How to Pack Light: Develop a Packing List

The main lesson I learned from our 7 month journey was to pack light! The less you have, the more freedom you have to go where you want to and to do whatever you would like. On our 2008-2009 adventure my mind set was that we had already packed most of our belongings into a storage unit and whatever I managed to fit in our suitcases was all we had left. That resulted in way over-packing! We also changed our plans once on the trip from being fairly stationary to constantly moving from place to place. So we left a suitcase in storage for 5 months in Bangkok and bought a backpack in Vietnam, to shift our luggage to better fit our traveling style. But we still started out with and then accumulated so much stuff that we had to mail 3 boxes home. I resolved not to make that mistake again. Yes, we may buy some souvenirs that we just can’t pass up and mail them home, but I am definitely not going to take such a large wardrobe that I lug items around that I hardly wear.

For those of you who have seen the movie “Up in the Air,” just think about the backpack analogy. That’s the approach I’m taking this time. I’m starting with an empty backpack and carefully and deliberately choosing what to put into the backpack and what to leave out. It’s an exciting concept, to be able to carry everything with you on your back! (It is a little deceiving, though, since what we take with us on the trip is not everything we own.) “Now, close your eyes and imagine that you’re wearing an empty backpack. Start by filling it with the small things, like your clothes. Now begin to add the heavier items you own, like your car. You can feel it getting heavier on your back and shoulders. Now add your home. It is becoming so heavy that you can no longer move. Trust me, moving is life!” Okay, something roughly along those lines ;). We’re not going to get rid of the Mini, and we are keeping our belongings in storage (although we did shrink those down to about 2/3 of what we previously had in storage). So for now I’m going to take the backpack concept and apply it just to our travel possessions.

So to start with, we’re taking smaller and fewer pieces of luggage than last time. And yes, they are all backpacks! I am taking my new Venus 75, which will carry our clothes and other necessities, as well as my PacSafe VentureSafe 25L daypack. George is taking only his new Kata 3N1-33 laptop/ camera backpack. He gets to carry his heavy camera gear everywhere with him ;).

After selecting our bags, I searched online for tips on packing light. A recurring theme was to start with a packing list. I began writing such a list a couple months ago, even before we had a trip in mind, and revised it over time. One approach is to start by listing every possible thing you would like to take and then whittling it down. But it’s hard to cut items once they are on the list, so I prefer to imagine my backpack on my back and feeling the weight of each possible item before deciding whether to put it on the list. And it’s not just weight, it’s precious space, too! As soon as I got my backpack I did a test run and filled it up with some of our clothes to see how much would fit. And not much fits in a 75 liter bag! So right away I realized we would not be taking many clothes. When reading through other travel bloggers’ suggestions on packing light, the most useful tip was something along the lines of: think not, “will I use this at least once on the trip?” but rather, “is it worth carrying this with me all through India just to use it when we finally get to Poland?” You can fill in your own travel destinations, but you get the idea. Something that may be used once or even a few times may be too heavy or bulky to make it worth while to carry it for your entire trip. If it turns out you really do want something you left at home, chances are you can buy it at your destination.

Here are a few of my tips for deciding what to include in your packing list:

  • If you’re traveling to SE Asia, only bring a few clothes and buy the rest when you get there. Clothes are cheaper there and make great souvenirs.
  • Leave empty room in your luggage to bring back souvenirs.

Below is our packing list. Keep in mind that each list should be tailored to your own trip, considering the weather, culturally acceptable attire, and modes of transportation.


Indian Visa
Travel health insurance
Zip lock freezer bags
h’s Venus Backpack
Osprey Airporter LZ Duffle
Pacsafe 85 Anti-Theft Backpack And Bag Protector, Steel
Pacsafe Luggage Venturesafe 25L Daypack, Black, One Size
Kata KT D-3N1-33 3 In 1 Sling /Backpack with Laptop Slot
Pacsafe Retractasafe 250 Cable Lock, Color:Smoke, One Size
Laptop & charger for h
Laptop & charger for g
g’s camera & gear, chargers, memory cards
h’s camera, case, charger, extra battery, tripod
India (Country Travel Guide)
Lonely Planet Eastern Europe (Multi Country Travel Guide)
India: Lonely Planet Phrasebook
Coin purse for h
Thin wallet for g
Inexpensive watch
1 pair tennis shoes each
1 pair sandals or flip flops each
Light jacket for h
1 light weight sweater each
3 pairs convertible pants for g
2 pairs convertible pants for h
1 long skirt for h
1 swim outfit each (tank top & shorts; suit & sarong)
4 shirts each
6 pairs socks each
6 pairs underwear each
3 bras for h ( 2 sports, 1 regular)
1 pair PJ’s each
Pillow case to use as laundry bag
Laundry detergent
Sunglasses for h
Glasses & cases
Ear plugs
Rain ponchos
2 spoons
Playing Cards
Electric plug adapter
Small calculator
Granola bars
Silk sleeping bags
Address list for postcards
Small notebook

First Aid Kit/ Medicine Bag: band aids, ankle wrap, sterile wipes, medical tape, adhesive bandages, gauze, tweezers, scissors (checked luggage), water purification tablets, sewing kit, Anti-malaria pills (prescription- Doxycycline), anti-fungal cream, anti-biotic cream, Pepto Bismo, Immodium, Tiger balm, mosquito repellant, cold medicine, Anacin, Advil, Tums, laxatives, Benedryl, cough drops, decongestant, aloe Vera, moleskin, eye drops, card listing contents

Contact card: emergency contact at home, health care provider at home, travel health insurance, US embassy

Toiletries: handi wipes, tissue packs, hand sanitizer, feminine products, shampoo, body wash, razor & blades, shaving cream, brush, comb, hair ties, hair gel, tooth brushes, tooth brush caps, tooth paste, floss, ziplock bag, nail clippers and file, sunscreen, lotion, deodorant, face wash, one eye shadow, chap stick, Clinique face lotion, contact lenses

Envelope of important papers: copies of passports and Visas and extra visa photos, check book register, health insurance

2 money belts: passports, cash-including small USD, ATM cards, credit cards, thin holders for cards

So the idea with the packing list is that if an item is not on the list it doesn’t go in the bag! There might be some last minute changes, but they should just be to reduce items, not add more. Our bags are mostly packed, but instead of having empty space in the big backpack it is stuffed full. I might have to take out a couple more items…

What are your tips for packing light?  What essential item is always on your packing list?  Please share by leaving a comment.

Here are the items we always bring when heading out on an adventure:

2 thoughts on “How to Pack Light: Develop a Packing List”

  1. Packing list–eeps! I better start thinking about one too. Good ideas though. What do I REALLY wanna haul around?

  2. If you are planning to visit India, you may also want to bring:
    1) A quick-drying microfiber towel. (Towels are not provided in budget hotels. We had looked around for a microfiber towel but couldn’t believe how much they cost at outdoors stores. Now we wish we had one!)
    2) Toilet paper (It is also not provided at budget hotels and is expensive in India!)
    3) Talcum powder/ baby powder (Useful for sprinkling on feet to combat odor. Can also be purchased once you get to India.)
    4) A scrub brush for your nails (So you can at least attempt to keep them clean.)

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