How to Fit your Life in a Backpack

“Packing enough that you have all the comforts that you would at home without overdoing it, it’s not easy, and it takes some experience to get the perfect backpack ready”

Sofia Vallasciani
Sofia Vallasciani

Sofia is a sustainable travel writer currently exploring Indonesia. She loves finding local gems and uncharted spots.

How to Fit your Life in a Backpack
Photo:Dudarev Mikhail/Shutterstock

Planning the backpacking trip of your life through 6 different countries is exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time. Among flights, currency exchange, and hostels to organize, there is the decision of what to take with you. Because how are you going to sleep in hostel beds without your dear stuffed animal that kept you company for 20 years? I went through that, it’s heartbreaking.

However, I am sure there is at least one waterfall or one hike that you have planned to do, so traveling light will be the key to making it up there with both of your lungs. Here are a few tips I can offer, and the mistakes I made, to travel with only 8kg on your shoulders.

Packing light makes for a better trip

While you might not have the perfect outfit for every occasion, traveling light has many perks

Photo: Everst/Shutterstock

Have you ever seen one of those backpackers carrying a 60L bags on their shoulder, shoes hanging outside of it, and an extra day pack at the front sweating their faces out? You don’t want to be one of those. Admittedly, they often look way prettier than me in photos afterward, but they must have gone through hell carrying those two bags of makeup and maxi dresses with them all the way up to Mount Bromo. The reality is that while Instagram influencers make it seem very easy to look like a supermodel after a hike, normal people don’t. And that is okay. So, pack the items you feel comfortable in, and don’t worry too much about the fashionability of them.

The perks of a small backpack

No baggage fees: One of the favorite perks of my bag weighing 8kg is that to this day I have never paid luggage fees on a flight. While this may sound unimportant if your budget is tight and you are planning on traveling for 6 months, paying $40 each time you fly will quickly add up. Also having one backpack means that all your valuables will be in it, so it is safer to have it with you at all times. It is not uncommon to have your bag boarding the wrong flight and being shipped to the other side of the world by mistake.

Mahabalipuram India - January 1 2018 Children loaded the crowded bus

Photo: Akimov konstantin/Shutterstock

Fits everywhere: I have never been in so many overcrowded buses, trains, and halls as in Southeast Asia, so my bag usually sits under my feet or my head, if I am using it as a pillow. Don’t forget that often seats and turnstiles are designed for the smaller Asian figure, so you will not have much space by definition. Having a compact bag will help you make it through the 8-hour night bus ride.

Quick packing: we are constantly on the road, and often changing hostel every two nights, so the ability to pack our bags quickly is essential. I mastered this art after a couple of weeks and I can now have my backpack ready in less than 5 minutes. Don’t underestimate this, it means you can explore longer before a flight or sleep until 10.30 and still make the 11 o’clock check out.

Everything starts with the right backpack choice

backpack and package for a trip travelPhoto: Billion Photos/Shutterstock

All your packing choices begin with the backpack. It will be your best friend during your trips so it is incredibly important that it fits your needs and taste. My backpack is actually a 32L camera bag from the Millican Maverick Collection. I’m not sure if it was specifically designed for around the world trip rather than a photography day out, however, it works for me. The two access points (top and front) makes it extremely easy to reach into, and it’s small enough that I can’t really lose anything. I affectionately named it Phileas, but we haven’t made it around the world in 80 days yet.

The features that count

interior shot of Globetrotter store in Dusseldorf Germany - How to fit your life in a backpackPhoto: Sorbis/Shutterstock

There are hundreds of options out there, and for a first-time backpacker, it can be quite an intimidating universe to peek into. However, I considered only a few factors when I bought mine and it has worked out well so far. I believe it is important to take into consideration the feeling you have for a bag, as it will literally hold your life for the next few months.

  • Size: Yes, size matters! It mostly depends on how much of a fashionista you are and where you are planning to go. Colder climates will require more gear, but anything larger than a 35L backpack will take quite a lot of commitment to avoid throwing away half of your belongings.If you thought of buying a larger than you need backpack to have extra space left, think twice! For some reason, we tend to overpack whatever size backpack to its exploding point, so a 30-35L will save you from carrying 50kg on your back.
  • Build: A deep bag with no front opening will not be much help when you forget your passport right at the bottom of it. Mine opens like a suitcase so it’s extremely easy to pack and has plenty of external pockets and an internal compartment. I also looked for a padded laptop sleeve, document pockets and a separate compartment for shoes. I have seen backpackers fishing in their bags for underwear for over 10 minutes, so some organization is key.
  • Sustainability: I bought my backpack from Millican, a growing English company. Not only do their bags stand out from the sea of Osprey’s out here, but they are good for the environment. The bags are made with 65% recycled plastic collected from shores and waterways, and the buckles are in aluminum. However, pick your bag carefully because they last so long that you will not have a chance to buy a new one for a few years!

Learn from my mistakes: things to leave at home

Two mens traveled using motorbike in hai van pass Vietnam - How to fit your life in a backpack

Photo: Jordan Opel/Unsplash

The Internet is full of lists of what to pack, but I believe it depends on your personal needs, destination, and length of your journey. So, this is a list of the things that you should not pack, based on the mistakes I made.

  • The third pair of shoes: one pair of flip flops and one pair of trainers are more than enough, no need for stilettos out here.
  • A travel pillow: definitely have one, but not one as big as mine. It was a present for my boyfriend but we both hate it. We are now stuck with a 1kg pillow that doesn’t fit anywhere.
  • Don’t let your mum buy items for you: you will get overly attached to that shirt to the extent that it will make the journey around the world twice without ever being worn.
  • Wax stripes: Wax melts in the heath, who knew? (n.b.: bring an electric epilator instead, they are difficult to find abroad).
  • Too many clothes: I made some girls in Vietnam very happy when I gave away half of my bag.
  • Makeup: not to state the obvious, but at 40°C even if you manage to create the perfect makeup, it will melt halfway up to the viewpoint where you wanted to take a picture from.

3 tips to pack your gear neatly

 carabiner in color nickel - How to fit your life in a backpackPhoto: Brester Irina/Shutterstock

Use packing squares. They are cheap and come in different sizes. The mesh fabric on the side will also help you to keep the clothes dry. I tend to use only the smaller ones and over-pack them, so they compress their content down. They are perfect to hold a personalized first aid kit or laundry.

Use carabiners: Unlike my boyfriend, I love having the pieces of gear I use the most outside of my backpack. The refillable water bottle, a collapsible day pack, and my Matador quick-dry towel are buckled up on the side and top of my bag.

Use RFID pouches for documents: they usually come with hooks to attach it internally on your bag and they protect against data theft. I had my card cloned previously and trying and replace it while being abroad is extremely difficult!

Bring your stuffed toy if you must

packing list -brown hat - suitcase-clothing - How to fit your life in a backpackPhoto: STIL/Unsplash

Leaving all of your belongings behind can be terrifying, especially if you have parked all of your possessions at your parents’ house and quit your job for this trip. It can feel like you don’t have a home anymore. However, the first thing I learned when I started backpacking was that actually I don’t need much to live comfortably, and many of the things I own are superfluous.

Packing enough that you have all the comforts that you would at home without overdoing it, it’s not easy, and it takes some experience to get the perfect backpack ready. It took me a lot of trial and error: I had to give away over half of the clothes I had originally taken with me, and absolutely hate my travel pillow, but that is also part of the game. Also, like many others, I too get very homesick sometimes. My trick is to always bring a piece of home with me on my travels.

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