TravelTravel Advice

Travel Light: Four things to pack in your luggage

As the country begins to reopen, we'll keep publishing news to help you navigate the state of travel today (like whether travel insurance covers the coronavirus), as well as stories about places for you to put on your bucket list once it's safe to start going more far-flung.

English poet and artist, Edward Lear, was traveling in Greece in 1848 when a cholera outbreak forced him to follow the overland route home. His subsequent travels through Albania and Macedonia ended up being the highlight of his trip. The author of “The Owl and the Pussycat” wrote about and illustrated the Albanian landscape in his book, Journal of a Landscape Painter in Greece and Albania—one of the greatest travel narratives ever published. Lear doesn’t miss a detail in the tome, right down to his packing list: 

“A light mattress, some sheets and blankets, and a good supply of capotes and plaids should not be neglected; two or three books; some rice, curry powder and cayenne; a world of drawing materials—if you be a hard sketcher; as little dress as possible, though you must have two sets of outer clothing—one for visiting consuls, pashas and dignitaries, the other for rough, everyday work; some quinine made into pills (rather leave all behind than this); a Boyourdi, or general order of introduction to governors or pashas; and your Teskere, or provincial passport for yourself and guide.”

In the 19th century, Lear was traveling light. Today, you can travel a hell of a lot lighter. There are some essentials you need: food, water, money, passport, shelter. Everything else is a luxury. That’s not to say you can’t live well. Just that you can live well with only a carry-on.

On a trip to Africa this winter I experimented with just how little I could pack. I started with an old 1960s backpack I found on eBay and stuffed it with only the essentials. By the time I got home, I realized I could have trimmed it to my travel wallet, the clothes I was wearing and four items:

6a00d83453140969e201543404bd9a970c-500wi.jpeg


Mountain Hardwear’s Phantom 32 down sleeping bag ($305)

This is the lightest, warmest, smallest-packing sleeping bag around—times two. The 800-fill down, five-inch baffles and perfect, roomy fit were incredibly warm. One night in the mountains, it was below freezing. I slept soundly while others in bags twice as thick and rated to zero chattered all night.

6a00d83453140969e2014e8a24bc8e970d-320wi.jpeg

The Brunton 8099 Eclipse compass ($78). In the age of international cell phones and GPS, people forget how vital a compass can be. Like when you run out of batteries...or lose your signal. I used the —from the winding souks of Marrakesh to driving in a taxi. The compass comes with a half dozen reference cards—that explain everything from how to plot a course to first aid to how to survive off the land. (“Healthy birds and small animals are usually edible.”) That may all sound intimidating but Brunton’s patented circle-over-circle alignment system had me orienteering in a matter of minutes.

6a00d83453140969e201543404c540970c-320wi.jpeg

Bridgedale X-hale TrailBlaze socks ($19) Like tires on a car, this is the most important part of the kit, and the only socks I brought. I washed them in the sink at night, they were dry by morning. I’m not going to get into the technology of a sock, but suffice it to say they never stopped venting or lost their cushion.

 

6a00d83453140969e201543404c9e1970c-320wi.jpeg


 

 
Effusion Hooded Jacket ($200)

This jacket kept me dry and warm the entire trip. The soft Dry.Q fabric weighs only 12 oz. and the fully taped seams kept out rain, snow and ice. Because it balls up to the size of an orange, I could take it with me everywhere, just in case.

Our mission to inspire readers to get outside has never been more critical. In recent years, Outside Online has reported on groundbreaking research linking time in nature to improved mental and physical health, and we’ve kept you informed about the unprecedented threats to America’s public lands. Our rigorous coverage helps spark important debates about wellness and travel and adventure, and it provides readers an accessible gateway to new outdoor passions. Time outside is essential—and we can help you make the most of it. Making a financial contribution to Outside Online only takes a few minutes and will ensure we can continue supplying the trailblazing, informative journalism that readers like you depend on. We hope you’ll support us. Thank you.
Contribute to Outside
Filed To: Socks
More Travel