Traveling light opens a whole new world of traveling. For me, traveling light allows me to move freely, unobstructed by things in my hands or heavy weight on my shoulders. This found freedom allows me to focus on the environment around me, absorb the sights and sound, and focus my camera. To get to this level of freedom, you must travel light.
Traveling light takes a whole new approach to packing that includes thought and sacrifice. Below I show you my traveling light tricks to keeping a small, light, and enjoyable travel experience. It all starts with my main pack.
At the heart of traveling light is a bag or suitcase to hold all your junk. Through my traveling experience, I settled on this small backpack whenever I can. In addition to my main pack, I most often travel with a camera waist pack, shown below, and sometimes I need a duffel bag. However, I always start with this main pack.
The goal is to have my hands free as much as I can, and I find it crazy to be using a rolling suitcase in any other place than a subway station, airport, or hotel. So, a backpack wins, but not just any backpack, a small backpack.
Twenty-five liters is the key to traveling light, “if it fits, it goes. If it doesn’t fit, it stays”
My main pack is a Mountainsmith Red Rock, 25 liter backpack, which is proving to be a wonderful backpack. It is light and extremely durable, so I definitely recommend this pack. Unfortunately, Mountainsmith discontinued this bag, so only stock on hand at retailers is available, but fear not. The folks over at Mountainsmith have equivalent products in their lineup, like the Scream 25 or the Approach 25. I fancy the latter.
Traveling light requires a strict packing regiment to stay light. It is difficult to forgo some luxuries, but I feel I make up for it more in convenience and freedom of movement.
- Three merino wool shirts – merino wool is known for stretching your washing frequency, which is a huge bonus when you are only traveling with 4 shirts. Merino wool is also known for keeping you cool in the summer and warm in the winter, another great positive. These fancy shirts are pricy, but well worth their price. Currently I have a button down merino wool shirt with a front pocket to go along with a t-shirt and polo. A good range of styles.
- One linen shirt – I’m currently experimenting with linen as a travel garment. The wrinkles suck, but the long sleeve, button down I am testing can be dressed up or down. The bonus to linen is the very light material, perfect for traveling light.
- Volcom swim trunks – I like a good slim cut in my swimming shorts. These things are just that, feel super light, and have proved very durable. A good buy.
- One pair of shorts – You have to have a pair of shorts, and I choose Volcom again here with their chino, I like the fit.
- One pair of jeans – When traveling light I only bring one pair of pants, and I always wear the pants when I am moving through airports. Levi’s are good, but I’m thinking to switch to khaki slacks to give me a better dress code range. Just a thought for now.
- Fleece pullover – I always travel with a fleece pullover no matter where I go, it’s super thin and light, and keeps me surprisingly warm. Add an outer layer rain layer (below) and you are one unstoppable traveler.
- Socks and underwear – Two pairs of each, enough said. I choose dark colors to simplify the washing loads.
- Arabic headscarf – These things are super versatile. Use it as a scarf around your neck when it is cool, or on your head to keep the sun away. I usually keep mine toward the top of my bag to throw on if it gets cold on a flight. Being a bald man, I usually have mine wrapped around my head Omani style. It gets a few looks, but I don’t give a shit if folks stereotype the way I look. Strangely, I mostly get the funny looks when I’m in the States; Europe doesn’t bat an eye.
- Kyrgyzstani cap – This is a new addition to my bag thanks to my friend Jonty. What I like most about the cap is the short brim, it allows me to shoot my camera without having to rotate the brim out of the way. And it’s warm, light, and foldable. I can’t say that about my German hat.
- Rainbow Sandals – These sandals were originally made in my hometown of San Clemente, California, so they have nostalgia with me. These things are comfy, light, ridiculously durable, and cheap. I always travel with a pair.
- Rainbow Sandals mocassins – These shoes and the next two pairs get switched out depending on how or where I am traveling. The Rainbow Sandals moccasins come with me to Asia when it’s hot and I’m only going to be casual.
- Clark Desert Boot – A good pair of leather boots go a long way. The desert boot is comfortable and it goes with casual or more dressy attire. These are my new go-to closed-toe shoe when I travel.
