When Craig and I left New Zealand on our first long-term trip, we used every gram of our flight luggage allowance: a large backpack each as well as the full complement of carry-on baggage. We had our excuses: we were planning to spend six months to a year in three or four places, so we needed lots of stuff.
Six and a half years later, our way of thinking is completely different. It doesn’t matter if we’re going somewhere for a week or a year, we always have the same amount of luggage: not much. For the past year or so, we’ve successfully travelled with carry-on sized bags only, and we’re planning to keep it that way. We still have everything we need, but we’ve necessarily lost some of the items that used to go with us everywhere.
1. Sleeping bag
Although it’s no longer the case, NZ hostels used to expect backpackers to bring their own sleeping bags, and we assumed it would be the same in Europe. It wasn’t. Most hostels provide sheets and blankets, rendering the enormous sleeping bags we’d brought with us largely useless. In fact, we abandoned them quite early in our trip, but had to buy new, smaller ones, when we went to stay with a friend who’d just moved house and didn’t have any blankets. These came in very handy when we walked the West Highland Way and later, the Camino de Santiago, but apart from these hikes we almost never used them. Now, we carry silk sleeping bag liners, which come in handy surprisingly often.
2. Hair brush
Since I’d always used a brush, when it was time to pack I naturally threw it in the bag, without concern for size or weight. It took me some time to realise that I could function just as well with a comb, and that I’d be doing myself a favour if I threw away the bulky hairbrush. Hair conditioner was similarly disposed of: two-in-one shampoo saves weight AND time in the shower — a double win.
3. Coffee pot
You might be wondering why we were carrying a coffee pot in the first place, but this luxury really made Craig’s life better: he doesn’t function well in the morning, and a good cup of coffee can get him on the right track for the day. Our stovetop espresso machines had adventures of their own: the first was forgotten in Invercargill, the second was bought in St Albans, lost its handle in Piacenza, and was abandoned in Asia, the third was purchased in Perth and left behind in Sweden.
A couchsurfer in Barcelona gave us a replacement, which served us until we got back to New Zealand and found the first one waiting for us — so now we have two, but we didn’t bring either with us. While we still prefer espresso, we’ve found an instant coffee that’s quite good, and we use that when there’s no other option. It’s a bit bulkier than we’d like (since we have a large supply) but it’s a lot lighter and more manageable than a coffee pot.
Having a book to read is essential for both of us, so we always had at least three between us. We’d buy new ones along the way and exchange old ones at hostel book exchanges. The problem was that we wanted to keep the books we liked best, and our backpack library grew steadily. When we arrived in Adelaide in late 2010, I pulled 12 books out of my (by then carry-on sized) backpack. We both now have Kindles and I have fewer backaches.
While the coffee pot was more or less indispensible, I still don’t understand why we decided to carry an iron. Craig said that as we were going to be working, he needed to look presentable, and fair enough… But wow, we carried an iron. It was a travel-sized one at least, but it was still pretty heavy. It was eventually discarded when Craig realised he could buy shirts and trousers that didn’t need to be ironed.
If you’re heading off on a long trip, or even a short one, there are probably a lot of items you can do without, or replace with something lighter and smaller. At the very least, I definitely recommend leaving the iron behind!