How I Travel with an 18+4L Backpack (and my purse)

It’s that (travel) time of year again! I’m writing from a train to Toronto, where hopefully I’ll be able to upload pictures and this post (fingers crossed; the WiFi bandwidth isn’t great).

This year’s trip is to Italy, purely for leisure, with a friend. We’re starting off in Rome, travelling to Isola d’Elba to soak up some sun and beaches, spending half a day in Pisa en route to Florence, and tying things off in Venice. After a long year spent in the classroom, I’m more than ready for this vacation before spending the summer doing research and beginning clerkship in August!

Those who’ve read for a while are probably well-aware that I love to travel, and feel very fortunate that my circumstances allow me to do so. Some of those people (as well as those who know me) know that since 2016, I travel internationally exclusively with my Vaude 18+4L backpack and my purple cross-shoulder purse. This is a small volume even for a carry-on (rest assured that you *can* pack a larger bag – most people I’ve spoken to recommend a minimum of 30-40L – so don’t feel like you have to travel this lightly!), and so I thought I’d share my method for packing and why I choose to travel this way.


Why I Travel This Lightly

Simply put, I became fed up with having to wait at a baggage carousel for my luggage to (hopefully) show up. I also came to realize that if I had the room to pack it, I would – and so no matter the size of my bag, it would get filled. A few years back I became very interested in minimalism and began looking for ways I could incorporate it into my lifestyle, and travel seemed a natural way to do that.

The first trip I took with this small a bag was to Europe in the spring of 2016 – I figured if I found I was lacking for anything I could buy it anywhere. To my surprise (and relief) everything worked perfectly! My next challenge came a year later, when I spent a month Brazil on a research placement and needed my laptop, clothes that would work in a professional setting, and clothes that would work for outdoor exploration and adventure during their *winter* season. With some careful management, the system worked well again (surpring me and everyone I came across, who couldn’t believe that bag was all I brought).



Italy 2018 – Rome, Isola d’Elba, Florence (+ Pisa), and Venice
Length of trip: 2 weeks
Type of travel: Leisure; city and countryside exploration
Temperature range: Hot



– Two dresses
– Two pairs of shorts
– One pair of leggings
– Three tank tops/tee-shirts
– One long-sleeved shirt
– Two large scarfs/sarongs
– One swimsuit (*note: I usually travel with two, but plan on picking one up as a souvenir)
– Five pairs of underwear
– Three pairs of socks (one warm pair for cooler evenings)
– One bra (not pictured)
– Rain coat
– Flip flops
– Nice sandals

– White case with makeup (Naked Basics palette with brush, mascara, BB cream, face cream)
– Clear case with liquids, dental care and pharmacy (shampoo, conditionner, bar of soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, floss, contact lenses, deodorant, various NSAIDS/Gravol)
– Hair brush

– Travel documents (tickets and paper copy of passport/driver’s license/health insurance card)
– Extra paper copy of travel documents, extra credit cards, and any Euros not to go into purse)
– Journal and pens
– Electronics: charging cords for iPad/iPhone and iPad keyboard/power block
– Sunglasses



– Travel wallet with debit card, credit card, insurance card, and smaller amount of Euros
– Spare contact lenses
– Small first-aid kit
– Chewing gum
– Passport
– iPad in keyboard case
– Power block for charging iPhone
– Sunscreen
– Chapstick

Some Tips for Lightly-Packed Trips

– This probably seems like a no-brainer, but it’s the hardest part and so I’m including it anyways. BRING ONLY WHAT YOU NEED! Nothing more, nothing less. This is personal and varies to some extent, but my major categories are a) Clothes and shoes b) Toiletries, d) Passport, important documents and cards/money, and d) Electronics and entertainment (for me, this is either my iPad or my laptop, depending on what kind of work I might need to do, my phone, and my journal).

You don’t need that many clothes. Seriously, I promise you. Nothing bad will happen if you pack less. I pack the same amount of clothes for two weeks as I do for four or six. You can do laundry anywhere from at a laundromat to in your hostel sink. There are sink laundry packs available in almost any travel section of any pharmacy, on that note.

– On the topic of clothes, two more things. 1) LAYERS (consider your temperature range and plan accordingly – forget the giant sweaters and bring t-shirts, long-sleeved shirts, and cardigans/scarves you can wear alone or together) and 2) MERINO WOOL / other low-wash requirement/fast dry fabrics. If you have limited access to laundry facilities, you’ll be so grateful for this.

– On toilettries: shampoo and conditioner bars last a long time, weight almost nothing, and are easy to bring through security. Shampoo bars make my curly hair difficult to manage so I do travel with small format bottles (and refil as needed while abroad; another option is to just visit a pharmacy and buy bottles once you arrive, but I like knowing that everything fits before I go).

– Electronics are your friend! I keep an e-copy of all of my documents on my phone and iPad/laptop as well as accessible via email in case of emergencies.

– Bring two credit cards, and split up your money. Hide a card and the money you won’s be using immediately in your bag, and transfer this + your passport to a safe (if accessible). By not having everything all together, you’re insuring against becoming stuck and broke it someone steals from you.

– Your phone is your camera. Everyone does this now, right? Right?

That’s pretty much all I’ve got! If anyone has anything to add, feel free to comment – I love acquiring new tips, and honestly just like learning how other people travel. 🙂

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