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10 Lessons on Travelling Light

by 5kilo Traveller

Rent Gear

What difference does it make to your travel experience? What to leave and what to take? 5 kilo traveller, Katherine shares her lived experience and journey of why she switched to travelling light, lessons you can takeaway, and how to travel light.


Once you’ve travelled with a light carry-on bag, you’ll be hooked! It’s a major woohoo moment as you skip passed passengers waiting for their checked-in luggage, easily get onto local transport, and discover how easy on your body travelling light really is. No more lugging heavy luggage. Daniel Houghton, CEO of Lonely Planet, also vouches for it in length in his new book ‘Wherever you go: A guide to mindful, sustainable, and life-changing travel.’

But why do it at all? And how on earth do you do it? Read on, and all will be revealed…

So, what is travelling light?

Travelling light is about carrying a smaller bag with a carefully planned travel capsule wardrobe. The bag could be a small suitcase, an overnight bag, a duffel bag, or a small backpack. Travelling with carry-on only is a great achievement, and there are many packing tips that can help you do this.

For some people, travelling lighter may be reducing the weight of their suitcase by a quarter or even a half. My philosophy is:it really must work for you.

For this blog, I’m focusing on travelling with a small carry-on backpack, which is what I now use for all my travels. Whether you are planning on switching or already travel light and want to get better, this blog will be useful.

My brief journey from a 75L backpack to a 5Kg bag.

I was once a heavy traveller!

In my 20s, in the 1990s,I lugged a 75L backpack around Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East. It was massive and weighed 15 to 20 kilograms. It went from below my butt to above my head. It was growing things and started looking like a rocket with a tent and sleeping mat stuck to the sides. And I struggled with it.

Lessons learnt, I began making changes:

  • I swapped the backpack for a full-sized suitcase. It didn’t have wheels and it was impossible for me to lift when full and at its maximum 23kg capacity.

  • I then moved to a mid-sized suitcase with wheels. This was certainly more do-able but did require lifting, pulling, and twisting still.

My true travelling light journey started in 2017, when I went from New Zealand to Croatia and Italy by myself and just my five-kilogram bag. Now in my late 40’s, I was recovering from a frozen shoulder and travelling solo meant I was fully responsible for my bag and its belongings. I needed to be independent with the bag…my answer…travel with a light bag.

Initially it was scary, and I did wonder if I’d gone slightly mad. How on earth would I cope with such a minimal amount of clothes and only two pairs of shoes? And would I have enough?

To my delight, the light bag simplified my travels, and I felt a lot safer and independent. I’ve since become a big believer in one bag travel and started my blog in 2019 sharing these new insights. I’m now wanting everyone to know why travelling light is the best way to travel!


Why should you travel light?

There are many benefits to travelling light with carry-on luggage. It wasn’t until I actually did it that I truly understood why it was such a great way to travel. After five years of travelling light, I now want everyone to know why travelling light is the best way to travel!

It’s easier on the body . I personally recommend travelling with a day bag or backpack. A 34L sized bag is a good size. The ergonomics of wearing a bag is so much better for your body. Wearing a light bag means no pushing, pulling or twisting.

You can get around easily. With a bag on your back it’s a lot easier to hop on and off local transport, walk to accommodation or your next stop, and what I love…starting sightseeing the moment I get off the transport. I don’t need to drop my bag off until I’m ready.

It’s safer for your gear. You don’t need to hand over your bag to anyone to lift it up, or ask for help, or put it in the back of a car or on luggage racks, or someone to watch it while you go to the bathroom – all of which (in my suspicious mind) are opportunities for someone to run off with my bag!

Free hands. It’s a big win. With your bag on your back, your hands are free to hold on, reach out, use your phone, wave, and pull yourself up steps.

It can save you money. Some airlines charge for checked bags, so travelling with carry-on or a backpack can save you those bag fees. You can also walk places, which will save you paying for taxis.

Less decisions to make. With a capsule wardrobe your decisions are quite simple. There’s not so much worrying over what to wear. You simply have what you have. Packing up and unpacking is easier. You’re less likely to leave things behind.

