things don’t weigh me down…

Backpack size for my upcoming
3 1/2 month trip

I travel light. Years of backpacking have convinced me that you absolutely do not want to carry around more than is necessary. In fact, packing light is a bit of a personal obsession (when in university I once wrote an essay on this topic), and now that I’m older and have a trick knee, it is even more important. I’m currently packing for a 3 1/2 month trip. Here are 5 rules that save my knee (and my sanity), as well as a list of 11 must-pack items:

  1. No checked bags. Checked bags cost money and time. And If a bag goes missing, both time and energy are wasted trying to find it. Do yourself a favour, stick to carry-on luggage
  2. Leave heavy, bulky items at home. There are plenty of warm, waterproof, light-weight items on the market these days so there is no need to lug around that heavy sweater. For example: I own two excellent warm jackets (one North Face and one L.L.Bean) that fold up into their own little pockets.
  3. Live with less. Remember – you can always wash clothing as you travel so there is no need to pack ten pairs of socks when four will do. Bring clothing that you can layer and mix and match, and pack items that can do double duty – i.e. a bra that is also a bikini top, a t-shirt that can also serve as pyjamas. Believe me, when you are hoofing it up that hill to your hostel or running through the station to catch your train, you will be thankful that you packed only the bare essentials.
  4. Clothing must be comfortable and quick-drying. My travel wardrobe is essentially cotton-free because I want the sweat wicked away while hiking and my hand-wash dry by morning.
  5. Pay attention to culture at your destination and pack items that will honour that culture. This may mean packing a longer skirt and leaving the short shorts at home.

10 must-pack items:

  1. Scarf – a multipurpose item if there ever was one. Use a scarf for warmth, to keep your head dry, or whip it into service as a shoulder/head/knee covering when visiting a cathedral or a temple. Never leave home without this item!
  2. Duct tape – I have used my small roll to hang a mosquito net, as a bandaid, and to mend my glasses, my pack and my shoes. It may not look pretty but it sure does the job!
  3. Dental floss – Floss your teeth, sew with it, hang a mosquito net, or tie up a package. There is more to dental floss than teeth.
  4. Comfortable shoes. Backpacking is not about fashion, it is 100% about comfort and it starts with your feet. Find a pair that you love well before your trip and break them in. Comfortable shoes will save your life.
  5. Moleskin – Moleskin is premium blister control. You can buy it at your local pharmacy and cut it into any shape you need to protect any part of your body. I learned about this little life-saver decades ago on week-end trips into the Rockies and never leave home without it.
  6. Travel towel – these towels are compact, light-weight, and quick-drying, making them a much better choice than a regular bulky beach variety.
  7. Neck pouch passport holder – Of the many options out there for keeping valuables safe, I like this one the most. Wear the strap long so that it tucks into the waistband on your pants. Any thief would have to reach up under your shirt to grab it and then it is still attached to your neck. I wear this pouch around my neck while out wandering around, and on planes, trains and automobiles. In all these years, it has never let me down.
  8. Cake shampoo and conditioner from LUSH – This is something that my daughter discovered. The shampoo lathers well and both products leave your hair bouncing and behaving. Not only will they not spill in your luggage, but they are environmentally friendly as there is no plastic packaging involved.
  9. Headlamp – I often travel in countries where electrical failures are common so a flashlight is essential. If you have ever performed a task in the dark where you needed both hands free, you know the value of this item. Find one that has several brightness settings and good battery life.
  10. A good phone loaded with several travel apps – I resisted cell phones until I discovered they are a traveller’s nirvana. I don’t travel with a computer or iPad (remember – only essentials!) so I do everything on this little invention – check emails, book accommodation and flights, listen to music – you name it. My favourite travel apps are: (I love that my bookings load right into my phone calendar. They also make it very easy to change or cancel a booking); and Rome2rio which tells you distances between any destinations in the world and what your options are to travel there.
  11. Photocopies of your documents – Carry a photocopy of your passport, driver’s license and birth certificate – and leave a copy at home with a friend. That way, if your passport and/or other documents are stolen (cross your fingers and hope this never happens), you have all the pertinent information to apply for a new one.