I’m regularly baffled at the amount of stuff people feel is necessary to have on hand when they are traveling. Conversely, people are regularly baffled by how little I feel is necessary to have on hand when I am traveling.
What are the absolute essentials? It is simple. The set of clothes that you are currently wearing, your bank card, and your passport. With that, you can survive anything. From there, it is a sliding scale of what people think they might need, weighted against a growing piece of luggage and the inconveniences of one that you can barely lift off the ground.
For our 18 day trip to Turkey, this was what I brought with me (including the set of clothes I was wearing at the time of writing): 3 pairs of socks, 1 pair of shoes, 1 pair of flip flops, 4 pairs of underwear, 2 pairs of jeans, 2 pairs of shorts, 2 button up shirts, 3 t-shirts, 1 bathing suit, 1 sweater, 1 jacket, bathroom bag, a small towel, a book, my phone, a small camera, and a power converter. As well we brought a common Lonely Planet book and an iPad (which I would more than likely be the one carrying – see “cons” section below).
I dunno – that list doesn’t seem like anything extreme to me (on the low end, that is), but the size of my bag is laughable. I’ve had people tell me I look like I’m just getting home from school with it on! So the question is, what is everyone else bringing that results in these enormous suitcases they always have? Perhaps someone will enlighten me in the comments section.
Amazingly, even if I were to go on a longer trip than the one to Turkey (perhaps significantly longer), I would barely bring more than that (no more than one extra of any given item)! Plus perhaps a few extra auxiliary items, such as a sleeping bag and an empty pillow case (it can always be stuffed in a pinch).
As a rule of thumb when packing, I would say you would be wise to lay out everything on your bed that you think you would like to bring, and then make every effort to cut it in half. Don’t forget, it is likely you will find things to purchase while away, and nine times out of ten, I end up returning with a full bag!
Why pack light you ask? There are plenty of reasons: way easier to squish you and your bag onto a packed bus, you look like you know what you’re doing and are probably less likely to get robbed, you don’t look like you have much so are less likely to get robbed, if you do get robbed you won’t lose as much stuff, you can bring home more stuff, you can easily walk places with your stuff, it is a conversation starter when people say, “That’s all you have?”, and it makes decision making easier about what you are going to wear and you will probably not care as much anyway because you are somewhere much more interesting than home. In fact, watch out for a future post on the fallacy of choice.
Bad things I can think of about packing light: if you travel with someone you will likely have to carry some of their stuff for them, you will likely have to do laundry more often (but I actually enjoy finding a place to do laundry in weird cities :), that said it is amazing how far you can stretch things out when you try, and well, I suppose you might get bored of what you have to wear, but honestly that really doesn’t happen to me. Also, depending on how many different climates you are facing, it is possible you may end up less prepared than others, or perhaps you will have to buy something along the way if you get desperate. Personally that is another experience I enjoy!