How to make travelling light possible and convenient?

  1. Make sure everything in your travel capsule wardrobe mixes and matches. A travel capsule wardrobe is a carefully put together set of clothes that will be suitable for all the activities you plan to do. Three tops, three bottoms, three top layers, and three pairs of shoes that all mix and match will give you 20+ different looks. Add a scarf and some cool jewellery to change it up even more.

  2. Reduce the amount of toiletries and cosmetics down to the amount that you will actually use and pop that amount in tiny containers. I have a saying, If you need it – take it. But just take less of it.

  3. Pack clothes that are multi-purpose – like leggings that can be worn for sport, as nightwear, lounging around in your room at night, or a warm layer under your trousers or a skirt.

  4. Rent some items instead of carrying them like sleeping bags, camping tents, ski/snowboarding wear, heavy jackets, or inflatable paddleboards. It is enticing to think you can save money by taking them along, however, paying a small rental fee is better than the cost of carrying them around and paying for baggage or expensive airfares.

  5. Pack clothes that are quick drying, lightweight and resist odours. Or more simply, pack merino. Merino is magic as a travel fabric. After wearing it, you simply air it overnight by hanging it up, and it’s perfect and odour free for the next day.

  6. Embrace layering. Wearing layers will get you through cold weather days. On a trip to New York in winter, I pretty much wore all my layers every day. And it was only the clothing item that was next to my body that needed washing.

  7. Observe your travel wardrobe before you go. Looking at your gear will help you think about whether you will have the right things for different occasions.

  8. Pick the right bag. A light bag around 28- 34L will keep you in your target packing range. If you buy a bigger bag, you will be tempted to fill it up! The lighter the bag, the more gear you’ll be able to carry.

  9. Embrace handwashing! For trips longer than 3-5 days, when you have a minimal travel wardrobe, handwashing is crucial. Washing a few items every second night is easy to keep on top of your laundry. There’s no wasted sight-seeing hours spent in laundromats. Plus, it’s easier on your clothes.

  10. Change your attitude! Yes, you will be wearing the same clothes in different combinations each day, but listen up…no one cares, and no one notices. If you pack clothing and shoes you love and are comfortable in, you’ll feel great every day.

At the end of each trip, ask yourself “what worked, what didn’t work, what would be better?” It’s a learning process.


What can you leave at home?

Do your homework on what will be provided at your accommodation. Most places have soap, shampoo and conditioner, hairdryers, towels…so you don’t need to pack these.

//Borrowing or renting at your destination is also another option, which is why I think Wanderlite is such a clever option for travellers. Why carry an item for your entire trip when you’re only using it at one place? The Wanderlite platform helps you travel light and luggage free by letting you borrow clean rental gear from neighbours and local businesses. This is such a great solution.

//Renting ski gear, heavy jackets, water sport items, camping equipment will save you so much time and energy. Plus, renting is much more sustainable option for the planet and a lot easier on your budget than buying brand new gear.

/Ask friends what they can lend you at destinations.I’ve lent friends and family my bags, clothing, and sports gear when they come to New Zealand. You don’t need to bring it all.

Some final words on travelling light.

The benefits of travelling light are many, but until you’ve done it, you won’t believe it. Since my first trip, I’ve travelled light in China, New York in winter, The Cook Islands, Fiji, Australia and all over New Zealand.

Travelling light enthusiasts use words like liberating, freeing, independent and fun to describe it. Give it a go on your next weekend away or your next overnight trip. Starting with shorter trips until you feel confident, is a good way to ease yourself into one-bag travel.

I encourage you to give travelling light a go. It totally changed the way I travel.

If you’d like to read the full story, my travel memoir, Dare to Travel Solo: Exploring Croatia and Italy with a light carry-on bag and a ton of determination, is being released in March 2023.

To learn a whole lot more on packing light, check out my website www.the5kilotraveller.com – there’s a free packing checklist there when you sign up to my newsletter.

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