Packing the perfect gear for traveling is such big subject with travelers that I had to bring up a post about my personal tips and tricks I learned while on the road all those years to reach all the countries in the world. The general consensus is that most people bring way too much than they really need… Most interrogations are always the same: What type of Luggage should you leave with? what size? Rolling suitcases vs backpack vs hybrid? Carry-on only or check-in luggage? What are the essential things to bring? In this article, I will go through all the options available in details to clear out any doubts you may have and get you ready for your next trip.
In This Article...
- 1 My Personal Evolution through the Years
- 2 What types of luggage should you use?
- 3 Size does matter – The 2 Dimension Rules.
- 4 My Current Setup: Minimalism
- 5 Should you bring a daypack?
- 6 Traveling with expensive gear
- 7 Toiletries
- 8 Layering concept
- 9 What Cloth do I bring?
- 10 My biggest packing advice
- 11 What is your ideal gear and tricks
- 12 Pin to Pinterest
- 13 Support Ian with a TIP or Donation
My Personal Evolution through the Years
I literally learn the hard way by having no models back when I left on my first trip over 15 years ago, reaching for anything I could find. The technology in the travel industry has had a huge boost since the year 2000! I was sharing a massive hockey bag with a friend that was so heavy that we had to carry it by each holding one strap… That was awful. Over the years I owned every type of backpack possible, from the adventurer hiking style rucksack, the roller suitcases, the all-around zipping backpacks, etc… All the way to the best setup I have ever had at the moment, traveling with a 12 kg carry-on roller hybrid backpack with no day bag. Minimalism is key, it adds so much freedom to your travels! Traveling carry-on only not only lets me save money on check-in luggage but lets me feel much lighter and flexibility on my movements and options to move around.
What types of luggage should you use?
There are several types of luggage around. If you are a seasoned traveler that only fly and straight to a hotel, one week holiday and then back on a taxi to the airport, then you should be fine with a traditional suitcase with wheels. Wheels are so useful and people traveling in this category will enjoy the wide selection of brands that are offered. People backpacking for longer will need some type of backpack ranging from 40 to 80 liters, such as a typical hiking rucksack. For those who insist on this sort of backpack, I would strongly recommend getting one that zips all the way around. It makes it much easier to reach for cloth without having to unpack everything.
There has been a big trend lately with hybrid roller bags and I absolutely love them! All the best brands of adventure backpacks now offer their own hybrids such as North Face, Samsonite, Jansports or Osprey. I actually swore by these backpacks for many years, owning two versions of the Osprey Sojourn 60 liters backpack, one of the best on the market in my opinion and from many other travelers who have tested it. These hybrids are amazing because when I fly a lot, I usually always keep it in rolling mode but in other situations in countries where the roads are bad, or when I use public transports such as buses and trains, converting it to backpack is so useful!
My new gear in 2021 is this amazing backpack/roller from Samsonite
Size does matter – The 2 Dimension Rules.
As stated before, Size is important. Most people will overpack too many things on their first trip and will surely regret it. My Best advice is to buy a backpack smaller than bigger, and then plan on what should fit in it. It’s better to leave behind some cloth than to bring extra you will not use. I heard so many people regretting bringing too much stuff, having to rely on taxis to move around as they could not carry their 80 liters for so long.
For me, there are two limits to achieve and not to pass. First, the 23-kilogram rule. Most airlines around will allow you a maximum of 20 kilograms, and will usually tolerate up to 23 kilos. More than this you will be fined for extra weight which can be as much as 10$ per extra kilo or even more. By traveling with a small 60-liter bag, I knew I didn’t have enough space to fit more things and would never go over 20 liters.
The second milestone is 10 Kilograms, which is what I travel with at the moment. This is the Carry-on limit on most airlines. Some go even less than that, but I have a small mini daypack that I can unfold and fill with all my tech which usually lowers the weight to 7kg. Airlines consider this as a computer bag and accept it.
Depending on the length of your trip, I would highly recommend you travel carry-on only. You will increase your options and places you can go, increasing significantly your mobility.
My Current Setup: Minimalism
Minimalism is the key. Too many people are traveling with incredible big backpacks with things they will never use… I did too, and I don’t anymore.
Like stated before, I’ve traveled on every type of backpack inimaginable. But I believe my current setup to be the best. I’ve been traveling on a single 12kg carry-on only for more than 1 years now, and I would never go back to any other setup I have had over my 10+ years on the road. That’s pretty much everything I own in the world, and it feels great to live so light! My backpack is a hybrid roller/backpack type of about 30 liters, from a brand now extinct called Extrem I bought for 100$. The key is to fit everything in it, not having to carry a day-bag in front. I do have a tiny mini pocket day bag I can unfold if I need to which is very useful in some situations.
People are usually always really surprised by the small size I can carry, but I really don’t miss anything at the moment (see picture below). When I state all the extra luxuries I actually carry, people are surprised it can all fit in this small space! (i carry fancy shoes, a suit blazer, big B&O speakers, even an espresso machine and an electric blender).