- Danner light II hiking boots – Finally, if I’m going to be doing a bit of hiking, I’ll switch in my wonderful boots from Danner. These waffle stompers are handmade in Portland, Oregon and have served me 10 years with replacing the soles when needed. They are expensive for sure, but with a near lifetime of service life possible, they are an excellent investment.
- Metal tin – Lady M gave me this beard care kit as a gift and I promptly saw its potential as a minimalist toiletry case for traveling light. The kit came with the wax tin and oil jar which I have since refilled with Can You Handlebar mustache wax and initiative beard oil. I’ve also fitted a folding beard comb, toothbrush, and mini toothpaste tube to round out the kit. It makes a perfect weekend kit alone, or longer with supplementary items in the main pack.
- Dove soap – A bar of soap is my preferred soap delivery method. You might be thinking, “why is Mr. D telling us about a bar of soap?” Well, this bar of soap is multi-use! I use it to wash my clothes, my body, AND as a shaving lubricant. Bar soap is easier to travel with than liquid and powder, and having an item that can serve multiple duties eases up on the weight and volume of the pack. When consumed on the road, it is easily replaced. All great qualities for traveling light.
- Travel towels – These things are magical. They absorb so much water and pack so small. Even if you are staying at a hotel, one of these will come in handy if you plan to go swimming at the beach or visit the German sauna. Don’t bother with getting an expensive one from a name brand. They are mostly the same.
- Razor handle and blades – Just like the bar of soap, this thing will shave both my bald head and face. Choosing a well-known blade means I can purchase replacement blades on the road if I need to.
- Senal SMH-1000 headphones – Being a podcast producer, I have an affinity toward good audio. These headphones are a production quality set that recreates true audio. The tradeoff is the bulk. They fold, have a removable cable, and pleasant carrying pouch, but sit rather large. At least they are not as giant as some of the Beats headphones I have seen people carrying, ridiculously, around their neck. Here I splurge with a bulky item, but I feel the quality is worth the cost in size.
- iPhone speaker amplifier – This is a great little device that amplifies the sound out of my iPhone without using any electricity. It’s a great way to listen to music or podcasts on the road in your hotel/hostel/apartment room. It is a bit heavy for what it does, but the volume is good, and probably lighter in weight than any electronic equivalent. If you are going to pick one up, be sure to purchase the correct model, they are model specific.
- Red MC Photo pouch – Unfortunately, these MC PHOTO velcro pouches are not made anymore. You used to be able to find them in professionally oriented camera stores, and then via eBay before the stock ran out. I see a few pop up on eBay from time to time as new/old stock. You can find alternatives or just use packing cubes, because that’s basically what I use them as. Inside my red pouch I keep the important things I really don’t want lost or stolen, and most any thing I might need on a flight. I will remove the red pouch from my main pack and slip it into the seat back during flight. The pouch includes: Passport, leather passport cover with spare credit card, pen for filling out landing cards, a travel toothbrush, airplane to 3.5mm audio jack adapter for adapting my headphones to the plane’s entertainment system, iPhone USB Cable, USB charger, world to europe electrical adapter, and SIM card case and tool.
- Money – I always get local cash at a local ATM using my bank card. The rates are better and I don’t have to worry about getting screwed by an exchange desk. In the States, Capital One Bank charges zero fees for using out of network ATMs for withdrawals, so I just put my travel money in this account, and withdraw when I need cash.
- Moo card holder – Moo cards are superior than their competition in terms of cost and quality, and this cool little holder/dispenser is what sealed the deal for me when choosing printing companies. I’m always networking, so I need my cards on me. Keeping it simple like this ensures my cards are always in my pocket. Want to try out Moo Cards? Get a nice discount here.
- Trash liner – This is definitely the strangest thing in my pack, but it is also important when you are traveling light. This trash liner has many uses, but mainly it’s used to line a hotel sink when it doesn’t include a drain stopper so I can wash my clothes. It also serves as my main pack rain cover if I get caught out in the rain, as well as a wet clothes carrier when hanging my clothes to dry. Simple, cheap, and important.
- Six meters of rope – Traveling light with just a few items of clothes means you will be washing laundry regularly, and washing also means drying. Rather than having my clothes washed by the hotel or local shop, I do it myself in the sink. Many places don’t have proper lines to dry your clothes, so I just bring my own. Six meters is enough to get creative. Hint: In Asia, drying inside under the AC might be quicker than outside, and doorknobs make good anchor points.
