Packing for that Big Trip: 15 Tips to Travel Cheap, Light and Smart
(My Gear: Post-Trip)
“He who would travel happily must travel light.” ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Travel Writer
When I set out from China on my journey around the world, one of the hardest things was choosing what to bring with me. I had my four bags laid out on my bed and a mound of stuff that I thought I needed to take with me. I spent months before I left figuring out just the right stuff to bring on the trip. I am not sure what you would pack for two years, but it is easier said than done.
Before, I had done a number of lightweight trips that usually lasted a few weeks to a month. However, on most of those trips I didn’t need to be self-sufficient. They were also much shorter than the journey I was about to undertake. I knew I needed equipment that would last and would be durable in the rough conditions ahead. In most of China though, outdoor adventure stores are a niche market and expensive. As a result, I had to navigate Chinese websites to get all of my gear ordered online. With the help of my teaching assistant in China, I was able to do just that. It was a headache of a process, but I learned a lot.
Finally, with all of my gear laid out on my bed, I packed it up into my four bags with a tent. When I plopped it all on my bike, I felt the weight of all that stuff. After a heartfelt goodbye, I was off riding along with this monstrous load of weight in the sweltering heat of the South China summer. After a hard first day of riding, I was shattered. My bags were far too heavy.
That night I unpacked everything from my bags. I took everything I truly didn’t need and gave it away. For a week, I did the same thing almost every day and lightened my load to the point where I only carried what I truly needed. Periodically, I would go through my gear as seasons changed and my needs. Eventually, I rid myself of all unnecessary items. By the end of the journey, every single item had a purpose and a place. It was liberating. I could move faster, longer and happier. Freeing yourself from shackles of things, allows you to see the world around you as it is. It allows you to see the face of travel as it was meant to be seen.
“On a long journey even a straw weighs heavy.” ~ Spanish Proverb
There are many ways that you yourself can travel cheap, light and smart. I will dive more into how to travel cheaply in the future, but in many ways what you pack can directly impact the cost of your trip. This will make more sense later. The most important part, for myself, has always been to travel light. This allows you to have an increase in mobility throughout your journey. After traveling to over 60 countries, most of which was done lightly as possible, I have learned a few things from my different adventures. I will break down packing tips and tricks into a few categories below, with a bit of practical context for each. Remember, in many ways, what you own in turn owns you.
(The only souvenirs I collect, besides memories & photos. I suppose I would be a mild collector, with all the bills from the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, Saddam from Iraq, a Pakistani collection, old Russian rubbles & Chinese bills before Mao, as well as an extensive collection of all countries I have been to and more)
1. Travel Light:
It is easy to travel light if you know a little bit about where you are going. Look at your upcoming trip. Do some research. Google is your friend and easy to use. Where are you going? What season is it? Will you need a winter jacket or will just a T-Shirt be fine, even at night? How long are you going for? What type of trip are you headed out on? Are you going for a week or a month? Will you be moving your bags a whole bunch? Are you planning on camping or staying in nice hotels? These are all things to consider when thinking about what you may pack for your trip.
If you are wondering if you will be able to buy something related to clothing, the answer is yes. If you are going anywhere outside North America or Europe, things will generally be cheaper to pick up on the fly. In most cases, aside from specialized equipment, you will be able to find almost anything in the country you are headed to. I do understand that if you are on a shorter trip, chances are you’re not going to be interested in looking for a power adapter or a new pair of socks the moment you arrive. Weather and seasons aside, here are a few packing tips to save space, weight and mental breakdown with your luggage.
Roll your clothes. This frees up more space for other more important items. Packing what is needed goes a long way to avoid lugging around a heavy bag or suitcase for weeks on end. For two years I had only 3 shirts, 3 pairs of socks, 2 shorts, 2 long sleeve shirts, 2 pairs underwear, 2 hats, 2 buffs, 1 toque, 1 pair of mitts, 1 pair long johns, 1 sweater, 1 pair of cycling shorts and 1 set of lightweight rain gear. This all fit into one small bag at the front of my bike. On my other trips where the weather was consistently warmer and I did not need to camp, I packed much less than this. Time and time again I have seen backpackers on short trips with double what I packed for two years. Most only stay in hostels and rarely need more than a T-shirt and a pair of shorts. What the heck do they have in those bags? Pack what you need.
