By the time Kieran and I had finished planning our last summer trip, we had factored in 13 countries across Europe and Africa. We had 10 weeks to get through them all, so we were in for some long overland travel days, and we would also have to board 6 flights to make some of the larger distances. It was very obvious that budget airlines were the way to go for these, saving us hundreds of pounds to put towards other elements of the trip. It was an absolute no-brainer right? It really was, except for one little thing, most of the fares did not include checked luggage, and paying to add it would defeat the purpose of saving money on the budget fares. Just like that, we decided we would need to become backpacking pros – not so much a problem for Kieran, but definitely a challenge for me!
It’s worth mentioning that most backpacks are around 70-75 litre capacity, but to fit the carry on size guidelines, Kieran and I would be rocking itty bitty 35 litre backpacks. Not only could we take these as cabin baggage, but it would also be much more manageable to carry on our backs when necessary. After some online and in store research, we settled on the Karrimor jura 35L for a whopping £15 each. We went for the same colour, but I sewed a patch onto mine so Kieran wouldn’t be pulling out my knickers in an early morning daze! It had a built in rain cover that pulled over from the bottom, two side pockets and a top pocket on the outside, and a document pocket on the inside. You could have the backpack configured as 1 large space, or separate it into 2 sections, creating a smaller zipped off pocket at the bottom – we went with the latter and put our shoes or laundry in the smaller section.
Just how someone like me – a giant wheely bag fiend – turned into a back packer pro, is a small miracle, but it’s actually not that hard! I set the goal to pack enough for 10 weeks summer travel (this is important to mention as you would need warmer/bulkier clothes for winter), and adhere to carry on baggage regulations. There was a lot of time and decision making along the way, but it was a huge success in the end and the convenience has me absolutely hooked. You CAN do this! I have put together my top tips and advice to make it as easy as possible, from planning and preparation right through to packing for realsies.
♥ Pack for 10 days only! This makes the task a bit less daunting in my opinion, and works for any length of time traveling in the same season. You will hopefully have the opportunity to do washing each week (depending where you are traveling), and if not, a sink and some soap goes a long way for having clean undies at least…
♥ Be willing to change your mind set! Letting go of the idea that you should never wear the same outfit twice or that you might need this gold sequin gown just in case Prince Charming asks you to the VIP lounge, can be a bit of a process – it doesn’t hurt to dream, but getting realistic about what you actually NEED to take with you is the best way to start on the road to conquering the backpack. Make it a rule not to pack any might’s, maybe’s, what if’s or just in case pieces. You are going on an adventure of a lifetime and when you look back, you won’t care that you have the same top on in 50 different photos or that you wore the same dress on every night out, all that will matter is that you were there and it was amazing!
♥ Simplify! Pick a suitable colour palette for your clothes and stick to it (blue and white is cute for summer). Not only does this automatically cull the items that qualify for the backpack, it also means you should be able to mix and match your clothes much more easily and that gives you more outfits to choose from! Multi purpose pieces are also very good – you can take a super casual playsuit and sneakers out for a day of exploring, then add jewelry, heels and an updo to take it right into the evening. When it comes to shoes, pick a pair that you can walk around in all day (sneakers), a pair for more relaxed days (sandals), and a pair of low-mid heels that are COMFORTABLE (if you’re heading to Europe, there is A LOT of cobblestone streets, so a chunkier heel will be your best friend).
♥ Do your research! If you’re going to be sweltering in the Turkish or Moroccan summer like we were, you will want to take clothing made from natural fibres, like cotton. It’s also considerate to find out what is appropriate to wear in places where the religion and culture is different from your own. In general, I would say that harem pants and a light cardigan won’t go unused if you need to be a little more conservative. Research the quality of brands that you are looking at too – I spent a lot of time picking the right sandals because I need a little more support than any old jandals (flip flops) can give. After taking into consideration comfort, quality and of course style, I went for a light brown leather sandal by Flyer. Definitely no regrets spending time on that decision as I lived in them almost as much as my sneakers!
♥ Stay true to you! There is no use in following anyone else’s packing list exactly if you won’t feel like yourself on your trip. Everyone’s priorities will look different, and it is important that you bring the things which (after all essentials are packed) are top of the list for you. It is possible to do this AND be a practical backpacker if you can do a little giving and taking. You prefer to wear dresses? Pack fewer shorts and t-shirts. Maybe you can’t be without your straighteners? Pack one less pair of shoes or condense your other toiletries. I keep mentioning shoes (because they are kinda my thing), but I decided not to pack a lot of the accessories, jewelry and makeup that I would have loved to bring, to leave a little room in my backpack so I could buy a new pair of shoes I loved along the way – and I did find the cutest pink espadrilles in Croatia!
♥ Make the most of the space! Take time to roll everything up, neat and tidy. This space saving hack has a bonus feature – your clothes won’t crinkle nearly as much as if they were folded normally or stuffed in any which way. It’s an unfortunate truth that we gals have to pack in bras which can be bulky (especially if you’re on the buxom side) but if you roll up your socks and undies and fit them into the cave of the cup, there’s no more wasted space! Put smaller items into your shoes – genius. Pack the clothes you will wear least at the bottom and the ones you’ll wear most near the top, this will mean less rummaging around and easier re-packing as you go. Clip your jacket or hiking boots to the outside of your backpack. If it’s a problem at the airport – just wear them!
By following all of the above, I never felt like I had to compromise my style or felt like I was missing anything in my wardrobe at any time on the whole trip. The careful planning and reasoning meant I had the perfect outfit for every occasion, and with the limited choice, I spent much less time worrying about what I was going to wear and just got on with exploring the world. There were times when we had to carry our packs for a few hours at a time and this was absolutely manageable given the size and weight of my bag. We had way more room than most in small accommodation and much less to keep track of as we went. Along with the money saved on cheap fares, we saved hours of time at check in and baggage collection and never had to worry about lost luggage.
If, after all of that, you still don’t think you can fit everything you need into a carry on size backpack, take a look below at exactly what I managed to fit and what I added in along the way, including a small rug in Turkey and an agave silk scarf in Morocco!
sandals, skinny belt, Walking shoes, low heels, bikini, one piece swinsuit, jacket, parka, 10 underwear, 2 bras, 1 sports bra, 5 socks, 2 harem pants, playsuit, 2 casual dresses, maxi dress, evening dress, light cardigan, 3 t-shirts, 2 singlets, evening crop top, 2 casual shorts, dress shorts, 3 necklaces, bun ring, 2 scrunchies, small makeup bag, small toiletries bag, iPad, Diary, Small Day bag, Go-Pro, adapter, 3 chargers, Pocket tripod, Microfiber towel (added – 2 dresses, pair of shoes, jumpsuit, silk scarf, stockings and gloves, small Turkish rug)
What do you think? Are you a converted backpacker now?!