4 Must-Try Tips for Light Vacation Packing, According to a Backpacker

As both a “touristy” traveler and a solo, middle-of-nowhere backpacker, I have found that these interests, unsurprisingly, are from two different worlds but overlap in a handful of ways. For example, when I go to more popular destinations, like my three-city European tour with a group of college students last winter, I found that many of my fellow travelers felt the need to pack five pairs of dress shoes, 10 evening outfits, 50 scarves, and piles of toiletries (and no, I am not just talking about the ladies). Meanwhile, I became known as the “backpack girl.” That’s right: just my Osprey on my back and my carry-on pack strapped to my front for several weeks of travel. And, while my companions were fighting over space in the elevator to stack their luggage, I was sprinting up the steps of the hostel and getting the first pick of the bunks.

You don’t have to ditch every amenity in order to travel practically for your European holiday or Cancun resort trip. However, taking a few tips from those that do this as a hobby can dramatically help in shedding some extra luggage weight.

1. Consider getting a backpack

Yes, that’s right. Even if you have never hiked in your life, a pack is a great option – and might even inspire you to take up backpacking! Depending on the length of your trip, you will be looking at a 40- to 65-liter model. I am personally a fan of Osprey for their durability, functionality, and comfort, as well as their women-specific line. I also find it helpful to get a smaller daypack, for both a carry-on and a day-to-day pack. Look into getting an 18- to 25-liter daypack; Marmot, Osprey, and EMS models are a great place to start.

Having an extra little tote that stuffs into its own pocket is also convenient for shopping, as well as for storing dirty clothes or shoes in your larger pack. Note: If a backpack is definitely not for you, Osprey also has great rolling luggage options, available through EMS.

2. Get some hiking shoes

No ifs, ands, or buts: If I have to hear one more individual complain about how their feet hurt, but they keep on wearing those support-free but fashionable shoes while walking hours through the Champs-Élysées, I will personally drive them to get a pair of Keens or Superfeet. Unlike these other styles, a good pair of walking/hiking shoes will keep you supported and ache free.

And, before you say how your ballet flats or Keds are just “so much lighter and easier to travel with,” just remember: being lightweight means that you can feel every little nook and cranny in the road. So, instead of bringing 10 pairs of shoes to switch out every day because of blisters and hotspots, just get one pair of trusty hikers. Believe me, they are even worth the time it takes to unlace them at airport security.

3. Think carefully about your “unmentionables”

Besides carrying the weight of all your cotton undies, re-packing dirty underwear is just, well, gross. This is why I switched to Ex Officio underwear. Just pack two to three pairs of this quick-drying and wicking miracle fabric; then, every night, wash your used undies in the sink with some shampoo and hang them up to dry. In the morning, you’ll have clean and dry underwear.

I also use this tactic with my socks: Get two pairs of sock liners and two to three pairs of merino wool hiking socks, known for their ability to both wick away moisture and stay stink free. Again, just rinse out the liners every night, and hang them up to dry. The liners will keep the wool socks fresher for longer, and you don’t have to carry the weight of 20 pairs of socks for your three-week vacation!

4. Ditch the jeans

I won’t bemoan you for bringing one pair of your favorite skinny jeans for a night out on the town. But for day-to-day travel and tourism? Jeans are too heavy, and the cotton is only comfy for about the first 10 minutes of touring the Colosseum. Therefore, consider getting some pants or shorts that are made of a quick-dry and a little bit stretchy material. My favorite pair for travel is the EMS Compass Pants, available in sizes for both men and women. These are stain and wrinkle resistant, and the fabric is a four-way stretch material that moves with you. If you are going somewhere chilly, just add a merino wool base layer underneath.

 

And, there it is! Just a few tips that might make you rethink the supposed “essentials” for your packing list. If you are looking to lighten your load, you don’t have to ditch your favorite items. However, investing in a few new products may make your trip less about lugging your luggage and more about the adventure.