Again, check the weather for the season and know where you are going. It is easy also to wash your clothes as you travel. A bit of laundry soap and travel clothes line or even a piece of rope can go a long way. Wash your clothes when you have the chance in a sink. Most places I stayed for a day off had at least a fan, things dry quickly and you save a bit of money. Even if you are going on a week-long trip, you can save time and money by washing your clothes yourself. You can also save time by just taking a carry-on backpack. You don’t need to wait for your bags after getting off the plane, you just get to go. Aside from moving to China and South Korea, I have never traveled with anything besides a small backpack. You beat the rush at immigration and you’re off on your adventure before everyone else gets their bags.
First Five Tips:
-Bring only what you will actually need
-You can get the little things later
-Roll your clothes to save space
-Pack for the occasion, not the end of the world
-Know the seasons & where you’re going
2. Travel Smart:
There are many items that you can bring that will make your trip much more enjoyable and safe. Bring a small lock with a key. If you are not staying in some fancy hotel with safety deposit box, then you will need to have peace of mind when going out for the day. Chances are you are not interested in lugging all of your things around each day, especially if you are hiking a mountain or walking long distances. In any hostel, there should be locker, where you can use the lock I just mentioned. You will likely be sharing a room with 8-10 people and sometimes you won’t even meet most of them. It is hard to know what everyone is thinking.
When there were no lockers, I pushed my bags underneath the bed and locked the most important bag. Nothing ever went missing. I have heard all of the horror stories about people being robbed. In most cases, in my opinion, people were doing something they shouldn’t have. Leaving a phone on a table in a busy restaurant, taking expensive cameras to a market, going to a bar late in a bad part of town and leaving a bag at a table to go to the bathroom. All of these people were robbed and they wonder why it happened.
Throughout my two years on the bicycle around the world and all of my other travels, I have only had two things stolen from me. My bicycle tools in Peru and a travel towel (little bit gross) in China. Truly inexpensive items, though slightly annoying things to replace. Maybe because I always looked poor, people left me alone. There are still a number of things you can do to prevent theft. One is trying not to look like a ridiculous tourist. Wear what you would normally wear and bring what you would normally use for a domestic trip back home. That way your clothes will be familiar and you don’t look like a target. There are people who make a living out of this type of thievery. In most cases, you will be fine.
If you are worried about your health, pack medicines and health items which are versatile. Check the health warning and any vaccinations you may need for an area. Even if something terrible does go wrong, I assure you, health services are better than you think in most countries. If you have adequate insurance then you should be covered, if anything goes terribly wrong. Don’t over pack on the medicines. You can get most of the same things for coughs, sore throats and diarrhea in any country. A basic medical kit is all that you need. Take regular vitamins to stay healthy, especially when you cannot access healthy foods and take care of your body.
For two years I carried the same bit of pills and medical equipment around the world. I rarely used any of it. I was only truly sick twice during that time. For all of the terrible places I ate and the worn out rough conditions I was through, I think that is pretty darn good. Along the way I ate a ton of garlic and onions, took my vitamins and ate healthy whenever possible. Preventative measures are the best way to keep the doctor away. It also helps you lighten the load and maintain a healthy mood. No one likes getting sick on a holiday. Take care of yourself before your go and while you are abroad.
Also, don’t forget a good set of earplugs. Much of the world is quite noisy, especially in the developing world. A decent set plugs will save you a good night sleep and your enjoyment the following day.
