7kg or Less! Packing 101

Packing seems like such a simple thing. You put some things in a bag that are essential for your trip and you go.That is if you have already decided a bag and bought one which will suffice all the things you will need for the trip — not taking into consideration the toiletry bags which you can find on the Land of the traveler website with reviews. In theory, there should be no hassle, no stress and surely nothing silly that you don’t need. I get the question, what should I pack or what do you pack, so often that I felt compelled to write about the art of packing for a trip. At least the way I do it and I do look at it as an art form. So forget that hair straightener, leave the hair dryer, and don’t even think about bringing those big shampoo and conditioner bottles. Just read this, take a deep breath and realize that you can get by on very little-trust me.

I was at dinner tonight with a friend and we started chatting about how I am a minimalist. I don’t need much. I don’t have much in my apartment and I don’t bring much when I travel. I bring only the essentials as I see them. When I told my friend that I only bring 6 tee shirts, 2 pairs of socks, a bathing suit, gym shorts and cargo shorts on my trips, she almost coughed up her food. To make her feel better, I said that if I am going to colder places then I bring a pair of light hiking pants and a hooded sweatshirt. She then came up for air but her reaction is one that I get often when I answer the question: less the spicy tuna roll cough up of course!

I use a very small blue carry on Osprey bag that I generally use as a rollie but it can also be a backpack. The bag is the right size for a carry on every type of airplane. My objective is to make sure that the contents inside the bag plus the bag itself do not weigh more than 7kg or about 15.5 pounds or so. This is generally the lowest maximum weight allowance that you will see; even on budget airlines for carry on. In order to do this I bring the following and never waiver on this for my trips whether it’s 3 weeks or 2 months. To prove it, if you look at my pictures on this site, you may notice I tend to wear the same stuff over and over, that’s not coincidence.

I bring 6 tee shirts; I switch up the types of tee shirts as I have favorites for times to travel with. Some I lose or throw away, some I get over and then I switch them up but it’s always 6. I bring one bathing suit, which is self explanatory, as I usually go to places when it’s warm and I love the beach or the pool. I also have one pair of basketball or gym shorts, generally Maryland or Arizona State mesh shorts for all purpose wearing and especially for sleeping. Additionally, I carry or better yet I always wear one pair of cargo shorts.

Cargo shorts to me are the most important clothing item I carry. They have six pockets with button fasteners for safety. I always, always have my passport on me and keep it in my lower right cargo short pocket with nothing else in that pocket. I also always have my wallet in my upper left front pocket. The upper right pocket is for miscellaneous things like change, a cell phone/blackberry if I am carrying one (I am usually not). The lower left gets occupied by the occasional ticket or document I may have to have or just to keep safe and dry. The back pockets I have never actually used but who knows, one day I may need them so I am glad they are there.

Socks are important to have and I bring two pairs or Adidas ankle socks. These are great to have and can obviously be reused day to day if they don’t get too used up in the heat. I try to wear flip flops as often as possible to keep the socks intact and out of the laundry but you need a pair of sneakers or outdoor shoes. I only own two pairs of sneakers, one are Adidas cross trainers for running etc. The other is a pair of Adidas hiking shoes for outdoor activities with extra traction. I decide which pair to bring based on where I am going and what activities I foresee doing.

The thing about the sneakers is you always want to wear them on the airplane to minimize the weight of the bag so some Johnny Law TSA agent or airline staff member doesn’t tell you to check your bag because you are 1kg over the limit. Besides the term LOL, there are few things I hate more than checking bags and waiting for them on arrival at your destination. It is such a waste of time, so plan ahead and plan smart.

If I am going someplace cold I will also bring a hooded sweatshirt, which is a black Nike hoodie that I have on in many of my pictures. I also always have this on my body at airports because it can add weight to the bag as well plus it makes a good pillow on planes and keeps you warm if you get a freezing plane. Aside from that I bring a universal adapter, my iPod, my laptop, small digital camera, along with the associated chargers and that’s it except for toiletries.

