How to Pack Only a Backpack for a Long Trip (And Other Smart Packing Tips)

Updated: Jun 6, 2020


One of the things that I get asked most frequently by my family and coworkers after a trip is: "How do you possibly pack only a backpack for an extended trip?" or variations such as:


"How do you even know what to bring for a 2-3 week trip?"

"How do you know what you'll need in another country?"

"How do you lug around your supplies when you're train hopping?"


I also often hear comments such as:


"I never know what to pack so I end up packing way too much."

"Somehow I always end up bringing 10 outfits for even a two-day trip because I never know what I'll feel like wearing."

etc. etc. etc.


That's why I decided to share some of my super-secret-minimalist-packing-tricks with you today (disclaimer: the tips you'll learn today are neither super nor secret, but they may save you from lugging around heavy suitcases and immense shoulder pain).


Make a list in advance:

This sounds super simple, yet for some reason many people don't do this. I suggest starting your list at least a week before your departure. In my experience, if I try to remember everything I need at the last minute then I tend to forget certain items and I pack excess items that I don't really need. By having a piece of paper hanging on the refrigerator (or in another easily accessible location like on a phone memo pad) I can write important things as I think of them throughout the week. This also helps me keep track of anything I need to buy and of what I already own.


Clothing:

This is often the category that has people struggling to zipper their suitcases. I try to stick to simple outfits that can be easily mixed and matched and things with little bulk. I also use the method of rolling my clothes rather than stacking them in a pile, that way I can make layers with multiple articles of clothing rather than just one at a time. And remember: you will almost always find a washer and dryer in your hotels/hostels during your stay, so no need to pack for the full number of days!


Bottoms:

This particular tip will be easier for women than men, but I find that bringing jegging-type jeans takes up much less space than denim. You can pack about 4 pairs of rolled up jeggings per every one pair of folded, denim jeans. I usually bring about 3-4 pairs of jeggings,1-2 pairs of shorts depending on the weather at the location, and one pair of pajama bottoms. And for men, two or three pairs of jeans and a pair of shorts is enough, as it's often hard to tell if somebody is re-wearing the same pair of blue-jeans.


I always pack more underwear than any other article of clothing. The reasoning for this is simple: you can re-wear pants and shirts, but you can't re-use your undies (or at least you shouldn't...). I also pack more socks than I would need because you never know if you're going to make a wet-sock-change during the day. On average, I'd say I pack about 10 pairs of underwear for a 2 or 3 week trip.



You will almost always find a washer and dryer in your hotel/hostel during your stay, so no need to pack for the full number of days!

Tops:

I always try to pack simpler shirts when traveling because it's easier to mix and match outfits, since I always wear my shirts and pants a few times before washing them. This way it's easier to keep your outfits looking fresh without having to bring a new shirt for every day.

I usually bring around 5-6 shirts, 2 or 3 undershirts, 1 sweater and one jacket (which I wear on the plane to save space in my bag). I also try to steer clear of shirts with easily-wrinkled material (you know the ones), as rolling them can make them almost un-wearable.


One thing I make sure to never forget is my raincoat! No matter where I'm headed, you better bet that my thin, windbreaker-style raincoat is safely rolled at the bottom of my bag. Trust me, it's not fun getting caught in a surprise rainstorm in the middle of an adventure.



Shoes: One of the fastest ways to add bulk to your bag is to bring excess shoes! I never bring more than two pairs of shoes: the ones on my feet and one pair at the very bottom of my backpack. These may be a pair of sneakers and a pair of sandals or sneakers and hiking boots (depending on the destination), but I always bring my lightest pair of running sneakers for daily usage. I've made the mistake of choosing fashion over practicality before and my blistered feet and ankles did not thank me. I know that we all want to look cute for those Instagram pictures when exploring new cities, but your feet will thank you for skipping those strappy heels or boots. And hey, sneakers can be super cute with the right outfits!


Liquids:

Since I only take a carry-on backpack when I travel, I have to limit the amount of liquids I can bring with me. Airplanes limit your carry-on liquid sizes to about 3.4oz (or 100ml) per bottle and to one clear, plastic pouch to contain them; this only leaves room for the bare necessities. I usually bring (in travel sizes): one tube of toothpaste, one stick of deodorant, one tube of hair styling product, one can of dry shampoo (for those early-morning, long-travel days), my facial cleanser and moisturizers and fluid for my contact lenses.


If I have space, I will sometimes bring my own shampoo and conditioners as well. However, in my experience most hotels have shampoo and conditioner for you to use for free and if they don't, you can always stop at a local store and buy some. The reason I don't try to pack enough shampoo and conditioner for a long tip is because I often run out of the travel-size bottles in less than a week and end up having to use the hotel's or buy some. So I'd rather not waste precious liquid space in my bag for something I'll run out of quickly anyway.


Bag/Purse:

Whenever I leave for an extended trip, I leave my regular purse at home. I remove all my important items and transfer them to a small, travel pouch like this one. I keep all my money, ID's, and cards in this pouch and keep it close to my body at all times. Not only are purses an easy target to steal, but it's also easy to put it down somewhere and forget to pick it up. They also hurt my shoulder after carrying them around all day.


Instead of a purse, I always pack a very light, fabric backpack or drawstring bag for daily outings. I roll this bag up at the bottom of my backpack just like I do with my clothes. The reason for this is that during the day, I leave my actual backpack locked up in my hotel or hostel and put things like a water bottle, portable phone charger, extra socks and a rolled up rain jacket in my daily pack. It is also convenient to have if you happen to pick up any souvenirs or snacks along the way. And if you are in a place where theft from tourists is common, at least your most valuable possessions are stored safely in your travel pouch and not on your back.


Miscellaneous Items:

These are the items that I most often forget if I don't make a list ahead of time. My list usually includes:


Forms of ID (passport, Visa, license)

Forms of money (Card and cash)

*Both of the above in a travel pouch

Phone charger

Portable phone charger

Outlet converters (if needed)

Toothbrush and floss

Pouch of aforementioned liquids

A small drawstring bag

A comb

A razor

Earbud headphones

An eye mask for sleeping (if you'll be staying in a hostel)

Contact lens case, an extra set of contacts and backup glasses


*Obviously your list is not going to be exactly the same as mine, but you get the gist. Try to pack only the necessities and things that you will need if you're out adventuring all day.


Some of these tips may sound practical and obvious, but for those who are new to traveling or who tend to over pack, they can be life-saving.


If you have any packing tips of your own or if you think I missed something (because I'm a human), please leave them in the comments below!


Me with my travel backpack on my back and my daily bag on my shoulder

 

If you got to the end of this post, thank you so much for taking the time to visit my page!<3


If any of this information helped you, or if you have advice of your own, feel free to give this post a like, comment, or share!


See you soon!

~Hannah


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