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  • Writer's pictureGunnar Garfors

Travel Hard, Pack Light

My entire luggage for a week long trip, all in my backpack. At Lisbon airport. Photo: Asbjørn Havnen.

I never travel with anything but hand luggage, as long as I can help it. And I most often can, even when going away for a week. Or fifteen. Let me just add that I don’t usually smell, either. Not much, anyway. I just pack smart, and only what I need. What I need includes washing powder. Plus soap, my toothbrush and a deodorant.

And what else? Not much, as it all has to fit into my 35 liter big backpack. And of course I still like to keep some space available. I might always run into that irresistible carved Tin Tin figure in Ivory Coast, quality junk in Sierra Leone or those good luck generating wooden penises, now available as souvenirs, in Bhutan.

This way of packing works for short weekend trips, for visits to five continents in a day or in order to explore all countries in the world. Do note that I more often than not travel to explore and to experience. I do not stay in the same place for long periods of time, and I rarely go to only one location. I need to be flexible, and I refuse to let a big suitcase stand between me and that exciting but impulsive offer of joining on a voyage to the next village, through a forest, over mountain or across a lake. If you prefer the travel to a hotel, stay there for your entire holiday and return home kind of holiday style, you may want to consider a different packing approcah.

I typically pack the following when travelling in a relatively warm climate (for winter trips, upgrade to warmer variants of the clothing and shoes below):


Dealer in quality junk in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

I am not going to tell you what to wear, I am just going to advice on what you can get away with and still remain comfortable and clean. If you are a girl, you may want some accessories as well. Innovative combinations of items like scarfs, earrings and necklaces can make a few outfits seem like many. Just remember that you can usually buy a lot of this cheap, locally. (I just realised that I am recommending on what girls should wear. This is something which is lightyears from my areas of core competence. Please accept my humble apologies.) Packing too few clothes is rarely a bad thing, either. That gives you an excuse to buy new clothes, often even cheaper than back home, and most likely different to what you find at your local shopping center. Dare stand out.

3 boxers (aka. underpants)

3 pairs of socks, 1-2 of them short legged

1 pair of football shorts (for jogging and swimming)

1 pair of combination trousers, with removable legs (the trousers must be lightweight and come with zippable pockets for safer storage of passport, money, wallet and mobile phone) 2 T-shirts 1 shirt 1 sweater 1 pair of sandals or flip-flops 1 pair of superlight jogging shoes

Anything can be stolen, but this

The following items are always on my body (in zippable pockets or in inner pockets of my suit jacket) or safely locked away in a safe, in a reception or with a host or friend that you trust.

  1. Passport

  2. Wallet

  3. Mobile phone

  4. Old fashioned piece of paper with addresses, phone numbers, booking numbers, itinerary, currency exchange rates, etc. written down

  5. Cash (it is still king in many places)

Miscellaneous No backpack or suitcase has been packed properly without these various items. The list may seem long, but the objects on it are all small and can be kept permanently in your backpack. Doing so makes it easier to travel on short notice.

  1. Toothbrush

  2. Razor

  3. Nail cutter

  4. Ear plugs (you thought every hotel was soundproofed?)

  5. Travel towel (not as nice as the big one at home, but it is lighter, smaller and dries faster)

  6. Charger(s) for your phone and/or other gadgets

  7. Adapter (for the right country/-ies or a world adapter which will work in most of them)

  8. Two pens (there are forms to fill out, contact details to share, etc. – one as a backup)

  9. Portion bags of washing powder (you can usually buy this anywhere, but bring some just in case)

  10. Deodorant (unless it is liquid, then it needs to go in toiletries, see below)

  11. Band aid (you never know)

  12. Imodium tablets or similar (especially if going to India – these pills will block you up)

  13. Condoms (you’re probably not interested in getting, or passing on, unmentionable diseases or becoming 50% involved in a pregnancy – do also remember that rubber vending machines are rare in most countries, and that the quality of local rubbers is often questionable in some countries)

  14. Your yellow fever certificate (needed to access some countries)


A see through plastic bag/folder with the following (all in minature containers):

  1. Toothpaste

  2. Liquid soap

  3. Shampoo

  4. Suntan lotion

  5. Moisturizer

  6. After shave

  7. Shaving cream

  8. Lip balm

And just in case

Why not scan your passport and save it to a virtual storage space online? You know, in the cloud.

Plus what comes with you, the traveller Of course you will also necessarily wear something when travelling. Don’t forget this, it will make you carry more than you think. And these garments can be washed too. I typically wear the following.

1 boxer 1 T-shirt 1 pair of jeans with a belt 1 pair of socks 1 suit jacket with at least 2 inner pockets 1 jacket or windbreaker 1 pair of comfortable multipurpose shoes (for general use, including hiking)

What is missing? Shoes typically take up a lot of space, to manage with few pairs is therefore essential. Skip the party shoes at home, but consider going for some black or dark day to day shoes. They can then also be used for a party without too much embarrasment. And should you be invited to that four day wedding, go buy some nice shoes or wear what you have. Those who invite you will understand that you are on a crazy trip without too much luggage. Chances are that you will stand out anyway.

Leave the vast selection of shirts, suits or dresses at home. You’re on the road, you are not among the contestants in an international fashion contest.

Relaxation There is not much more to say.

Except for, do enjoy the ride!

Just don’t forget that travelling is about discovering new places, meeting new people, relaxation and having fun. Those batteries need recharging for a reason, and your trip shouldn’t involve having to worry about how to transport your luggage from A to B via C, D, E and Z. You need more reasons for why to travel with hand luggage only?

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