Most travellers that head out for an international journey end up wishing they packed less. As a teenager, the first time I trekked my way across Europe I left home with nothing more than a half-full backpack, and even then I spent most of the trip wishing I left home with less.
The more things you carry with you the more discomfort and inconvenience you will experience every day of the journey. Airports will become twice as aggravating, hostel lockers will be too small, and you will quickly realize dragging a huge and heavy backpack over cobblestone roads represents its own special kind of hell.
If you want to enjoy your trip, then pack light.
Here’s what you need to pack even for an indefinitely extended trip:
You can buy toiletries like shampoo, soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, makeup, combs, and razors anywhere you travel to. Most hostels offer laundry services or know where to find public laundry facilities so you don’t need to bring more than a couple changes of clothing.
You can go really Spartan and bring even less clothing. I once travelled for two months wearing a single t-shirt and a single pair of jeans. It’s do-able but I wouldn’t recommend it. It is much more practical to carry at least a second set of cloths to wear while you wash the first.
Also, you can also buy clothes wherever you’ve made your temporary home. If you’re in a reasonably sized city you will probably be able to find clothing stores with no problem. Shopping for clothes while travelling in foreign countries is always fun because what you buy can be unique pieces you’ll continue to wear when you get back home.
Doing laundry is not really a problem. Even if your hostel doesn’t have laundry facilities you can still wash your clothes in the bathroom sink and hang them up to dry overnight. A short travellers laundry line can sometimes come in handy for drying cloths.
Keep your electronics to a minimum to lighten your physical load and to minimize the mental and financial downside in case your bag gets stolen.
If you don’t absolutely need to bring your laptop, then do leave it at home. But if you must have one, and you have some spare cash, I recommend you buy the cheapest $200-300 (€80-€120, £45-£90) smaller-sized laptop for email, to write a journal account of your trip in a word document (makes for great reading later), and to store the photos you take. You can also store photos on a small USB. Losing, breaking, or replacing a small, inexpensive notebook is not such a big deal than it is to lose, break or replace a high-priced MacBook Pro, gaming laptop, or a laptop with a lot of personal stuff. Of course, also backup your entire laptop contents in a small USB and leave the USB at a safe place at home.
On my most recent trip I brought along only two electronic items:
To power these two electronics I brought an adapter kit so my notebook computer could plug into foreign outlets and I charged my Smartphone through my laptop via its USB cord. Simple, elegant and ultra lightweight.
I’m sure you can think of a dozen other electronic devices you feel you need all the time, but you’ll survive without them. I love my electric toothbrush beyond all reason but it only took a couple days to get used to a regular toothbrush.
As a final note on electronics you need to ask yourself whether you need to bring a separate camera or not. I like taking photos and I use my Smartphone’s built-in camera. It’s good enough for sharing photos online, which is the only place 99% of people’s personal travel photos will be seen.
Bring a dedicated camera if you’re serious about photography, but if you’re not and you just want to share your photos online, then your Smartphone offers a much smarter alternative than dragging around a heavy DSLR or even a point-and-shoot.
You want to make sure you have a great backpack. I travel with a canvas-and-leather backpack. It’s spacious, waterproof, and very tough- all qualities you want in a travel backpack. Some of the better manufacturers provide a lifetime warranty. Consider spending $100-$200 (€90-120, £45-90) on good quality and you’ll find it very worthwhile doing so.
You might want to consider buying clothes that travel well, but you don’t need to. Travel-oriented clothing tends to be made from wrinkle-proof anti-microbial fabrics that won’t accumulate smells and which don’t need to be washed for weeks at a time. If you only invest in one piece of travel-oriented clothing invest in a pair of travel-oriented underwear.
Overall, it’s better to save extra money before your trip so you can spend more of it where it will give you greater experiences and more enjoyment. You’ll adjust to owning less stuff in a couple days, but the memories you create with the extra money you saved and by packing lighter can last you the rest of your life.