 4 pairs of socks – I don’t like socks.
- 6 boxer briefs – These are a social norm. 6 is enough, 12 uses if done right.
- GoPro pro equipment – Ya know, for the GoPro stuff.
- 2 notebooks – Valuable items for recording and thought time.
- 1 sketchpad and pens – Keeps me sane in quiet times.
- 10 rocks – Acquired climbing Volcanoes and Mountains.
- 1 shell – Its gorgeous and use it as a communal ashtray on the beach, so there is no ash litter.
- 3 books – Oh the Places You’ll Go – Dr Zeus, The Alchemist – Paulo Cohello, The Oxford Anthology of Exploration – exerts from explorers on old.
- 1 laptop – I got this sent to me in Australia, not needed all the time, this is my home comfort.
- 1 pair of trainers – I had two but threw a pair away, you don’t need two.
- 1 pair of hiking shoes – not a necessity, but I like to hike.
- 1 pair of flip flops – The best purchase anyone can ever make, Havianas.
- 1 Alladin costume – For the costume parties, obviously.
- 1 mini-screwdriver – I repair my own technology and this thing gets me inside my phone.
- Toiletries (shampoo, stolen hostel soaps, charcoal face wash, toothpaste, toothbrush, shaver, hair clips, hairbands, tweezers, comb, bobby pins! Bobby pins are so useful).
- First aid kid (bandaids, safety pins, antiseptic, tape, scissors).
- Many miscellaneous items gifted along the way.
All of this fits into an Osprey Farpoint 55 bag, made for 50 pounds. It is not heavy and does not looked heaped when fully packed.
It all does the job and keeps me healthy, clean and presentable when needed. I have no need for anything else. Do always remember that you can buy anything whilst on the go.
I hope this helps when you’re thinking about what it is you actually need to consider when you are packing your bag. This is from my experience not the same for everyone as I can imagine some people are lower or higher maintenance. Please feel free to share your process in the comments.