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Destination Asia: Packing Ultra-Light

Bigger isn't always better
” You're an idiot,”? was the exact reaction I got from my mom when I told her that I would be packing ultra-light.

What do I mean when I say I'll be packing ultra-light?

Well I'm trading in my 65 liter Eagle Creek Explorer LT for a Futura 28 Day Pack, and that is the only bag I'll be taking on my 4 month trip to South-East Asia. OK, so now you think I'm an idiot too, don't you?

It's not an original idea and it has been done successfully before.

I first heard of this style of travel through a series of blog posts on Gadling called Life Nomadic

I was intrigued to the learn of author Tyan, who has been a huge proponent of this style of travel, having traveled this way for years.

I've always traveled light. On my first trip, my backpack weighed in at under 20lbs, fully loaded.

I smirked every time another traveler would walk into my hostel wearing a 90L monster packed to the brim with whatever didn't fit hanging off the side like a traveling salesman.

Scaling down my gear to a 28L pack may seem impossible but really it's not, the golden rule is light, thin clothes and less of them. That coupled with upgrading my gear to the smallest option available will make it possible.

For example, instead of taking a day pack I'll be taking a Kiva Key Chain Pack, which is a full day pack that will scrunch up into a little zippered package small enough to fit on a key chain.

For my trip to Cuba, I used an even smaller bag as a test.

Though I was staying in one place throughout the entire trip, it wasn't a true test, but it did assure me that my plan was plausible.

My pack for Cuba

But why would I want to put myself through the strain of having to do without?

Besides the obvious advantage of not hauling around the extra weight, I will enjoy several other benefits, mainly that I can take everything I own everywhere.

I probably won't always, but if I ever feel that my room isn't secure then I won't suffer when I take it with me. 

I will also be taking my pack on treks with me. 

In particular, if there is a trek that follows a point A to point B route, then usually guest houses will arrange for your bags to be sent to your destination.

Maybe it's just my obsession with reading horror stories, but I don't like the idea of parting with my only possessions on the continent for extended periods of time. By packing ultra-light, I won't have to.

Considering I'll be on approximately 11 flights in the next year, across multiple countries and carriers, packing this light will allow me to keep my possessions within arm's reach at all times. 

If my bag were to get lost even for a few days it would be a monumental setback. Doesn't skipping the baggage claim after a long flight sound like a little slice of heaven?

The most enticing reason for me to travel ultra-light is the sheer challenge. It will make me a more disciplined, and efficient traveler. Even when I want nothing more then the roomy comfort of my old bag, I will have no choice but to persevere.

Travel is all about pushing yourself and your comfort zones, and what better way is there to do that than by taking the road less traveled?

Below is the video explaining how to pack ultra-light that inspired me to push myself.

Planning a trip? Go Backpacking recommends:


Tuesday 4th of December 2012

I know this article is from 2009, so a few good years have already passed by, but i have some comments to share.

I've been a strong advocate of travelling light since the late 1990's, when I first went to Italy with a 60L bag ( a Deuter Traveller that weighed almost 3kg EMPTY ), and when fully loaded made every step a remorseful experience.

Since then, I've pared down my luggage, and I pack lighter every trip. In fact just returned from a 2 week trip to Laos with a Jansport Wasabi rucksack that weighed 0.4kg empty, and 3.8Kg fully loaded, a load that is just slightly heavier than my large Deuter empty. Even then, I brought stuff that I didn't use at all, so I'm planning to reduce this to under 3kg in my next trip.

Why the relentless quest for lightness ? 3 words: Peace of Mind. Peace of mind knowing that I can pick up my bag as soon as I get off the bus and go for a stroll without killing myself or having to first hunt for a place to ditch heavy luggage.

Peace of mind knowing my luggage is with me IN the bus, rather than in the luggage compartment where I cannot see it. On my recent trip, the luggage compartment of the bus ( which was not in the best of conditions ) kept opening during the drive, and the driver had to stop the bus to close the door repeatedly. If my bag were in the compartment, I would be pretty worried that it might have fallen off the bus, or someone might have taken it by mistake.

Peace of mind knowing that I can walk or cycle indefinitely with a lightweight bag on my back. That is priceless for a traveller on a "free and easy" travel.

And peace of mind knowing that I can go from fully unpacked to packed and ready to depart in less than 10 minutes. When you travel light (and organized), you don't need much time to repack your bag.


Tuesday 4th of December 2012

Hi Chris,

Thanks for taking the time to share your approach to traveling light.


Thursday 29th of December 2011

I'm planning on using an 18 L pack to go through SE Asia for approx 6 months. I pre packed it just for fun, and I was able to fit the following items with a little extra room. 2 tank tops, 2 t shirts, 1 light wt long sleeve shirt, 1 shorts, 1 capri pants, 1 pajamas, 4 underwear, 1 bra, 1 microfibre towel, 1 facecloth, 1 bathing suit, 1 sarong, 2 tubes of toothpaste, soap, travel size shampoo and conditioner, deodorant, toothbrush, floss, comb, guide book, calculator, calendar, small camera, sunscreen, and flipflops. I can pick up stuff as I run out for personal use. Clothes are cheap down there so I really don't feel the need to drag my entire closet with me. Am I crazy?


Thursday 29th of December 2011

Nope! Skimping on clothes is one of the best ways to lighten your load, though if you stop in one town or city for a prolonged period of time, you might start to feel a little self conscious about always wearing the same thing, at least I do.


Friday 9th of December 2011

We are packing for a year on the road: 8 months in Asia and 4 months in Europe. I am taking a 50 liter backpack, and my partner is taking a 65 (mine expands out to 70, but we are not expanding it). Her's is not even close to fully packed. Not too ultra light, but not too shabby either.

I have to admit, the one bulky item I just couldn't live without was my teaset. I have a travel kit that is smaller, but still bulky. Most of our destinations in Asia are tea-oriented, and not having a setup with me that I am familiar with makes it SUPER hard to judge new tea, and I don't want to constantly buy and ditch tea sets. Since this trip is as much about learning the way of tea as it is travel, I had to bring it. Se la vie!!!!


Friday 9th of December 2011

If you're super into tea tasting, then by all means, bring the tea set!


Sunday 17th of April 2011

Hi Matthew, great video.

I'm wondering, how do you use the kettlestack? You go to a local gym and use their weights?


Wednesday 21st of July 2010

Regarding the video: Wow, more electronic chargers than expected. And a LOT of electronics. I am more surprised that its not just a netbook (for business), a camera + a phone charger. I know, they don't make electronics easy to pack because there is no universal cable system, but you get what I mean. Everything is reverting to USB and connecting to hand cranks or solar rechargers in new travel innovations/non-electric ready innovations.

The Kiva backpack, though, is awesome.

Kudos for getting all that in there!

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