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?
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?
Oh, 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?