Toiletries are an area where people really mess up whilst packing. I see people bring way too much all of the time. The first step is to buy a small toiletry bag with all kinds of cool pockets and storage slots but with an open space to toss bigger things. Eagle Creek makes great toiletry bags-that’s the only good thing they make by the way.

Inside you should carry travel size (meaning go to CVS, Walgreens or Duane Reade and get travel size, less than 3oz. of the following): deodorant, shampoo, floss, and 2 toothpastes. That’s it, that’s all you need for personal toiletries. In addition, get some Advil, Imodium, Tums and/or whatever medicines you think you might need and combine them into one small bottle. I use a 50 pill Advil bottle or perhaps a prescription bottle. Have a few of each plus some band aids, alcohol pads, Q-Tips, nail clipper, Chapstick and put them in the zipper pocket and keep isolated because you won’t need them all the time. The only other things that I always bring are my toothbrush and a soap dish with a brand new soap in it. Many places provide soap nowadays but some don’t. Admittedly, I also always carry a small bottle of Tabasco sauce as well…because it makes everything better!

That’s it. That’s what I bring. There is rarely any deviation except for a special trip like if I am going to climb a high mountain or something that requires special gear. In addition to never having to check bags; if you get stuck pulling or carrying your bag for a long period of time, if you stick to my rule, then you’ll have no issues. I giggle when I see people with enormous backpacks or bags struggling to get them in and out of the hotel or airport or wherever. I want to open their bags and throw away the things they don’t need. But instead I will impart my packing rituals and experiences here to you all instead.

The trip is supposed to be fun. If I am traveling anywhere where it’s not for business then this is the only way I will do it. You don’t need much, don’t complicate things. If you’re asking yourself, how often do I do the laundry; the answer is as often as necessary, usually once every week to ten days.

That brings me to another point. Laundry is easy to do whilst traveling. Most hotels and even hostels and guesthouses will do your laundry and fold it for a small fee. Nicer hotels will charge more obviously but you can always go out and do it yourself or find a Laundromat to do it if you don’t want to pay high hotel prices. Some people wash stuff in the sink-that’s seems like a waste of time to me.

Less is more when traveling. Take half the clothes and twice the money. Don’t bring what you don’t need and don’t worry; if you really need something you didn’t bring, you can always pick it up on the road. I don’t buy souvenirs on the road, but if you do, then you’ll have a lot more room for souvenirs as well with a light bag. Trust me it makes your life a lot easier.

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  1. I can’t believe that’s all you bring, LOL jk!

  2. the great list for travelling light!

    it is very similar to what i carry on non-business trips, but i would prefer not to use cotton t-shirts if possible since they take so long to dry, and not all places in the world have easy access to (ie. cheap) clothing driers, (like malta for instance). the only thing i might add to your list would be a small day bag to carry around with you during the days you aren’t travelling, and of course a compact first-aid kit.

    not sure that i would want to carry around a laptop either. if it were really a necessaries, i have heard of people modifying small netbooks for their needs that are not much larger than the size of a check book. they even have competitions between one another to see who can come up with the smallest, yet most powerful little machines!

  3. Hope you get some sponsorships out of all the brand mentions.

    Good list and will help us back for Africa in November.

  4. Great article Lee, thanks for sharing your rituals with us. I don’t know if I could do that few things espcially for a multi month trip.

  5. Thanks guys. Terry the only reason I bring a laptop is to upload to my site but I am looking into an ipad or a netbook for that as we speak…if you have any recs let me know.

    Baumer, make sure Alex doesn’t bring too much or you’ll be waiting a lot in airports, especially in Africa that can take forever at times plus you have to worry about them losing your bags.

  6. Someone just emailed me and asked me how long it takes me to pack for my trip and how far in advance do I pack…the answer is it takes about 10 minutes for me to pack and most of that time is simply organizing my toiletry bag. I do it right before I go to the airport literally. Not saying it’s right, just telling you how I do it!

  7. What about clothes for the roxbury!

  8. I agree, alex and I couldn’t have gotten by on our lee-inspired trips without at least 3 party shirts each. I’d -3 tee’s, +3 party shirts.

