Traveling is a learning experience, and so is packing for it. We always want to cover all our bases with the items we think we need, but as we get more experienced with travel and packing, we start noticing we are actually hauling more than what we really need.
As a backpacker, I’ve traveled the world long term for almost 10 years now, so I know the importance of being a light traveler. This is especially true when backpacking because you’re carrying that load on your back whenever you move around.
To help you pack light, here is a list of things you should consider not packing for a trip.
1. Jewelry and Valuables
These are unnecessary items to be carrying and which you’ll probably use once or twice on your trip. Not only is it unnecessary but you also carry the risk of losing them.
If you can’t imagine losing your expensive diamond ring/earrings/necklace or your Rolex watch, it’s better you leave them home since flashy tourists can become targets for thieves.
Think of it, it’s better to not have them for a couple of weeks than lose them forever.
Also, if you’re looking to save money by bargaining, it’s best to play the part correctly by not wearing those expensive valuables and looking more like a local.
Lastly, if you have a formal event or night out during your trip, and would like to wear some jewelry, pack only a cheap but nice looking set that goes well with your outfit.
2. Heavy Zoom Lenses For Your Camera
I’m a sucker for good photography, but those zoom lenses are big and heavy.
Unless you are a professional photographer, most of the time you will use your cellphone, point and shoot camera, or your regular DSLR lens/camera (18-55mm, 24-70mm, or similar); simply for convenience and speed.
Unless you’re doing a safari or doing wildlife photography, it is rare (at least in my experience) that those 200-300mm zoom lenses will be an indispensable item.
I guess we can all live without that single zoomed pic.
3. Extra Toiletries
Pack just the bare essentials and buy as you go. Providing you won’t be away from civilization for an extended period of time, you don’t necessarily need to pack any other over-the-counter medicines or toiletries as they are all available wherever you are going.
It’s wise to carry a “sampler” or travel size of the primary toiletries and medicines, for the beginning of your trip. Then, replenish as you go.
When traveling, it’s also good to simplify your beauty routine to the essentials. Have in mind that when flying carry-on, we are limited to the number of liquids we can carry.
4. Too Many Cotton Clothes
When you picture cotton what you see? Fluffy stuff, right? Well, fluffy stuff takes more space, plus they take longer to dry when wet.
Hey, I’m not saying don’t pack anything with cotton, but try to have a variation with a higher percentage of Polyester or other synthetics; they take slightly less space plus they dry quicker than cotton.
When packing for winter, think of layering with thinner, lighter items and a jacket/sweater, rather than one bulky coat.
Obviously, when thinking of layering, try to not pack more clothes than you need either.
5. More Than One Pair of Jeans
Following the previous point… Jeans take a lot of space, are heavy, and they take forever to dry.
But, I have to admit that one pair of jeans is almost necessary. They can last days without washing, are warm enough, durable, fashionable, and don’t make you look like a tourist.
6. Those Nice Shoes
Maybe you want to carry a nice pair of shoes for when you go out to a party or want to look nice, but it’s not wise to carry your nicest pair of shoes just for that occasion.
Instead, select wisely your day-to-day sneakers or casual shoes. They can be decent enough to fit with your night-out outfit, but comfortable enough to allow you to walk for miles.
I personally like using Tropicfeel sneakers as they are the ultimate travel shoe. They are super light, made from recyclable materials, vegan friendly, and use quick-dry technology.
I’ve hiked with them, crossed rivers, and casually walked around dozens of cities with the same pair. And they still look good and in one piece! I love them!
7. Hiking Boots
Unless you are hiking on rugged terrain for days or doing the Inca Trail or something similar, those heavy hiking boots play no part on your packing list.
First, you will only use them for a single day at most. Second, they probably won’t fit in your backpack or take so much space that you’ll end up hanging them on the outside of your backpack. Third, a pair of running shoes delivers the same comfort without taking so much space.
Plus, you don’t use hiking boots just to walk around in the city.
