When I first laid awake at night thinking about the possibility of travelling, my hyper-planning brain pretty much skipped deciding destinations and went straight to boring practical stuff like “how will I contact home?”, “how will I make sure my money is safe?”, and “what will I take with me?”. I decided pretty early on that I would take as little as possible because I get really nervous at baggage reclaim, and for the whole time I’m apart from my luggage to be honest. I figured I’d have enough to be nervous about without adding that to the mix. Plus, budget airlines tend to charge extra for hold luggage, which is a price I did not want to pay for the sake of taking a few extra things with me. My usual backpack was all I took with me. There are a few super important things that can help when deciding what precious things to squeeze into a small bag that will contain everything you own for the next month…
1. Your accommodation will probably have washing facilities.
I stayed primarily in Airbnbs, and I chose ones that had washing facilities that I could use so I could wash my clothes regularly. The hostels I went to all had washing facilities too, but bear in mine you usually have to pay for these. Depending on where you go, drying your stuff shouldn’t be too difficult either. The weather in most of the countries I went to was dry and in the high twenties or low thirties, sometimes even hotter around midday, so everything dried quickly. I did have a bit of trouble trying to find sensible places to actually hang my clothes to dry, but a bit of improvisation with coat hangers and door handles was enough to spread everything out. I never ran out of clothes, mostly because of the next point…
2. Plan what you might wear
Now I don’t mean plan what you will wear each and every day, but have some kind of loose idea what you might be wearing at different point of the trip. I had what I called “travelling clothes”, which I wore on the days I spent a lot of time on trains. This consisted pretty simply of leggings, a dress, and my denim shirt. The rest of the time I tended not to wear leggings because it was warm enough to get my pasty white legs out. On the days I could leave my stuff and my accommodation, I could wear less because I didn’t need to carry it all around with me. Checking the weather forecast also helped, since I knew it was unlikely to rain, so left my raincoat at home. This didn’t work out quite so handy when I was unlucky enough to catch one of the few rainy days on summer in Budapest, but even unforeseen changes in weather like that can be overcome because…
3. You can buy stuff when you’re on the move
And it will probably be cheaper than at home. I didn’t take ANY toiletries with me. I couldn’t be bothered to comply with the regulations for flying, and liquids tend to add the most weight to your luggage. I had no trouble finding what I needed when I arrived in Spain, in fact there was an Aldi right next to the metro station when I got to where I was staying. The choice was quite limited, but it was only for three weeks and it did just fine. I picked up basic shampoo, conditioner, deodorant and toothpaste very cheaply. Sun cream was a bit more tricky. I had to go into central Madrid to find it, and when I did it was quite expensive and locked in a glass cabinet (I guess it gets stolen a lot?), which I had to try and explain to the cashier who only spoke Spanish. We got there in the end, and I got my factor 30 spray on sun cream. It ended up lasting me the whole trip, despite numerous reapplications. My pale ginger person skin didn’t get even slightly burnt. Remember to pack a smaller bag in your backpack though so you have something to carry the extra bits in if they don’t fit.
I also had an incident where I somehow got ink on my only lightweight shirt, which was kinda annoying because it was white. However, most cities in Europe have a Primark you can take advantage of when pesky stains strike. I got a replacement shirt in the sale for 4€, and I’m actually glad I did because I wear it all the time now.
4. Roll things up!
This one appears all the time in tips about packing well, and it’s because it really does work. I carried five dresses, pyjamas, two pairs of leggings, a towel, numerous underwear, as well as my toiletries and miscellaneous crap all in my backpack quite comfortably because everything was rolled up tightly. You do have to be quite strategic about how you pack things when you’re trying to fit it all in to a small bag. I always had my towel rolled tightly at the bottom of my bag with my underwear filling the gaps around it, then my dresses and leggings, then my pyjamas, with my toiletries squeezed down the side so they didn’t leak. I carried the stuff I’d have to reach easily in a tote bag, though I would recommend getting a bag with a zip for security, and even a moneybelt for cash. I didn’t have these things and I never got pickpocketed, but I know people often do when travelling around big cities, so it pays to be cautious.
5. Be clear about gifts
Family and friends often expect souvenirs when you’ve been on holiday, and usually I would try and find something for the main people in my life, however travelling is a whole different affair to a normal holiday. I made sure my nearest and dearest understood that I wasn’t being tight by not bringing anything back, but that it was because I literally could not fit anything else in my luggage. The only exception I made was bringing back some postcards for my friend and her little girl so she could see all the places I went when she’s older. Postcards don’t take up a lot of space, so I could squeeze these in inside my notebook. If you really must get treats for people, remember there are the restrictions on liquids and stuff for hand luggage, so a bottle of booze for instance might not make it through unless you take advantage of Duty Free.
Remember, ultimately the only things you’re stuck without are your passport, money and possibly a phone, so don’t panic too much about forgetting something or leaving things behind. I think it’s better to under pack than to over pack when you’re carrying everything around an entire continent with you!