I just finished two months traveling light in the Philippines, and it’s worked pretty well. I consider myself a lightweight, not an ultralight traveler, because I insist on carrying an SLR, two lenses, and a 13 inch MacBook Pro. For most people, I would recommend leaving these things behind. Point and shoots, or even phones, take perfectly good photos. You have to really know how to use an SLR to justify lugging it around. I do know how to use mine, and I’m focusing on photography, so for me it’s worth it.
As a lightweight traveler, I’ve been carrying two small backpacks. My big main pack is the 36 liter North Face Surge II. My small daypack is the 26 liter Osprey Cyber. The Surge II holds all my clothes just fine, and if I wasn’t a photographer I could ditch the Cyber. The Cyber only holds my MacBook and camera gear.
The bags are small, and they are also light. My big Surge II only weighs 22 lbs, or 10 kg. I don’t know the weight of my Cyber, but it’s not much. I consider these weights to be light, but not ultralight.
The benefits are many. I had to walk around in the heat on quite a few occasions looking for a place to stay in the Philippines. It wasn’t with both packs on. A few times I had to carry both bags around all day while waiting for a night bus. That is never fun, but the small, light bags minimized the pain. Transport options in the Philippines are often cramped. Tricycles, motorbikes with a small sidecar, would not have room for the gigantic bags many people carry. I could ride them just fine. Jeepneys and buses can stow big bags, but it’s always nice to have the option of hanging onto both of them.
A big savings in the future would be on Air Asia flights. Air Asia is a bit of a mirage, because they hook you with low prices, then start adding fees and taxes. I had to pay $35 to check my bag from Manila to Bali, but I think I could have carried both on for free.
Here in Bali I was able to easily carry all my stuff on scooter, which I will be driving around the island. The only thing I need are some bungee cords to secure the big pack to the seat, because after an hour my shoulders start hurting with it strapped to my back.
So what are the trade-offs? The biggest one is probably clothes. To travel light, you have to accept the fact that you will be wearing the same clothes every day. To get around this, I invested in two of those expensive synthetic tee shirts that REI sells. Cotton is the enemy of travel. Shirts will get sweaty in the tropics, and cotton shirts quickly get stinky. The synthetic shirts are naturally antimicrobial, so you can wear them three days in a row without odor. One pair of those expensive hiking pants can be worn for weeks. It’s only necessary to bring a week’s worth of underwear.
This is about a week’s worth of clothes, so you will have to do laundry about once a week. There are often cheap laundry services in backpacker destinations. Failing that, laundry powder can be bought for cheap, and there’s usually a bucket or sink to do it in yourself.
The biggest complaint from folks that insist on carrying massive backpacks is they like to dress up a lot. This can done by bringing one pair of jeans, a nice collared shirt, hiking shoes that look like normal shoes, and a couple pair of socks. You have to accept the fact that you won’t be going to black-tie affairs. You are, after all, backpacking.
I’m always curious about what people have in those huge bags. I’ve survived just fine for two months with my small bags. I think the trade offs of traveling light are worth it, because they make travel less painful.