Quick disclaimer : I'm not a vulgar person but my vocabulary can be colourful. My life is R-rated and my website occasionally reflects that. Be aware of some frank language. All my photos are PG, but please read blogs before sharing with kids.
Backpacks are my preferred way of lugging my belongings around. Depending on the destination or type of trip, my suitcase is sometimes the better choice. But in general, since most of my trips involve various destinations and multiple means of transportation, I reach for my backpack.
Although I do enjoy looking burdened and I am a sucker for punishment (just kidding), here’s why my backpack is my jam:
* It forces me to travel light. Since I’ve got to carry it all on my back, I’m much more conscious about what I put into it, which ensures that I don’t overpack.
* It allows me to go hands-free, which is way more practical than most people realize. Ex: Buying tickets at the train/bus station, checking your phone, paying for coffee or food, eating said coffee or food on the go, looking at a map, making a phone call; all of it is much easier when you’re not struggling with your stuff.
* Going up or down stairs, walking down dirt roads and stony paths, negotiating subway/train platforms, getting in and out of vehicles - the logistics of maneuverability are much simpler when your shit is on your back.
* It all depends on transportation and accommodation infrastructure. If you’re renting a car the entire time, or staying in hotels with elevators, then rolling suitcases might be ideal. Obviously, all-inclusive resorts are perfect bring-your-suitcase destinations. Cobblestone streets, however, render suitcases loud, impractical and obnoxious; Venice came close to condemning them altogether.
So with all that in mind, here’s what I usually pack for trips abroad (like my upcoming 4-week trip to Northern Italy).
1. Consider the season / environment.
If you’re going somewhere warm, you've got less bulk to pack; tank tops, shorts and flip flops are easy. The tricky spots are the cold or rainy ones. In either case, the key is layers. For cool and rainy weather, bring a few long-sleeved shirts, a wind-rain jacket, closed shoes like runners, and a few pairs of long pants. Merino wool and quick-dry clothing are must-haves; they don’t smell as much (which means less washing), they dry quickly whether you’re sweating in them or washing them, and they fold well without much wrinkling.
Clothing for the cold and snow take up more space, so your pieces will be limited. Again, choose clothing that you can layer. And again, merino wool is an excellent choice for cold weather.
SUPER TIP: A good rule of thumb is to pack enough clothing for a third of your time abroad. Ex: If you’re travelling for three weeks, bring one full week of clothes. Six weeks = 2 weeks of clothes. 15 days = 5 outfits.
Travelling with just a carry-on? Bring even less clothes/underwear and sink-wash them, or visit a laundromat, whenever needed.
2. Invest in lightweight, good-quality packing cubes
For longer trips, I use two medium cubes (black and red) and one small one (blue). All by Eagle Creek.
Use them however you want. Ex: For longer trips, my bottoms and dresses go in the medium black cube, my tops go in the medium red one, and my underthings (bras, underwear, swimsuits) go in the smaller blue cube.
Alternately, one cube could store normal clothes (jeans, t-shirts, undies) and another cube could be for colder weather clothes (sweaters, tuques, mittens, scarves, etc.). Or dressy vs sporty clothes. You decide.
Keep in mind that packing cubes are useful for compressing clothes and take up less place, but they get heavy rather quickly. They’re space-savers and organizers, but not weight-savers.
And yes, I roll all my clothing, and even my outfits, together; it does take less space than folding. Clothes get wrinkled regardless of how they're packed so unless you've got a business meeting, get friendly with your wrinkles (also fitting advice for the ones on your face!)
If you don’t want to invest in packing cubes, plastic grocery bags will do just fine (although significantly less ecological).
Travelling with just a carry-on? Challenge yourself to fit everything in just one medium or large packing cube.
3. Coordinate your colours, but stay versatile.
I tend to pack lots of neutral bottoms (blacks, khaki greens and greys) and colourful tops; that way, everything matches and can be layered together. One colourful scarf or piece of jewelry can really jazz up an otherwise bland outfit.
