Top 10 Tips for Backpack Travel
The first time we went to Vietnam was in 2015 and we were in our mid-50’s. We were going to be moving around quite a bit and we were unsure how practical a rolling bag would be. Those two matters inspired one of my big ideas…….buy backpacks and travel with the freedom to move around quickly, limit what we packed and make the most of some of the smaller places we would be staying. Voilà!
Side Note – Graeme actually got on board fairly quickly with this one, often that is not the case when I lob an idea at him out of the blue.
Backpack Travel for the Young at Heart – Us
Once we made up our minds it was a matter of getting the right bag. We went to a local outfitter to get educated and to try them on for size. We knew that my pack would need to be smaller so that I would be able to handle it on my own. That meant whatever I got couldn’t be too small (hello overpacking) and I definitely didn’t want to go too big (oh my aching back.) I was looking for something just right, like Goldilocks.
The Devil is in the Details
Enter Osprey. Of all the brands that we looked at Osprey seemed to be the best fit for both of us. Although we each got something different we were both satisfied that our choices would work for us individually.
I chose the Osprey Metron; at 24 liters, the dimensions are 19 x 12 x 11. It has plenty of zippered interior and exterior pockets and exterior mesh pockets that I’ve used for shoes and water bottles. Most important, I can wear it or carry it with ease…….usually. When I can’t manage it, typically at the end of a trip, Graeme steps in for an assist. I have had that backpack so full that I’ve had to lay across it to zip it up but you can’t believe how practical it is and how much it holds. The most it has weighed fully packed is 18 pounds and I have been able to make it work for 30 days worth of travel. That said, it’s been a process to learn how to travel without a suitcase but the best thing for me is how freeing it is. It really simplified everything once I learned how to make it work for me.
Graeme went with a totally different style with the Osprey Porter 30 liter with dimensions of 20 x 13 x 8. It loads from the top and provides a bit more flexibility. Although our packs are the same liter size, the different construction of Graemes makes easier to overfill and I have benefitted from that countless times but nestling some of my larger items (like shoes) into his extra space. Thank goodness for my husband’s willingness to share his backpack space!
We generally travel to places that aren’t well suited (IMO for us) to suitcases. Since we make every attempt to stay in smaller hotels or rent a home from someone it helps not to have to navigate stairs with a rolling suitcase and to maximize limited storage spaces. That said, it has taken some real thought and planning to pull it off consistently and we learn a new packing hack every time we travel.
I’ve gotten so used to traveling with a backpack that when I am faced with a trip that allows for a suitcase I have to reevaluate how to pack. I truly prefer the backpack and I can make it work with heavy winter items and certainly with lightweight summer clothing. We both carry smaller daypacks for things we want to make sure don’t go missing such as medications and camera gear.
Using a backpack allows us to feel as if we are fully immersed wherever we happen to be. Without being encumbered with a lot of “stuff.” Perhaps it’s just our perception but it ends being our reality. That’s a big win for something as simple as a backpack.
What do you think? Do you travel with a backpack? Share your pro tips with us in the comments.
Our Top 10 Tips for Backpack Travel
1. Roll, Roll, Roll your Clothes – Seriously, it makes a huge difference. Backpack real estate is valuable, make it count.
2. Pick a Color Palette – This one makes our lives so much easier, especially now. Every piece has to coordinate with at least two other items, no exceptions. I always like to be able to identify Graeme in a crowd, consequently he tries to choose brightly colored shirts so I can spot him easily if we get separated. There’s nothing more frustrating and time consuming than trying to reconnect with your travel partner when you don’t have a wifi connection.
3. Multi-Purpose Items – This one is easy-choose items that can serve more than one purpose. I use a scarf to stay warm in airports, cover my shoulders in churches and temples, wrapped around my waist for temple coverage or as a bathing suit coverup. Tees can be worn over dresses (trust me, they can.) Graeme has pants that zip off at the knee, perfect for warm and cold climates and for the sacred spaces that you plan to enter. You get the idea.
4. Donate as you Go – If you need to lighten up your backpack for the final stretch, consider donating clothing that is in good repair to a local non-profit or shelter. This is especially helpful if you change climates during your trip. I researched and found a non-profit in Essaouira, Morocco that was happy to have my donation through their “Leave your Wardrobe in Morocco” campaign. I have also worked with hotel management and local non-profits to connect my clothing to staff members who might need it.
5. Laundry – Plan to have your clothing laundered during your trip, this eliminates the need for something fresh for each day which takes up valuable space in your backpack. See #1. Depending on how long we are on the road, we typically have laundry done every 5-7 days and pack accordingly. Lighter is better!
6. Less is More – Truly it is. Limiting my clothing options saves time because I have fewer choices. Besides, if I really need something, I contribute to the local economy by purchasing it.
Similarly, my personal products look a lot different on the road. I go full-on minimalist with skin- and body-care and and use the lightest weight cosmetic bags for storage, I learned this the hard way. Every ounce counts. Speaking of. personal products……..
7. Condense Products – My skincare routine when I travel is pared down into travel sized bottles, reusable silicone tubs and jars, contact lens cases (great option!), and mini dropper bottles for items like my ‘can’t live without’ vitamin C. Bonus points if they are recyclable.
We like to carry on so we can hit the ground running so maximizing room in my TSA ziplock looks like putting together a puzzle.
8. Weight Counts – When I mentioned that my backpack weighed 18 pounds at its heaviest that means it weighed 18 pounds through every airport, on the plane, from the car to the hotel, and up the stairs in the hotel without an elevator. And everywhere in between. My experience has proven to me that I can travel with much less than I think. Much less!
9. Medication and First Aid – First of all, I take a lot of supplements. A lot! That makes getting my stuff ready for a trip the first, worst and most dreaded task. We use disposable resealable pouches, one for each day. These go in our backpacks and we hang on to them to recycle when we get home. For first aid supplies we travel with one-application packets of antibacterial ointment and hydrocortisone cream, bandaids, and antiseptic wipes. When we were on safari I had bites from tsetse flies, mosquitos, and spiders, the anti-itch cream saved the day.
10. Back Saving Folding Luggage Cart – For our recent safari, I purchased a small luggage cart that folds down small enough to attach to my backpack and was quick and easy to use. This was a game changer for us especially since we had 15 total flights and a 22-hour layover in Qatar and that airport is massive. This inexpensive cart was so important to me that when it was lost on our Zanzibar flight I waited for the return flight to get it back. Being able to pull my backpack instead of carrying/wearing it or asking Graeme to do it made it the best travel investment I’ve made in a long while.
11. BONUS – Packing Cubes – These are on every list for a reason. I use them more than Graeme but I don’t leave home without packing them with as much as I can. On our last trip, I was able to fit all of my shirts, two shorts, a dress, a bathing suit, PJ’s, and a scarf in one cube. See #1 for how I did it.
There they are, our Top 10’s for backpack travel. Tell us what you think.