Traveling light; Or, how to see the world in 17Kg

Traveling light has always been a challenge for me. I’ve typically been the type of traveler typically packed at the last minute, and I invariably end up packing much more than I needed to. But a trip I took recently had some pretty stringent restrictions on luggage weight. I was allowed one soft-sided luggage bag and one carry on bag. The two bags in combination had to weigh less 17 kilos (around 35 lbs). Because I was flying internationally and had 3 flights to my final destination, I also decided I wanted to be able to carry my luggage on-board with me. Both of these constraints forced me to think through my packing strategy very carefully. I wanted to share some of my lessons learned from this exercise in the hopes that it may help others who are trying to travel light.

The first decision I made was to plan out my packing a couple weeks in advance. This gave me plenty of time to consider what I did and didn’t need, to find out the climate and average temperatures for the areas I visited. I used an application called Wunderlist to help me organize my list and to check that I’d gotten everything at the end.

The second decision I made was somewhat related to the first: since I couldn’t take everything I wanted, I needed to decide what items were “must have” and which ones were “nice to have.” I’m a very serious amateur photographer, and so my first concern was making sure I took the right camera gear with me. Clothes were a secondary choice. I traveled with two camera bodies, a Nikon D610 DSLR and a Panasonic Lumix GX1 mirrorless camera as a backup. I had short and long lenses for each camera so I could do everything from landscapes to close-in photos of birds and wildlife. In the future I plan on purchasing a Panasonic Lumix GX8 mirrorless camera and will take it along with the GX1 when weight and size are an issue. As an added bonus I will be able to share lenses between the GX1 and GX8 which means a lighter equipment loadout. I thought about taking my computer to do editing in the field but ultimately decided not to. Instead, I used an Apple device to copy photos from my cameras to my iPad. Some cameras now come with wi-fi capability, and photographers who use one of those cameras can directly upload photos to a website or storage archive.

The third choice I made was that I didn’t need a new set of clothes for each day. These days, most hotels and lodges will do your laundry for a fee. For the places that don’t have facilities, a bathtub or a sink should suffice for a quick clothes wash. I decided that this was a better option than packing clothes for each day, which would have meant a lot heavier luggage. I also carried a small bottle filled with HE (High Efficiency) laundry detergent. Most major brands of laundry soap sell a concentrated HE formula, and it usually only took a few drops to wash a couple of shirts or a pair of pants in the sink.

Knowing that I was doing clothes on the road led me to my fourth decision which was the type of clothes I was going to take with me. For this trip I chose comfort and convenience over fashion, but your decision may vary based on your destination and your mode of transport. I chose clothing made of nylon or poly/cotton blend. These fabrics tend to be low wrinkle, and dry very easily and quickly. I took a few pair of REI Sahara convertible pants and several short-sleeved poly/cotton blend shirts. It helps that I used to be a runner and have a lot of shirts from races I’ve done in the past – these were perfect for the trip.

Making all these decisions and planning out a strategy helped me stay well within the limits imposed on this trip. I also saved my packing list in Wunderlist, and so I’ll have it available for future trips. The good news is I can substitute items as needed based on where I’m going and how. If I need more “dress up” clothes I can substitute khakis or slacks for the convertible pants, and a wrinkle-free dress shirt for one or more of the athletic shirts. For colder climates, I can throw a jacket into my bag – I’m a big fan of the packable jackets from North Face.

It takes imagination, creativity and planning – but learning to pack light is a great skill for frequent travelers to have!

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23 thoughts on “Traveling light; Or, how to see the world in 17Kg

  1. Love your step by step decision thought process, this is something I’m going to keep in mind for my upcoming trip to Europe!

    1. Thank you! If you’re taking trains in Europe, this advice will be especially handy.

  2. Thanks for sharing these tips. I’ve got a trip coming up so any advice is always appreciated! It’s always good to see how others are doing it.

    1. Glad you liked the article, thank you! Back in the day I used to take paperback books with me, and then give those away…so I totally get what you mean.

  3. It is always a toss up between what is essential and what is not. Personally, I would prefer to travel light. The lighter the better. But I think one needs to maintain a balance and optimize the baggage that you carry on your travels.

  4. It’s always a challenge not to carry too much things when traveling, but anyway I also come home every time with unused things that I carried with me 🙂 Good tips!

    1. I have the same problem with bringing home unused stuff! Glad you liked the tips.

  5. I can totally relate to this, I am also a last minute packer, even if I try and be organised and pack early it never happens. You have shown me it can be done!! Great tips, thanks for sharing

    1. Yeah it’s really hard to change old habits – but once you do, you’ll be super happy. Glad you liked the article.

    1. Try doing this over time…don’t cut back all at once, but phase it in gradually. I bet you’ll like the results!

    1. It wasn’t exactly easy…I had a lot of nervousness the first time I did it…but it worked out fine! I’m sure it will work out well for you also.

    1. You’re right that good photography does have a price…that said, I’ve sort of trained myself to work with a minimal set of lenses so I don’t have to lug tons of extra equipment around. I went to Iceland a few years ago and took like 4 cameras – 2 digital, 2 film. All different formats, but still – WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING?!?!?!?!

  6. I’m terrible at trying to pack light! My toiletries always seem to be the heaviest. Fantastic tips to help travel light. The light weight jackets are great!

    1. Fortunately my toiletries are pretty light…but I know they can get heavy!

      Glad you enjoyed the tips, thanks for the kind words.

  7. 17kgs for 2 bags is impressive, we have been travelling for 12 months and have our main case down to 15kgs each but also have carry on with electronics that weighs about 6kg so we need to use some of your tips I think. Great post

    1. Thanks for the great feedback on the post! I really stripped down to the bare minimum on electronics – plus it helped that I was only gone for a week, not 12 months. Additionally I stayed in a hotel, so I just used the toiletries there instead of packing mine. Every little bit helps!

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