- Meds – In 2013 I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis after getting very sick. Ulcerative Colitis is an autoimmune disease where one’s colon becomes inflamed for unknown reasons. I am quite lucky to have a mild case and have been asymptomatic for one year now. I don’t let this potentially life threatening disease control my life, and I will share with you my traveling with Ulcerative Colitis philosophies in a future article. But for this post, you’ll find pharmaceuticals in my bag.
Travel Photography Gear
- Gorillapod – A very simple yet effective way to steady a small camera. I prefer to work with a full size set of legs, and don’t find myself using this solution all that much. For now it’s in my bag, but I’ll ditch it if something else requires the space.
- Rocket blower – This blows air to clean my lens, and does what it says on the box.
- Graduated neutral density filter – This tool helps control the exposure between the sky and foreground in a landscape image. A lightweight item that takes only a small amount of space.
- Circular polarizing filter – This is a filter that will do most of the work in a landscape image. The polarizer and the neutral density filter live in my main pack and will ride shotgun in my camera bag when I’m going out to shoot landscape images.
- Green MC Photo pouch – Inside the little green pouch lives the electrical items for the Delorme inReach, Fujifilm x100, and the spare SD camera cards.
- Eight SD cards – I carry no less than nine 32GB SD cards, because I like to shoot a lot… sometimes. So, traveling for months at a time without a computer means I need to have the free space on hand.
- Lens cleaning solution and cloth – A clean lens is a happy lens.
My camera bag is an unusual one: I use a Think Tank Photo Pro Skin modular belt system with a padded belt V2.0 and two Skin 50 V2.0 bags. This is probably the greatest travel item I have ever purchased because it allows me to keep my camera and other items I use frequently readily available and off my shoulders. I found that even a lightweight camera hanging from my shoulder causes me to fatigue and have back pains. However, not when it’s attached to my hip. Sure, it’s a glorified fanny pack, but it really works well with and without my main pack on my back. I don’t care if I look like a Barney.
- Rain jacket – If it’s going to rain, this thing is just a velcro flap away. Light and small in volume, this breathable jacket is well worth the high cost because I never have to decide if it comes or it stays. It also does a good job of breaking the wind when conditions are just blustery.
- Fujifilm x100s camera – This camera has a lot of professional capabilities packed into a small frame, making it the perfect camera when traveling light. Its large sensor captures fantastic images with few tradeoffs. The Fujifilm x100t is the current model, but a secondhand x100s is almost just as good. I keep a custom minalmist strap attached along with a third party lens hood, uv filter, and spring lens cap. Oh, and stealthy black is the only way to go.
- Nikon cable release – The x100 has a traditional, threaded shutter release that accepts a standard cable release. Nikon makes the best one.
- iPhone 4 – My old iPhone makes a fantastic GPS, audio recorder and spare travel phone.
- Delorme inReach SE – A great way to send simple messages without buying a local SIM card is to use an inReach two-way satellite communicator, especialy if you are going to be doing a bit of hiking. This isn’t 100% necessary to have, but I enjoy having it as one of my communications options, Read my review of the Delorme inReach here.
- Rode iXY microphone – This is a wonderful microphone for recording my on-location sounds for the podcast. I also love to record the sounds of the places I visit for my memories.
- Two Rode Smart Lav+ microphones – Perfect microphones for recoding my on-location interviews.
- Tascam iXJ2 iPhone interface – This little gem allows me to attach any microphone or line level audio into my iPhone 4 or 4s for recording. There are two inputs to attach my two lavaliere microphones for simple synchronized interviews.
- Kaenon Sunglasses – The best sunglasses, period.
- Pen – In case in need to stab someone… or paper.
- Miscellaneous – spare x100 batteries, moo cards, tripod plate, TRRS extension, passport when my main pack is not on my back.
Traveling light is fun and challenging all at the same time. I’m a bit crazy to allow myself only twenty-five liters plus the camera bag, but you don’t have to take such an extreme approach as me. Thirty liters should be more than enough if you employ some of the same traveling light tools discussed above. Reward will come for your sacrifice.