Pack Less, Experience More

Whether you’re traveling for a couple weeks or years there is no better piece of advice we can give than to pack light. So how do you prioritize what to bring? The quick answer is it depends, the long answer is forthcoming.

I suppose a more appropriate question to ask yourself is how comfortable do you want to be? Can you manage wearing the same shirt and shorts for a few days without washing them? How much laundry do you want to do? Do you want to bring that sleeping bag even if you might only need it once? Traveling is as much about testing your mettle, as it is about seeing the sights and experiencing new cultures. Part of that experience is getting out of your comfort zone and learning what you can do without. Your destination in part dictates what you need to bring, but you get to choose how much of it you need. Besides if you find there is something you absolutely can’t live without you can always buy it. Here are our top 5 travel packing tips.

1. Pack light: On most legs of our trip we only bring one carry-on size bag and a small backpack for the two of us. Choose your bag size and stick to it. If your gear doesn’t fit take it out and re-prioritize.

2. Leave the toiletries at home: Unless you just can’t live without your Axe Deodorant, toiletries are readily available in every country. Leaving them behind liberates you from having to check a bag and I would rather spend my baggage claim time negotiating the city trying to find the toiletries I need. This can sometimes be an adventure in itself. Just remember to save a little space in your bag for when you get them.

3. Compression Sacks: These are great space savers. Even if your soft goods are already small these will make them even smaller.

4. Wheeled suitcase with convertible backpack harness: Despite the romance of “backpacking” around the world, cramming everything into a bag that must be carried on your back is often very impractical. There have been few times in my travels when I haven’t been able to pull a wheeled bag behind me. A convertible bag takes the weight off your back and gives you the flexibility to put it there if you need it.

5. Strike a balance: Allow yourself those little luxuries that will help you enjoy your time more. There is no need to be ascetic, but think about which of these items can be replaced while traveling if you decide to leave them at home.

Below you can see everything we brought with us when we left Ton Sai to travel around Asia. Because we are staying in tropical climates for now we can have little clothing. Even if you are somewhere cooler it is important to remember that the bottom line is you need less than you think and there is nothing better than only having one bag to deal with.

All of the photos below are interactive images. Move your mouse over an item for a description and click the item to find the product with one of our affiliates. Unfortunately, none of the links open in a new window.

Kyle’s clothes

Marmot Alpinist Gore-Tex Jacket REI Pack Towel The North Face Horizon Cargo Shorts The North Face Agility Shorts The North Face Paramount Explorer Pants Icebreaker Mens Merino Boxer Briefs Ibex Merino Boxers Sport Science Polywool Long Sleeve Lulu Lemon Yoga Shorts Merino T-Shirts - Discontinued Floppy hat and Bandana

Briana’s Clothes

REI Rendezvous Convertible Pants Nine Pairs of Underwear Smartwool Lightweight V-Neck Long Sleeve Merrel Siren Gore-Tex Pac Lite Jacket Prana Bliss Short Lulu Lemon Roll Down Capris MSR Pack Towel - Medium Cotton Bandana Bathing Suit Cotton T-Shirt Bra Ibex Merino Bralette Ibex Balance Merino Sports Bra Merino T-Shirt Ibex Merino Tie Neck T


Cocoon Sleep Sheets Small Umbrella Princton Tec Quad Headlamp Princton Tec Aura Headlamp USB to Mini USB Cable Unlocked Motorola Razr V3 Combination Lock Moleskine Notebook AKG Folding Headphones Creative Zen Vision: M Headphone Splitter Charger for Canon Rebel XSi (Camera Used to Take Photo) Deck of Cards Point It Smith Interlock Whisper Sunglasses Suncloud Polarized Sunglasses Knifey Spoony folding cutlery amazingness Swiss Army Knife Travel Chess Set Two 4 GB SD Cards Wireless Remote for Canon DSLR SD Card Case HP v100w 8 GB USB 2.0 Flash Drive Highgear AltiTech Watch with Altimeter, Compass, and Thermometer Carabiner not rated for climbing Samsung N120 Netbook GSI Travel French Press Compression Straps USB 3G Mobile Broadband (like the link only generic) Samsung N120 Netbook

Clothes in Compression sacks

Granite Gear Compression Sack Sea To Summit Compression Sack

Packed bags

Columbia Day Pack for Carry-On - Not linked to this exact bag but similar Columbia Carry-on - Not linked to this exact bag but similar Domke  F-5XB Camera Bag Image Map

Non essential items we left in Bangkok after Ton Sai

1. Travel Scrabble and dictionary – Great while we were on Ton Sai but nonessential.

2. Travel Settlers of Catan – Great while we were on Ton Sai but nonessential.

3. Pot set and stove – great to have, used every day on Ton Sai, but not since.

4. Beach Towels – Left on Ton Sai

5. Pillows – I love our travel pillows but they are big and bulky. We use one of our compression straps to keep them fixed on our bags.

