How to pack for 6 weeks in a Backpack!

Colosseum, Rome. August 2016

Okay, how many of you read that title and panicked a little? Go on, raise your hands. That’s right. Now look at the photo above, that bag and a small purse is all I packed. Don’t worry, I’ve learned how to do it and I am the world’s biggest pack rat. Seriously, my whole family used to make fun of me for it. I am the ‘just in case’ person. The ‘you never know when you might need this’ person, the ‘suitcase-tote bag-and a purse for a weekend’ person…which means that if I could do it, and not feel like I was missing a thing, you will have no problem doing it as well!

I’ve made some rules to get you going on your own adventures:

  1. Don’t Panic!
  2. Always carry a towel.

Okay, maybe I didn’t make those up, but they are true! Panicking won’t get you anywhere, and this CAN be done! Also if you’re trying to save money, a lot of budget hostels don’t provide towels so I have learned on more than one occasion that having your own high quality microfiber camping towel can be a life saver (and space saver too) ! I chose the PackTowl Ultralite in X-Large from MEC:

It can fit in your purse and is well worth the money. Unfortunately I ended up forgetting it in a hostel room while rushing to catch an early morning flight during my last week in Europe, but that’s a lesson for another time.

So here are my 5 rules to keep you packing light for 6 weeks in nothing but a carry on sized backpack!

1. Know your trip

This doesn’t mean you have to have everything pre-planned and booked before you start packing, unless that’s the sort of trip you’d like of course. All you need is to pack for the location, climate, itinerary and travel style of your trip. Everyone kept asking me where exactly I would be when, and if I’d pre-booked tours and activities. Which, obviously I hadn’t. This of course caused them to respond with a terrified look and then made me question my entire travel style and plan. The thing is though, I knew what I wanted and that I had the general location, climate, itinerary and travel style planned and that’s all I needed.

For me it looked something like this:

  • Location: Vancouver, then Europe.
  • More specifically–> Vancouver–> London →Edinburgh–>Dublin–>Amsterdam–>Mannheim–>Heidelberg–> Switzerland (hadn’t chosen a city yet)–>Rome–>Florence–>Venice.
  • Climate: West Coast of Canada & Europe
  • More specifically UK and Western Europe
  • More specifically in late July/August
  • Itinerary: 2 weeks in Vancouver spent in a house with my friend (ex? Lover? FWB? more later…),
  • then 4 weeks in Europe
  • No more than 4 days at a time in one city
  • LOTS OF WALKING
  • Lots of museums, galleries, churches
  • leisurely, few nights out
  • Trip Style:
  • Solo Female
  • Cultural focused
  • As cheap as possible

2. Pack outside your bag

This is one little thing that I am definitely guilty of, but it can make a huge difference. As you choose items you’d like to pack, fold them as small as you can and set them aside. Once you’ve got everything that you think you’ll need, that’s when you try to put it all in your bag. That way you avoid trying to sneak those last minute ‘just in case’ items, and you only really pack what you need. Unfortunately, there is a chance you’ll still have too much. That’s when you take everything out again, lay it out where you can see it and decide what you don’t really need. It’s a long process, but you’ll thank me later when you’re bag is being weighed by a budget airline and you’re biting your nails. It’s true what they say, size isn’t everything… weight is important too. So check airline weight restrictions and weigh your bag before heading to the airport!

Here’s what my process looked like:

For the record, I didn’t end up packing much more than that.

3. Spend money on good tools

Why put all that effort into meticulously picking apart your wardrobe, swapping out liquids for solid options so you can bring just a backpack on those crowded, cheap Ryanair flights, just to lug it all around in a heavy, 4 wheeled suitcase that might not even fit in the overhead bins? Besides, traveling hands free is infinitely better anyway! No one wants to be that person struggling to drag their cumbersome bag across the floor while clinging to their passport and fumbling for their phone.

I suggest something around 40 litres. Anything much more and you risk it not getting on as a carry on, although some have. Any less would require packing expertise far beyond mine.

Here’s the bag I chose:

MEC ZEPHYR 45 BACKPACK — MEN’S

I chose the ‘short’ version which is 42 litres. Never had any problems with Ryanair, Easyjet or Westjet (but no promises). I packed it with all my clothes in compression bags somewhat like this, and all the buckles fastened and tightened. That way, on my way back home after I had bought souvenirs, I still had plenty of room to expand the bag and fit everything! Another option is of course to buy this bag, basically the same but made for women; more padding where it counts, shorter torso, slightly smaller, prettier colour.

4. Think of your trip in segments, not one long event

If you’re anything like me, the question of “how do I pack for 6 weeks??” calls up images of my entire closet being shoved into massive suitcases in order to accommodate any outfit I may want or need to wear within the next 6 weeks. Panic.

OR you could do it another way, and think of your trip as only the length of each individual segment. Are you really going to be at the beach every day, as well as covered up inside while admiring churches, and then dressing up and going out every. single. night? Nope. You’re not. But you might do one or two of those things while in a city before moving on. Which means you won’t have photos which the same outfits in the same cities, you can have one outfit for one purpose, and you can wash your clothes before moving on to your next destination! You might even find that you don’t need that many different types of outfits!

Here’s how I looked at it:

The most difficult part for me was Vancouver because I would be spending the most amount of time there and would be doing the most diverse activities. In addition to lounging in his bed and watching movies, the trip’s’ itinerary had hiking, camping, partying, kayaking and a weekend at his cabin. After that it’s easy! only four or five days at a time:

  • 1 outfit for a walking tours/ museums/ galleries
  • 1 dress for a hot day
  • 1 nice top/dress for a night out
  • cardigan/scarf if it gets cold or to cover up when in churches (definitely necessary in Italy!)
  • Walking shoes (birks for me!), Running shoes
  • Sporty outfit
  • a few extra tops to mix and match
  • Accessories

Voila!

Pro tip! Once I planned all this out and still wasn’t convinced that I had everything I needed, I found that it helps to talk through a typical week/city you might have and troubleshoot anything you may need. You’d be surprised how little you’ll get away with. I ended up with about 7 days worth of clothes and honestly, if not for being in Vancouver I probably could have packed less.

5. Let it go

Last, but definitely not least, just let it go. Take a deep breath in, let it out slowly, and ask yourself, do you really need this? If there is even the slightest reasoning of ‘just in case’ behind it, don’t pack it (unless it’s medication or for safety, of course). Realistically, part of the adventure of traveling is being able to break out of your regular routine for a change. You really don’t need to have it literally weighing you down on your vacation. Just let it go. Leave it behind. Can you picture yourself not using this item at least half of the time? Leave it. Can you buy it at your destination if necessary? leave it. If you don’t remember putting it on your packing list, but somehow it ended up in the pile to pack, so why not just try to squeeze it in the side, you have a little extra room here anyway… just leave it.

Trust me.

Let it go, you’ll thank me later.

So that’s it. 5 easy steps and you’re on your way! I hope that was helpful. Happy travels and wherever you end up, remember to aim for the heart!

Bon voyage!