Subtitled: The art of traveling light

For the New Zealand trip, I think I traveled the lightest I ever have. I was traveling in a developed country, and I wasn’t planning on camping, and those decisions helped lighten my pack–it isn’t that I’m a packing/traveling genius or something.

But I still felt smug every time I passed long lines of people either checking in their luggage, or waiting for it to be returned. The second morning of my trip I walked, without doubt or hesitation, about 45 minutes from the hostel to the train station. Just threw on my pack, slung my other bag over my shoulder, and off I went.

What was I traveling with? A small green backpack and an over the shoulder bag. I traveled for three weeks with just these.


Let’s cover the disadvantages first: I didn’t pick up many souvenirs while I was traveling–not unless I was going to ship it back to the US immediately. I didn’t have any room for much else.

Every time I had to get something out of the pack, particularly if it was in the bottom of the bag, I had to repack it. I got very efficient at this, but it wasn’t as if I could just shove things in. They had to be packed, rolled and in a particular order.

There was always the chance of things falling out of my pack. I had to be watchful and not lose anything. That didn’t mean I was successful: I lost my hand lotion as well as my brush.

If my bag ever got stolen, well, I’d be hurting. There was only so much I could carry in the over the shoulder bag. I tried to carry the important things there–the iPad, my notebook, my wallet, and my useless phone (used primarily as a date/time device. Possibly a watch would have been better.)

But the advantages far outweighed the disadvantages. It was so easy to pick up and go. I never had to worry about checking my luggage, no matter how I was traveling. It weighed less than 7 kg when I first arrived, so I never was required to check it (I weighed it at the airport when I first arrived–6.5 kg.)

I always felt light and free. That was worth whatever hassle such a small bag entailed.

What did I pack?


Three shirts, three t-shirts, four pairs of underwear, an extra pair of jeans, a light pair of pants that I used as PJs, travel towel, three pairs of socks, a pair of flip flops, a bathing suit, a sarong, a towel, an inflatable pillow, a hat, waterproof/wind proof jacket, gloves. Sundries included laundry bag and soap, eye mask, medicine, small Altoids kit with first aid stuff, shampoo, antibacterial hand gel, my knitting, a Starbucks cup that served as water bottle, a clothes line, extra clothes pins, emergency rain poncho.

The smaller bag held my iPad, my notebook, camera, all the electrical cords, electric converter plug, extra camera memory chips, extra camera battery, earphones, iPad to camera connector, sunscreen, hair things, nail clippers, phone, wallet, and I carried all my tickets and maps in there.

Because I was used to traveling in less safe areas, I also had my money belt with me at all times. It held my passport, my extra cash, and an emergency credit card.

I could have travelled lighter. I didn’t need the sarong or the bathing suit. I didn’t use anything in the Altoids tin, but I wouldn’t have traveled without it–better safe than sorry.

It sometimes felt like a lot–particularly with all the electronics that needed to be charged, and always scrambling for outlets. But I used every piece of clothing, and everything in both bags. There wasn’t much I could have traveled without.

So how did I manage?

I took a shower almost every night, so my towel would be dry in the morning. I washed the underwear I had worn for the day almost every night. There were a few times when I had to wait and wash more than one pair at a time.

I did laundry in a washing machine once, just after the first week. Washed the jeans, all the shirts, all the socks. Wore each pair of clean jeans for one solid week. Shirts were also worn on continuous days, until they became fragrant. The last week, I washed two shirts and socks again.

In the shops, there were T-shirts that said, “Same shirt. Different day.” That’s part of what you do when you’re traveling. Particularly when you’re traveling light. If it passes the smell test, it’s clean. Frequently, backpackers have really smelly aerosol deodorant. Just so they can spray their clothes and don’t have to do laundry as often.

A couple of times I did laundry in a bag. Basically, take a large, ziplock bag. Add water and a little bit of laundry soap. Close it up, shake and make sudsey. Add clothes. Shake. I find it easier to do laundry this way than in a sink. Can never count on there being a stopper, or if you bring your own, that it will work (I always carry my own, of course, as well.)

Wring out the clothes, then roll them up in the travel towel to get out all the moisture so they won’t drip. Hang over all available surfaces to dry.

So yes, in the end, traveling with so few clothes meant more work, more laundry. I always took my shower at night so I could wash things and they’d be dry by the morning.

But I still say traveling so light was worth it.

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