Travel Light & Leave The Extra Socks Behind

Travel Light & Leave The Extra Socks Behind

By |2016-07-21T23:47:26+00:00June 4th, 2012|Travel Tips & Advice|84 Comments

Mumbai Central Train Station
Knowing that I’d be spending a decent amount of time in Romania, I loaded up my backpack with more clothes than usual when I recently paid a visit to my family back in the US. Normally, the weight of my backpack remains a relatively constant 8 or 9 kilograms (18 – 20 lbs) but as I crossed the Atlantic Ocean this time, I was carrying 15 kilograms (33 lbs), a weight that I can’t remember carrying around in a long time.

Why all the extra clothes?

I simply figured that being based in Romania, and taking short side trips to various countries around Eastern Europe, would require me to have a completely different wardrobe than usual, one that was more flexible and more suitable for spending a longer period of time in one location. Maybe I would have to dress up for some occasion or just want to wear a different pair of shorts from the one pair I normally carry. Or maybe I would want an extra pair of shoes to choose from each day.

One pair of jeans, one pair of shorts and four shirts no more!

I opened my brand new Kelty Redwing 50 when I was in Florida and stuffed that thing full of, well, clothes. Two pairs of jeans, one pair of dress pants, two pairs of shorts and a total of twelve, yes, twelve, shirts (3 long-sleeve, 9 short-sleeve), not to mention six pairs of socks, seven pairs of boxers, a pair of sweat pants (no idea why!), a pair of shoes, a pair of running sneakers and a pair of sandals. I even took two belts and two swimming shorts with me as well.

Do I Need All Of These Clothes?

I haven’t even taken half of my clothes out of my backpack and I’ve already been back in Romania for six weeks. And during that time, not one single person has commented or ridiculed me. Nobody has told me I’m a dirty traveler who should be ashamed of wearing only a few shirts, one pair of shorts and one pair of jeans. As a result, I’ve found no reason at all to use more clothes than what I’ve been using, which, incidentally, is the same amount of clothes I typically travel with.

It’s not as if I wear one shirt nineteen times before cleaning it. My clothes are always clean. And one button down shirt has been sufficient for those times I’ve needed to dress up a bit. It’s also the middle of summer so I haven’t pulled out any of my long-sleeve shirts and shockingly, I’ve been wearing the same one belt every day.

Quite easily I could have left about 60% of the clothes I now have with me behind in the US and I doubt there would have been even a single moment when I would have wished I had more items.

Why People Carry So Much Stuff

Packing light is something I always stress but as you can see, even experienced travelers can still fall victim to the lure of carrying around too much. It just goes to show how difficult it can be to convince yourself that you don’t need 15 kgs of clothes for an overseas trip, no matter how long you’ll be gone for. It seems so much easier to just take some extra items with you, you know, ‘just in case’.

Speaking of ‘just in case’, throughout my years of travel, I’ve met a lot of travelers who travel with large overstuffed backpacks. And whenever the topic of traveling light comes up in conversation, I always hear the exact same two reasons as to why a person is carrying around so much stuff as they bounce around the world.

First, it’s because they ‘might’ need one of the items in their backpack at some point during their travels. As I said above, ‘just in case’.

Second, they thought it would be difficult to do laundry while away.

When it comes to ‘maybe’ needing something, my theory is that if you don’t have it, you won’t need it. And if for some reason you do need it, well, you can almost always buy it while overseas. And if you can’t buy it, then you don’t really need it.

That extra t-shirt, you know, the one you received as a birthday gift from your best friend that says “I’m a Fanitoba of Manitoba!” and that you think you could maybe use when you’re hanging out on the beach in Asia…leave it at home. That pair of thick wool socks you want to take just in case you decide to climb Mount Everest at the last minute…leave them behind as well and I bet you won’t even notice their absence.

And that will be the case with everything you decide not to take with you. Just stick to the basics, a pair of pants, a pair of shorts, a small, varied collection of shirts and fewer socks and underwear than you need at home, and a few extra items to match the destination/climate you’re headed to and you’ll have more than enough to survive your travels.

That might sound daunting at first, but don’t worry, you won’t end up walking around in dirty, stinky clothes that you’ve had to wear for twelve days straight without being able to wash them.

How do I know that won’t happen?

Washing Machine

That’s because it’s actually very easy to wash your clothes while traveling, even if you’re constantly on the go. You can often wash your clothes in the sink or in the shower of your hostel/hotel and in many countries, especially in Asia, you’ll find a bucket in your hotel room bathroom (even in budget hotels), the sole purpose of which is to be used to wash your clothes. And you don’t need to carry around a large bottle or box of laundry detergent. Just step outside, walk to the closest corner shop and buy a small packet or two of detergent, something that can cost as little as 20 US cents in some countries.

That’s all it takes. Spend fifteen minutes washing your clothes yourself, hang them on a clothesline in your room overnight and in the morning, you have a fresh wardrobe. (And as Andrew Caldwell reminded me in a recent email while he was traveling around India, there’s no need to buy some expensive clothesline from a travel gear store at home when you can buy a perfectly effective one from a local shop overseas for mere pennies.)

Finally, for those of you who can’t imagine themselves doing their laundry in the shower or sink, there’s still no reason to pack an excessive amount of clothes. You can always pay someone else to do your laundry instead. Hostels and budget hotels often offer laundry services for a reasonable fee and if not, chances are that there is a laundry shop or two somewhere in town. You’ll typically pay by the kilogram and it’s quite common to get your laundry back the same day (if you bring it in the morning).

