I don’t know about you, but I’m the worst over packer–like the kind of gal who packs up their whole closet into a suitcase, has a separate bag for shoes, and an extra purse to fit my makeup and hair products when I’m just spending the weekend at my boyfriends place probably watching Netflix. Since I can’t decide what to wear I pack it all. I remember one time I realized it was so bad that I decided to pack the bare essentials of a “chill weekend.” We wound up going out, I had nothing to wear that worked for a casual night at the bars so I ended up uncomfortable the entire night. It was the only time I had ever under packed; I swore I wouldn’t do it again..until I decided to leave the country for two months.
The moment I made the decision I was going to Italy, Spain, and Portugal, my main issue wasn’t traveling solo, being scared, unsafe or lost, it was more along the lines of how I was going to fit it my life into one bag. If I had enough money where I could hire a professional suitcase carrier while traveling across the world, I would hire one in a second…but of course, I’m not Kim Kardashian waving around peasants so instead I had to revert to plan B –(*cringe*) packing light.
Now being in Italy and already walking 7 miles a day on average, I’m very happy that I made the plunge to under pack. I want to share with you these 3 simple steps on what to buy and how to pack, so your shoulders can thank you later.
Bring a backpack, not a wheelie
I beg you for your own sanity, DON’T bring a wheelie backpack. In America we have these things called elevators and cement sidewalks, in Europe they’re few and far between. It’s hard to weave through people when you’re in a hurry, and even harder to enjoy the walk since you’re pretty much lugging your bag through uneven cobblestone in many places, then walking up about 7-10 flights of stairs praying a wheel doesn’t pop off.
When I first considered buying a backpack, I was mortified because the first thought that pops into my head are the people carrying those hiking backpacks in a city looking like they haven’t showered in days and could pass as homeless. Only buy one of those backpacks if you’re actually going camping–please. If you’re going to stay in an air BnB, hotel, or hostel, you’re better off with a traveler backpack that opens like a suitcase and has straps you can carry. I recommend the Tortuga line because it looks like a normal backpack, but it packs like a mother; I even bought the smaller one.
Here are a few quick things to keep in mind when buying your backpack:
Go black and never go back
This is obvious to me, but being out here I see tons of people with different colored backpacks when the goal here should be to blend in when you’re walking to your next destination. Black won’t ever go out of style, no matter what country you’re in.
Buy TSA travel padlocks
These ones are the best because you don’t have to keep track of any keys. My boyfriend bought locks last minute at the airport, but they only sold the lock-and-key ones. It’s a little stressful when you have 2 small keys and no way to unlock your life if they disappear. Buy them in advance. Also, you’ll feel safer walking around larger cities that are notorious for heavy pickpocketing.
Measure your torso
I did a ton of research and realized that most bags I even considered buying wouldn’t fit me because I have an “extra small” torso. If you buy a bag without measuring your torso, you’re risking maximum comfort when you’re walking; the bag will either be too high above your head (awkward), or it will go past your butt and hit your legs while you walk (double awkward). It’s like buying a pair of pants without knowing your size and hoping for the best fit ever…yea, no. Also, there’s no need to go larger than 35L bag. You’ll see why in packing below.
Packing your clothes
Because of the overpacking tendencies I wanted to get a large backpack between 40-50L. I mean if you look them up online they look pretty small in pictures. I was sure it still wouldn’t be enough. Being gone for 2 months, I had no idea where I would end up or how to dress in another country. I also didn’t want to be stuck doing laundry every day waiting for everything to dry. Luckily, because my torso is so small, I quickly ran out of options for the big bags. I remember wanting the normal Tortuga backpack so badly that I tried different variations of measuring my torso to get to 18″ until I gave up and sided with the smaller version, the Tortuga Air. I took a chance because it is a 27L bag, but has an expansion zipper that makes it up to 35L. I made sure I bought the backpack early enough to pack everything in it, and if it failed, I could always return it.
Let’s just say I didn’t return it.
I was shocked by how much of my clothes fit when I packed it up! It’s a lightweight backpack to start so even wearing it completely packed was a breeze. In the pictures below I packed: 5 t-shirts, 3 pairs of pants, 2 pairs of running pants, running shoes, sandals, 10 pairs of socks and undies, 2 pairs of shorts, 3 cardigans, 4 fancy shirts, 1 romper, 1 bathing suit, my macbook air, chargers, the go pro with its accessories, and my kindle. I didn’t have to sit on it because of how I packed and what material clothing I brought too.
Here are a few quick things to keep in mind for packing:
Roll your Clothes
All of these clothes wouldn’t fit if I didn’t roll them up. I didn’t need packing cubes using this method.
Pack thin fabric clothes
Polyester is your new bestie. No, but really though. It’s thin, easy to roll, and it dry’s in a pinch. So far the only dryers i’ve seen in Italy hang from the apartment balconies on clotheslines. If you’re traveling to different places in a short period of time, you’ll definitely want your clothes to dry before packing them back up. Make sure what your bring isn’t 100% cotton–a mix between spandex, modal, and cotton are best for t-shirts.
Buy solid colored t-shirts:
These have been my lifesaver on the trip because they match everything since my bottoms are black and white. I would stay away from logo shirts, unless you’re going for the tourist look.
Buy Detergent and Gallon bags
Make sure your detergent fits the 3 oz rule for travel. I recommend washing your clothes in a sink or a tub if you don’t have a washer in your room. Paying 4-5 euro a piece for someone else to wash your clothing gets expensive and I’d rather spend that on gelato. The ziplock bags have been my best friend for my socks and undies. On each bag I wrote “dirty” and “clean” so it’s organized and identifiable. You can use the gallon bags for anything so you don’t have to waste money on packing cubes.
To fit a little bit more-get a day purse
I still had to add my makeup bag, an umbrella, a notebook, a money belt, and my wallet somewhere, so buying a “day purse” was the best 30$ investment I made. Now this isn’t something I carry with me everywhere, it’s something like my backpack that only comes out when I’m on my way to the next city. Inside of it I also have a mini purse for daily travels that holds the basics: credit cards, money, go pro, room keys, and phone.
Here are a few tips to avoid getting pick pocketed and staying safe:
Make sure it zips
You have more control over your bag if its zipped. You can hold the zippers if you’re walking through the metro stations unlike a snap bag where a professional pick-pocketer can put their hands in and run.
Buy cross-body bags
This bag has the handles and cross body, which I recommend because it creates an anti-theft zone. If you’re looking to get a day backpack, make sure you use your TSA padlocks. When I was at the metro an older man had his backpack totally unzipped. He was walking around without a clue that it was opened by a pick-pocketer because it was out of sight on his back. Cross body bags are kept in the front of you when you walk so you can see it and hold it to guarantee safety.
Bring a smaller bag for city trips
Look for one of these that fit perfectly in your big purse so you don’t have to carry too much when you’re enjoying the cities.
What’s helped you?
What’s made you a better traveler? Are you also the overpacking type person? If so, please share your stories, I would love to hear them and get better at my traveling and packing skills.
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