The Compromises of Packing Light

Packing for long-term travel is the perfect litmus test for whether one is truly a minimalist.  I’ve been aspired to be a minimalist for years with the goal of reducing materialism and eliminating clutter to allow myself to focus on the really important things.  Most recently, this past summer, we went through the exercise of following Marie Kondo’s advice of only keeping things that “spark joy” (or are otherwise necessary).  That was a great exercise and really helped part ways with things having residual sentimental value without feeling guilty.

Now it’s time to pack for our grand adventure.  I’m doing my best to adhere to my minimalist principles.  I’ve traveled for work for years, including multi-week trips for trial and work+play trips that require packing for multiple situations.  All this time, I’ve been pretty good about limiting myself to a carry-on suitcase and a briefcase.  The painful thing about packing for work as a lawyer is that you almost always have to pack a suit and dress shoes.  That takes up almost half of the usable space in the carry-on bag. I no longer have to do that.  In fact, with some discipline, I realized I will be able to squeeze everything I plan on bringing in a 32 liter backpack like this one:


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I’m being very strict on what I’m bringing on this trip, but 32 liters is not a lot of space, so I had to make some compromises.


When I used to travel for a three-week trial, I realized I did not need to bring 3 suits and 15 dress shirts and three shoes.  A lot of guys on the trial team did do this and they had to ship these enormous wardrobe boxes to the trial site.  But I realized pretty early on that guys can get away with one or two suits and one pair of shoes as long as they use different shirt/tie combinations.  In this approach, four or five dress shirts plus two or three ties will get you sufficient variety.  All of this can be stuffed in a 22″ rolling suitcase.  Then, you can do laundry once or twice while traveling.

I also discovered from my previous work travel the wonder of packing cubes and packing folders.  The packing cubes, like this two-sided cube from Eagle Creek, let you roll and stuff clothes inside of them.  Then the cube goes into the suitcase like a Tetris piece.  You no longer have to turn your suitcase inside out to take out an item of clothing.


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The folder lets you fold dress shirts and pants neatly without wrinkling.


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For this trip abroad, I’m only taking my two-sided packing cube and a packing tube for underwear/socks.  As I’m not packing a lot of business clothing, I can leave the folder at home.  The cube and tube are the same width so they stack perfectly in the backpack.

For shirts, I’m bringing 2 tee shirts, 2 polo shirts, an undershirt (from Uniqlo’s Airism line), a sweater, a dress shirt, and a hoody.  For pants, I’m bringing a pair of slacks, long athletic pants, 2-in-1 running shorts, chino shorts, and a pair of swimming trunks.  Oh, and a golf hat.  All of this, except maybe the hoodie and the hat, fit comfortably in the packing cube.  I will plan on wearing the hoodie and some of the bulkier items on flights.

I’m bringing a few 4-5 pairs quick dry underwear and 4 pairs of ultra lightweight wool socks.  I like Uniqlo Airism boxer briefs and Darn Tough wool socks (the socks have lifetime warranties).   These all fit comfortably in the packing tube.

Finally, there are the shoes.  I only need one pair of shoes and one pair of flip flops.  For shoes, I bought a pair of spikeless golf shoes that are comfortable for walking.  As golf shoes, they have good traction so they will be good for hiking too.  They also can be (kind of) dressed up for going out as well as used for running.  It was hard to find a suitable pair of shoes that hit all these requirements.  I bought a pair of Adidas at first, but they turned out to be painful and used pretty low quality leather.  So those got returned in favor of my current pair of Nike shoes.

My goal in selecting clothing was to make sure they could be used for multiple purposes.  I hope I have accomplished that goal.  I will probably have to do laundry once a week.  Fortunately, many Airbnb units have laundry.

Camera Gear

Here’s an area where I had to make quite a few compromises.  I’m fairly new to serious photography.  For this trip, I’m bringing an Olympus OM-D E-M1 camera (micro 4/3rds format), a 17mm lens (34mm full-frame equivalent), and a Gorilla Pod tabletop tripod.  Also have accessories like an SD card, extra battery, lens pen, lens hood, etc.  But that’s it.  I’m leaving a lot on the table.