Of course, there may be times when you go to pick up your laundry, and as happened to me in Istanbul once, your ‘clean’ clothes are returned to you all bunched up in a messy ball, smelling like cigarettes and actually full of cigarette ash. But that doesn’t happen often, and good, cheap laundry services are generally available in every corner of the world.

Does A Lighter Backpack Really Make a Difference?

Me in San Jose, Costa RicaOh, it does. When you’re out there in the heat wandering through the streets of some unknown town or city, completely lost while trying to find a hostel or hotel, drenched in sweat and with the frustration building, you’ll be quite happy that you’re at least not having to lug around 15 kgs worth of stuff.

When you’re constantly bouncing around from train to train or bus to bus or train to bus to taxi to tuk-tuk as you try to reach a particular destination, having a backpack that weighs only 8 kg makes the adventure much more enjoyable as you won’t be dreading every time you have to put that backpack on your back. If it’s light, picking it up and moving around is a breeze and you’ll be quite thankful as you watch your fellow travelers struggle with their massive, heavy packs.

Besides, a smaller, lighter backpack can also be used as a carry-on while flying, you can take it onto the bus instead of having to put it in the luggage compartment underneath or on the roof where you can’t keep an eye on it and you’ll just be able to move around so much more freely wherever you go.

Combine that with the fact that you won’t miss those extra shirts and shoes and shorts and pants and socks and underwear and scarfs and hats and jackets that you didn’t end up taking with you and traveling light should seem to be an even wiser choice.

I know that I’ll be leaving most of my clothes behind myself next time around and happily returning to my old ways of carrying no more than 9 kgs of stuff.

How do you pack when you travel? Do you travel light?


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  1. Kate May 3, 2013 at 4:00 pm - Reply

    Hi again Earl,

    Do you bring a little travel scale with you?

    • Wandering Earl May 8, 2013 at 2:19 pm - Reply

      Hey Kate – Nope, no travel scale.

  2. […] Wandering Earl has the tips you need to travel light (including leaving the extra socks behind). […]

  3. Paula C. Ferguson March 21, 2013 at 4:38 am - Reply

    Whenever I travel i don’t forget to keep my travel socks.. It relaxes my feet. its extra large comforts my feet…It doesn’t irritate my toe either.

  4. bernie August 31, 2012 at 7:46 am - Reply

    Hi Earl.. yeah your dead right about traveling light! I thought i was traveling pretty light last time.. but i still thought when there that i should have packed less!! lol and will try to do next time!!

  5. TREVOR WARMAN July 18, 2012 at 12:59 pm - Reply


  6. Michele June 21, 2012 at 12:54 pm - Reply

    Thank you! I’m still gathering funds and information; anxiously awaiting the day I take my first steps with my trusty backpack. This post really simplified things for me. I’ve already cleaned out my closet and sold most everything. I’ve sold several pair of shoes (hey I’m female, I had a LOT!) and purses (again.. I’m female haha). You’ve made such a huge difference in my planning and preparations. Sometimes I wonder if you actually realize how much you mean to us, as readers of your blog 🙂

  7. Chris June 20, 2012 at 5:33 am - Reply

    Loved this post. I’ve found traveling light to be a saving grace. That said, I still carry between 12-14K, including my computer and camera. I carry a bit more clothing, but mainly because of regular exercise. I simply need to have a few extra shirts because they are usually done after one workout.

    However, when I zip the day pack off my main pack, I have been able to carry-on both pieces on every flight. Major bonus.

    • Earl June 21, 2012 at 1:56 pm - Reply

      Hey Chris – It is a major bonus and as long as you’re able to go carry-on, I think you’ve managed to get your stuff down to an ideal size!

  8. Jodi June 19, 2012 at 6:36 am - Reply

    Last summer I went on a 2 week trip, I hitch hiked from Istanbul to Budapest. I tried to really pack light (4 dresses, a cardigan, a jacket, one pair of leggings, a petticoat, pjs, a scarf, 1 pair of shoes, a bikini plus a few pairs of underwear) so that I could fill up my backpack with fabric bought on the trip… I did wish I had brought an extra pair of shoes with me though…

    I think dresses are great for travelling in. Take a pair of leggings in case it is cold. It weighs much less than a pair of jeans. It’s still possible to do everything in a dress (camping/hiking/tree climbing etc.) just make sure you wear underwear… 🙂

    I recommend packing a big cotton scarf – they are so versatile: picnic blanket/towel/head cover if you visit religious places/keeps you warm/keeps rain off etc.

  9. Kimberly June 18, 2012 at 10:02 am - Reply

    I’m so proud to say that 9 months ago, when my hubby and I took our 2 kids to Spain for 3 weeks, we carried only 2 backpacks weighing 7-8 kgs each (and that includes diapers and wet naps for the babies and a laptop). And that was enough stuff for the four of us. We didn’t feel deprived at all. Our friends and family all said we should bring more clothes especially since the weather was still hot and kids may have accidents. But we insisted on keeping our bags light. What a great decision that was. Between carrying strollers and babies up and down buses, trains and metros, an extra ounce would make a huge difference. I mean, what is the obsession with bringing so much stuff anyway? It’s not like we were going to sub Saharan Africa. And I’m sure even in sub Saharan Africa, travelers will be able to get some kind of clothing. So clothes is the last thing I worry about when it comes to packing. Gadgets on the other hand…but that’s another topic.

    Just out of curiosity…why did you bring more than usual to Romania? What’s different about this trip from the others?

