Minimalist packing for an overseas trip
What’s in my bag never really changes. In fact my bag doesn’t even change. I bought my travelling rucksack in 2002 in Melbourne for A$20, in preparation for a side trip to South East Asia. I’d left home with a cheapie Argos top-loading 65 litre rucksack and rarely delved beneath the top layer of the random assortment of stuff I’d deemed necessary for a year away.
That year turned into almost three but that’s another story. I was definitely ready to go minimalist, even before the trend took off! Since then I’m often asked where the rest of luggage is or get envious glances from backpackers sweating under their overstuffed massive pack and full to the brim day sack.
But I never wish I’d brought more. In fact there’s always a couple of tops I never wear and that pouch of random bits I never open. So, what’s in Tors bag ….?
First things first – choosing the right rucksack for your adventure
Now it may be falling apart, with the zip broken years ago and the side straps frayed away and the bottom slowly disintegrating from years of being dumped on dusty backpacking trails, but it’s my backpack and I love it. I’m also a terrible miser, hate spending money and what if I don’t love a new bag as much as I love this one?
And what’s not to love? It’s a simple design, with a single zipped main compartment meaning I can easily access precisely what I need. There’s one small front compartment, perfect for my toothbrush and deodorant (and, shh, don’t tell anyone but also where I keep my dirty socks). And that’s it! No extra pockets or unnecessary straps or hidden compartments.
I also quite like that it’s old and battered and unbranded. I tell myself that it’s not my bag that will get stolen from the bus roof or the hotel lobby or the cafe floor where I’ve left it completely unattended.
I always pack it exactly the same (not that I’m a creature of habit or anything)
I start by putting everything I think I want to take with me out on the bed. It’s usually a mountain of stuff! Then I make three piles – definitely, perhaps and probably unnecessary.
Then I look again at the definitely pile and think ‘I don’t want to lug all that around’ and so I reduce it even more. Essentially I will only take enough clothes that fit perfectly into the bottom half of the rucksack. The top section is reserved for my flipflops, toiletries, raincoat, fleece and a zip pouch of random bits.
Only pack minimal toiletries
Don’t fall into the trap of taking enough toiletries to cover your whole trip. Everywhere I’ve travelled you can easily buy branded toiletries. I take shampoo and conditioner in 100m bottles and this usually lasts a month (washing my hair every other day). I use a soap bar as it lasts way longer than shower gel, plus it’s more environmentally friendly. Then I simply need a moisturiser, toothbrush and toothpaste and suncream.
I have a small first aid kit for the essentials – plasters, antibacterial wipes, headache tablets and throat lozenges. I also carry, although have never used, anti-diarrhea tablets. I read a great article once by a paramedic about how this is all that is needed in a travel kit as for anything more serious you’re best to consult a pharmacy anyway. I’ve only had to do this once, on my most recent trip to Central America,where I had a bizarre allergic to a packet of Doritos, when visiting Guatemala City,
What footwear to take backpacking
This is a simple one. I wear lightweight hiking trainers and take a pair of sandals.
I’d love to take my running gear (honest) but that’s another pair of trainers and it would simply take up too much space!
The best clothes to pack for a backpacking trip
I’m quite ruthless when it comes to clothes. I can’t stand the idea of lugging around a bag full of dirty clothes all the time. So I tend to take the exact same number of clothes each time, the main aim being to have three sets of clothes (one I’m wearing, one is for tomorrow and one needs washing).
I take two pairs of lightweight trousers, a pair of boardshorts and pyjama bottoms that could double as trousers in a pinch. I take about four t shirts.
Then I take a couple of loose cotton tops or shirts that will protect me from the sun. Add my swimming suit, travel towel, raincoat and fleece or lightweight hoodie and I’m good to go.
Ahem what about underwear I hear you ask? Well, three pairs of knickers are plenty as I wash them in the shower each night and the same with socks.
Other random but essential travel kit
Of course this all sounds nice and simple. But then there’s all the other random stuff you feel is necessary. I pare this down to what will fit in a zipped travel pouch. This comprises earplugs and facemask. A head torch. A power bank. A cutlery set and bottle opener. A folding travel bowl. Sometimes a Tupperware with lid (great for snacks). A comb (which I never use as I hate brushing my hair, but for some reason always take with me). A mirror and tweezers and nail clippers. And.. well I can’t think of anything else.
What sort of Day Sack is best for travelling?
I take a folding rucksack so if I get energetic and do a day hike or hire a bicycle, I have a decent bag to put my lunch and water in. But for everyday use I use a cotton tote bag. It’s easy to sling over my shoulder when I have my rucksack on and keep accessible on my knee on crowded buses, as well as being great for food shopping at markets if I’m cooking for myself.
In my shoulder bag I usually have a pack of tissues, my guidebook and whatever book I’m reading at the time, my bottle of water, suncream and sunglasses, and some snacks (not Doritos though, I’ve gone off them since the Guatemala incident).
My bankcard, extra cash, passport and copy of my insurance are safely tucked into my travel belt which I wear religiously. I’d rather do that than worry about who might be eyeing up my tote bag or pickpocketing me on public transport. But I do keep my cash for the day and my phone in my shoulder bag.
So there you have it – how to pack for a three-month backpacking trip. Of course this only works if you’re off to a relatively warm country, have no desire to go partying or to posh restaurants, plan to do any serious multi day hikes or if you have attachments to a teddy bear, hair straighteners or complex multimedia technology.
This winter I’m planning to do the Trans Mongolia express from Moscow to Ulan Bator, followed by two weeks exploring Mongolia. Yep, that’s also their winter. Temperatures of minus 20 being completely normal. So, I’m guessing I’ll have to rethink my packing system. But that’s another blog post…