Minimalist Packing Results after 4 Months in SE Asia and New Zealand

After nine months of traveling, I realize that I always want to pack more than I need. I get hung up on “just in case”. I’m sure my bag will always be bigger than Adam’s and this trip was no exception. I did pack light, when Adam and I left on our four month backpacking adventure, his bag was half the size and weight of mine. (Adam’s bag was 15L and 7 pounds, while mine was 33L and closer to 20 pounds.) Surprisingly, even with such a small and carefully curated bag, I had clear must-haves and also quite a few leave-at-homes.

I was originally skeptical that I’d be able to live happily with only a small backpack. I was worried I would be cold, wet, dirty, underdressed or over-exposed for our various adventures. I knew I could purchase more clothes or get a bigger bag, but the process was still stressful. Fortunately, as you’ve probably picked up, packing light worked out perfectly. You can see exactly what’s in my bag and Adam’s bag in these previous posts.

But still, there were quite a few things that I should’ve left at home. Adam’s still largely happy with his packing, except for one unnecessary extra pair of socks. Here’s the full list of things I didn’t need in my bag: 

Hipknotie – I really, really wanted this allegedly versatile multi-way dress / top / scarf combo to work as a travel accessory. Unfortunately, it’s made of some barely breathable polyester blend, so it just feels yucky as a beach cover up. I wore it as a long skirt during some days on our meditation retreat, but only with a long shirt because it’s a little bit see-through. I occasionally used it as a shoulder-covering wrap or scarf, but mostly after we left the heat of SE Asia. The  material doesn’t look sharp or feel soft and, it was overpriced to begin with at $60. This was the worst thing in my bag, and wins the award for the worst thing I purchased in 2015.

Lonely Planet SE Asia Guidebook – I wanted to have this as a crutch and emergency guide, but it’s heavy and I hardly ever needed it on the trip. I used the book for pre-trip planning, but once we got to SE Asia, we had internet everywhere, and it’s faster and easier to find everything online, ranging from inspiration to logistics to specific recommendations. You’ll notice this massive tome is not even shown in the “packing rejects” image because it’s no longer in my bag.

Umbrella – Until our last (originally unplanned) week of hanging out in SF, this was a waste of space and weight in my bag. It turned out that it rarely rained while we were in SE Asia, and we were able to avoid being outside during those times. Further, all our clothes were quick drying and we usually kept electronics packed safely away. If we’d run into a long stretch of crappy weather, we would’ve purchased cheap ponchos or umbrellas when needed.

Travel Skirt – Before we left on the trip, I’d read that skirts are considered “more appropriate” for women in SE Asia. I bought a sturdy, ugly looking one with tons of pockets. This was the right idea, but poorly executed, since the skirt wasn’t very comfortable or breathable. For real activities, I wore my sporty shorts. For bike riding, I could’ve used something with a little more leg room. I’d like to try a skirt again but I need to find one that’s more functional.

Poly-Blend, Clingy T-Shirt – Adam did TONS of research and almost the whole internet agrees that wool Ts are the best.  The non-wool shirt I have is clingy and not breathable, and while it served as a good surf rash guard, I could’ve just borrowed one on the beach. I originally grabbed the poly-blend because it was a lot cheaper than an Icebreaker wool tee, which runs about $80. In retrospect, $80 would’ve been worth it for a comfy, breathable and durable shirt.We did end up finding wool t-shirts on sale at Icebreaker and REI before our trip,which was a lucky and perfect solution.


Two Pairs of Socks – Socks are good, but we only needed one pair each because we wore flip flops most of the time. With only one pair, we might have occasionally had to wear dirty socks, but half the times our shoes stink anyway. I didn’t think the expensive wool version was any better than my old cotton ones, and Adam actually wore a hole through his fancy SmartWool pair.

During the trip, when we realized that we didn’t have exactly the right things, it was easy and cheap to buy what we needed. In Thailand we grabbed a tank for me and t-shirt for Adam. I snagged a beach cover-up in Bali. My sister brought an old fleece to New Zealand for me that I strapped to the outside of my bag and carried through two countries to prepare for San Francisco’s not-at-all-cold winter. Our bags weren’t stuffed full, so we had room for a few extra items, and we were able to pick up only things that we knew we’d use or wouldn’t mind throwing away.

The other key packing negative for me was my backpack. Mine is the right size, but it was pretty cheap and is incredibly uncomfortable. The straps somehow manage to cut off circulation to my arms. Admittedly, I packed the bag full of dense stuff like my brick of a laptop. I am going to try to drop as much weight as possible for our next trip, but if I purchase a backpack again, I’ll get a chest clip and better straps.

All in, I would’ve replaced the skirt and the shirt but left the travel guide, scarf, umbrella and extra socks at home. For me, the real lesson of the clothing story is that it is worth it to do the research and spend the time or shipping fees up-front to find things you love. Pay attention to materials, because when it really gets hot, those extra bits of breathability make a lot of difference.

On general packing, The Lonely Planet guide book and my umbrella just weren’t worth their weight.  The book especially would’ve saved a good amount of space and weight in my bag. While it pains me to admit it, this is exactly what Adam insisted from the beginning of our packing. I will also note that we swapped bags, and he carried my heavy one, during some of our long walks when my arms were falling asleep. So, even though he takes up a lot of room and is right with annoying frequency, my final recommendation is not to leave your husband at home.

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