    • Earl June 19, 2012 at 8:04 am - Reply

      Hey Kimberly – I brought more stuff on this trip because instead of constantly moving around, I have based myself out of Bucharest. I have a short-term apartment and am only taking shorter 1 – 2 week trips around the region. So I must have thought that by staying in one place, I would need more stuff 🙂

  10. Tim Richards June 12, 2012 at 7:24 am - Reply

    If I can make a suggestion to Natalia, I’ve found the key to light packing for a varied climate is the humble fleecy, which is very warm but relatively thin and easy to pack. Worn in layers, it can cover every colder day short of full winter snow, in my experience.

  11. Natalia June 11, 2012 at 5:13 pm - Reply

    I recently went backpacking through SE Asia (6 weeks during the summertime) and also used the trusty Kelty Redwing, although I used a smaller women’s pack. I packed only 2 pairs of pants, 4 shirts, and a pair of sneakers with just a few pairs of underwear/light socks, but the rest nof my pack was filled with a first-aid kit, medications (anti-diarrheals, antacids, etc. – I have a sensitive stomach!), mini toiletries, and a Nalgene (you’d be surprised how much space these items take up). I am preparing for a trip to South Africa (2 weeks during the wintertime) and am finding that it is considerably more difficult to pack a light pack when you are expecting varied weather. I have to pack for everything from day trips in the city to camping in safari lands, and it is cold in the morning and hot in the afternoon. Any suggestions?

    • Earl June 13, 2012 at 6:48 am - Reply

      Hey Natalia – It can be more difficult but still possible. There are clothes out there that provide the necessary warmth while taking up very little space. When I recently traveled through Europe last year during fall/early winter, I simply layered up on t-shirts and used my North Face fleece to keep me warm when the days were cold. Throw in a winter hat, scarf, gloves and a pair of thin yet very warm thermal underwear I had no problems when it dropped down to 5C. I was also able to keep my bag at my usual weight of 8kgs or so.

    • Kimberly June 18, 2012 at 10:09 am - Reply

      Natalia: As a female traveler, I found leggings to be extremely versatile. You can wear it alone with a t-shirt in warmer weather and layering it underneath jeans in cooler temperatures or even double as pajama pants. They are light weight, can be easily washed in the sink or shower and quick drying. I hope this helps.

  12. Tim Richards June 11, 2012 at 1:16 pm - Reply

    Love your approach Earl – we are fellow disciples in the cult of light packing! I regularly go on assignments for Lonely Planet and on other travel writing gigs and I only ever take one cabin-luggage sized backpack, usually about 7 to 8kg (15-18 pounds) in weight.

    My packing is now down to a formula based on what I call the “rule of three” – I wrote about it recently here:

    A bit of advice for your readers re gifts, by the way… I always buy jewellery. It’s something local, and it’s something SMALL (you can guess which I think is more important).

    • Earl June 11, 2012 at 7:02 pm - Reply

      Hey Tim – I do find that 8kg weight to be perfect…it’s light enough to avoid feeling bogged down and small enough to be packed up quickly and easily carried wherever we go. And I’d imagine, after reading your packing list, that you’ll have no problem keeping things at that weight on your upcoming trip.

      Also, that’s solid advice about buying jewelry for gifts. Most people love jewelry in some form and it’s as small and light of a gift as there is!

  13. Arianwen June 10, 2012 at 2:13 pm - Reply

    I took 18kg when I first went backpacking – and that was for just 3 weeks in Malaysia! Lesson learned! I’m soon heading to South America for 7 months, so we’ll see how well I do trying to follow your advice. I really like your ‘don’t have it, won’t need it; do need it, can buy it; can’t buy it, don’t need it’ arguement!

    • Earl June 11, 2012 at 7:09 pm - Reply

      Hey Arianwen – Good luck with the packing! I’m sure that you’ll end up with a lighter pack this time around. Right?? 🙂

  14. Mica June 10, 2012 at 8:56 am - Reply

    Wow, I wrote a similar post on this topic a few months ago and got 5 comments…you have the magic touch!
    I like to travel with more than I know I need, that’s just how it works for me. I have a 80L + photog bag with gear + a daypack. In essence, I travel with 2 daypacks- one on each arm. Yea, I sweat when I have to walk far. Yea, I usually taxi if I need to get further than a few blocks.
    But I have no problems carrying my things because I have everything I want in there, and I carry it all myself. To each their own I always say.
    I am sure I could do without some items, especially when I go a few months without wearing a piece of clothing or two. Sometimes I will donate clothes. I get a lot of criticism for carrying so much stuff- but again, if I want to carry it and I have no problems roaming the world with it, than that’s ok by me. I admire you all who travel with so little!

    • Earl June 11, 2012 at 7:13 pm - Reply

      Hey Mica – I agree…if you’re happy with your current packing/backpack situation, then there’s nothing wrong with it at all. Packing light is not for everyone in the end and I just wanted to show that there are some benefits to having a lighter pack. But it seems like you’re doing well with your own system!

  15. Shawn Bird June 9, 2012 at 4:18 am - Reply

    When I first went to live in Europe, as an exchange student, a lady gave me a very condescending look and told me I only needed one suitcase. Not the THREE large cases I was taking. Well, I had hundreds of gifts, and suits, school clothes and gear, books, etc. My mother had sewed me an entire wardrobe for the trip. I truly did use everything, and sent home 3 large boxes as well. However, that was then.

