Home Alumni How to Live Out of a Backpack for Longer than a Weekend (and Why You’ll Want To)

How to Live Out of a Backpack for Longer than a Weekend (and Why You’ll Want To)

by Greta Banks
AIFS Abroad student in Venice, Italy

During my four months in Spain with AIFS, I visited 11 countries. This meant that I spent many of my weekends packing up and jetting off to a new place. These weekend trips were all just the practice for my ultimate challenge: 12 days traveling through Italy with only a single travel backpack in tow.

Between having to accommodate the baggage restrictions of my various budget travel methods, to needing to pack enough to last me 12 days in Italy, I managed to master the art of living out of my backpack. Here’s how you can do it, too:

1. Ditch the rolling bag and embrace that backpacks are better.

Of course, everyone is different, so this may not be true for you. However, I found that having my luggage on my back, rather than rolling behind me, was incredible helpful for the numerous times I had to trek a few miles with it. I often chose to skip the cab fare and walk places if it was manageable. There were also numerous times when I would need to be out of my accommodations in the morning, but I wasn’t leaving the city until night, so I had to tote my luggage around with me all day and through every restaurant, museum, and park I visited.

2. Put your toiletries on top or in a separate pocket.

When you’re packing in a backpack, you don’t always have the luxury of being able to open the entire front and have easy access to everything in it. My backpack’s main packet only had an opening on top, so the majority of my stuff was buried under other stuff. To make getting through airport security faster and easier, I packed my toiletries in the small pocket on top of my backpack. This may seem obvious, but there are always people in line having to open up their bags and dig through them.

3. Important documents, meds, etc. should be easy to access.

It’s always important to make sure that you have printed copies of all important documents while you travel, in case customs asks for them, or in any emergency situations. I kept a plastic folder in an easy-to-access pocket of my backpack, containing a copy of my passport, prescriptions for all medications I might be carrying, emergency numbers, and important addresses. You want to be able to pull these out quickly, so make sure you pack them in a pocket that won’t require you to dig through your clothes.

AIFS Abroad student with backpack in Europe

4. Don’t let yourself overpack.

This is the most important thing I learned from living out of a backpack. If you overpack, you will be miserable. While travel backpacks do have waist belts and buckles to help distribute the weight of your stuff more comfortably (definitely use these), having to haul around excessive amounts of stuff will still wear you down quickly. Shoes, especially, will take up large amounts of space, and you really don’t need them as much as you think you do. On weekends, I only had the shoes I wore, and for my longer trip, I brought one additional pair of sandals.

As tempting as it may be to have individual, unique outfits for every day, you should try and pack things that you can mix and match easily, so that things like pants and jackets can be worn again. For my 11 days in Italy, I had one dress, four shirts, a tank top, a pair of jeans, a pair of leggings, a pair of shorts, one swim suit, a sweatshirt, and a lightweight jacket. This was plenty for the full time I was there.

5. Utilize gallon-sized bags or small space bags to keep your clothes compact and organized.

Gallon sized plastic baggies were a total life saver when packing. They helped me keep organized, which is key when you are essentially cramming all of your clothes into a large sack. I had a separate bag for shirts, pants, and socks and underwear, which made it incredibly easy to find what I was looking for. This also helped me save space, by keeping all of my clothes tightly folded, and allowing me to get rid of excess air. Packing then was much easier because the bags all fit modularly into my backpack.

6. If you’re tight on space or weight, wear your bulkiest or heaviest clothes on the plane.

This may sound silly, but I have absolutely done it to avoid the large fees charged for oversized and overweight bags. When I went to Switzerland, I needed a lot of heavy clothes because I was going to be up in the mountains where there were multiple feet of snow. There was no way I could fit layers of sweatshirts, long-sleeve tees, and jackets into my bag all at once. So, I wore a sweatshirt, jacket, and tied another jacket around my waist for the flight. I also had a bulky pair of combat boots that I always wore on flights, because they were heavy and took up much more space than any other shoes I owned. While you may be a little more comfortable in lighter clothes, consider leaving your larger items out to wear on the flight. You can always tie a jacket around your waist.

This post was contributed by Margaret (Greta) Banks, a former AIFS Student Blogger and current Alumni Ambassador who studied abroad with AIFS in Barcelona, Spain. 

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