It’s been two years that I’ve lived out of one bag.
In two weeks I will take a second (small) suitcase with me to Cape Town, so I might as well write this while it’s still true.
One of you lovely readers asked me what’s in my bag, and I’m glad you did, because packing lists are one of my favorite things to write. I’m serious. Growing up, I would start making my list weeks before family vacations; I started packing pretty far in advance, too. I’ve stopped making lists (but kept the habit of packing way too early), so this is a fun throwback.
A few caveats:
I chase the sun. If you expect your life to include winter, you’ll need more warm things.
I have my hobbies, you have yours. Your “extras” will likely be completely different from mine.
I leave things, give things away and pick things up near-continuously. It is useful to have friends and family, in whose basements, attics and closets you can leave things you don’t want to let go of but don’t want to carry with you (especially books). It is also useful to get used to giving away something old to make room for something new.
I carry many extraneous items. I suggest it to you, too, even if it’s impractical. It’s the difference between going on vacation and carrying “home” with you.
I will write this packing list like I write recipes—Italian style, not-too-specific, and with room for creative interpretation.
I’ve split the following list into (I think) logical sections. I hope it may help someone pack for a nomadic existence, a long backpacking trip or an extended stint abroad. At the very least, I hope it will give you a glimpse into the very practical side of long-term vagabonding, and make you smile.
One Bag for Life
For when it gets chilly:
- Bright blue wool socks for which your friends will mercilessly mock you
- A shower-resistant outer shell (when it rains, you will wish it were rain-resistant too)
- Bright blue fleece, because there’s no such thing as too much turquoise
- Sturdy boots/shoes (right now I have trail shoes, but sometimes I opt for boots)
- A sweater, preferably stolen from a friend
For all the time:
- 1 pair hiking pants
- 1 pair yoga pants
- 1 pair “Toby pants” (also known as harem pants by those who don’t know me)
- 1 pair jeans/passably normal pants
- X pairs socks and underwear (how many? it depends how often you want to do laundry…)
- 5-6 shirts (some for hiking, some for exercise, and some for normal person-ing)
- 1 bathing suit
- Toiletries (pure argan, coconut or almond oil, natural bar soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, tea tree oil, natural deodorant, comb, nail clippers, lip balm, sunblock—yes, that’s it!)
- First aid kit (which you will never use but carry around forever “just in case”)
- Sunglasses and glasses
- Passport, expired driver’s license, bank card, and other assorted bits of paper that sometimes come in handy
- Birkenstock sandals
- Reusable bags (for food-shopping, beach day-ing, or hanging on doorknobs to look at and wonder why you’re carrying so many extra bags)
- Sarong, which serves equally well as scarf, towel and pillow cover
Because I’m a woman who likes dresses:
- 1 long skirt.
- 2 dresses, neither of which are as practical as they should be, and one bright red
Me-specific things (yours will be different):
- Yoga mat (I’ve gone with Manduka’s travel mat—it doesn’t get any lighter, it also doesn’t get any less cushioned)
- Climbing shoes
- Dance shoes (the super lightweight practice kind—heels are heavy!)
- Books (rotating; right now The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, a book of Italian fairy tales by Carlo Collodi, and Bushido’s Way of the Warrior)
- Notebooks and many, many pens (you will lend them to people and not get them back, so it’s good to have 5-10 on hand at any given time)
- Laptop (for work; if you don’t work online, maybe skip the laptop—it’s a hassle)
- Sleeping bag (and sometimes, but not right now, tent or camping hammock)
Unnecessary but still important things:
- A large quartz crystal
- A large quantity of jewelry
- A large camera
- Smartphone (for staying up-to-date with loved ones and total strangers)
- Gifts (for people in the next place you’re heading)
- Oversized purple headphones
- Smaller-sized purple headphones
- Pretty scarves to put on top of ugly tables
And just like every time I pack my bag, I feel like I’m forgetting something really, really important, but I haven’t left anything out, so that must be everything!
The moral of this story? We actually can fit everything we need into one bag—for life, or at least for a few years. It’s probably going to be too heavy, and we’ll probably find ourselves missing variety (of shoes especially), but not nearly as often as we’d expect. We’ll get accustomed to accumulating more belongings when we pause for a while, and equally accustomed to shedding them when it’s time to move once again.
The other moral: Good food is always money well spent. So are experiences. Our stomachs are like endlessly refillable backpacks, and our brains are like slightly leaky, endlessly expandable suitcases. Fill them.
6 thoughts on “How to Pack One Bag for Life (What’s in my Backpack)”
I know this is more a practical question than anything but what size bag are you using? I too have begun to build my list of things to fit into one bag, though haven't done much international travel have done a lot of traveling here in the US and only like to carry one backpack with everything I need.
your berkenstocks holding up ? mine totaly failed me
I've carried an Osprey 60-liter (or maybe it's 65?) for the past two years. Can't remember the model name, but it's the purple one. 😉 I love it. I had a Gregory 70 or 75-liter before that and it was too big, if I filled it up I couldn't carry it. This one fits everything I need, and stays a manageable weight/size. Super comfy too—it's what I carried on the Camino. 🙂
I'm completely in love with mine! Second pair (wore the first down to the ground—literally!—but only after two years of constant use). Have worn this pair constantly for nearly a year and they're doing great as well! Naots are another amazing brand for comfy sandals—maybe they'd work better for you?
Awesome, thanks for sharing! That makes total sense because my current backpack is 40L and sometimes I feel if I just had a little room, it'd be perfect!
Sure thing, Dina! Honestly, I always get "backpack envy" toward anyone with a smaller/lighter backpack than mine, so if you can get everything you need into your 40L, rock it! 😉
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