How to Carry Only the Essentials

Publius Ovidius Naso said, “the burden which is well borne becomes light” - a statement that backpacking and travel enthusiasts would agree with! 

Unfortunately, Ovid (which is what I imagine his friends called him for short) proclaimed this philosophical gem two thousand years before baggage fees were in existence. I prefer the words of a more modern mind, The Crow, aka Brandon Lee, (son of Bruce Lee for those born after the 90’s) “You only have the burdens on you that you choose to put there.”

I’ve been in the airline industry for eight years now, both on the ground as a baggage handler and above wing as a flight attendant. Over the years I’ve managed to acquire knowledge ranging from “always wear shoes when going into the lavatory” to “emptying the lavatory is a job best preformed by… not me.” The most apparent observation, however, is that humans love to over pack. No one is exempt. All too often, I see passengers who fervently believe their bag will fit in the overhead, even after struggling for ten minutes to wedge it in. A forlorn shake of the head from a flight attendant confirms that no, we are not magical beings who can defy the laws of volume and space; we're going to have to check the bag. 

This is where I get to help you as a friend, before a flight attendant sends your bag to the belly of the beast, and leaves you wondering if you'll ever see it again.

In my travels I have used everything from the Deuter Access Pro 60 for a month long adventure in Japan and Europe to just the 10L day bag for a four day adventure in France. I may not be good at many things, but I do know how to pack efficiently.


Bare Essentials:

If these can’t fit in your pocket, you’re giving too much credit to your curling iron or neck pillow.  When debating if something is truly essential, I ask myself “what would happen if it were to vanish along the trip?” With that mindset I’ve concluded the bare essentials are the absolute minimum I would need to:

  1. get in and out of the country (passport)
  2. pay for things (cash and cards) and
  3. connect (the smart phone, with a way to charge it)

Essentially essential:

These items are less imperative than the above listed but contribute to the overall lubrication of your travel. 

  1. Headphones: (noise cancelling): Yes, most airlines will provide headphones, and with those headphones you’ll be glad your movie also has subtitles. A good pair of headphones go a long way not only on the plane but in helping with sleep in lively cities like New York or Rio de Janeiro.
  2. Light layer: In travel we can always count on temperature to be inconsistent especially on planes. Impromptu overnighting in airports, too, can be chilly. A light jacket can keep things cozy.
  3. Sunglasses/ Eye mask: Protect your eyes and rest from UV rays. There are those who decide to applaud upon landing, stand immediately when doors open and leave window shades open throughout the flight. Sleeping on flights can be the best time to adjust to a new timezone. Don’t let Shades-up Shane keep you from being your best you.
  4. Water bottle: 60% of your body is water. 100% of your body will be bummed if you end up dehydrated.
  5. Collapsible backpack: As effective as Deuter is at fitting the larger back packs to all body types, one need not tour the Louvre while wearing an access pro. Leave the large bag behind in the hut/hotel/hostel and explore with a smaller option!
  6. Bonus! Pen: Far from essential, this tried and true tool will make customs in other countries easier.

A Clothes call:

This is the crux: how to refrain from resembling Quasimodo while sporting a pack filled with unworn outfits. Ultimately, the goal is to maintain comfort and freshness throughout your trip, so when I pack I remind myself that washing machines have been around since 1797 and even longer than that, water has been around since…forever. I’ve yet to travel and not find a way of cleaning clothes. Downsizing on the number of outfits abroad can keep you from being separated from your bag and thus avoid it never showing up in Kathmandu.


If you’re reading this blog, I am going to safely assume you like your vacation served with a hint of suffrage. This might be tail runs past ancient ruins, 50 mi hikes between huts, crimping up a rock face or skinning up the backside of a powder play ground. Regardless of how it is you chose to experience this wonderful world of ours, the medium you chose, will come with it’s own gear. Having packed light in the above categories you will have alleviated space for your toys. All that is left is to adventure!

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