Updated: Dec 2, 2022
Our modest suggestions on how to take only the bare necessities of travel for however you wander and however you roam. Less means more fun and more energy when you are not weighed down by a lot of stuff.
We have always opted for backpacks over wheeled luggage on our trips, and as we get older, we are more committed to keeping our backpacks for a couple of reasons. The first is practical – when you stay at hostels most are in old, historic buildings that do not have elevators. It is much easier to wear your luggage on your back as you hike up stairs to your room. Also, travelling can mean a lot of walking between platforms, terminals, or bus stops, and in Europe and other countries pulling wheeled luggage over medieval cobblestones is no fun. It is more work, and we’re all about keeping it simple and practical.
The other reason is to maintain our own fitness level. Between travels we work ten-hour days in roles that keep us sedentary for most of our workday. We make a point of getting out for walks and exercise on our lunch breaks and during the weekends. That and going to the gym every so often helps keep us motivated and at a reasonable level of fitness. We also subscribe to the belief that if you bring big luggage, you will bring more stuff. Less luggage, less stuff. This didn’t come naturally. Our first trip to Europe I had a 70-litre backpack and had it bursting at the seams. It also weighed over 25 kilograms (55 lbs), so we’ve learned to thin out our travel gear and clothing so that it fits in a 30-litre backpack with a stuffed weight of around 11 – 13 kilograms (25-30 lbs).
Like with most people who travel a lot, this took some time, a lot of learning the hard way, and then learning to pack, then unpack it all and thin it out. We find this works well – to pack what you think you will need. The backpack will be bursting – no matter how big it is. Then unpack it all and lay everything out and have a look. You can then omit the ‘anxiety items’ – those things you think “I might need in case…”, and you can also omit duplicates. Make no mistake – during a 3–4-week European trip (even a 1-2 week) you will be doing laundry about once per week. There is no getting around that. However, you can have fun with it, and if you make a point of staying in the old part of European cities the laundromat is likely to be in a cool old building and neighbourhood.
Heading to the laundromat in Lisbon - it was 800 metres from our hostel in the Alfama Neighbourhood. 1000 year old winding streets - Google Maps was handy.
A laundromat in Lisbon in the Alfama neighborhood. We brought a book and our journals and made an afternoon of it. Actually, the machines were fast - took about 90 minutes to do two loads of laundry - everything that was in our packs.
From what we recall, the cost for everything - including soap - was under 10 Euro.
We will put a video together soon on our packing tips and what we bring. There are a lot of packing videos out there and we encourage you to have a look at them as well. When we first got started on travelling in 2010, we watched a lot of Rick Steves travel ‘how-to’ clips he has. Always pay respect to those who came before – we all stand on the shoulders of giants as it were. So, until we have our video up and running, this is a list of what Angela and I pack for a 3-week European vacation.
This is for one backpack - we have the same items in each backpack
4 sport shirts that wick moisture and roll up small
6 pair of breathable, moisture-wicking underwear that roll up small. Costco sells a good brand for travel called 32 degrees
5 pair of ankle socks
2 pair of long/warm socks
1 pair of flip flops (for showers and for lounging in the hostel in the evening)
1 pair of slippers for lounging in the hostel (cold feet)
1 pair of long shorts (capris style for cooler days)
2 pair of shorter shorts (1 pair comfy for sleeping in and for lounging – 1 pair for going out for warmer days)
1 pair of pants with zip-off legs
1 vest (I wear a Mountain Equipment Co-op small puffy vest)
1 vest (Angela wears a puffier one as she tends to be colder)
1 fleecy hoodie for cooler evenings
1 lite hoodie shirt for cooler days
1 toque (beanie to our American neighbours)
1 pair of good walking shoes – usually sneakers
Optional: you may want a pair of good hiking/walking boots. These take up a lot of room, so you may need to forgo the sneakers
Toothbrush, medication, nail clippers,
Toothpaste, floss, and shampoo/conditioner you will buy at your destination
A book to read at night – no TVs in hostels, which is one of the appeals
A small laptop or tablet to watch a show if you want to; social media; etc.
Note: if bringing a laptop, it is good to invest in a small book-size laptop (12-14”) so that it fits in your day pack
1 fold-up day pack (can be used on the plane for electronics/book) as well as having something to carry your water and camera around
Smart phone (maps, directions, emergencies)
Plug-in converter, charging wires for electronics
Mophie pack and/or extra camera battery
Small thin journal to document your trip – we do this and years later have details we would otherwise have forgotten
A pen and pencil
Water bottle (please don't buy bottled water)
A reusable coffee cup - we usually buy these at our destination as one of our souvenirs. Reduce, reuse, recycle
If you are someone who purchases souvenirs for yourself and friends/family, then you may want to consider mailing items back to your home while on your trip. This does add a cost to what you are buying, and because it adds a cost it does give us pause as to what we are buying – asking, ‘do we really need/want this?’, ‘will it end up in a donation bin in a few years?’. We used to try and pack so much stuff back with us that our luggage was overweight, and we’ll say that a lot of what we bought in those early years has disappeared. We’ve become selective in what we purchase as well as where we purchase things – ensuring we are spending our money in local businesses so that our tourist dollars are supporting the communities we are visiting. We want small business to thrive and be there for our niece and nephew and generations after that. The big corporations have enough money; we don’t need to give them any more of our hard-earned cash.
These items we can roll up (clothing) and pack in a 30-litre backpack. This is just small enough to be a carry-on for most airlines. There may be the odd time where they will ask you to check it underneath once you are on the plane, but by this time it will not cost you extra. The rest of the time you will not have to claim your luggage as you just walk off the plane with everything you need. A saying about travel that we happily embrace:
“Take only memories, leave only footprints”.
- Chief Seattle
Above: for our 3 week Ireland and Lisbon trip in 2022
I'll bring either a side pack for electronics and water bottle and for during the day in our destination
Angle has a soft day pack that rolls up and can stuff in her side pocket on her 35 litre pack.