Travel Internationally Carrying Only a Backpack

Tips for Packing Light for a 10-Day Trip to Anywhere

By Amanda DeWitt

Are you a light packer? Or do you stuff way too many items into your suitcase only to realize you did not need half the things you packed? Have you checked a bag only to find that you arrived at your destination and your bag was routed to Amsterdam?!?!

If you’re looking to improve your packing practices — or just want to lighten your load the next time you travel — keep reading as Emma, an Unto® intern, shares her best packing tips for international travel. Recently Emma took a 10-day trip to Africa with just a small personal carry-on (a 13x11x5 inch tote bag) and a backpack.

Emma Shares Packing Tips for International Travel

Unto: What is your philosophy for packing light?

Emma: It’s so tempting when traveling internationally to unfamiliar territory to pack absolutely everything you think you might possibly need — even for an emergency. My trick to avoid over-packing is to ask myself, “What do I use every day, and what will I definitely need?”

If you’re traveling with others, plan ahead to determine who will bring special items such as: outlet adapters, first aid items, wet wipes, etc. If traveling with a team, find out if the team leader is prepared with an emergency medical kit so you can eliminate those items from your bag.  A good team will help meet each other’s needs!

Unto: What are some practical tips you can give us?

Emma: Some of my favorite packing tips for international travel include:

  • Leave bulky items at home. I am a huge hoodie fan, but I intentionally left the sweatshirts at home and chose a knit cardigan instead. It’s much less bulky, and it can be more easily tied around a backpack strap instead.
  • Layer your clothing. If you layer clothing going onto the plane, it doesn’t take up space in your bag. I also wore socks and tennis shoes on the plane so they wouldn’t take up space in my bag.
  • Wash and re-wear. I packed a bar of laundry soap so that I could wash my clothes in the sink as needed and then re-wear them.  Bar laundry soap is especially important because it does not spill like power or liquid soap. Also, hotel shampoo is very handy for hand-washing clothes when that is available.
  • Seek out compact items. An inflatable travel pillow is MUCH more convenient over a foam one. A pillow is necessary for long overnight trips.
  • Roll clothing and towels to make them more compact.
  • I have found HUGE space savings by downloading books on my phone and leaving all my paper books at home. Another trick is to not pack full bottles of over the counter medicines.
  • Know the TSA liquids rule. Peanut butter is a liquid! But stick deodorant is not. I pack a shampoo bar, and it was one of my favorites. I also brought a can of tuna packed in “light water,” and it was fine. (I did not open the tuna on the plane, because I didn’t want to be “that person who made the whole cabin smell like fish.”)
  • Remember a small gift for your host – notecards don’t take up much room and are always welcome.
Unto: Is there anything you wish you had packed or would do differently next time?

Emma: I really wish I had packed more snacks. Thankfully a friend shared her almond butter with me!

If possible leave extra room in your bag (or leave some items behind). The worst part about only packing in a backpack was that it was absolutely full. It wasn’t a bad thing on the way there, but on the way home, I had to say no to some souvenirs that I might have otherwise brought home for gifts because I just didn’t have room to pack them.

All in all what I brought would have been like packing in a small rollaboard suitcase, but I was carrying it instead. It was nice to be able to put my backpack under the seat knowing that I had everything with me. I didn’t have to worry that I would suddenly lose all my clothing for the week (been there before, not fun) or my only contact lenses.

Unto: Any other parting tips you’d share?

Emma: This was actually my first time in Africa! So I did a lot of research, took into consideration what I knew I would be doing, and then made packing decisions. My advice would be that only you know what you need and what you can do without — don’t feel guilty for leaving behind personal items that someone else considers essential!

Ready to pack light for your next trip?

Click below to get Emma’s full packing list.

Published June 15, 2019


Amanda is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Gift for Leadership, Kindred Spirit, and Christianity Today publications. She holds a M.A. in Media and Communication from Dallas Theological Seminary.