When it comes to packing, my goal as an expat / digital nomad is simple: be able to push, pull, or carry everything I own from point A to B in one trip. Since I’m also carrying all my game stuff and clothes for all four seasons, getting it all down to a suitcase, carry-on, and a computer bag is challenge enough!
Some travelers, they’ve gone even further than that — sometimes getting everything they own into just a carry-on or a single backpack. How, you ask? We’ll get to the hive mind in a second, but first…
This is the Kosan Travel bag. What the Kickstarter campaign calls a ‘system’ is essentially two bags: a carryall (35L) and daypack (15L), convertible from backpacks to a duffel bag and messenger bag, respectively. Put them together for one kick-ass carry-on. Created for travelers by travelers and all that – padded pocket for laptop, weatherproof fabrics, etc.
They’re manufactured in a Vietnamese factory that also makes paragliding equipment — the sort of thing where quality kinda makes a life-or-death difference. While your travel bags probably make a life-or-death difference, that sort of quality means they’ll last longer than your average department store luggage. Go give it a look.
OK, ad over. Let’s get to the advice.
Photo credit: Elaine and David from The Whole World is a Playground.
Only pack absolute essentials
For about 3 years, I was always on the road, traveling from one place to the other most of the time. I try to keep only absolute essentials with me like my passport, travel documents, money, phone with charger, camera, toiletry kit, a towel, just 3 sets of clothes, socks and inner wear. An extra pair of light slippers in case my shoes get soiled or wet. I own a lot of things including my computer, TV and some furniture that I left at my parents’ place. I had to keep buying detergents and soaps anywhere I stay for more than a day. I bought snacks and water wherever I stop to recharge.
Priyadarshini Rajendran runs a travel blog, Glorious Sunrise, and provides customized itineraries for amazing destinations in South India.
Buy ultra-light stuff
We pack only the essential clothes to 2 / 3 weeks. If we are travelling longer than that, we accept that we have to stop and do laundry some day. The most important thing is knowing that we have to make sacrifices and don’t take all the clothes we have/like. However, packing multi-use clothes and knowing how to layer (important for colder weather) also saves space. The heaviest clothes always dressed up, like the jacket and trousers. Finally, packing cubes are essential to keep everything organized! We also bought ultra-light computers and other electronics to save weight and space.
Jorge & Claudia write mostly about adventure travel and expat life in Angola! See their site at www.couplertw.com.
‘If we’re not using it, it doesn’t go in the bag’
Travelling with hand luggage is our goal on every trip but it’s entirely dependent on the climate of the destination. For hot climates we can easily manage for up to 8 weeks with cabin baggage while colder climates require more gear and a check in bag.
Surviving on our hand luggage only trips has meant we’ve had to find the right bags for us. Our photography equipment is essential so Dave carries all our electronics (laptop, cameras, lenses, drone, GoPro and cables…so many cables!!) in a dedicated Lowerpro camera bag. Elaine uses a 35 litre Deuter backpack for our clothes and toiletries. Packing cubes are a lifesaver, they’re awesome for getting everything into our bags, and we tend to invest in good quality, lightweight and compact gear.
For longer trips to cold weather destinations we use the same carry on and check in a small bag with bulky gear like hiking boots and winter jackets.
Either way, if we don’t love an item and won’t use it frequently it doesn’t go in the bag. It’s tough but we’ve learned from experience: backpacking through Asia each carrying a 60 litre backpack taught us some hard lessons!
Elaine and Dave inspire with their luxury travel adventures on The Whole World is a Playground.
Packing cubes are a blessing
We work online, which allows us to be based anywhere as long as we have good internet access. So far we’ve used this to our advantage by combining this with two big trips, the first for 2 years in Asia, the second for 2 years in Latin America. We have to ensure we carry “everything” with us when moving around.
What we have learnt is you actually only need to pack for 1 week’s worth of clothes, ensuring a balance between normal day clothes and a few nice tops for going out. We always have a pair of jeans and a dress shirt in case of a formal occasion/conference talk. Same with shoes – one pair of trainers and one nice pair for going out. We comfortably fit everything into a 70 litre backpack.
A lot of things double up, so trekking pants can have zip cut offs so they become shorts. We always pack to ensure we are prepared for extreme cold and heat. Humid climate is easy – you just wear less! Colder climates, we ensure we have a fleece jumper and rainproof windbreak coat. Finally, packing cubes are a blessing. They keep it all nicely organised.
Stefan and Sebastien are a couple who are travelling the world and write about their experiences in every gay scene they visit around the world. You can read more about them on their gay travel blog – https://nomadicboys.com.