A few other tips of honorable mention

Books are heavy and big. There are many used book stores with a decent English selection in ever country we’ve been to. Not to mention most guest houses have a selection of books you can swap out while staying there. Unless you are set on which books to read on your trip, limiting yourself to just one to get you started will make it easier to travel and pack a smaller bag.

Doing laundry can be a chore and require some downtime during your trip but for a nominal fee it can be done for you depending on where you are. Depending on what you value more, your money or your time, will help you decide how much to pack. We have not paid for laundry once this trip, preferring to give one or two items a quick wash as needed.

Shoes are bulky. Carrying more than one pair of good walking shoes is going to be unpleasant. Limiting yourself to just one pair of shoes and sandals will make your life much easier. Wear the bulky shoes on the plane and pack the sandals.

Bringing a laptop can be convenient and save you some money by avoiding the internet cafes in lieu of restaurants with free wifi. But unless you’re planning on doing work I don’t recommend bringing a computer. It will be heavy and distract you from what you came to do.

Lastly, if you have any doubts on whether to bring a specific item think about whether it will be available where you are going. In much of the lesser developed world things are cheaper than at home and if you pack one less shirt you just may find yourself with a local replacement you can keep as a souvenir.

Happy Packing!

5 Responses to “Pack Less, Experience More”

  1. CaroCaro said:

    What do you do about rope and quickdraws for your climbs during your travel?

    July 26th, 2010 at 11:34 pm

  2. Briana said:

    We manage to fit our entire rack (rope, draws, harnesses, shoes, other hardware) into one backpack and we lug that around as well. When we have a leg of the trip that doesn’t involve climbing we try to find a secure place to leave the backpack. In some locations, such as Ton Sai, Thailand, you can rent climbing gear but I wouldn’t recommend it. People abuse rental ropes like they abuse rental cars. I personally wouldn’t trust my life to gear that has been abused.

    You can see a run down of the gear we have in tow here:

    July 26th, 2010 at 11:44 pm

  3. Ali said:

    So, I notice you do not pack socks? Also, for Briana, would the amount of clothes you show above also be appropriate for a 5 month trip? Do you think 9 pairs of underwear is too much? (Do you use cotton underwear?) Also, one sports bra, one regular bra… what is your third one for? Also, no toothbrush from home, just buy one there?

    Finally, what do you recommend for a towel?

    March 13th, 2011 at 3:00 am

  4. Briana said:

    Hi Ali,

    What you are going to need depends on the climate you are going to be traveling through more than the length of time you will be gone. Personally I pack the same for a one month trip as a one year trip. I also try to think about where I am going and what will be available while I am there. Things like t-shirts are easy to get anywhere, but good rain gear can be hard to find. The reason for 9 pairs of underwear is that having so many means I can go over a week without needing to do laundry. I don’t mind wearing the same shirt or pants for days on end as long as I have a clean pair of undies on. Sometimes you find yourself to busy or without good resources to wash and dry. Ladies underwear is also relatively small so those 4 extra pairs don’t weigh me down. The third bra is just a personal preference. I wear normal bras more than sports bras if I am in the city and it’s nice to have one to wear when the other gets icky, but this could definitely be cut out. Things like toothbrushes, shampoo, conditioner and soap are all easy to get pretty much anywhere. Depending on where you are they can also be cheaper to buy than at home and not bringing them can make it easier for you to travel with carry-on luggage only.

    As for a towel, I never leave home without a pack towel. There are a lot of brands making them now but the one that I have is the MSR Packtowl Original

    They also make one called the ultralight, but I personally don’t like it. Even the personal size is big enough to dry off your whole body after a shower and it dries really fast.

    Hope that helps, let me know if you have any more questions.


    March 13th, 2011 at 12:49 pm

  5. Ali said:

    Hi! Thanks for responding! I wasn’t sure if you would see the comment since it’s been about a year since you wrote this post, but I’m so happy you did!
    I leave on Thursday for a 5 month trip (with my boyfriend) to South (and Central) America. We will be in Argentina (everything from the tip, through Patagonia -hiking and camping-, to cities like Buenos Aires) for about a month, Brazil for a month, Chile (staying with a family friend for a little, so a nice reprieve from hostels and couch surfing!), Peru, and Ecuador -each of the last three for about three weeks. Then onto Costa Rica, Guatemala and Belize (only about a week of vacationing-type activities in those countries).
    My point is, the weather will range a lot, since we have mountains and desert! I was planning on 2 sports bras (I think they are comfortable, especially when sweating!) and 1 or 2 regular bras, maybe just 1?
    I will definitely be looking into buying one of those types of towels too, although I’ll have to find a store that sells them since I’m running low on time (oops).
    I love all of these posts! I just discovered them yesterday and they are all so helpful! Especially things no one thinks about like… traveling with a significant other! (I want to send him about 8 of your posts because they are all pertinent and helpful!!) But thanks so much for writing back. Any more advice you have I’m all ears. You can email me at the email provided too!

    March 13th, 2011 at 2:24 pm

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