Minimalism has been growing in popularity in recent years, especially with some travelers sharing their story on youtube. A quick search on youtube will bring a ton of results for minimalist travelers sharing their tiny set-up. some of them are traveling in extreme conditions, with a tiny day bag weighing not more than 2 kilos, holding not much more than a t-shirt, one pair of shorts and a toothbrush… That is too extreme for me, and I found the perfect balance around 12 kilos. This is what I recommend to travelers but I do agree this will take a bit of time to figure what you can cut off and the essentials you cannot leave without. Experience will do wonders, but trust me, stay light.
Should you bring a daypack?
Yes and no. don’t bring a second backpack. In my opinion, too many people do this and even though it is a second backpack connected to the main backpack, most travelers end up carrying it in the front while they have their main one in the back, and it becomes way too cumbersome. It also is a theft magnet as thefts know people carry their most important things and money in their front day bag, and bag snatching is a problem in many countries, where theaves cut the strap and run away. Keeping important things in the big backpack is much harder to steal and run away with.
Traveling with expensive gear
This is a big thing in my opinion. Many people will bring with them expensive gear that is uninsured and therefore will increase the stress and fear to get their stuff stolen. 2000$ Macbook, or a 1000$ camera with thousand dollars worth of lens. Or a 1000$ smartphone, etc… One excellent option I have used for many years is to get travel insurance with World Nomads which provides easy gear insurance in the event of theft, along with their excellent travel health coverage. It’s as easy as keeping a picture of the receipts of your tech and if something gets stolen, upload evidence of the stolen item and get the money wired in your account quickly so you can buy it back while on the road. So this is definitely a must for people leaving with expensive stuff. you can get you world nomad insurance here.
The other option and what I am doing at the moment since I am traveling light is to carry tech that is cheap and easily replaceable. for example, I have always worried about my expensive MacBook to get stolen or to break. It eventually broke while I was in the middle of Africa and replacing it was impossible. Right now I have switched to an inexpensive 400$ tablet/laptop that if anything happens to it, I wouldn’t mind too much and could go buy it again in most countries for cheap.
For phones, I actually own an expensive phone because I need the high-quality camera they provide. that has let me leave behind my expensive camera and lens which was taking way to much weight and space. Some of the top smartphone’s cameras have recently reached enough quality to act as my main camera and I really am amazed by the results with a Samsung Galaxy s8 camera.
Since I travel carry-on only, I cannot carry any containers more than 75ml. At the beginning that was puzzling but after buying small travel silicon containers and filling them up once in a while, it works out fine and I really don’t need to be carrying a massive 300ml shampoo bottle.
A small pocket towel is also an essential and I travel with the mini version of a fast drying towel. That is a great trick since actually only need to use it rarely when I’m in hostels as most accommodation will provide towels. So in this 10 % of times I need a towel, this small towel takes no space and is sufficient.
this is a very important concept that many people don’t understand. Layering is a technique we travelers have to use the same cloth and use them as layers to adapt to colder temperatures, without having to carry a big winter jacket. The trick is to carry a sweater, which I use in temperatures around 10 to 15 degrees. when it goes lower, I use a Down jacket that lets me go outside and be comfortable at temperatures around -5 to 10 degrees! Lower than that, well I would need to buy a jacket but I don’t really hang out often in cold places anyway.
What Cloth do I bring?
You don’t need to bring everything on your trip! You will be fine bringing your favorite 8 t-shirts and not more. I also like to bring 3 tank-tops for gyms and hot places. Socks, I like to carry a lot of them, about 10 and about 10 boxers, as this is about the amount of days I will need to refresh and do some laundry. Also, note that I don’t really do laundry at Laundromats all the time. Many times, I can just do my laundry in hotel sinks and that will extend the time I can stay clean until I reach one.
I also travel with a suit blazer, nice black shoes, and a nice dress shirt. This is a personal thing I do and I haven’t ever met any traveler doing the same. But I have found that this is very useful to go out clean in many places and has been invaluable not to miss out on many situations such as taking part in 2 weddings in Afghanistan, or weddings in Iran and even weddings in Congo, for example. Most countries also have dress codes when going out to clubs so I definitely don’t want to look like the weirdo who gets refused at the door because he tried to get in with flip-flops and a tank top… If you’re like me, pack a nice pair of black shoes and a shirt at least, the blazer being optional.
For me, two pair of pants is enough, with 1 pair of shorts and 2 bathing suits. I spend a lot of time in tropical places with beaches so 2 bathing suits are kind of a luxury, but one would be sufficient. For pants, a black pair of pants is great to be a bit fancier.
My biggest packing advice
My biggest piece of advice I have to give is to buy yourself a small backpack and to chose your what to bring afterward with what fits in. The hard part will be to chose what to leave behind but trust me, you will find out that you definitely don’t need as much as you think and you will be happy you travel light once you need to carry your backpack to reach a distant accommodation for 4+ kilometers in the sun! And remember that you can always buy stuff on the way, everything is always available everywhere so you don’t have to leave with everything ready.
What is your ideal gear and tricks
So there it is. What is your ideal gear and what do your think about my current setup? How heavy are you traveling now and do you think you could make it with only 12 kilos? Let me know in the comments bellow and let’s continue the discussion! Until then, I hope this article as helped you.
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