The first golden rule for an independent traveller to heed is quite simple: travel light. Its importance cannot be stressed enough but often this adage is only learned through experience. It often seems the best time to pack for a trip is immediately after learning which items are essential and which are rather pointless.
There's a well-known saying when it comes to travel: "Lay everything out that you really want to take, halve it and take twice as much money". While it shouldn't be taken literally there are elements of truth in it that are worth noting. Unfortunately, a lot of travel packing lists seem to be exaggerated and create a sense of anxiety if you don't have certain items. Stores that sell travel equipment and accessories are also part of this problem. The reality is that you often don't need a lot of what is suggested and if you do, it can often be purchased abroad at a fraction of the cost.
Regardless of what you may read, there is no definitive packing list. The different regions of the world dictate what 'essential' items are and beyond that, everyone is unique. The travel style and individual needs of people do vary. Another famous adage goes "everything is essential, only some things more than others". Sometimes what is essential to one traveller may be superfluous for another. What you finally take is up to you but if reading this can persuade you to leave at least one thing at home then it has achieved something.
As an independent traveller, consider the climate of your destination and focus your packing on practicality and weight. Another consideration on travelling light is this: The less developed your destination and the more you will move around, the more important it is. Conversely, the more developed your destination and the less you will move around, especially if you have your own transportation, the less important it is. Either way, it remains a key to successful travel for a number of reasons.
- A smaller bag makes you less cumbersome which makes using transport like motorcycles, rickshaws and crowded public buses much easier.
- The more bulky and full your pack is the less space you will have for souvenirs and gifts.
- It enables you to walk freely for longer distances and also quickly if you need to get away from touts or undesirable locals.
- With a smaller, lighter pack you can often take it on a bus with you instead of it bouncing around on the roof or underneath with who knows what.
- If your pack is deemed too large you may occasionally be asked to pay a surcharge for it on transport such as city buses, trams or underground trains.
- A light pack makes visiting an optional destination en route much easier.
- A large pack can sometimes be difficult to fit into a storage locker meaning you'll have to separate some items and pay for a second one.
Many airlines now offer cheaper fares if you only have carry on luggage. If you are on a shorter trip or otherwise feel you can comfortably travel with such a small bag then take advantage of this. It may seem impossible but those who can fit their pack into the overhead locker of a plane or neatly under a bus seat are probably the most free and happy travellers. While they are obviously sacrificing clothing choices and other items, their reward is a sense of liberty and manoeuvrability that is the envy of others.
While that option may be a little extreme for most, there is certainly every incentive to keep your backpack light. Everyone is different and establishes their own list of 'essential items' through recommendations and usually more profoundly, by experience. Take what you feel you need and no more. If something is falling into the 'I may need it' category, leave it at home because, in all likelihood, you probably won't.