When I went on my big OE (overseas experience) from New Zealand to London in my early 20's I was backpacking for three years. This was never going to be a 5 kilo moment. I needed gear for every season, and all my daily needs. We're talking massive luggage overload.
In huge contrast now, my 24L daybag is my perfect travel companion. Let me show you how...
The clothes and shoes I travel with now!
The gear on the left is my in-flight wardrobe.
Light travelling was not always the case for me.
In my younger years my backpack was choka-full. Mainly jeans, t-shirts, big heavy sweatshirts, a sleeping bag. I took so many shoes - running shoes, big leather hiking boots - you need them in London, right??? I had shoes for the pub, shoes for nursing, jandals - it just went on.
I also took a hairdryer with a massive curl diffuser (this was the end of the 80's when big hair ruled). These days it would take up nearly half of my daybag!
My backpack weighed 20 kilos, started at my bum and finished way above my head. From behind I was a backpack with legs.
I also had a sleeping mat, strapped to the side, an unfortunate appendage that would accidentally knock anything or anyone who came within 6 inches of me.
And when I went to Africa. I balanced the sleeping mat with a 2 kilo, 2-person tent on the other side!
As if my backpack wasn't big enough, it was now morphing into something quite incredible.
My 70L pack (eek) and attachments en route to the Middle East in 1994.
This was also the time of competitiveness. "How heavy's your bag?" "20 kilos". "Mine is 25 kilos - take that!"
It was the time when heavier was in vogue. Despite the fact that I would be shrinking under the weight, I was pretty proud of my prowess.
NOT ANY MORE!
Those days are well and truly over. Travelling light is now becoming the 'in thing'. In Italy in 2017, I still saw people struggling with their backpacks, but there are a good number who have wizened up to this much better way of travelling.
But in China this year, I saw more people with 40L sized packs and cabin-sized trolley bags. So much easier to travel with.
Pack light and pack small.
For packing light, think compact, superlight, foldaway-to-nothing gear.
Compact and superlight were not really travel terms in the 80's. I don't think merino clothing was even a thing.
The change in travel clothing has been the greatest leap for those wishing to travel light. Light, odour resistant, quick drying fabrics means you can actually take more. Compare these to my bulky cotton t-shirts and sweatshirts - the difference is night and day.
For packing small it's all about taking smaller versions.
Now you can get the smallest hairdryers, lighter shoes and boots, and puffer jackets pack down ridiculously small.
Sleeping bags have changed tremendously. Seriously, the size of my old synthetic sleeping bag was embarrassing. In the sleeping bag compartment, it was the only thing that could fit it. There was no chance of squeezing in a raincoat, a pair of shoes, or my laundry.
It defies logic how a down-filled sleeping bag can squeeze into a small handbag sized packet and still do the job of keeping you toasty warm.
My top space saving tips for light travel.
Take what you need.
If you are travelling for a month, titrate your cosmetics and toiletries into smaller bottles or containers. You don't need to take a 300ml bottle of shampoo.
I wash my hair three times a week, using 5ml per wash (that's 15m per week). If I'm away for four weeks, then I need 15ml x 4 weeks - that's 60ml. Leave the other 240ml at home and the large heavy bottle. It's that easy.
Pack solid shampoo and hair conditioner bars.
A 110g bar can last the equivalent of three bottles - not only saving you space (and plastic), but you can spend your hard earnt money elsewhere.
There are washing machines where you are going. Use them.
You do not need a whole months supply of clothing!
Mix and match your clothing.
Pick a base colour (mine is blue) and then add layers of clothes that you can wear with each other.
I also add in some other colours that go with my blues to mix it up more (see the top photo).
You'll be amazed at the number of different combinations you can wear. Try it at home before you head off on your travels.
An example of how I mix and match my blue wardrobe.
Travelling light with technology.
Technology is another huge change for travellers now.
I carried Lonely Planets ( and if travelling in multiple countries - that often meant carrying two or three!) - I mean they were like 500g at least! But they were an integral part of travelling in the old days.
Guidebooks are now all online. But back then we would rip out the sections we didn't need and just keep the relevant sections.
With smartphones travel guides and maps are all online. Then there's the map apps, the restaurant and accommodation guides. In the old days we just turned up and hoped for the best - and hoped that the Lonely Planet was up to date.
My phone is my camera, my torch, my GPS. It holds tickets (although I do always carry a paper copy of these), insurance details, a picture of my passport and visa.
In Amman, Jordan, studying the Lonely Planet Guide for Jordan and Syria - 1994.
Explore the world while you can.
I love it when I hear of people heading out on a big trip, especially to more intrepid places.
I feel so excited for them. How they'll be challenged, how they'll grow, and how their eyes will be opened up to different cultures, different thinking, different ways.
And I'm even more thrilled for them when I see them travelling with just a 40L sized bag or less. They are setting themselves up for such an amazing experience without the difficulties associated with lugging around too much gear.
Feel free to share this with any fellow traveller who you think is up for the challenge of packing lighter.