Arguments For and Against Traveling Light

backpackers in silhouette

After my previous post about Competitive Travel Packing, you may have assumed that I don’t have the most positive views when it comes to traveling light.

Funnily enough, I actually prefer it. For years now I’ve been happily enjoying countries with nothing but my 38 liter pack strapped to my back and barely enough underwear to last me a week.

What I take contention to is the people who have turned bag packing into a sport. These people have large sets of rules and anybody that fails to follow them is an amateur and condescended to.

Whenever I see somebody posting about their packing list or a photo of their bag, it’s almost inevitable that a certain group of people will show up to chime in with their own “advice.” Of course, it’s rarely in the form of advice, but rather snarky comments. Nobody likes a know-it-all.

I’m no better than these people really. I’m being caught up in the sport myself simply by posting this. However, I would like to share my own packing philosophy.

I think there’s one rule that you should always follow when packing and it’s:

Pack your bag for your own comfort levels.

If you are comfortable with carrying 2 weeks of clothing on your back, then do so. If you enjoy the thrill of wearing two t-shirts for a month, then do it.

The real issue for a lot of travelers is that they’ve never taken the time to consider their own comforts when traveling.

When we pack our bags we do it based on our levels of comfort at home, we never step back to think about how our packs may influence our trip in the future. A first time traveler may think one item is essential and then realise that they’ll never use it. On a few of my trips I’ve taken a clockwork radio with me with the idea that I would use it to listen to local radio stations. On each trip I ended up using the radio probably twice (over a period of months) so it seemed unnecessary for me to carry it.

So really when we pack our bags we need to make a judgment about each item and decide whether that item is worth carrying. This judgment should come from a comparison of how useful the item is compared to how much of a pain it would be to carry.

As an example let’s take a laptop.


Can be used for entertainment, watching movies etc.
Helps us to keep in contact with people back home through email and Skype.
Allows you to comfortably use the Internet in private rather than using a public PC.
Internet is more secure due to you having control over the computer.
May be essential if you need to do something important while traveling.

Heavy item that adds a lot to pack weight.
Valuable and could easily be stolen.
May not be used very often because you’ll be too busy doing stuff.

Depending on who you are though, this list may be completely different. I’m sure a lot of travel bloggers have to carry their laptop with them, it’s an essential item. For some of us there’d be little chance of using it though. So the choice of whether to take an item is completely based on your own comfort levels.

Everybody has a different level of comfort and giving other people advice based on your own comfort levels is pointless.

I think a lot of travelers have narrow minded views when it comes to packing and they believe that how they pack their bag should be taken as gospel. They never consider that other people feel differently to them because they assume everybody is as they are.

Really, they think they’re doing you a favour by pointing out that you shouldn’t be carrying such and such a thing, or that you should replace one item with another. Often if you took these suggestions you may actually increase your discomfort rather than lowering it.

As an example, I’ve seen a lot of travelers act scornfully towards the idea of cotton clothing. I think a lot of cotton hate comes from the hiking community where the motto “Cotton Kills” is an oft-used phrase.

Cotton is bad at wicking moisture away from the skin so the idea is that it will add discomfort to your travels by preventing your body temperature from staying regulated. In simple terms, when you’re sweating like a bitch in Thailand, you don’t want to be wearing a cotton t-shirt because it’ll make you even sweatier and your t-shirt will become drenched. That’s a lot of discomfort!

The easiest solution to this problem is to buy clothing made of synthetics that wick moisture away from you so that you feel less sweaty – with the added bonus that they’re often lighter too.

Now, there’s a bunch of travelers out there who think there’s nothing more to say. Their argument is a good one: cotton makes you sweaty and uncomfortable. In order to be more comfortable we should all wear synthetic clothing. However, I have another point of view.

Cotton clothing is cheaper than synthetics and also a lot more fashionable. The majority of people don’t fancy forking out on a load of money for travel clothing, especially when it makes them look like they’re about to run a marathon. Wearing cotton may make you sweatier, but it also might feel nicer on your skin. Plus if you’re visiting a developing country, or any country for that matter, what do you think the locals will be wearing? That’s right, cotton!

All of these things are reasons why cotton clothing is a more comfortable choice for me. I’m happiest wearing a cheap t-shirt that doesn’t make me stick out.

So some travelers think everybody should wear synthetic clothing. Whereas I know I’m more comfortable wearing cotton. What should I do then? I think the answer is obvious. Whatever makes me feel comfortable.

As a traveler you need to find what you’re comfortable with. Often you can only do that by getting out there and experimenting. You should be open minded to the opinions of others, rather than shooting them down for not following rules that can only apply to your own life.

My suggestion to new travelers is that you consider each item before you pack it and truly ask yourself whether you’ll need it or not. If you don’t need an item, it’s silly to take it. That for me is the true idea of traveling light, it’s to cut out luxuries and carry only essentials as it opens up a lot of freedom for you.

Research is also important in order to ensure you can make an informed decision about what you need in your pack. Pointless to carry a sleeping bag if you’re only going to stay in hotels with nice clean duvets.

Traveling light definitely adds to your overall comfort as it makes getting off and on transport easier. It also means if you’re walking around you don’t have to go through the pain of having a heavy load on your shoulders. You have more freedom of movement and stick out less due to the smaller pack on your back. I strongly recommend traveling light, but that’s all I can do because I don’t think it’s completely necessary in every case.

If you’re going on a 3 week holiday to one hotel, pack every luxury you can! Or if you use a hair dryer every day, it’ll probably be worth the weight to carry it along with you.

As with everything there are arguments and counter arguments galore, it’s up to you to make the final decision, not some random on the Internet who knows nothing about you or your life (and that includes me!)

Backpackers photo by published under license.


  1. says

    You know all those skin tight moisture-wicking fabrics? I’ve been bitten horribly by mosquitos through them. Apparently the skin tight clothing is not as good as it sounds from stopping mozzie bites!

    • Dan says

      Yes! This happened to me a few years ago. I went hiking during mosquito season so there were thousands of mosquitoes (no exaggeration) and I assumed I was fine due to having my body covered. That night when I took off my t-shirt I had about a hundred bites on my shoulders! (I guess that’s where the t-shirt was tightest and easiest to bite through.)

  2. Ashley Abroad says

    I totally agree that you have to pack for your own comfort levels. I used to pack extremely light- as in 12 pounds of luggage for a six-week trip- and I a. never had what I needed and b. was at the laundromat all. the. time. I think it’s kind of like Goldilocks- not too much, not too little!

    • Dan says

      Yes, I’ve tried going ultra light but for me it’s just not comfortable. As you say you have to wash your clothes too often (I can never wear the same t-shirt or underwear twice, I feel icky!) Eventually I realised that bringing a few extra t-shirts wasn’t exactly going to kill me! I believe the more extra ultra light travellers just wash their clothing each day in their bathroom sink…

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