4. Now lay it all out
Once you’ve chosen which clothes to bring, lay everything out on your floor or bed. Include jackets, hats, scarves, accessories and shoes. Whichever items you’re not completely sure about, set them aside for now.
Place your rolled clothes into the packing cubes, starting with your favourite, most versatile or most essential pieces.
Ex: In Italy, I knew I’d do a lot of hiking and walking, so most of my clothes reflected that. As stylish as Italy is, I was unfortunately dressed like Sporty Spice most of the time. It was a regrettable but necessary sacrifice in order to travel a bit more lightly.
Don’t forget to set your flight clothes aside; I usually wear my heavier clothes (jeans or running shoes, sweater and coat) on the plane.
If I'm checking a larger bag, I'll pack a spare outfit (and extra undies) into my carry-on, as it will be a lifesaver if ever the airline misplaces your checked bag - it's happened to me twice and I'm sure it will happen again!
This stuff gets packed into a small, daily toiletries pouch.
Travel-sized toiletries make everything lighter and simpler. Also, I LOVE those reusable, leak-proof silicone bottles. (Here's a thorough review of GoToob silicone tubes.)
If I need to bring 2 tubes of my favourite face wash, I’ll keep one in my daily toiletry pouch and keep the second tube in an extras pouch (kept in a top or side zipper of my backpack). I refill my daily toiletries pouch with extra toiletries as needed.
If I'm checking a large bag on the plane, I'm likely to bring along more toiletries (rather than buy them as I need them). I'm often camping or hiking, and don't spend a lot of time in cities, so I'd rather not waste time hunting down shampoo or laundry soap. I'd much rather hang out inside ancient forests or ruins than inside pharmacies (if I can help it, of course).
SUPER TIP Once again, in case my backpack gets misdirected by the airline, I keep a few emergency toiletries (mini shampoo/conditioner, toothpaste/toothbrush, deodorant) in my carry-on.
Travelling with just a carry-on? Fly with bare essentials and buy toiletries at your destination. Pack shampoo bars (as opposed to liquid shampoo) and cut out small squares of your favourite soap instead of body wash. Pack a small container of powder detergent instead of liquid detergent.
My electronics are kept together, although chargers and extra camera batteries must be kept in your carry-on. Don’t forget to bring travel adaptors for your destination country.
SUPER TIP: I keep each charger in separate clear bags and label each one. When packing to leave your room, finding an empty, labelled bag indicates which item you almost just left behind!
While travelling, I keep my passport in a thick cover; the bulkier it is, the harder it will be to misplace. Once I've arrived at my destination, I leave it in my hostel safe or hotel room as often as possible.
I keep a colour photocopy of my passport in my everyday bag, in the rare case it might be needed. Ultimately, that photocopy will make things much easier at the embassy if ever your real passport gets lost or stolen. My parents also have a digital copy of it, so they can email it to the embassy in a pinch.
Important documents (such as travel health forms) are kept in a thin plastic folder in my backpack.
Place your heaviest items (ex: packing cubes) on the bottom of your backpack to make it more comfortable.
Keep room for souvenirs or extra purchases.
Select a carry-on bag that will double as your everyday bag, or bring a cute extra purse in your backpack. I prefer messenger-style bags; you can wear the strap across your body and it’s more stylish than a small backpack.
SUPER TIP: Don't bring a purse if you’re going out at night. Use a money belt or your pockets for ID/money; better yet, use your bra. I’ve spent many evenings with my ID and a few 20s tucked in the upper part of my bra (just inside the cup, right near the strap). Not joking. That way, I didn’t worry about being pickpocketed or leaving something behind, and my hands were free at all times.
So here’s what I packed for 30 days in Italy. This list isn’t minimalist, but it’s not excessive either:
It's important to choose a backpack with several access points; top-loading bags are very frustrating when you're searching for something or repacking. This Osprey Kestrel 68L bag has 3 access points: top drawstring, mid/bottom zipper and side zipper.