Five More Tips:
-Bring a lock
-Look like a normal person
-Don’t do dangerous things
-Pack only necessary medicines
3. Extended Travel:
There a good number of key items that will allow you to cut down costs, save space and make your trip more liberating. For myself, the number one thing on any adventure trip is the camp stove. You can get a lightweight stove that runs off liquid gas for less than 80$ at your local camping outlet. Over time, this little invention will save you much more in terms of food costs as well as mobility of where you can travel freely. The stoves are easy to carry and less than a dollar to fill up. I used regular unleaded gas, because it is available everywhere. It is the most beneficial item you can have if you are on an extended trip into expensive or far off places of the world. Also bring a small knife, plate and lightweight pot. A spork is a handy tool for eating on the road and useful for stirring your pasta or rice. You won’t be able to cook the most amazing meal in the world, but I have whipped up some pretty satisfying things on the fly.
Bring a lightweight and easy to set up tent. Again this only pertains to extended travel, but that tent, like the stove, will allow you to be out in the wild. If that’s what you like, the tent will allow you to experience nature and the people who live in those parts of the world. Free camping is exactly that, free. There are only a few occasions on my trip around the world where I agreed to pay for camping. When I rode my motorbike around Mongolia, I never did. It depends on the country and the type of comfort you are looking for with your travels. People are kind, so say hello. They will almost always allow you to camp on a patch of land near their home. I have a rule of always asking, if I don’t know. Gives you peace of mind while you sleep. You never know, you may even make a new lifelong friend.
A good sleeping bag. You can now get very warm and tightly packed sleeping bag that will allow you to sleep comfortably anywhere. In some places where I found the cheaper hotel beds to be completely filthy, (ie India and Ethiopia), a sleeping bag also comes in handy to separate yourself from the unclean sheets that won’t be cleaned even if you ask. Forget packing the bulky travel pillow and roll up your sweater or your towel for a fairly soft place to lay your head. If money is an issue, the more you save on buying the best of everything, will allow you to do what you came to do. Travel.
Lightweight electronics. Forget the huge laptop at home and invest in a small tablet or use your phone. This does not include a nice camera, if taking pictures is what is really important to you. The worst part about electronics though, is charging them. There are now many types of external battery sources from solar, electric and even self-powered energy devices. Find the one best suited for your trip and it will allow you to still stay connected in far off places and even enjoy your music.
Obviously with all of this stuff your bag is getting a bit heavier, but if you are going on a long enough trip with a budget and seeking adventure, I believe all of these items are liberating and will return their weight in cost and memories over time. Though it weighs more, I recommend bringing some sort of journal for those extended trips and making a point of writing as often as possible. It only takes a few moments to fill a page. Online blogs are nice, but there are certainly things you would write in a journal that you wouldn’t publishing online. It isn’t for anyone but yourself. You will likely be the only one interested in looking back later at your former self. On any long journey, always remember to bring an open mind. This can be the most important thing of all.
Last 5 Tips:
-A Journal & An Open Mind
These are just a few points to get you going in the right direction for your next trip. If you would like to learn more about these topics or have questions about travel in general, please don’t hesitate to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Until next time, take care, travel light and live for the adventure.
*Now that we have reached our goal for five schoolhouses in five different countries, an update is underway by the good people at Free the Children (WE Charity). I look forward to sharing the full update on the progress of all five schools in China, India, Kenya, Ecuador and Nicaragua with all over my sponsors. Stay tuned!
**If you didn’t see my new video from cycling around the world, you can check it out below, or even just watch it again! 🙂
Posted on August 18, 2016, in 10 Lessons, Adventure, Around the World, Canada, Charity, Cycling, Food, Free the Children, Inspiration, Motivation, Thoughts, Travel and tagged 15 Lessons, Adventure, Around the World, Bicycle, Canada, change, China, Cycling Around the World Video, Cycling Five Continents, Cycling gear, Enjoy the World, How to Pack Light, How to Travel on the Cheap, Inspiration, Lessons from Cycling the World, Life, motivation, nature, One Adventure Please, Our World, Take a Holiday, The Road, Tips and Tricks for Travel, Top 15, Tourist, Travel Packing Tips, Travel Photography, Travel Smart, Vacation, Wanderlust, What to bring for a long trip. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.