Thursday, June 14, 2012

Guest Blog: Top 5 Tips for Packing Light by Jeff

My brother, Jeff, went on a 2-month trip across Asia this year, visiting China, India, Japan, Malaysia, and Vietnam. While I'm on my trip, he volunteered to share his travel tips. First up, his five tips for packing light. So incredibly useful, people. I'm using the same bag he did to go to Belize for a month and I managed to do pretty well with these tips. I am bringing enough clothing for an archaeological dig, a touring vacation (ruins, nature preserves), and a beach/diving* vacation, all in a carry-on and small camera backpack. I find that when you go on a trip, everyone starts yelling packing advice at you. Here's some stuff that's actually worthwhile. 


While I was trying on backpacks in REI prior to my 10 week, 5 country East Asia trip, the woman assisting me told me her secret for traveling light: “When packing for a trip, lay out all the clothes and money you plan on bringing. Then, remove half the clothes and double the money. That is what you should pack”. With that advice, along with what I learned on my own adventure, here are my top 5 tips for packing light.

1) Be Organized
You can’t pack the same way in a smaller bag that you did when you were using a larger suitcase. If you are like me and end up just throwing things in the bag when moving from one location to the next, you will find out quickly that things don’t always fit that way in a smaller bag. For this reason I recommend buying a set of packing cubes to keep your items neat and easy to find. The help compress your load and allow you to pack what you need without getting overwhelmed every time you need to find something in your bag.

A collapsible bag is worth its weight (or lack thereof) in gold! 
I also recommend bringing a smaller, collapsible bag to put your clothing and non-essentials in so you can use your main backpack while you are out exploring without carrying everything with you. If you are staying in guest houses or hostels ask the front desk if they will keep your stuff in a luggage room or just behind the desk. 99% of the time they will be more than happy to help you out.

2) Pack Flexible Clothing

Flexible in this case has multiple meanings. The first deals with the physical flexibility of your clothing. Pack light, flexible clothing because they are space saving and easier on your back. Stick with synthetic fabrics. They are lighter, dry faster, handle sweat better, and are considerably more wrinkle resistant.

The second deals with flexibility of use. Pick clothes that can be used in many different environments and social scenarios. On my trip I brought some polyester travel pants that were appropriate for both long hikes in the Vietnamese countryside and clubbing in Shanghai. Also, chose clothing that layer well. If your trips include many different climate types, you want versatile clothes that can be worn alone in hot environments and layered with others in colder environments.

3) Pack For Regional Deficiencies

Certain countries and regions will not have certain products you need or are used to using. For example: China doesn’t sell deodorant in their domestic stores because they just don’t really use it there. On the other hand, you can buy toothpaste in any corner store. In this instance you could pack extra deodorant and less toothpaste and just plan on buying more while you travel. This way you have everything you need without sacrificing space. This leads me into my next tip:

Bring extra cash for unforeseen expenses!
4) Create A "Destination Fund"

This one I stole from Tim Ferriss, author of The Four Hour Workweek. In his post he recommends that you pack as little as you possibly can and then buy most of what you need when you get there. I agree with this to a point. I don’t think it’s the most sustainable way to travel because you end up throwing away things you don’t have room for once you are done using them. If you rely on this method too much, you will end up blowing your budget pretty quickly. My advice: pack all the things you know you WILL need and set a little money and space aside for unexpected weather conditions or regional deficiencies.

Travel the world with what you can carry on your back!
5) Avoid Wheeled Luggage

People will definitely disagree with me on this but I consider this a very practical tip. The wheels and the handle add extra weight and a lot of countries aren’t very wheeled luggage friendly**. Sidewalks and roads are often in disrepair (if they exist at all) and it is much easier to steal a bag you are dragging behind you versus one that is strapped to your back.

The psychological aspect comes into play when you are test packing before your trip. When you have to physically carry everything you bring with you, you tend to pack less to make it easier on your body. Pack your bag and put it on. Then, think ahead to your trip and picture how much walking you will do with that bag on your back. I guarantee you will start removing lower priority gear to lighten the load.

Happy travels!

*My dives include equipment, but I am bringing a dive computer, underwater cameras, a skin, and a full set of snorkel gear with mini fins. 

**One of my destinations in Belize requires a trek along the beach from a water taxi stop. I'm going to be glad to be backpacking it at that point, I think. 


  1. That "half the clothes, twice the money" tip is probably the best travel advice I've ever heard.

  2. *A month later*

    Yeah, I thought so too. She was quite knowledgeable!


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