    Now I travel with a single Rick Steve’s carry-on. It can be a case or a back pack. Very versatile. I can’t seem to get much lower than 10 kg, though. My biggest problem is shoes. My hubby travels with the pair he wears. I have to have sturdy walking shoes, but also dress shoes for professional meetings. Moreover, my feet refuse to stay the same size when I travel, shrinking or swelling dramatically despite pressure socks on the plane, so whatever I come with doesn’t fit once I arrive. Shoes are always my souvenir of choice. Does anyone else have this trouble? Shoes take up so much room in a small bag!

  16. wally June 8, 2012 at 9:58 am - Reply

    you obviously have never heard the words(your not walking next to me in that shirt)

  17. [email protected] June 8, 2012 at 3:38 am - Reply

    Hey Earl, what’s wrong with having to wear all your freshly packed clothes each day instead of recycling few clothes? You maybe more of a chick magnet that way! Ha! Ha! Seriously, I’m definitely into the virtue of light travel. But for you, make sure that it does not get in a way of “chick magnetism.” 🙂 ( Just FYI – my single lady traveler friends said that they were turned off with guys who were not changing clothes. Just looking out for you, kid!)

    • Earl June 8, 2012 at 12:03 pm - Reply

      Hey Marisol – Don’t worry, you would never know that I travel with only a few clothes. They are always clean and I do travel with clothes that I feel good in, not just the cheapest clothes I can find. Maybe I should meet your friends and see what they say 🙂

  18. RunAwayHippie June 7, 2012 at 9:58 pm - Reply

    I love this post Earl! I’ve been debating for awhile how much clothes i should bring, i keep telling myself that i shouldn’t bring to much, but others have been influencing me otherwise :/ I”m glad you could clear that up for me! 🙂

    • Earl June 8, 2012 at 12:06 pm - Reply

      @RunAwayHippie – Any time…you’ll be quite thankful you took less clothes once you’re out there traveling around 🙂

  19. Ali June 7, 2012 at 6:17 am - Reply

    I love this post! I’m always trying to pack lighter than I did on the last trip. I just did a 5 month RTW with a 40L and a 20L daypack. The 20L held mostly just my laptop, camera, Kindle, wallet, and a fleece pullover. Everything else fit in the 40L. I’m a big fan of bringing plenty of underwear (I had 12 pairs) because that’s what determines when I need to do laundry. I can definitely wear the same t-shirt 2 or 3 times even in hot climates. If you’re somewhere like SE Asia where you get sweaty the moment you walk out the door, who cares if you wear the same shirt again? I also had to pack for hot and cold weather because of where I was traveling to, and I was still able to make it work with t-shirts and shorts as well as 2 light sweaters and 2 long sleeve shirts. I had a wedding to go to towards the end of my trip, and I bought something while traveling since it didn’t make sense to travel with nice clothes I wouldn’t wear for 5 months. My bags definitely weighed a bit more than yours, but it was still a relatively small load considering my bags were smaller than most people’s I saw on the road. Ok, I could go on and on about this 🙂 Glad to see posts encouraging people to pack light!

    • Earl June 8, 2012 at 12:10 pm - Reply

      Hey Ali – Seems like you found a comfortable packing style that works quite well for you! I agree with what you wrote and in the end, you are right about the underwear…a few extra pairs doesn’t hurt and certainly can make the need for laundry a bit less urgent from time to time 🙂

  20. Claire June 6, 2012 at 12:18 pm - Reply

    Completely agreed. I started my RTW with a completely full backpack, thinking that I needed to be prepared for all climates but ended up mailing half the stuff back because I couldn’t cope with the 16KGs. Generally layering helps, giving good reason to ditch the long sleeves and if you’re in a country where doing laundry is expensive, cheap shampoo works much better than detergent imo. 😀

    • Earl June 6, 2012 at 7:11 pm - Reply

      Hey Claire – That’s what happens…many times people end up sending a good portion of what they took with them back home at some point. And if you pack smart, there are indeed ways to keep the backpack light no matter what climate or climates you’ll encounter. Good tip about the shampoo as well 🙂

  21. Marco June 6, 2012 at 9:51 am - Reply

    A very interesting way to travel, I think with a little organization and a little spirit of adventure that is do what you say. Very often in my travels I only with a backpack and the essential, It is a unique way to experience an authentic adventure!!!

  22. [email protected] June 6, 2012 at 9:14 am - Reply

    Seriously. You can NEVER pack too light. End of story.

    And no nonsense about 3 weeks vs. 3 months vs. 3 years – no different.

    And even “hot” vs. “cold” climes. little different. Suffice even here in Southeast Asia, I still always carry my silk long underwear (no bigger than a fist, light as a feather, warm as toast) plus a lightweight wool turtleneck (Sapa, anyone?)

    Nosiree. Nobody who ever toted a backpack more’n a quarter mile will ever say: Gee, I sure wish I’d packed MORE!” 😉

    • Earl June 6, 2012 at 7:09 pm - Reply

      Hey Dyanne – Very true and come to think of it, I’ve never heard anyone during my 12 years of travel tell me they wish they had packed more stuff! And good point about the length of trip not making much of a difference in terms of what you need to pack. Washing clothes for a 2 week trip is the same as washing clothes for a 2 year trip!

  23. Wong Kae Chee June 6, 2012 at 2:04 am - Reply

    I learnt the benefits of travelling light through trial and error.
    While “needs” differ between individuals, it also depends where you are going, the climate, and your intended activities.
    This is what I do…after every trip, I make 2 lists. (1)The things I needed but didn’t bring. (2) The things I wished I left at home.
    As for gifts/souvenirs, I give away things in order to make space for them.
    Wash and wear is easy because I choose clothes that are light, crease-proof and fast-to-dry.