8. More Than One Heavy Jacket
Don’t pack that heavy jacket (unless it’s freezing where you’re going); instead, play with layers. Even hot deserts get chilly at night, so it’s always good to have one or two light jackets you can layer on.
Layering is key to keep a light pack while providing the necessary thermal condition for different temperature ranges. If it’s too cold, combine the layers with a windbreaker/waterproof jacket.
9. Bulky Towels
Fluffy towels are very convenient, but just at home. Carrying a full towel just doesn’t make much sense since it really takes a lot of space in your backpack and it takes forever to dry.
Having a damp, stinky backpack is not fun!
Instead, use a small swimmers towel (they are super absorbent) or a microfiber travel towel. These don’t take much space and work as well as the regular ones.
I recommend this travel towel. It is cheap, comes in different sizes and colors, and it’s very durable.
Books are heavy. Period. Why carry a full guidebook when you only need a single chapter or just a few pages. Instead, copy those pages and carry only the information you know you’ll need.
These days, the internet is more accessible than ever, so if you feel like you’ll need more information on the way, a simple Google search will suffice.
Also, guides like Lonely Planet sell their guides as .pdf files and as single chapters too. You can easily store them on your iPhone or smart device and access them on the road.
11. More Than One Book
Reading is priceless to kill those long train hours or just to have some “me” time. Sure, pack a book, but just one. When you’re done with it, exchange it with other travelers who will be more than happy to trade.
Many hostels count with small libraries that allow you to exchange books.
Or, why not discover something new at a local book shop? One of the favorite books I discovered during my trips was First They Killed My Father, which I found on a street market in Cambodia.
If you’re a flashpacker, a Kindle and other digital book readers are also a good option.
12. A Pillow
I have personally carried my small travel pillow to many places and end up not using it (or just once). Even though they are not heavy, they tend to take a lot of space.
You’ll find that many airlines and trains offer pillows for free to use during your flight. If that’s not the case, wrap your jacket and/or some other clothes to make a nice pillow.
When camping, you can also bundle some of your clothes to serve as a pillow. It might not be as soft as a fluffy pillow, but it does the job.
13. Extra Gadgets
Unless you need to use them while on the road for work or other essentials (like me, a travel blogger), I recommend leaving behind all unnecessary electronics.
Each gadget has its own charger, cable, and other extras that can quickly clutter your backpack.
Try to consolidate them to use a single or a couple of universal chargers, if possible (probably USB), to reduce the clutter.
Items like an electric toothbrush, book lights, portable DVD players, coffee makers, etc… leave them at home.
14. If You Think “What if…” or “For this one occasion” When Packing This One Item
If you’re packing something using the words “what if…” it’s probably that it is absolutely not necessary, you will never use it and will end up carrying it all the way.
If you say “…just for this one occasion” it will probably not be worth it to carry it just for one use. At best, try to buy those things at your destination. In some destinations, it will probably be cheaper.
Plus, by buying things after you arrive, you’ll be less likely to waste money on junk that seemed like a good idea before your trip.
Also, keeping your load light will help avoid having to pay that checked bag or overweight fees when checking in on your flight.
15. Things You Can Buy There
Unless you are going to an extremely remote place, it’s pretty sure you’re going to find shaving soap, reusable water bottles, extra toiletries, and pretty much everything or a reasonable facsimile.
Even antibiotics (like ciprofloxacin) can be bought without prescription and way cheaper than back at home. Plus, buying things at your destination is a fun way to practice the language and get to know the area.
A final thought… Pack destination specific, but don’t pack anything you’re not sure you’ll use. Also, this list is not absolute as we all have our packing priorities.
For example, here’s another what to pack and not pack list that gives a similar idea with different items.
Go as light as possible and remember that almost everything you need can be purchased in the destination country and often at a fraction of the price at home.
Take this strategy to heart and I guarantee every trip you take will become more enjoyable.
Believe me, carrying less, especially in a backpack, is so much more freeing than having to lug around a large, heavy, and bulky pack.
For further tips on packing light, see 12 tips that will help you pack light for long hikes.
What else you think should not be packed?
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