Travel Technology

How Small is Your Luggage?

Photo by Waldemar Brandt on Unsplash

I’ve recently downsized my luggage to a regular daypack sized backpack for most of my trips. Yep, I’m bragging about this. I’m pretty proud as it’s always been my goal to travel with as little luggage as possible.

My daypack, waiting to board a flight

This is a switch from the carry on Tortuga backpack that I’ve been using for years. I wasn’t actually trying to downsize, it just happened one day when I packed for a trip in my Tortuga and realized it was half empty.

Tortuga backpack – I have the older version of this pack

There are a few things I’ve learned about packing in my travels:

1. What I need for 1 week is basically the same as what I need for a trip of any length. There’s no way to pack underwear, much less shirts and pants, for 4 weeks. If you care about being clean you’re going to have to do some washing of clothes. I bring mostly non-cotton clothes and wash in the shower/sink whenever I’ll have a day in one place for stuff to dry.

Hangers are great for drying clothes you wash by hand

2. What I need for 3 days isn’t much less than what I need for 1 week. A few more pairs of underwear and socks. But I can wear shirts and pants twice (at least!) before washing. And all the toiletries, electronics and outerwear is the same regardless of the length of trip.

3. Shoes are my biggest problem. I’ve spent years searching for the perfect travel shoe. I want one that can look fancy in a nice restaurant but I also want to be able to go for a run or walk 10 miles comfortably. Up until this year I generally traveled with two pairs of shoes, one slightly nicer and one for workouts. I’ve finally given that up.

I did try buying some slip-on shoes that fit in a tiny bag (often called ballet flats). I know lots of women like these. I find them super uncomfortable for walking more than a few feet. But if they work for you, that’s a great option to add to a small bag.

My current “perfect” shoes are black nikes. I can run and walk in them happily. And I just pretend they’re stylish enough to wear elsewhere. This saves a ton of space in my luggage.

My fancy shoes

I also carry sandals when I go somewhere hot. I can usually shove my favorite Tevas in at the end without too much trouble.

4. Electronics are heavy! I generally pack up my bag the night before a trip but don’t put my computer in until I’m about to leave. And inevitably I pick up my bag before I add my computer and think “wow, it’s so light, I’m such a good packer!” And then when I put it on with my computer and chargers inside I’m pretty quickly dismayed with this heavy bag I have to lug around the airport.

I don’t think there’s any solution to this problem. I have a Mac Air, which is among the lightest computers I’m going to get. And I’m only carrying that and a cell phone. I do have a hip strap on my backpack. It’s not padded, but it does a remarkably good job redistributing the weight. I’m over the concern of looking dorkey; comfort is important. Anyway I don’t think people look particularly hip in the airport dragging around big suitcases.

5. Seasons matter, but not as much as I thought. Shorts are obviously lighter than long pants. But I usually wear short sleeve shirts with layers over. So as long as I can wear my layers onto the airplane (sweatshirt and coat) it’s not that much more bulk to go somewhere cold. The main problem arises on trips that cover multiple climates. I’m pretty sure I can’t fit rain gear, winter gear and beach stuff all in the small backpack.

6. My toiletries are small, but not insignificant. I carry shampoo, sunblock, hair product, and some lotion along with the usual toothbrush/paste, floss, etc. But I also carry some stuff related to allergies (i.e. an epipen, eye drops, and some drugs I might need) which take up a bit of space. If you don’t wear makeup and don’t need any drugs you’re toiletry packing should be pretty minimal.

So when will I use my larger Tortuga backpack? I still need a larger suitcase/backpack when I want to carry toys: snorkeling gear, climbing shoes and harness, snowshoes. Any trips where I plan to do some sport that requires gear is going to require a larger bag for my stuff. Also for trips where I need to dress up, like weddings, which require fancy outfits and nice shoes.

But for now I’m pretty happy with the simplicity of downsizing to a daypack for most of my travels.