Read an update on my packing.

When I took my fist big trip to New Zealand, Australia, and Southeast Asia, I wore a huge pack on my back and carried a daypack. I don’t know what I filled the bags with, because this was before I starting carrying an SLR camera, lenses, and a laptop. The big bag was a constant headache. I had to check it, so I always worried about airlines losing it. Even though it never got lost, I always had to wait around to claim it, when all I wanted was to get out of the airport as quickly as possible.

Once I got out of the airport, the big pack was always hard to lug around. Wearing it made me stand out conspicuously. It made it harder to get around on local transportation like motorcycle taxis and tuk tuks. Stowing the big pack on bus, minibus, and train journeys was always a worry. I prefer to keep my stuff in sight at all times.

When I got back from that trip I started to read about ultralight travel. The idea is to only take what you can carry on an airplane. Only having small bags would eliminate most of the problems I had. But how is this possible? I think it comes down to two rules:

Only take what you know you will need.

Don’t take what you think you might need.

On that first trip I was worried about every possible contingency, and took items to deal with them. But I learned that most of the things I was worried about were not important. And it was usually possible to just buy stuff I found I needed after arriving.

I applied the ultralight principle to #TerryTreksUSA, where I backpacked around national parks. This required me to buy a lot of expensive lightweight camping gear. But backpacking around Asia is different. Traveling light on this kind of trip just means taking less, not buying more expensive stuff. I’ve been able to get all the gear I’ll need in the bags below. They are small and I’ll be able to carry them on.

The North Face Surge II Backpack

This is a big daypack at 32 L. It’s so big it doesn’t fit very well under airplane seats. I’m going to use this as my main pack, replacing my Eagle Creek Truist 45 L. As a main pack it is small. It’s high-quality, and the North Face stands behind it. One of the sternum straps came off, and I mailed it back to them to be repaired for free.

Osprey Packs Cyber Daypack

I needed a small pack that I could easily carry around once I’ve arrive at my destination. It would have to be big enough to hold my DSLR and lenses. And most importantly, it would need a separate pocket to hold my 13 inch MacBook. It was surprisingly hard to find this feature on small packs. It’s only 26 L, so it’s easy to carry.

Think Tank Digital Holster 10V2

A problem I’ve had since upgrading to an SLR camera has been how to carry it and an extra lens. I don’t want a dedicated camera bag, preferring instead to carry my gear in my daypack. Think Tank makes a line of holsters that have worked well for me. The holster fits in my pack during travel. After I arrive I use their Speed Belt to carry the holster on my waist, where it’s not dangling in my way. I have one of their pouches for my wide-angel lens, which also attaches to the belt. They come with built-in rain covers, which kept my camera dry when I got caught in a huge thunderstorm in the mountains.

The bags are pretty full, which doesn’t leave much room for souvenirs. But I don’t see that as a problem. One of the principles of budget travel is not to buy souvenirs. The photos I take are better than most things for sale.

Do you have any packing tips? Leave them in the comments!

I'm Terry, former cubicle-dweller, and now traveler, photographer, writer, and entrepreneur. I quit my job in 2014 to travel to US national parks, then to South East Asia. I write about independent, flexible, long-term, budget travel. Sign up to my newsletter to get the latest news on what I'm up to. I hope you join me on my trek around the world.

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