When I see women traveling with backpacks larger than mine, sometimes I feel a flash of envy. What are they stashing in the extra space? More shoes? A hair dryer? Faced with the challenge of packing for a six-week trip to Hawaii and Alaska in a 40-liter backpack, I almost gave in to size envy and upgraded.
I’m glad I didn’t. Despite the fact that my backpack was purchased for a nine-week Central American trip that required solely hot weather wear, the same reasons I originally selected it still trumped the enticement of another pair of shoes.
First, a larger backpack would mean frequently being separated from it—checking it at airports, surrendering it during bus rides or airport taxis—and I’m kind of neurotic that way. I like arriving at my destination knowing I’ll have my clothes and other essentials in hand. With six flights on the Seattle-Hawaii-Alaska-Seattle itinerary alone, that would be six times a bag could go astray; and since we’re frequently in places for a short amount of time, often only a night or two, reuniting with an errant bag could be difficult.
Second, being on the move so much means having to re-pack every few days. The less stuff, the shorter amount of time that chore takes.
Third, the bigger the bag the heavier it is to tote around.
With size envy squelched, I set about the task at hand: fitting the essentials (and yes, some indulgences) into a space that’s no bigger than a 1.5 square foot box. Clothes for this trip were geared primarily toward outdoor activities like hiking, glacier trekking, kayaking, and snorkeling. Anticipating that we would do laundry once a week, as during our Central American jaunt, here is what I took along.
Except for the fleece jacket (either on or tied around my waist), hiking boots (worn while traveling from place to place), jewelry, sunglasses, and whatever outfit I had on, all this fits in a 40-liter backpack.
What I Brought
- Sun hat
- 2 pairs of black Bermuda shorts
- 1 pair of athletic shorts
Cold Weather Gear
- Fleece hat
- Fleece jacket
- Pair of jeans
- Pair of gray convertible cargo pants
- Pair of black pants (Columbia Anytime Outdoor Pant, highly recommended)
- Pair of yoga pants (for sleeping, lounging in hotel rooms, or actually wearing to yoga class)
- 8 shirts in various styles and colors
- 1 black athletic-style tank top
- Pashmina, cream-colored – used as a scarf and as a blanket on airplanes
- 5 pairs of socks, including a wool pair (quick-drying and required for a kayak outing)
- Black and gray Keen sandals
- Hiking boots
- Black flip flops
- Laptop and charger (the streamlined Asus Aspire was purchased with backpack travel in mind)
- Cell phone and charger
- Digital recorder for conducting phone interviews
- Underwater point-and-shoot camera
- Toiletries – the usual suspects, all of which fit into a quart-size zip lock bag; if I ran out of an item, such as body lotion, I purchased some, refilled the travel-size bottle, and used what I could of the rest before boarding the next flight.
- Extras that fit into a small mesh bag – mascara, lip gloss, brow shaper, compact, wide-tooth comb, ear plugs, band aids, hair elastics
- Sunblock and bug spray – purchased anew after every flight (thanks, TSA)
- Pair of sunglasses
- Pair of earrings
- Small wallet that fit cash, credit/ATM cards, driver’s license, AAA card, and health insurance card
- Tote bag for day use or to carry on during a flight
- Small notebook and pen
- Stash of various sized zip lock bags (primarily for transporting food items) and plastic shopping bags (great for separating dirty laundry from clean clothes)
- Paperback book (replaced with new page-turners along the way)
- Hair straightener – my one true indulgence!
It turns out that the island attire and the cold weather gear came in handy in both locales.
What I Didn’t Take But Wish I Did
A hair dryer. I would love to have traveled with my own hair dryer, but given the space constraints this was a fairly easy item to leave out. Most lodging places either provide them in rooms or have one available to borrow at the front desk.
Moral of the Story
Traveling with a 40-liter backpack, even when packing for two extreme climates, doesn’t mean having to rough it. Obviously not everything can make the cut, but I hardly felt deprived (except for the hair dryer).
Next up are extended travels through Europe, which means packing for about a year on the road. I’ll be making some wardrobe adjustments to fit more with museum-going than outdoor adventure, but I plan to keep the same 40-liter backpack and add a front pack. That extra pair of shoes might finally make the cut.