How To Pack Light For Travel – A Guide For Flashpackers

by brian on August 3, 2009

Today’s guest post is from Nora, the self-proclaimed Professional Hobo! Nora writes about her travels around the world and graciously wanted to share her expertise with us. Check how to reach her at the end of the blog post.

A quick definition: Flashpacker is a Backpacker with a little more cash and more hooked into technology: cell phone, laptop/netbook, updating Facebook and Twitter from the road, etc.

A Guide to Packing Light for Flashpackers

Hello. My name is Nora, and I’m a flashpacker.

It’s true. It took a while for me to come to grips with this stark reality. I used to boast about my detachment from the need for “things”, especially when I was in the throes of selling everything I owned to travel full-time.

 How To Pack Light For Travel   A Guide For Flashpackers
But now in my third year abroad, I have amassed a collection of gadgets that I would go so far as to say I can’t live without (at least not happily). I even joke that I would throw myself in front of a bus to save my laptop, except for the lack of usefulness my laptop would serve if I were dead.

Still, everything I own fits into a backpack, which I generally check on flights – plus a small(ish) carry-on bag that houses all things electronic. My boyfriend and I are a comical disaster at airport security; unloading the contents of our respective carry-on bags crammed with laptops, midi keyboards (my boyfriend is a musician, carrying a scaled-down music studio in his pack), and cords galore for the bemused security officers. We’ve never been extensively searched, likely because we are such a sight to behold that they feel sorry for us while we try to stay out of the way, hurriedly playing Tetris with our packs in an attempt to re-stuff them with the unloaded electronics before we can move on to our gate.

When you travel full-time and make a living in a location independent manner with an Internet connection, flashpacking becomes a necessary evil.

Recently, I took a six week side trip from our current digs in Australia, to return home to Canada where I could visit with family and friends, and take care of some business. In doing so, I decided I would embrace packing light – really light – flashpacker style. I managed it with carry-on luggage only.

When I survey other travelers’ packing lists, mine still seems extensive. I have more clothing, and in some cases more gadgets, and I’m pedantic about carrying more official documents around with me than I probably need to. Yet I still managed to survive with carry-on luggage only.

Here is what I brought:


  1. Wallet
  2. Sunglasses
  3. Camera
  4. Tiny collapsible tripod for my camera
  5. Cell phone
  6. Cell phone charger
  7. Re-useable collapsible bag (for grocery shopping and such)
  8. Nail file (which just found its way into my purse one day and decided it liked to be there)
  9. Copy of my passport (kept in a separate bag from my actual passport)
  10. Extra memory card for my camera
  11. Journal/notebook (one of my best pieces of travel gear)

Technology Backpack:

  1. Laptop bag with 12” laptop
  2. Laptop power cord
  3. Mini laptop mouse
  4. Camera charger
  5. USB cords serving various purposes to help all my gadgets play nicely together
  6. Earbuds for Skype conversations or listening to music
  7. Installation CDs
  8. Expandable folder of official documents (which include copies of passports and other photo id, tax documents, visa information, flight details, and other miscellaneous items; this is another article unto itself)
  9. Passport wallet with passport and flight itinerary details
  10. Inflatable pillow for airplane and bus rides
  11. Book for reading

Clothing Backpack:

  1. 2 T-shirts (one of which I wore)
  2. 2 Long-sleeved shirts (one of which I wore)
  3. Tank top
  4. Jacket (which I wore)
  5. 3 Pairs of pants (one of which I wore)
  6. Capri pants
  7. Skirt (I will be required to look somewhat businesslike for some of my meetings)
  8. Sarong
  9. 4 pairs of underwear
  10. 4 pairs of socks
  11. Scarf (which serves as a belt, or accessory for business-like elegance, or warmth)
  12. External Hard Drive (with a recent backup – notice that I keep this separate from my laptop itself)
  13. Walking sandals
  14. Pretty (and pretty small) sandals
  15. Walking shoes (which I wore)
  16. 2 plastic bags for dirty laundry or miscellaneous needs

 How To Pack Light For Travel   A Guide For Flashpackers
Toiletry bag:

