Backpacking: Your Guide to Traveling Light

College is one of the freest times of your life. You are legally an adult and now don’t need parental supervision to go out on your own. At the same time, you haven’t finished your degree so you aren’t into that nine-to-five part of life yet. With the scheduled school breaks, now is the best time to set off on a new adventure. Another collegiette, Mahreen, has already written about traveling on a budget, especially in Europe. Now I’m here to tell you why you should travel light and give you some tips to make it work for you.

There are many benefits to traveling light. Airports are already a nightmare on the best of days and, at the end of the day, you just want to get where you are going with as little trouble as possible. In purchasing a backpack, you eliminate the need to check luggage, keeping your possessions safe with you and avoiding waiting in baggage claims. But that’s not even the biggest perk. The best part is the ease with which you can navigate without a big clunky suitcase. It’s all fine in the airport, but then you are trying to change subway lines in a crowded platform and it all goes downhill from there. Why deal with the unnecessary struggle when you can have everything compact and on your person, ready to go explore your new cities? If you’re wanting to travel with these benefits, check out some key tips below to make your transition a success. 

Firstly, get a backpack. This may seem trivial, but this is one of the biggest steps. Pick one that works for you. It should fit within your budget and serve the functions that you need it to. You might see Instagram travelers using a Herschel, but that might not fit your needs. The best advice that I can give you is to go to REI and ask them to do a fitting with you for multiple backpacks. They can show you how to adjust the straps, put some weight in it and help you decide if it’s right for you. If you have your eye on a bag that they don’t have at your location, you can order it to the store to try it on there! Finding the right backpack is the most important step, so take your time with it. 

My personal backpack is the Osprey Porter 46L, which fits in most overhead bins on airplanes! It is on the more expensive side but is very durable and comes with a lifetime warranty!

Remember, even if you are going away for weeks at a time, you have the ability to do laundry pretty much everywhere. You don’t need an outfit for every day. Instead, pick some of your favorite things that you can mix and match with. I know for my first backpacking trip abroad, I packed tons of clothes and I ended up shipping half of them home. While you do this, make sure to include one nicer outfit option, that can be dressed up or casual, in case you want to go to a nice restaurant or two while you are there. And don’t forget to pack layers if you are traveling somewhere cold.

In terms of toiletries and medications, make sure you are set but don’t over prepare. In my friend group, I am the one with the mom bag. I always try to be prepared for every situation that I could ever possibly be in. But that isn’t really necessary when you travel. Bring a small size of your toiletries. If you run out, then go get more from a local store wherever you are. I know on my trip, I packed an entire pack of pads because I knew my period would come when I was there (this was before I switched to a cup, which I highly recommend). Turns out, that wasn’t necessary because periods existed in every town I stayed in too, and I could stock up as needed. It’s good to be prepared and not always running out, but don’t stress about toiletries too much. When it comes to medications, though, be sure you have enough to get you through the trip. 

Here are a few other tips and tricks that I want to share about traveling light for your next backpacking adventure:

  1. When possible, choose a toiletry that isn’t liquid. I’m talking about a bar of soap over liquid and powdered dry shampoo, like Lush’s, so that you don’t have to include it in your bag of liquids.

  2. Get a collapsible, reusable bag. Keep this on you in case you end up with souvenirs that you need to carry. You never know when you will need a bag.

  3. Switch to a menstrual cup — this saves so much room and is more eco-friendly.

  4. Use packing cubes and roll your clothes. I have my pajamas in one, shirts and pants in another and undergarments in another. This keeps you organized and saves space.

  5. Don’t bring too much entertainment. It’s great for the plane, but will weigh you down the rest of the trip. You’ll likely be too busy exploring to really have time for it anyway. Instead, try an eReader. I got my used Kindle for $10, and it was a great and durable purchase.

  6. Lastly, prioritize what you know you will need and use. For example, I bring things to journal with, but not everyone needs that. On the flip side, I don’t wear much makeup so I only bring some concealer and mascara (and don’t forget to get a travel size of those too!). Think about the things that you know you will need and use and bring those over the things that you think you might use. 

These are a few of the tips and tricks that work for me in order to gain the benefits of traveling light. Being more purposeful about what you choose to bring is a big part, and the rest is up to you to realize that you might not need everything that you try to pack. And keep in mind that what works for me might not work for everyone. Happy light travels!