  9. I keep a separate toiletries ziploc bag prepared just for travel, then replace the toothpaste and refill my shampoo bottles when I get home. I’m not quite that minimalist for clothes though.. I’ll usually take 5-6 shirts, 3-4 socks, 3 undies, 3 pairs of pants and swimsuit. I have a Dell mini 10 netbook I’ve been happy with.

    I have an upcoming trip to Turkey with my 6-mo old daughter.. dreading packing for that. She will need more stuff than I do!

  10. Alex you would be concerned with that…see you soon in AZ

  11. Don’t you collect t-shirts when you are traveling? That has to add to your baggage on the long multi-country trips overtime. Really if you wanted to keep what you’re wearing fresh so you don’t have the same shirt on in every photo would be to bring along some white t-shirts and then just wear some of the new shirts you pick up along the way. It would keep it light and add as you go.

  12. I rarely buy tee shirts anymore. If I do it’s one I really like from a cool place/restaurant/bar. Or if I just need a clean shirt and can’t get laundry done that day or in the foreseeable future. I used to buy some in some more western type places as the quality is better like Australia or Europe, but I never collected them and I don’t care at all about what shirt I wear in pictures.

  13. Great article Lee, I will definitely take your advice for my next excursion, I hate waiting for bags and paying bag fees for the budgets. Congrats on the Slate article too, that was a cool mention. Hope to see you on the Today Show soon!

  14. FYI: I only brought up the wearing the same shirt in a lot of pics because you did — honestly I didn’t even notice (the Yankee cap yeah, but that’s sort of your trademark). Driving down from Portland to LA right now and the rain was pouring so bad it felt like I was driving in a steam shower and couldn’t see more then 20 feet ahead. Pacific northwest is pretty but my God the weather sucks.

  15. cool post, thanks

  16. Great tips, Lee! I don’t bring much with me at all when I travel and am very similar to you in my packing style. It can be done! Just bought my new backpack for travelling next year, and I deliberately bought something smaller so that I won’t be tempted to stuff it with five kinds of shoes.

  17. Winter is definitely a lot tougher to pack for the warm weather. However, I never bring a suitcase. I throw everything into a backpack. I carry one pair of shoes. I do have lots of socks because I have to wear two pair (my shoes give me blisters if I walk a lot of miles). I wouldn’t say I’m a minimalist but definitely a backpacker. I’ve got it down now.

    I being halfway to my city or destination before most people even get their luggage. That may be the best part of packing light!

  18. I don’t even understand what people put in their large packs anymore. I always carry on now for a trip, and apart from having to wear the heaviest shoes and a jacket and carrying my netbook separately 7kg is doable without even trying anymore. Summer, winter you only need 3 tops, 3 bottoms max. LIfe is too short to be packing dirty laundry

  19. Matthew Maggy says

    So… what about underwear? You just go commando?

  20. I won’t feel bad anymore that in all our travel pics you see my husband wearing 1 of 3 t-shirts and a pair of cargo shorts.

  21. Finally somebody who travels with the Eberlestock pack too! (Or am I mistaken and it´s not the one on the picture?)
    I have the newer version of the pack and before I cut some things out (unnecessary straps and so on), the pack only was about 2,5-3 kg. (Which isn´t very great when the allowance is 7 kg altogether.) Any ideas on this? (Besides take another pack of course.) I took out the metal bars and the plate-like thing between the padding on the back, but still…
    Right now I´m at 8 kg (since it´s for 2 months and different climates), but I´d love to cut that last 1 kg down.

    Thanks for any ideas,

  22. do you still travel with nail clippers? CAN you still travel with nail clippers. i doubt so, but i’ve never tried.

    i travelled once with tweezers a few years ago. they stopped me and kept trying to see if there’s anything sharp in the not-fully-transparent bag. i’m surprised they didn’t make me empty out the whole bag. they let me go. i guess the tweezers were camouflaged well behind images on the bag and among hair pins in that bag. ever since then, i know that tweezers are so dangerous and can potentially hijack a plane.

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