  1. Solid crystal deodorant
  2. Makeup (before you jump to conclusions, a full application of make-up for me is eye shadow pencil, eyeliner, and mascara; remember – I had business meetings to attend)
  3. Toothbrush
  4. Toothpaste (travel-sized)
  5. Hair tie
  6. Hair goop (travel-sized)
  7. Shampoo (travel-sized)
  8. Body/face wash (travel-sized)
  9. Feminine hygiene product (space & waste saving)
  10. Pack towel (the really small kind that absorbs way more water than it looks and dries faster than you’d think)

Not only did I manage to fit all this into my carry-on entourage, but I also had gifts for people at home and hosts along the way.

Here are some of the ways I managed to keep my packing volume small:

• My clothing bag was soft-sided and thin, with compression straps to keep the overall size down. Although the bag itself doesn’t have much integrity, the contents therein don’t require much protection.

• I am not averse to buying toiletries along the way, to reduce the load I carry from day to day.

• I (accidentally) lost my jacket as soon as I landed in Canada, which is okay since it is summer here. I think it is at a friend’s place – at least I hope it is. (Although I rarely recommend losing things to reduce packing volume, it is nonetheless effective).

• I wore everything I possibly could on the plane. Not only did this keep me warm under the inevitable blast of cold air above my seat, but it saved space. I tied extra unwanted layers around my waist during layovers.

• The season worked in my favour. Knowing it is summer in Canada made the volume of clothing I had to bring much smaller. If it were winter, I would have brought fewer items (but with more girth), as well as bought an extra layer or two at my destination.

• I specifically chose clothing (with the exception of a pair of jeans) that could be rolled up (and later on in the trip, bunched up in a rush) and crammed into my bag, yet come out relatively wrinkle-free and ready to wear. Quick-drying clothing is also a necessity, given that hand-laundry is inevitable at some point.

Really? Is This Much Stuff Allowed as Carry-on?

Technically you are allowed to have one official carry-on bag, plus a laptop bag or a personal bag like a purse. However I have not yet found any difficulty in making my purse look invisible, and neither of my other two bags are particularly close to the carry-on size or weight limits. I use compression straps to make my clothing bag look nice and small, and it gets stowed in the overhead bins – even on small planes. The technology backpack fits easily under the seat in front of me, as does my purse.

Although I envy those who walk onto a plane with little more than a purse and a book to read, I’m pretty sure those people in turn envy me when I’m the first out of the airport while they’re still waiting for their luggage to (hopefully) arrive.

Reach Nora @ The Professional

Nora on the Big Island of Hawaii
 How To Pack Light For Travel   A Guide For Flashpackers

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

John Bardos - August 3, 2009 at 1:08 PM

My wife and I always have check in baggage. We have found that it is getting more difficult to find space to carry our things online.

It is not comfortable having to stuff a large pack under the seat in front of you because there isn't enough room. For that, I don't mind waiting to pick up my luggage.

Also, we try to book the emergency exit seats so that we have more leg room. Of course, then there is no seat in front of us to store stuff.


brian August 3, 2009 at 4:22 PM

Some folks have to check-in luggage if they have to. But the fees are getting so ridiculous I try to take just the carry-on on the principle of it.
Nowadays I'm at the front of the line at the gate just so I get on the plane first and get my carry-on stowed away. Works for me.


Nora August 4, 2009 at 12:43 PM

Thanks Brian, for the opportunity to write for you! I'm still enjoying couchsurfing in Canada without having to lug around too many heavy bags. So far – it's a success!


brian August 4, 2009 at 9:49 PM

Thank you for sharing! We really appreciate it.


AdventureRob August 17, 2009 at 8:12 AM

Excellent article, I have a big bag but 1/3 of it is useless stuff that I don't use (sleeping bag – newbie error that), I could easily get away with 2 small bags like you if I didn't also carry an SLR camera which needs its own bag.


William Wallace September 27, 2009 at 10:45 AM

Travelling with the bare minimum is the way to do it, whether I'm going on holiday for 2 weeks or 6 months. However my girl, doesn’t understand the meaning of travelling light, for her it means taking 2 huge suitcases instead of 3.


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