    • Earl June 6, 2012 at 7:02 pm - Reply

      Hey Kae Chee – That’s a great method with the lists! I really like that as learning from our own experience certainly makes the most sense. Thanks for sharing!

  24. Ozzy June 5, 2012 at 9:22 pm - Reply

    Hey Earl, I’m finally done with all my training and am able to get online and be connected reliably again after so long. This is the first post I saw after coming back and dear Lord did it help. This new lifestyle I’m in, surrounded by a more settling minded form of individuals made me forget a few of my more natural obsessions with living with fewer items with the ability to always pick up and leave. Thank God for this post. It is making me feel much more comfortable with giving away everything I don’t really need anymore once again and get my whole life back to that carry on suitcase lifestyle. Traveling from place to place with all the stuff I currently have is a nightmare. The scary part is that this is the way many people in the world. I can’t stand it. This post and the one on which pack you got have help immensely. One question, with the new backpack you got, how well do all your clothes fit with all your electronics in it?

    Ozzy – returned from oblivion.

    • Earl June 6, 2012 at 6:12 pm - Reply

      Hey Ozzy – Welcome back to the planet! Always good to hear from you, especially when it was quite a surprise like this. And I’m glad you found the post useful. As for my new backpack, everything fits very well. I basically stuff most of my clothes in the bottom of the pack. I then put my socks and boxers in the front pocket. And this leaves plenty of room for my laptop and camera (which is small). And then I put all of the cords/plugs from my laptop, camera, phone, etc. in the side pockets. Then I’m all set to go!

  25. Craig O June 5, 2012 at 8:22 pm - Reply

    Earl, you must have been reading my mind. I was just about to email you and ask about how you did your laundry during your travels. I know i am finnicky and like to be clean and have clean clothes everyday, which i am sure is not always possible, but i am learning. Thanks for the great tips.

    • Earl June 6, 2012 at 6:06 pm - Reply

      Hey Craig – Well that worked out well then 🙂 And while having perfectly clean clothes every single day probably isn’t feasible, having perfectly clean clothes almost every single day while traveling certainly is!

  26. Mirva June 5, 2012 at 11:43 am - Reply

    Wait a minute Earl… are you trying to copy me? 😉 I wrote a post about the unexpected benefits of packing light already back in February.

    Oh well, I’ll forgive you since obviously there are still wayyyyy too many people carrying the world with them while traveling. I met at least a few prime examples of that on my four-month West African tour… so I guess we can never write enough about this topic! 🙂

    • Earl June 6, 2012 at 6:05 pm - Reply

      Hey Mirva – It definitely wasn’t intentional 🙂

  27. Scott June 5, 2012 at 11:29 am - Reply

    I had to laugh at this one, cause I remember my first trip back to Europe (in 1993) after having been in the US Army there for 3 years. I lugged this absolutely ridiculously gargantuan suitcase all over Germany, and hardly wore any of it.
    Now when I travel, it is simply carry-on…there are several manufacturers of underwear and socks that can be washed in a sink, and that dry overnight. And i’ve found that no one where ever you visit care what you wear, so…wear the same thing over….really only you will care. I get buy with one pair of jeans, 2 pair of walking shorts, 2 t-shirts, 2 button down, my tilley hat, one pair of shoes, one pair of sandals, and a light jacket, and that’s it….and it all fits in a tiny bag I carry….whether it’s for 2 weeks, 4-weeks…whatever. I’ve become an expert at foreign washing machines when needed….although here’s a tip for first time travelers. When you buy powdered soap in a laundromat, make sure to put a cup under where it comes out…as unlike in the US, it does not come out in a box…I still remember it falling out all over the floor in Graz, Austria.
    As you mentioned people bring what they think they may wear which is crazy, cause you cn buy anything there (wherever there may be) that you can here. Less is more, and much easier to carry!

    • Earl June 6, 2012 at 6:03 pm - Reply

      Hey Scott – Sorry, I had to laugh as well when you described carrying around such a huge suitcase in Europe 🙂 But it seems like you learned your lesson quite well as going carry-on only is quite a difference. You clearly have your packing system in order! And thanks for sharing the laundry soap tip…I can only imagine that many of us have made a similar mistake.

  28. Cindy Fuhrer June 5, 2012 at 10:01 am - Reply

    Great advice.
    Reading this has prompted me to go back and re-visit my already packed bag ready for 6 months in SEAsia, leaving next week.

    I have a 75ltr ‘One Planet’ backpack. But when I say I , I really mean WE. This pack contains 5 medium packing cells. One for each person in our family. 2 adults, 3 children.

    I considered this light packing, but now I think I can reduce this even further. It is full, zipper popping kind of full ! LOL

    • [email protected] June 6, 2012 at 9:03 am - Reply

      First of all – absolutely LOVE that pic on your blog Cindy (not to mention your delightful “lemons to lemonade” philosophy). And as I too once traveled (solo) with 2 young kidlets (aged 5 and 8), I’m just wondering…

      About that single 75 ltr pack… Why not share the load with the rest of the family? Well o.k., maybe not the 18 month old 😉 But why not a small little school pack for the other two kids (not to mention divide the big pack halvesies with your spouse?

