8 ways to travel a new country in 25 litres!

The last few times I’ve traveled to a new country, I’ve invariably over estimated how much stuff I need and ended up lugging around my 60L backpack, bursting at the seams. If I checked it in then I was constantly worried about it making it through the connecting flights to the final destination, if I carried it as cabin baggage then I had to lug it around during the layovers, emigration-immigration queues, airport restrooms and what not.
Packing hacks!
Packing hacks!

So for my recent travels to Brazil, I set myself a new challenge..that all the luggage I’d carry was a 25 litre backpack for two weeks of travel. Here is what I learnt from the experience!

1. Make sure the backpack is sturdy

I’ve a good ole’ 25L Deuter backpack that I picked up in Berlin 6 years ago..it’s stood me in good stead. It’s got straps and buckles which I can use to strap on my sleeping bag, a neck pillow, a light pull over for cabin use in a long haul. The backpack also has a netted section between the frames and the straps…this is quite useful for fitting a pair of flip flops or a book. Since a lot can be strapped onto the backpack in addition to what’s put into it, it’s important that it be fairly sturdy. wpid-img_20150623_082820.jpg

2. Wear your bulkiest shoes and pants

Usually it’s those pair of hiking boots or running shoes or cargo pants that take up a lot of space- which you might use for 2 or 3 days out of the entire two weeks. If you must take them, then wear them-in the long haul flights, the bus or train journeys within the country. I carried a pair of all-in-one (running-walking-hiking) shoes and a pair of warm pants-which I wore on all my long haul as well as domestic flights-I feel pretty cold in the cabin in any case so it worked out well.

3. Limit devices and hence chargers

I know a lot of travelers who carry an iPod, an android phone, an SLR camera, a Macbook and a Kindle reader-all of which require different chargers! Way too much in my opinion…after all one is traveling to explore a country and not immerse oneself in digital devices. Usually I travel with an iPod, my canon SLR and android phone. This time I decided to take only the phone..and believe me I did not miss the other devices. Sure, I did not have high resolution images or constant music in my head but I got time to soak in the sights and sounds and most importantly my luggage was easily luggable!

4. Take soft copies of travel documents and guides

I’m pretty old school when it comes to traveling to a new country. I buy the Lonely Planet and start reading it a few months before my travels there. I carry it with me and use it for navigating whilst there. In this case, I got a South America LP, and even though I was going only to Brazil, my habit urged me to carry the book with me. Not a good idea, from a space or a weight perspective. So I downloaded offline guides to the cities I was visiting and scanned the pages of interest, on my phone.

Similarly for travel documents, I uploaded scans on my cloud account. Travel insurance, flight tickets, copy of documents submitted for visa (because a few years back the Thai border control asked for the bank documents which I’d submitted for my online visa)

This surprisingly reduced a lot of the paraphernalia, weight and freed up more space in my pack.

5. Strap on the sleeping bag

I rarely travel without my sleeping bag. It’s a really compact duck-down for city use (0-15 deg celcius). I found it really useful whenever I’ve stayed in backpackers with questionable linen, in the long hauls-if I find an empty row to catch some horizontal shut eye (!) and in overnight bus journeys especially in North East India, Cambodia and Myanmar. So I carried it with me to Brazil-although I didn’t use it at all-since none of the above situations presented themselves! The good thing is, I strapped it onto my backpack so it didn’t take up space inside my pack.

6. Shop strategically

No matter how light I wanna travel, I can’t not buy local gifts and souvenirs for family & friends back home. I did figure out how to shop strategically for a 25 L back pack though! While packing make sure you leave some space(~1L) free in your pack-believe me you’ll need this. Instead of buying things randomly and later assigning recipients, I made a list of people I had to buy gifts for-this way I didn’t over or under shop.

Local gifts and my havaianas!

I knew that they’d want local stuff rather than duty-free kind of gifts- which are bulkier. I picked up several sachets of Brazilian coffee, small stone carved ‘Cristo Redentor’ statues, pimenta flakes, postcard fridge magnets (with photos of the local attractions and city views), small slabs of local cheese and chocolate, 250mL bottle of cachaça, a pair of havaianas, a bossa nova cd, local handmade maracuja, canela soaps-all of this fit easily into my backpack.

7. Pack smart and roll!

When I’m traveling to a country I know broadly what kind of things I’m going to do there..for example, my travels to Burma were about local culture, ancient ruins and local food. Bhutan was more about hiking, monasteries, long drives..I was traveling to both in the summer hence I packed mostly light cotton clothes, light travel pants and a few full sleeves for the temples, monasteries. For Brazil on the other hand I packed mostly for the beach, city exploring and party wear.

This isin’t all I carried but it’s how I rolled it!

 If luggage space is limited then it takes a bit more planning because you can no longer just dump everything into an oversized suitcase and decide what to wear later. Pack half the number of sets of clothes as the days of travel- you know you’re going to repeat clothes and probably shop for new clothes! I packed light cottons as it was summer in Brazil. I chose shorts that would go with more than one top, sandals that could be worn on the beach and for city walking, pants for long hauls and the odd chilly night, a scarf that could double up as a light shawl, a quick dry towel, running shorts, t shirts for city wear, a swimsuit and sunglasses.

wpid-img_20150623_083022.jpg I also packed small bottles (~50mL) of basic toiletries, some emergency meds and I was done! No jewelry, make up kit,denims, kurtas or button down shirts etc. And of course..I rolled up each piece of clothing. Makes it much much more compact, its the best way to fit more into less. When choosing my clothes I’ve a simple rule of thumb..what I don’t pull out of my closet when at home, there’s no way I’m gonna wear that while traveling! So I made sure to pack only my favorite and most comfortable clothes :)

8. Worry free travel

I think this was the biggest win when it came to traveling light. I wasn’t worried about getting from the airport to city by public transport-saved a ton of money I would have spent on cabs for the luggage. I could carry my bag for shorter local trips instead of packing a smaller bag separately. I didn’t get a stiff back, that I would have, from standing with a 60L pack, in the hour long immigration, flight boarding-disembarking or airport bus queues. There were hardly any valuables in my pack so I didn’t have to bother locking and unlocking it all the time. And of course, it fit into the overhead luggage holds of all the flights I took (from the dreamliner long hauls to the small domestic aircrafts!)


All of this planning paid off when I saw the look on the airline personnel’s face at the check-in counter, when I told her I had no check-in baggage for a flight from India to Brazil!

Do you have any Travel Hacks to travel light? Share them here !

© All text, images and ideas on this blog are copyrighted by medeaspeak and cannot be used without explicit permission.


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