Stay in fully furnished places
We’re a family traveling full time for over a year. We used to have one checked bag where we put everything too big or not allowed in the carry-ons. Recently, we moved to be carry-on only. Each person carries one 40L backpack with the non-electronic belongings + one day pack with the electronic stuff. We’ve been traveling to warm places only but we’ll face at the end of the year – carry-on only! We also stay in fully furnished places only!
There is no magic here. We just carry 6 changes of clothes, 1 extra pair of shoes, and whatever extra fits. Plus what we wear, which is the heavier stuff. If we buy something, we need to leave another behind. The ‘big’ bags are under 7kg, but the parents’ day packs are definitely overweight.
Thais Saito is a mom and full-time traveler that writes about family travel and homeschooling at World Trip Diaries.
Keep the fashion simple
I traveled around the world for 18-months and lived out of a carry-on. When you are carrying everything you own, extra baggage takes on an entirely new meaning. In order to pack light, I abide by a few rules:
- Stick to one color scheme. Blacks OR browns, but not both. This will make things easily interchangeable.
- Limit your shoes and pack shoes that can go from day to night.
- Stick to solid colors. Patterns are fun, but they don’t go with as many outfits. If you wear a black shirt two days in a row, no one will notice. However, if you wear polka dots two days in a row, it’s a dead giveaway.
- Wear your heaviest things on the plane: Packing a jacket? Boots? Sweatshirt? Wear it on the plane to save precious bag space.
Things to note:
I try to travel to warmer weather climates. If I travel to a cold weather climate, I usually pick up gear while I’m there. Also, I stay in fully furnished apartments and hotels.
Ultimately, if I absolutely need something (which I rarely do), I can buy it in my destination.
Collette Stohler is the head roamer at Roamaroo.com.
Speaking of travel clothes, Gemma and Craig have a great post on the best travel trousers for men.
Use a pump sack to vacuum air out
Photo credit: Iris Veldwijk
The bulkiest part of my pack is always my clothes. My biggest secret to packing compactly on my hitchhiking journeys is a dry bag. No, not any dry bag, it’s officially called a “pump sack”, usually used to inflate camping mattresses on the go. The difference? It has a one-way release valve at the bottom, so you can get the air out by pressing, squeezing, or like I do it: sitting on it. What’s left is a neat orange ball of clothes. It’s a superior system to the packing cube in the sense that a packing cube gets floppy if it’s not completely filled – giving you a bad incentive to over pack. The pump sack on the other hand packs as little as five odd socks or as much as a full travel wardrobe.
Iris Veldwijk writes about hitchhiking, freecamping and being everyone’s favorite stranger on her blog Mind of a Hitchhiker.
‘Only do summer’
All that we own is in our Osprey 46L Carry On luggage and our technology is in our Osprey 24L Day Pack. We ‘only do summer’ where possible. We roll our clothes. Jane uses Lush shampoo and conditioner bars, keeping in line with carry on airline regulations.
We are international house sitters and mix our travels up with house sitting and staying in hotels or apartments (if you want to learn more, check out this awesome TrustedHousesitters Review). Back in Australia one of our sons has a container with our tax records and hard drives for photographs.
We are on the road continuously.
Jane and Duncan are from www.totraveltoo.com, a lifestyle travel blog inspiring all that ‘age is no barrier when it comes to travel’ and ‘chase time not money.’
Buy fashionable, but versatile
For the last three years I have taken every trip with hand luggage only. This includes winter in Russia, six weeks in Central America and now my entire life as we set off on a one-way journey from Germany to New Zealand. I use packing cells to compress all my clothing as small as possible and make sure everything is made from light-weight materials such as bamboo and linen for summer and merino wool for winter. These days, there’s quite a lot of travel specialist clothing around – such as these pretty chic and cool dresses for travelers.
But the real key to packing your life into carry-on is to pack versatile shoes and clothing. My dresses can be worn over a bikini at the beach or out to a restaurant. I have lightweight black trousers which can be worn hiking, to cover up in conservative countries or with a nice top a night out. I even have reversible clothing so they go with a variety of other items. Yes, you will need to get used to living with less and wearing the same clothes some days. But with some savvy packing you can fit everything you need!
It’s well worth having clothes that can help you conceal your cash too – check out this post for a roundup of some cool travel jackets with hidden pockets.
Rohan is currently travelling in a van from Germany to Azerbaijan. She writes about budget travel, interesting destinations and great books at Travels of a Bookpacker.
- Choose warmer climate to avoid bulky cold-weather clothes.
- Stay in fully-furnished places to avoid packing extra stuff
- Keep clothes versatile and simple
- Packing cubes for organization or a pump sack for compressing
- Only pack what you use. Not using it? Sell, donate, trash, recycle…
- Go check out that Kosan travel system while it’s still on Kickstarter.
Do you travel carry-on only? How do you keep your luggage’s weight down? Comments are open!
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