The art of packing light for travel

A backpack is perfect for packing light on your travels, buy one from AmazonThe best way to travel is of course with no baggage at all, and for those who can get away with just a carry-on, you're blessed. For the rest of us, well, traveling light is an artform. But one that makes our trips so much more pleasurable. So, what should you pack and what should you leave at home?

Remember, anything you bring, you'll have to carry. Everywhere. Some people enjoy carting a 20 kg backpack three miles because there are no taxis, but I don't. You will be moving your luggage into the trunk of your car, out of the trunk of your car, through the airport, off of the luggage carousel, to the train station, to the bus stop, onto the bus, off the bus, back two kilometers because you overshot your stop, up six flights of stairs, and onto the dresser. So here is what I've learned.

Before leaving home

Some of the preparations you should do before leaving for the airport.

  • Make two photocopies of your passport, one for your checked luggage and one for a friend at home
  • And then do the same for all your tickets and reservations
  • Write an overall itinerary, and leave it with someone you can get in touch with at any time
  • Check that your travel insurance is valid for your destination and activities
  • Do you need any vaccinations?
  • Ensure your rent will be paid while you're away, if going for a long time, rent your place! This will also make the trip a lot more cost effective

Vital items

These should be on your person at all times while moving about and getting to your destination. In your money belt is best. Your bag can be stolen at a moments notice.

  • Passport. Make two photocopies, one for your checked luggage and one for a friend at home. Alternatively, carry a photocopy of your passport at your location and leave the original in the hotel safe
  • Money. If you can, bring $200 US in cash as it's convertible everywhere
  • ATM / Cashpoint card
  • Credit card. Visa or MasterCard, your American Express won't be accepted in many places


In your carry-on you should put:

  • The vital items above if not in a moneybelt
  • Some candy for a quick pick-me-up
  • Toothbrush and small tube of toothpaste
  • Travel bottle of a good all-in-one shower gel
  • A change of underwear and socks, you can now go three days without your checked luggage
  • Notebook and ballpoint pen
  • Photocopy of all contact numbers you may need (including hotels etc)
  • Camera, spare battery, and memory cards
  • A good book
  • Ear plugs
  • Some photo prints of home and family and friends. Great to show people you meet on the road

In checked luggage, pack this stuff:

  • 4 more pairs of underwear and socks
  • Extra pair of trousers, Patagonia travel ones are fantastic as they can be cleaned in a sink and dry in an hour
  • Charger for the camera batteries and travel plug so you can plug it in
  • 2 t-shirts
  • 1 more formal top, for those slightly fancier places
  • A knit sweater (jumper), preferably wool. It'll get cold at some point
  • Cheap plastic rain poncho, it'll rain too
  • Other toiletries
  • Condoms, they can be hard to find
  • Business cards with your name and contact details
  • Towel
  • Flip flops. You don't know what's growing on that hostel bathroom floor...
  • Guidebook, you won't read it on the plane anyway
  • Small LED flashlight running on AA batteries
  • Duck tape is brilliant, bring a small amount wrapped around itself. Rubber bands are useful too, as are zip ties
  • Digital alarm clock
  • Bed sheet for the hostel if you're staying in one
  • Small gifts from home if you'll be staying with friends

Not-so-basic stuff



Unless you need it for business purposes or really can't live without it, don't pack it. Your back will thank you for it.

Of course, if you're going on a sports holiday, you will need to bring the gear. Don't forget some basic spares and tools as you probably won't find them in Tibet or wherever!

Don't pack the following

Illicit drugs. Not even Scandinavian jails are anywhere near as comfortable as the worst hostel you've ever stayed in. Room and board might be free, and your trip will be of record duration, but this isn't the best story for the grandkids... Don't ever move about with any drugs.

Extra toiletries, loads of socks, Game Boy... You can buy it when you need it, and talking to people around you is much more fun than electronic entertainment. Otherwise you can always catch up on sleep!

View a full list of items prohibited from carry on and checked luggage.

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Nice list

This is a nice list. I think that when packing just half the amount of clothes and you'll be fine.

Michael on 06 March, 2009



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