Alastair travelled around the Philippines with only hand luggage (photo: Alastair Humphreys)
Blog Words : Alastair Humphreys | 28 December

How to travel light (and live cheaply)

Shed your load and hit the road. Forget the laptops, party frocks and vast first aid kits - go back to basics and your experience will be liberating. Here's how...

I have seen far too many backpackers, hot-faced and stressed, hiking from bus station to hostel with a massive pack on their backs and another one on their front. This isn't the way to do it, folks. If you're going to travel more, experience more, do more – you need to cut down your packing list now. Here's how to lighten your load...

My suggestions are based on two key points:

1. There are already people living in the country you are going to

There are shops there where you can buy stuff if you need it. You do not need to carry with you everything you may need for every imaginable scenario.

2. An important aspect of backpacking is to leave your normal life behind

A little simplicity and basic living is no bad thing.

Just the clothes on your back

I once spent three months travelling around the Philippines. I travelled with hand luggage only. I had one pair of trousers, one pair of shorts, one shirt, one raincoat, one pair of socks, two pairs of underwear, a pair of shoes and my flip-flops.

I had to wash my clothes in the sink at night. I look identical in every single photograph from the trip. But the experience was so liberating. Towards the end I began giving away  the items I no longer needed.

I landed at Heathrow with only the clothes I was wearing: shorts, t-shirt, flip-flops and a conical straw hat that I had swapped for my shirt. By the time my train home arrived in Yorkshire I was very cold and looked massively out of place. But those days of travelling light are still some of my fondest travel memories.

Stock up on experience 

Here is my alternative kit list for a backpacking adventure. It matters not whether you are going for a week or year: you still need just the same amount of stuff. For argument's sake, let’s assume you are going to a warm part of the world and are not planning to do anything you'll need specialist kit for.

This is all you need to take. It’s cheap and it’s simple. Sexy, it ain’t! And remember: you’re going on an adventure, not planning a military invasion and siege.

1 long-sleeved shirt
Roll the sleeves up and unbutton the front when you are hot. Do the reverse when cold.

1 rain coat
Also acts as an extra layer if you are cold

1 set of underwear

1 swim suit
Can also double as underwear in a pinch

1 pair of socks

All-purpose shoes

Flip flops or sandals

1 pair of trousers
That convert into shorts, or 1 dress

30 litre backpack

Silk sleeping bag
Packs down tiny, keeps bed bugs away, very warm for its size

Mosquito net

Basic toiletries
Don't forget suncream and mosquito repellent

Camera

Diary and pen

One reading book
Swap it when you’re done

Guidebook
If you must

Map of the country

Sunhat and sunglasses

Penknife
Though if you plan to fly with only hand luggage, you'll have to leave this behind

Mug and spoon
Great for eating breakfast cereal from too

Water bottle and water purifying tablets

Passport, credit card, cash etc.
Back your files up online before you fly

And... that’s it.

Recover from recoiling in horror at my omission of laptops, special outfits for partying and vast first aid kits. Internet cafes can be found worldwide, and party frocks will almost definitely be out of place.

And think about what citizens of the country you are in do should they suddenly get hemorrhoids, a bee sting, or a sore throat: they go to a chemist and buy a medicine. Don’t feel the need to carry with you a treatment for everything you might never catch.

Of course, this is a 'bare bones' list. Although I anticipate that you will probably carry more than this on your next trip (and so would I), I hope that it has provoked you to question what you really do need, and what you can live without for a few weeks or months.

What do you think?

Am I a stinking hobo, or do I have a point? Please let me know in the comments section below...