I am a huge fan of traveling light. I hate having to pile my suitcases onto a trolley when I arrive at the airport, wait in line to check it in and then wait endlessly the other end for it to be spat out onto a conveyor belt – only to find it never arrived and has landed in a an entirely different country.

Once I’m in a new country I like to be free to travel in whatever way best suits the circumstance. Something like: Taxi to the train station, sleeper train to the coast, ferry across to an island and a bus to the beach side cabins. A big suitcase, hand luggage and a giant camera round my neck would make this journey absolute hell.

On the other hand, if I could cut all of this down to a single backpack it would be a breeze. Better yet, a single carry-on bag would make it even better.

Questions you may ask at this point:

  • Sounds great in theory, but how?
  • Surely a carry-on bag would never fit everything you need!?
  • That’s fine for a weekend…but I’m going for a few months!
  • I don’t want to cut out any important things
  • How will I have enough outfits for every possible occasion?
  • I won’t have a washing machine

Okay, it may not seem it now, but you don’t have to worry about any of the points above… just bear with me for now and all will be explained.

I have one bag that I always use and I have used it for weekends, weeks and months of travelling. So first we need to look at how to choose your bag.


How to Choose Your Bag:

Travel Bag












Taking the time to get the right bag will definitely pay off and you will appreciate it for years and miles to come. Ideally we are looking for a bag that maximises the cabin size allowance on most planes. This means that you will probably have a rectangular bag: most back packs have rounded edges for style purposes, but this will mean that you are cheating yourself our of valuable packing space. We also want something simple, built to last and inconspicuous. Below is a list of key points to look out for:

  • Rectangular is best – As I said above, if we have limited space we might as well be economical about what we are allowed. Get a rectangular bag!
  • General size regulations (average) – Length: 55cm, height: 39cm, depth: 22cm
  • Quality zips – I had someone try unsuccessfully to push through the zip on my travel bag with a screwdriver. It was frustrating as I was locked out of my bag but also very satisfying to know it was pretty much unbreakable. Look out for the letters ‘YKK’ on the zip pull. It is quite a geeky topic, but this Japanese company makes a high proportion of the world’s quality zips.
  • Panel loader – getting access to everything in your bag can become very frustrating with a top-loading bag (opening at the top only). It is much easier and neater if you can open your bag like a suitcase (zips on 3 sides).
  • Material – ‘Cordura’ or ‘Ballistic’ nylon are good options to ensure your bag is durable and not prone to tear
  • Locking zips – locking your bag will give you piece of mind and act as a deterrent to would-be thieves. If someone really wants to rob you they will put a knife through the bag or take the whole thing, we are just deterring the opportunists that may encounter our bag
  • Compression straps – Internal and external if possible, a pile of clothes can be compressed to almost half its size with the correct use of compression straps. If your bag does not have them built in, you can buy them separately online for very little.
  • Compression bags – If you are a little OCD, you can also try compression bags that act as small compartments inside your bag. This makes it easy to only disturb small sections when rummaging for something important.


What to Pack:

Download Minimalist Packing List

  • Sets of 3 is a good minimum for most things – one on, one in the laundry and one clean
  • As much non-iron stuff as possible
  • Quick dry is key
  • Match all tops with each pair of bottoms. If all combinations work it will greatly increase the number of outfits you can make and keep your options open
  • Different weather conditions will require different packing lists
  • Consider using the mail – If you only require certain bulky items, such as warm coats, for a short period of a long holiday you can mail items that you no longer need back home
  • Consider renting when you get there – If you are trekking in the Himalayas for example, there are many mountaineering equipment rental stores in Kathmandu that offer high quality gear for low prices (check before you arrive if it is important equipment).


How to Pack:

  • Write a list before you even look in your wardrobe…. then stick to it. This will stop you grabbing things on impulse
  • Lay out everything you think you will need on your bed or on the floor. Group everything so that you can see logical piles, e.g. socks and underwear, t-shirts, warm stuff, shoes or passports/paperwork. This will help you to visualize where you have excess and also make it easy to tick items off your list
  • Once this is done, look again at your list and look for ways to cut down… you need to reduce your packing pile by 50%
  • The core and wrap technique (bundle packing) will save LOADS of space and reduces ironing. My camera is being fixed so until I can make a video of how to do this: watch this cheesy version by NBC News:


What NOT to Pack:

One of the down sides to not checking in your baggage is that it restricts what you can take with you. It also means that if you have something in your bag by mistake that is prohibited, you might have it confiscated. This is quite a big down side for me as I would usually list a Victorinox Swiss Army penknife as an essential item…

  • Knifes – I took a simple butter knife through security at LAX by mistake and they were very unhappy with me… maybe because I repeatedly denied having any knives in my bag until a grumpy security officer pulled out the butter knife I had ‘permanently borrowed’ from my last hostel in order to spread Nutella while on the road. Woops.
  • Liquids over 100ml – A key note on this one is that even if there is a quarter of a bottle of liquid (e.g. expensive cologne) left in a bottle that is larger than 100ml, it will still count as over the limit and it will be confiscated
  • Lighters – This can vary depending on the country and airport. Some allow one lighter for personal use, others are strictly against any at all
  • Soil – Always give your walking boots a good clean before heading to the airport. Some countries – such as Australia and New Zealand – are very strict on letting muddy shoes into their country
  • Codeine– A common pain killer in many countries, but if you plan to travel through UAE it could land you in a bit of trouble or even prison (it is an illegal drug there). Do your research first and make sure you have a prescription with you for any prescription drugs


How to Do Laundry While Travelling:

  • Wash your clothes in a washbasin using normal washing powder. Carry a small amount with you in a zip lock bag, or alternatively you can just use a bar of soap. Ideally you will need one bowl of water to rinse, a fresh one to soap and a final one to rinse again (or just a running tap)
  • Always carry a universal sink plug with you, as it is quite normal to find that plugs are missing from cheap hotels or hostels (and a surprising number of nice hotels too)
  • To save time you can walk straight into the shower with your clothes on and scrub with a bar of soap as you take your clothes off (make sure you have dry clothes to change into!)
  • If you buy quick dry underwear you can simply hang them to dry over night (most only take a few hours)
  • If you are hiking or on the move you can tie your wet clothes to the outside of your backpack to dry as you walk (make sure they are secure!)


Other Useful Tips:

  • Head torch – These are great even if you are travelling to cities. In the event of a power cut or walking at night you will appreciate the freedom to use both hands.
  • Rubber door stop – For additional security or if there is no lock on your door, take a simple rubber doorstop and kick it hard under the door once closed. This should stop surprise guests – and if it doesn’t, at least it will give you time to prepare!
  • Duct tape – Useful for fixing almost anything. Get the travel size tape to reduce the space it takes up
  • Nylon cord – Great for fixing, tying, attaching or as a makeshift laundry line
  • First aid kit (even if it is just basic) – I am often shocked by the number of people who don’t carry one. As a self-sufficient traveller you need to be able to treat yourself and others in case of an accident. Even a basic kit can make a big different and make your trip easier and more comfortable. Download my packing list for the basics.

Spend a few weeks or months away from it all with the fewest possessions possible, and when you return to your house – bursting at the seams with ‘things’ – you will wonder what you could have ever needed with so much stuff.

How do you pack for travel? If you have any weird and wonderful tips please let me know in the comments below!