I’m happy with my choice of the E-M1 as it is small enough to travel with, yet still provides pro-level control over taking pictures and video.  But I would have preferred the Olympus 12-40mm PRO zoom lens over a single prime lens so I have my choice from wide angle to portrait focal lengths.  I decided not to because that lens is too big and heavy.  The 17mm I’m bringing is much smaller and lighter and I figure 17mm is a pretty good focal length for travel photography…I’ll just have to be creative and “zoom with my feet” as they say.  Finally, I would have preferred to have a tripod that has a maximum height of at least 60″ inches.  I tried to take a 2 second night shot recently using the Gorilla Pod and it was tough to hunch over the ground and take a decent shot.  But the size difference is too big to ignore and who knows how often I would use the tripod anyway.

I’m also passing on a camera bag.  The camera will be stored either in my main backpack or a day pack that collapses into a tiny little pouch.  I found a product called a camera wrap (mine is made by Domke) that basically wraps up the camera and lens so they are protected when packed in any bag.  It probably wouldn’t be good to drop the wrapped camera, but I think the camera will probably be sufficiently padded at least when packed in the backpack.  We’ll have to be careful when taking it around in the day pack.

Golf Gear

I’m a little sad to be traveling without my golf clubs.  I take them around the continental U.S. quite a bit — Southwest has 2 free checked bags.  But it’s just not practical to lug them with us on this trip.  I’ll be renting clubs each time I play.  There’s just no getting around that.  Also, I won’t be able to travel with golf balls so I’ll have to do the un-frugal thing and buy them before each round.  I’ll have to be a little careful that I don’t buy too many, or buy too few so I run out in the middle of a round.

Other essentials are tees and ball markers.  I’m bringing 4 unbreakable tees and hope they will last for a while.  I’m also bringing a ball marker with hat clip.  It takes up minimal room and it’s more convenient keeping the ball marker on your hat, rather than having to dig around for it in your pocket.

I mentioned golf apparel above.  I’ll be set with shoes and a hat.  I’m also bringing a golf glove, which I might have to replace when I’m on the road.  So I’ll be set to hit the course in style!  With my Citi Prestige card, I get to play 6 courses in Asia 3 times each for free.  That’s a total of 18 complimentary rounds.  But given the requirement to book 4 days in advance, it’s unlikely I can even use half of those free rounds.  One of the courses is Sentosa Golf Club, where they just held the SMBC Singapore Open.  Really looking forward to that one.

Other Stuff

We’re bringing our usual electronics, including laptop, external hard drive, smartphone, and all their accompanying cables.  In terms of personal hygiene, we’re going so far as to bring our electric toothbrush and my electric razor, and their chargers too, in addition to basic toiletries.

We’re Set to Go!

All of this stuff fits pretty comfortably in my 32 liter backpack and should weigh around 15 lbs.  This happens to be the carry-on limit for many discount airlines in Australia/Asia like Jetstar.

Hopefully our attempts to pack light will pay off.  I feel pretty proud when I look at my backpack and think that all of my possessions for the next year will be kept in there.  To top it off, I’ve packed it in a way that will allow me to pursue photography and golf as pretty big components of our travels.

11 thoughts on “The Compromises of Packing Light

  1. I’ll bet that you’re glad to be able to Lea e the business suits behind! While I don’t mind wearing them now, it will be great to now have to wear them any more once I retire. They’re also a pain to take with you while travelling, and it always feels like your lugging around way too much stuff when you go on a business trip.

    Your 32L backpack sounds pretty impressive. We took WAY more than that to the UK when we moved there for a year, but we weren’t exactly minimalists at the time. I imagine that it will be quite liberating for you to be free from all of your possessions for a whole year!

    • Thanks IA! We may be a little limited in what we do in some places without a suit. For example, some nicer restaurants in Tokyo require a jacket. Small price to pay 🙂

      I think moving is a little different. For example, if we were to move somewhere, we would probably think about household items to really settle in. Plus, since you were moving for work, you probably didn’t have time to worry about hand washing your underwear in a sink, or something else that a traveler with more time on their hands might be inclined to do.

  2. Great post!
    Consider as well REI Sahara travel pants. They’re made of incredibly lightweight material so they take up little space in the travel bag. Bonus: the legs zip off to make shorts. I own several pairs (they’re the unofficial pants of my own early retirement and, yes, i wear them for golf as well as for travel).

    • Thanks Noonan! Will definitely consider those, although sometimes have issues with the fit of travel clothing on my frame. We’ve been going to our local REI pretty often to scope out necessities for our trip.

  3. Pingback: Two Month Trip Assessment | Thoughts of an Anonymous Lawyer

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