“There’s no way that’s your only bag. Where’s the rest of your stuff?”
This the line of questioning I received more than once while boarding 4 different flights in Europe this Spring, but upon arriving home in America, the Los Angeles customs officer didn’t believe that I only had a backpack and I got pulled aside. “No really. I’ve never seen a girl pack so little. No souvenirs?” I felt like an official backpacker. I still looked showered and smelled clean unlike what visions of backpackers may bring to mind. Backpacking provided me with a huge savings of luggage fees and endless stair cases that are not fit for carrying up rolling luggage. I learned this lesson as I headed into London last October using a train, then one underground, then another and walking half a mile to our place on the second floor while transferring from the airport to our AirBnb. Dragging that rolling luggage down narrow streets and broken sidewalks, then up and down steps and stairs became a hassle I decided I would like to avoid for now on.
I also thought for a long time about reevaluating my packing skills. I scoured Pinterest and Travel Blogs for packing tips. I ended up only packing what I would really be wearing. I planned on wearing everything twice and washing if I needed it. It worked. I loved what I brought with me and I didn’t feel like I was missing anything. I wore everything I brought except one thing at least once and even gave away a pair of leggings to a girl I met. I picked a bag that wasn’t tall like the typical hiking bag. It couldn’t be over 22 x 18 x 10. I used an Adidas athletic bag that stuck out nearly as far as it was high. But it was about maximum space. When shoved (with a little force) it fit under the seat. Perfect.
A few things that worked for me to get it all in:
- Airtight bags: I have a few sets of the Spacesaver bags but they didn’t fit very well in my backpack so I used gallon sized kitchen bags with a zipper. It worked perfectly. I rolled up my clothes by outfit, if convenient, put them all in one bag and rolled out the air, then zipped. It kept it small and tight and then I could just pull out the one bag to get ready in the morning.
- Liquids: Everywhere requires less than 100ml and for the items to be displayed in a clear bag while going through security. So I packed all my liquids, cream and lotions in a clear bag at the top so I could pull it out easily and separate from my “dry” toiletries”.
- I.D. out: I still carry a small bag/purse on me to carry I.D., phone and tickets. It’s small. More like a wallet or clutch. I do this because it saves a little room in my backpack and also I won’t have to take off the backpack every time someone in the airport needs to see I.D. or a ticket.
- Pack only what I need: I have a boy scout mentality and want to “Always Be Prepared”. After researching weather and location and activities, I only pack what I know I’ll need. It does not matter if I wear the same thing twice. I just won’t wear it two days in a row. I also have washed things in a sink and let them dry overnight. It works just fine. I went to travel in Scandinavian places that were 50+ degrees cooler than when I boarded my flight in L.A.. I had 3 pairs pants and 3 long sleeves, two jackets, a hat, scarf and gloves in my bag for the cold weather.
- 22lbs: My bag was light. Small backpacks are considered a personal item and must weigh less that 22lbs on most domestic flights and I’ve found the same is true on International flights. I bought a scale and tested it my packing out. This was great too because I eliminated a few things just so I wouldn’t be right at the limit and allowed a pound or two in case I wanted to buy anything. I wear my heaviest clothing while flying. Boots, jackets, and lots of layers. This works out easy because airlines have low temperature guidelines for the pilots and I tend to freeze if I don’t layer. I pulled out my scarf and tied it to my bag, and put my gloves in my jacket pockets. I wanted it to be as light as possible if I got asked to put it on the scales. And also because I was taking it with me nearly everywhere I went. I walked in London for over 13 miles with a 22lb backpack. I did the entire Tower of London Tour and climbed tons of stairs, rode two trains and two changes on the tube. If it had been any heavier, I’d have died. Airlines also allow you to bring your own food and drinks onboard, so I pulled these out and had a small shopping bag just for food so it was not part of the weight as well.