how to pack your life on your back

I left America and arrived in Melbourne, Australia with 3 bags: one huge pink rolly suitcase covered in hearts and beige leather detail stuffed with my realistic custom made mermaid tail, red leather jacket, Jeffrey Campbell heels and sky vodka, one medium sized duffel bag with my electronics and my mom’s forty year old trekking bag from her backpacking days this time filled to the brim with shoes.

There’s that motto “take half of your things and double the money”. This doesn’t quite work for me, just reading it I think so do I leave the yellow pants behind? How do I choose between my denim jacket and my leather jacket? And how do I double my money?

After 2 years of traveling, leaving a bag here and a bag there, always saying I’ll come back for it and of course not- I’ve figured it out it, how to minimize and the most important- how to pack, without sacrificing my style, materialistic and necessary comforts. So, how to pack your life in a backpack? Packing your life on your back is an art that comes down to some organization, craftiness and minimization.

The Essential Ingredients:

Vacuum Pack Bags

Those as seen on tv bags, they are amazing. I will never go without one. You can get a pack of three with small, medium and large sizes at Kmart for $15. If you have a massive wardrobe you can’t part with, layer your clothes in the large one of these, vacuum it and it is one small pancake that fits easily on your back. It’s especially useful for when I’m traveling to somewhere and the seasons are changing. I stuff the winter clothes and huge jackets in the bag and leave the summer clothes out. This makes my bag something I can actually live out of. I’ve lived in a little tent in the rainforest with just this bag and I can tell you, reaching into an unorganized mess makes everything a little harder, if you have just the clothes you will wear out and everything else packed in a tight bag, it keeps everything clean, organized and simpler. One last thing about the amazing vacuum bags, using one of these is great to keep your clothes safe away from those nasty little buggers, the bed bugs- you can find bed bugs throughout South East Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Trust me, don’t want these to lay eggs in your clothes!

Jewelry Bags and Zip Lock Bags

Any type of old recycled bags you can find in your closet, those little jewelry pouches, ziplock bags, shopping bags. Put everything in a bag. Your backpack should be like a Russian matryoshka.

My electronics, cables, hard drives are organized in different ziplock bags, toiletries in another, makeup in another, jewelry all in their jewelry bags and then put together in one pouch, I have a huge pen collection-those are in another bag. You can label your bags if you’re really getting into it.

Lightweight Outdoor Gear

You have to abide by certain weight restrictions for your back and for your flights. If you’re bringing a tent, sleeping bag, warm clothing (my bag is packed for New Zealand mountains and Bali summer at the same damn time) these things are heavy and so this is when smart shopping is important

  • Nano puff jacket-mine is by Patagonia, my mom sent it to me in Germany to survive German winter! It is a great layering piece that will keep you warm in most climates. It is also quite water resistant so I wear mine when I’m sailing. And most important, it rolls up Into a tight ball, about the size as rolled up sock, and weighs virtually nothing
  • Tent- when you go tent shopping be sure to check out the weight sizes. I got one in Australia at a cheap as shop Aussie Disposal. It was $29, weighed 2 kg and was waterproof…perfect.
  • Sleeping Bag- again, smaller and lightweight the better. You want something that will keep you warm in negative temperatures and is nice and compact. I tie this to the outside of my backpack
  • Merino Wool & Cashmere- okay this is getting expensive. No, not necessarily! You need quality to pack compactly and effectively. My cashmere jumper has lasted 3 years now and this fashionable piece has kept me warm through Melbourne, Dunedin and German winters. My socks are merino wool: these will last and keep you cozy. I also have a few pieces of merino wool outdoor gear for sailing and sports. Quality quality quality. Also, means you can keep your wardrobe simpler with just a few pieces that last
  • Hiking Boots- okay so, my boyfriend has a big clunky pair of these and so does every traveler I know. I got a pair back in Melbourne for hiking in Australia but I never used them. I like to hike with my nikes because I can travel with these and feel lighter. I am not the most professional outdoorsman I’m sure, but I’ve hiked every trail and tramp near by and never needed more than a pair of nikes. Either way, shop for the least bulky pair you can find and you can always tie a pair of these on the outside of your bag *update! Palladium has a lightweight pair of hiking boots that is perfect for traveling** Finally, succumbed to getting a REAL pair and I love them. Ready to trek some muddy South East Asia treks! 

Scarves

Scarves are just as awesome as vacuum pack bags. You can use a scarf to

  • Keep you warm in the winter and style up your backpacked wardrobe
  • As a picnic or beach blanket
  • Curtain in your hostel bunk
  • Decoration
  • As a sarong/summer outfit
  • Emergency towel

Best thing, they don’t take any room in your bag! I have 3 that I use for everything

Carabiners

Great to use on the outside of your bag to hook on all your extras. I’ve seen backpacks pimped out with thermos mugs, pots, flashlights, you name it- dangling off the back. If you rock climb – 2 birds 1 stone

The Best for Last: The Backpack

This is your livelihood so get a good one. My mom gave me hers from the 80s, it is in one piece still because it is good quality.

Here’s what to look for:

  • Back support
  • Strong, thick padded straps
  • A bottom compartment that can unzip to form one
  • Pockets, pockets, pockets
  • Big, sturdy, zippers