      Guess I just don’t understand why you’d put all 5 packing cells in ONE big pack…

    • Earl June 6, 2012 at 6:01 pm - Reply

      Hey Cindy – Well, with five people, I’d say that 75 liters is still quite impressive. There are plenty of solo travelers carrying around that much stuff!

  29. Linda June 5, 2012 at 5:44 am - Reply

    Perhaps (I typed “obviously” there & then thought better of it!) it’s different for women? Although I wholeheartedly agree with you in principle. I do the pack old things and leave them on the road thing too, or pack those mistakes you made & would never be seen dead in at home (because those things are newer and can be passed on to folk). Generally that covers anything I buy, and usually what I buy is more clothes apart from the odd, small gift or two. Also have to say that I have the impression from what you wrote, and from the comments, that we’re talking about traveling in decent weather, because traveling to colder climates means heavier clothes – although they don’t get as sweaty! Oh, and I presume you don’t press anything?

    I was interested in the comment about camera gear,because I was going to ask you about that. Last time I went to UK my carry on weighed 10K with camera and one lens, computer stuff (granted, I haven’t saved up enough yet for a notebook) & just bits & pieces “needed on journey.”

    • Earl June 6, 2012 at 6:00 pm - Reply

      Hey Linda – I can see how it might be different for women and of course, when I mention 8kgs as my ideal weight, I certainly don’t mean that it should be the ideal weight for every traveler. If you’re happy with what you’re carrying around, then that works! And with the weather, I somehow managed to pack only 9kgs last winter when I traveled around Europe via Eurail. I did have a winter jacket but I wore it most of the time so I didn’t have to pack it. I think the real issue is when your trip covers both warm and cold climates…then the light packing can be a challenge.

      As for the camera gear, I just carry around a high end point and shoot so it doesn’t really weigh anything. My laptop weights 1.2 kgs which isn’t much either. But if you are carrying around larger gear then of course a larger/heavier backpack might be unavoidable.

  30. Christine June 5, 2012 at 2:44 am - Reply

    I know that my problem comes in toiletries–makeup, shampoo/conditioner, etc. definitely all weigh a fair bit. My basic philosophy is that I don’t change my routine or standards too greatly once I’m on the road, so I know that I carry a bit more–especially when I’m traveling in Europe (and need an extra sweater and prefer to have my hair straight) than when I’m living in bikinis and sarongs in SE Asia. Still–a good reminder that I can always make do with less!

    • Earl June 6, 2012 at 5:55 pm - Reply

      Hey Christine – As long as you’re comfortable with what you’re carrying then there’s no problem at all! And I guess the toiletries can make it a bit more difficult if you have certain products you prefer to carry around. I usually just buy the tiny shampoo packets that you can find in the corner shop whenever I need to wash my hair 🙂

  31. Alina Ciabai June 5, 2012 at 1:44 am - Reply

    Hey Earl,

    Me and my husband will fly for the first time in a couple of weeks and I’m concerned about taking my medicine kit in my carry-on bag. I don’t know what’s their policy about medicine in airports, because I don’t have a prescription for them and I have a pill for every problem: stomach, head, fear, stomach again and flu. I don’t know who else to ask. Can you help me with an answer?

    • Earl June 6, 2012 at 5:52 pm - Reply

      Hey Alina – That shouldn’t be much of a problem as long as all of the pills/medicine are clearly labeled. You definitely don’t want to take pills that are in a container that doesn’t have a label! But if everything is in order inside of a medical kit, you should be able to take it through security no problem.

  32. Earl June 4, 2012 at 11:50 pm - Reply

    Great post! We are half way through our RTW and I’m so glad every day that my wife decided we should pack light. Even at about 10kgs that we are carrying, I sometimes find the bag heavy when walking around a bit when arriving or leaving a destination. But then I see the backpackers with bags big enough to carry a small child or two and I’m thankful I don’t have that bag.

    We actually have no jeans with us on our trip. I’ve survived on two pairs of zip of pants and instead of paying $80 each for them, we found them at the thrift store before we left for $8, so I don’t care if they get trashed. Hopefully they last the full 8 months, but seeing as we are in Europe for the next 4 months, we might have go upgrade to some jeans to fit in a little more.

    I laughed at your Istnabul comment too as we can related. When we received our laundry back from our hotel’s laundry service it thankfully didn’t smell of smoke, it was still damp after 24 hours!

    It looks like we will be in Romania near the end of June, will you be around? We can have a meeting of the Earls!

    • Earl June 6, 2012 at 5:53 pm - Reply

      Hey Earl – I should be here after the 22nd of June as I’ll be gone for a week in the middle. So if you’re here towards the end then it will be great to meet up! Let me know when you have a better idea of your plans and I shall look forward to meeting you and your wife and your 10kg backpack!

  33. Kika June 4, 2012 at 10:52 pm - Reply

    We are on our RTW and we have one 52l and one 30l (and the 30l is usually half empty). But that is only because we have our hiking gear with us (tent, sleeping pads, a quilt and a cooker + pan). If we wouldn’t like to hike so much we would’ve *easily* made it with two 30l packs. Also, we are both geeks, so we carry some electronics that don’t take that much space but they are still relatively heavy.

    Since our travel plan contains cold and hot countries we are carrying clothes with us that are optimized for layering. We even have down jackets with us that have served us well in so, so, SO many situations. We actually needed them in northern Thailand as well since the early mornings there were nippy.

    We could still be more minimalists by getting rid of some of our luxury items like our slacklining kit and some lotions that I really like, but hey, you gotta draw the line somewhere;)

    I can’t stress how happy we have been with this stuff. We don’t have a single item with us that we haven’t used constantly, we’ve never lacked for anything and if I find something in our packs that we haven’t used that much I send it home or donate it away.

