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Minimalist packing: Travelling for 3 months with a 33L backpack
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What is your image of a typical backpacker? To me, it is someone with a giant colourful backpack strapped to their back and a smaller one poking out in front, dressed in some fairly questionable clothing.
At least, that is what I see when I encounter backpackers in Thailand. People being crushed by the weight of their stuff, sweating with effort and frustration as they try to squeeze into public transport. They stand out by miles.
There is nothing wrong with looking like a backpacker – in my twenties I certainly did my fair share of traipsing around in fishermans pants and lugging around huge amounts of stuff. It just seemed like the right way to do ‘backpacking.’
But I’ve since learnt that that’s not really desirable, nor necessary.
For my current 3-month backpacking jaunt around Asia, I have squeezed everything I need into my North Face Big Shot 33L backpack, which has travelled with me all over Asia. My partner is being a bit more extravagant by using a brand-new Osprey Nebula 34L backpack.
For those unfamiliar with backpack sizes, 33L would be considered really small for long-term travel. It might be considered more appropriate for using on an overnight hike, whereas a 50-55L backpack would be the recommended size for women backpacking longer-term.
Why is minimalist packing the way to go?
By travelling with a bag that easily fits airline carry-on dimensions, we save a ton of money on not checking in luggage.
We’re taking a bunch of flights on this trip, and we’ve managed to find really good deals by booking ahead. But adding luggage fees would really bump up the price of each flight.
For example, our flight from Bangkok to Shanghai cost £65.47 each. The check-in luggage fee is £23 per passenger on top.
We have booked 5 flights so far. If we had paid £23 each per flight, that’s £230 extra for both of us just to worry about whether our bags will make their way onto the luggage belt when we arrive.
In addition to taking flights, we’ll also be travelling on trains and buses, and of course walking from various stations to our hotels.
By keeping our luggage small and light, we can fit our bags into overhead bins, or under the seats in front of us. We can walk for a couple of miles and not get too tired from carrying our luggage.
Key tips for minimalist packing
If necessary, buy it there
I figure that if I missed something from the packing list, I’ll be able to buy it on the road while travelling. This means I don’t pack anything ‘just in case’.
So for example, if I need a pair of tights, or an extra layer, I’ll head to the nearest Uniqlo (or whatever is the closest equivalent). Toiletries can be topped up on the road, or are offered in hotels or AirBnbs, so I don’t worry about carrying heavy bottles of shampoo and shower gel.
If you’re travelling somewhere quite remote (say the jungles of Borneo), this might pose more of a problem. But we’re hopping from major city to major city, so there will always be easy access to most things I might need.
Do laundry on the road
We’ve booked AirBnbs with washing machines, and will use cheap launderette services where possible, which means we’ll be able to wash our clothes along the way.
We’re also doing hand washing when necessary. This means that I’ve tried to pack light items of clothing (especially underwear and socklets) that can air-dry quickly.
Pack clothes you love
What’s in the bag?
- Mobile phone (iPhone SE)
- Laptop (13″ Macbook Pro – quite a heavy one!)
- Kindle (incredibly convenient while travelling)
- Chargers for all the above and a universal plug adaptor
I usually have quite an involved skin-care routine since learning about Korean beauty routines, but while travelling I have pared this down to the basics:
- Coconut oil – this has so many purposes, including facial cleanser, eye make-up remover, hair conditioner, and body moisturiser
- Diluted apple cider vinegar for toner
- Essence (Missha Time Revolution The First Treatment Essence – a dupe for SK-II)
- Moisturiser (Boots Botanics Organic Hydrating Day Cream)
- SPF50 for the face (Biore UV Perfect Milk – usually I prefer the Aqua Rich Watery Essence version, but this bottle was smaller, and this SPF is better if you’re spending more time outdoors)
- Lip balm (Burt’s Bees)
- Contact lens solution and cleaner for gas-permeable lenses
- Natural deodorant (a Thai brand)
- Toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss
- A comb
I’ve packed several of these products into smaller travel containers or contact lens cases to save on weight and space.
I’m not big on make-up, but I do use a fair bit on my eyes to make it look like I’m not half-asleep:
- Concealer (Mac) – for those dark circles!
- Eyeshadow (Maybelline Nudes palette)
- Liquid eyeliner (Mistine, a Thai brand)
- Mascara (Maybelline Falsies)
These clothes are rolled up tightly so they take up less space in the backpack:
- One light puffa jacket – this will be donated once we leave the colder countries of East Asia and start travelling South-East Asia
- Dresses x 3
- Jeans x 1 (black, from Uniqlo)
- Leggings x 1 (Adidas)
- Sports shorts x 1 (Adidas)
- T-shirts/tops x 7
- PJs x 1 set
- Socks and undies (enough for a week)
- Swimsuit x 1 (H&M)
- One pair of black Reeboks – black hides dirt well and can look semi-smart if needed. Also good for city exploration and mild hiking
- One pair of flip-flops
- A medium-sized scarf which can double up as a light blanket on flights
- A selection of inexpensive jewellery – this includes a couple pairs of earrings and necklaces to dress up outfits
- A small leather handbag – for everyday wear to carry my wallet, phone, sunglasses and kindle
- A tote bag – for carrying around my water bottle and umbrella when out and about
- Tea – most hotels and AirBnbs come with a kettle, so we’ve brought along some loose green tea and tea-bags
- A small baggie of almonds and raisins – you never know when you’ll need an emergency snack!
- Eye mask and ear plugs – we have a couple of overnight flights so these are essential
- Hand sanitizer
- A Thai inhaler stick – for travel sickness. By unscrewing it, the oil can also be used to soothe mosquito bites
- Small towel
- Compact umbrella
- Water bottle – to cut down on using plastic bottles where possible