Traveling Light: 5 tips for Vacationing with a Backpack

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Backpacking through Europe may sound like a college student’s cliche but I can promise you that there is nothing more freeing then having only a single, easy to carry bag, when you are traveling. This of course means that you can’t bring as many things, but once you are realistically looking at what you need for leisure travel you might be surprised at how little you actually need to pack. 

We spent 2 weeks visiting London and Ireland, using just a single 50 liter back pack each. I’ve pulled together a list of all the tips we learned during the trip and from friends before traveling.

Traveling light: 5 tips for vacationing with a backpack

1. Invest in a good bag

I was lucky enough that a friend had an amazing Osprey Farpoint that I could borrow. There are lots of bags meant specifically for this purpose and you should visit your local outdoor store (REI or Sierra Trading Post) to see what works and fits you best. 

Most 50 liter bags will fit in an overhead compartment and count as a carry on bag. Be sure to bring a tape measure to double check when you are shopping. 

The bag I used was amazing. It opened wide like a suitcase for easy packing and unloading, included a daypack portion that could be removed for use separately, and all the straps folded inside so it could be checked if you needed to. 

2. Pack smart

Do a trial run before your trip to make sure everything you need to pack will fit properly into your bag. Don’t forget that this should include any shoes you wish to bring along. It’s important to be able to dress for the culture you are visiting, so make sure to do some research before your trip so you can make sure to not stick out like a sore thumb. In London we felt slightly underdressed, but overall didn’t seem to stand out. 

Select clothing that can be worn more then once (dark colors) or washed in a hotel sink. The only items that you need enough for the entire trip should be socks and underwear (unless you plan to do wash while traveling). I chose a lot of athletic type tops. Don’t forget to bring along a couple of wrinkle friendly nice items that you can use to dress up if the occasion presents itself. 

Two pairs of shoes should work well for most trips. Pick a good sturdy shoe that you can walk and stand in for long periods of time. Ideally these should also be water proof. For dressier shoes, select something that can be work with multiple outfits. 

3. Roll clothes for travel 

Fold each item in half and roll tightly to pack. Whatever are your most bulky items you should plan to wear. This includes hiking books, jackets or jeans. 

4. Bring an extra bag or plan to buy one while traveling


Duffle bags that fold flat are perfect for packing along and bringing home full of souvenirs and goodies. An extra bag can also be amazing for packing up dirty laundry and checking on the way home. This will lighten the load on your back – after a few weeks traveling you might be looking forward to that respite. 

5. Leave the beauty accessories at home 

If your plan is to carry on, you probably aren’t going to have big bottles of shampoo or perfume, but you may consider bringing your entire makeup bag or a blowdryer. Bring only what you need, a basic eyeliner, lipstick, concealer and blush is perfect for most trips. 

Hairdryers, curling irons and straighteners will not work most places outside the US and many hotels will have them ready for you to borrow. Plan for low maintenance hair care whenever possible. 

Most other items you can pick up when you arrive at your destination. We ended up needing additional shampoo and razors after getting into London. It was easier to find a local drugstore then it would have have been to pack multiple bottles. 

What other tips do you follow for packing light? Let me know your best ideas in the comments! 

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