13 December 2015

Packing 101 | Pack Light or Pack The Kitchen Sink?

There's a lot of articles online about how to pack lightly (see here here here) and I must've read at least twelve articles on the matter before I left for Asia. I left for 4 months with only a hand luggage approved backpack (the highly recommended Osprey Farpoint 40 backpack) and a small denim backpack, which fit in to the main bag if necessary...I'm still amazed I managed to fit it all in!

Then this year when I set off on a Western America road trip we left like this... 

Two large suitcases, my carry on bag and a hand luggage approved suitcase. They were fairly full too!

So which is better? Well the easy answer is that it depends, which I'm sure you've noticed is a common theme with packing by now. So let's look at both options.

Packing Light

I was determined not to be one of those girls that goes travelling with an unpractical and massively cumbersome pink backpack which they have to ask for help getting on their back. I'd been close to that point when I went to Italy (though it wasn't pink and I could lug it on my own) with my best friend and it was fine because we had each other to lean on (quite literally). I'm not saying that people don't help, I just didn't want to have to rely on other people for something so simple.

I read many many articles and planned everything that went in to my bag. My clothes were co-ordinated to the nth degree, I was taking only three pairs of shoes and I was so proud of myself. I was going to look like the real deal when I just carried my bag on to a plane or easily lifted it up from the hostel locker. 
And I did feel those things! I felt safer, because if something was going to go wrong I knew I could shift myself out of the situation quickly. On long journeys my bag was small enough to that I could keep it at my feet rather than put it in the hold and risk theft (this happens when someone goes through everyone's bag during the journey). My bag easily fit in hostel lockers and people really were impressed I'd manage to compass all I needed in such a small bag. My back didn't ache from endless lugging and moving from place to place on public transport was so much easier. 
BUT. As you travel you naturally collect stuff; elephant pants, hand woven quilts (no really), market finds and presents and you need a bit of extra space. As you use up your travel sized toiletries you realise that the country you're travelling in doesn't have a section of small shampoos and conditioners, and you'll have to replace them with larger full sized bottles. And every time you go to a new place, you end up repacking because everything needs to be tightly rolled to fit in.

My advice...

1 | No matter what the size of luggage you settle on, get a front opening bag, not a traditional hiking backpack that packs from the top. 
2 | Make sure at least a third of your backpack is free to allow for poor, hurried packing and also to fit in the stuff you collect along the way. 
3 | I really recommend everyone to have a backpack definitely no larger that 60L and that's only if you're travelling to a wide range of climates!

Packing Heavy

I was going to call this section overpacking but that suggests that you've packed way too much, which isn't always the case! For our USA road trip this summer there was no pressure to pack light - Americans drive everywhere and all our accommodation had parking only steps from the car. We'd be able to wheel our suitcases the few metres that we did have to travel, so we didn't have to think about weight really either.

Sounds like packing dream, right? Well I'm ashamed to admit that both of our suitcases were overweight on the return home and our carry on suitcase that was supposed to be empty to bring shopping home in, was pretty much full before we went so that was not much help! 

We still needed to lift our luggage up stairs at some motels and spreading it across three suitcases meant someone had to carry/wheel two, which was mighty annoying. 

Even if you think that there is no pressure to pack light, I would still make an attempt to be neat. By this I mean take one suitcase that is well organised with sections or packing cubes and don't take anything you don't need! It's still worth taking versatile pieces and minimising bulky items like shoes, because it will be easier to get dressed in the morning and find anything you need. 

The likelihood is, no matter where you're travelling you'll be able to buy something there if you need it. One thing that may be more tricky, and lend itself to 'heavy packing' is technical gear for trekking such as decent walking shoes, specialist clothes, extra gear and a larger first aid kit. As I've always stuck to day hikes, a pair of trainers, a fleece, gym gear and minimal first aid are the most I've included to prepare.

The other benefit of taking more stuff is that you may not need to find a laundrette, though if you're travelling for more than two weeks I think that's inevitable!

My advice...

1 | Still allow plenty of extra space for hurried packing.
2 | Make sure your luggage is easy to move around and that you can each carry your own luggage.
3 | If you're taking more stuff it's even more important to be organised; make sure that you still pack smart and only include the things you are certain you need or that you definitely can't purchase!
What about you? How do you pack? What backpack do you opt for?
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