    Everyone that we’ve met have been amazed how little we carry. And everyone we’ve met have been a constant wonder to us: how on earth do they want to carry that much shit with them:D I can’t say how many times we’ve felt like ninjas with our slim packs that fit nicely on small ailes on Asian busses and are allowed as a carry-on on plains.

    Pack smart, friends. It’s well worth it! WELL worth it!

    • Earl June 6, 2012 at 5:50 pm - Reply

      Hey Kika – Thanks so much for sharing your experiences with packing light and I must say, that certainly is impressive considering you have that hiking gear! And you’ve made some great points…it’s not so hard to make sure that we pack as efficiently as possible, which simply involves carrying stuff that we will use on a regular basis. There’s not much point carrying something that we may use once a month. In those cases it’s just better to buy it when we need it and donate it when we no longer require the item.

      Safe travels!

  34. Ava Apollo June 4, 2012 at 7:20 pm - Reply

    What about the accumulation of things on the road? I’ve been wondering if it’s cheap in certain places to just mail stuff back home. I remember being pleased at the cost in Taipei – it wasn’t too bad.

    • Earl June 6, 2012 at 5:47 pm - Reply

      Hey Ava – Sometimes I will send things back home, especially if they are gifts for other people. But apart from that, if I buy something for myself, I’ll usually only buy it if I can make room for it in my backpack. More often than not I will use my buy something/get rid of something rule in these cases so that I don’t end up adding extra weight/stuff to my pack.

  35. enj503 June 4, 2012 at 7:14 pm - Reply

    Here is my strategy for bringing home souvenirs…I pack clothes that I’m willing to leave behind. On my last day or so in country I clear out my pack and replace the contents with sourvenirs/gifts that I’ve bought through my travels…never buying more than I can put in my backpack. Additionally, before traveling I almost always hunt through Goodwill or other thrift stores for any specialty travel clothing (Ex Officio, REI, Patagonia, etc.) — and pay about $7 bucks for a shirt instead of $70.

    • Spinster June 6, 2012 at 8:53 am - Reply

      Never thought of this before. Thanks for sharing.

    • Earl June 6, 2012 at 5:46 pm - Reply

      @enj503 – That’s quite a good strategy! I like that a lot. And well done with the Goodwill idea also. I’ve always found it odd to buy $70 travel specific clothes myself when you can travel perfectly well with normal clothes. But if you can get them for that cheap, why not!

  36. Will June 4, 2012 at 5:49 pm - Reply

    Hey Earl. I can attest to cheap laundry services in the Philipines. A week’s worth of laundry was washed and folded for about $2! I think I packed too much but we had a car and driver on the trip.

    I want to bring camera gear as I am a photo nerd. Any recs for traveling with lenses and cameras? I’m a little concerned about safety of my gear.

    • Adam Mayfield June 4, 2012 at 7:16 pm - Reply

      I’m a photo guy and I travel with a fair amount of gear. A main DSLR body, 2-3 lenses, a small ‘pocket’ camera, tripod, and smaller gorilla pod tripod. I also usually have my smaller laptop with me.

      When I’m traveling (plane, bus, cab, etc) the laptop and DSLR body and a primary lens are in my messenger bag. The rest of my gear is in my backpack wrapped up in clothes. When i’m in the hostel it’s locked up in the cabinet they usually provide. If there is none I usually put it in my bag , zip, and lock my zipper. Then shove the bag in the corner or under the bed. I haven’t had a problem yet but I keep insurance on my gear since its worth a pretty penny.

      Hope this helps and if you have any questions feel free to get a hold of me via my contact form at


    • Earl June 6, 2012 at 5:44 pm - Reply

      Hey Will – I don’t know too much about cameras unfortunately as I carry around just a higher end point and shoot. But I think some other readers such as Adam have responded with more information.

  37. Someday I'll Be There - Mina June 4, 2012 at 5:46 pm - Reply

    I took those sweat pants with me on the Camino and never used them 😀 Instead one of my friends borrowed them a couple of times when all his clothes were at laundry (literally all, I never wear those pants anymore even when I’m back :D)

    I would have to disagree on one point though, doing laundry when abroad, it is doable in all given situations except when high 😀 I spent 3 days on the camino wearing sweaty smelly tshirts because everyday as soon as I finished walking I would find someone smoking up and end up spending the whole day siting in the same bar with them haha 😀 that was BAD!

    • Earl June 6, 2012 at 5:44 pm - Reply

      Hey Mina – Glad there’s someone else out there who has taken sweat pants on a trip with them 🙂 And yes, I can see how such activity might make it slightly difficult to do your laundry!

  38. Monday Links to Get Going | June 4, 2012 at 5:02 pm - Reply

    […] Wandering Earl has the tips you need to travel light (including leaving the extra socks behind). […]

  39. Gigi June 4, 2012 at 4:42 pm - Reply

    While overpacking is certainly a problem, underpacking can also be really troublesome. Like when I went to Belize thinking I could just buy some sandals when I got there and instead had to wander around the beaches in my flats (very uncomfortable) because I couldn’t find anything in my size. Or in Africa when I had to duct tape myself a pair of shoes.

    So…I agree on some level: overpacking is a bad plan. But on the other hand, people should pack what they need. Not the “in case” stuff, but the things they’ll actually need in the destination they’re off to–laptops for those who are working on the road, warm socks for the cold blooded, etc.

    I worry when I read posts like this that seasoned travelers like to put everyone into one category–assuming we all travel the same and have the same needs and feel the same level of contentment with or without a curling iron, which is neither true, nor useful. Thus, my philosophy is: pack just what you need, whatever that may be.

    • Earl June 6, 2012 at 5:42 pm - Reply

      Hey Gigi – I definitely agree that travelers should pack what they need but my point is simply to show the benefits of carrying less stuff. I certainly have no problem if any traveler wants to carry more stuff! But again, I’m trying to show that what many travelers think they need turns out to be more than what they actually do need in the end. And so, in these cases, it can be quite useful to figure that out ahead of time and benefit from carrying around a lighter pack.

  40. Adam Mayfield June 4, 2012 at 4:16 pm - Reply

    I couldn’t agree more! My first trip to Thailand I filled a 40L bag to the brim. Granted that included laptop and camera since I’m a photo nerd but I still ended up sending home a handful of items. On my next trip I made doubly sure to watch what I pack. Turns out it was MUCH easier to move around and get from one place to another. Having a small backpack when you’re a 6’5″ American riding subway in the middle of Tokyo surrounded by people half your size makes all the difference in the world.

    • Earl June 6, 2012 at 5:37 pm - Reply

      Hey Adam – I bet that makes a huge difference for someone your size! It makes a huge difference for someone of any size I guess 🙂

  41. Daniel June 4, 2012 at 4:12 pm - Reply

    I made the same experience when I was backpacking in Vietnam and Cambodia earlier this year. Pack light and you’ll enjoy your trip way more. You can buy everything you need, such as an extra T-Shirt or a pair of sun glasses when you need it. The freedom and flexibility of travelling lightly is worth way more than the option of wearing a fancy dress shirt and pants for a couple of hours….most backpackers won’t need anything fancy anyways.

    • Earl June 6, 2012 at 5:34 pm - Reply

      Hey Daniel – That’s right and for some reason I think we forget that we can buy things such as t-shirts while overseas as well if we need to. And if you start off with less, then chances are that you won’t need to buy more as you’ll quickly get used to the amount of stuff you’re carrying!

  42. Hannah June 4, 2012 at 4:09 pm - Reply

    These are some great tips. I know from experience that carrying around too much extra weight can make a huge difference in your trip enjoyment factor. Last year when I took a several month trip around the Middle East I ended up taking two bags (a backpack and one suitcase) and it was way too much! What would be your recommendation for purchasing souvenirs and/or gifts along the way? Is that something you ever do, and if so, do you ship it home, or end up carrying it around with you everywhere?

    • Spinster June 6, 2012 at 8:50 am - Reply

      This was going to be my question too.

    • Earl June 6, 2012 at 5:33 pm - Reply

      Hey Hannah – That’s a great questions about the accumulation of souvenirs. These days I don’t purchase much as I travel so I don’t generally have that problem. But when I used to buy such things I would normally have a buy one thing/get rid of one thing policy. So if I purchased a small Tibetan painting, I would get rid of one thing in my backpack. Using this method ensured that I really wanted/needed everything I bought and that I didn’t just buy stuff that I would never use. And if I did buy gifts for others, I would typically send those home through the mail.

  43. Ellen June 4, 2012 at 4:05 pm - Reply

    I can certainly see the value of traveling light. But after wandering around in the heat trying to find a hostel, don’t you want to shower and change into clean shorts immediately, rather than having to wait until you wash and dry them overnight?

    • Earl June 6, 2012 at 5:30 pm - Reply

      Hey Ellen – If I’m wandering around in the heat, my shorts don’t get too dirty, certainly not dirty enough to avoid using for the rest of the day before washing them at night and especially if I washed them the night before as well. Usually a shower makes me feel great, put on a new pair of boxers, a clean t-shirt and I’m good to go!

  44. Kim June 4, 2012 at 3:59 pm - Reply

    It’s funny because I have been so proud of my 14kg bag! I thought this was light! I have always wished I could be someone who could travel with a 40-50 L bag, and I think maybe next time I will get a 55-60 just to force myself to try. But the thing is, I pack amazingly- I just accumulate things. I’m currently on a 10 month almost RTW and after 2 months in Asia I’ve just arrived in St Petersburg. It was freezing, raining, and I felt like a dag. So I ran to H&M to buy some black tights and a dress so that I can traipse around the city feeling at least half like I belong there. I think your light packing sounds good because you are able to be presentable, my problem was that I didn’t have versatile enough items. I wasn’t self conscious in hiking boots and cargo pants in Asia, but I am in Europe! Lesson learned: You ALWAYS need jeans and some casual Converse type sneakers. Or a more versatile boot…

    • Earl June 6, 2012 at 5:28 pm - Reply

      Hey Kim – That’s the thing, over time you figure out which items make the most sense and so eventually, you’re able to pack even more efficiently. Jeans are definitely the way to go and usually, that’s all I take for pants. And I’m sure once you get down to 55-60 liters, you’ll have no problem moving down to 40-50 liters eventually!

  45. Chris Booth June 4, 2012 at 3:32 pm - Reply

    Too true. I often travel with just two pairs of Tilley Endurables boxer shorts as they are magic. Takes a lot of wears to make them smell! Their socks I’m less impressed with though, much prefer cotton blends to their purely synthetic weaves, which tend to pong very quickly and corrupt your trainers too. Honeymoon backpack = 9kg, wife’s = 7kg!

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