When I went to Southeast Asia, I’ll be honest, I lugged around a ton of useless junk. About a month in I realized how awful of a packing job I’d done and resolved to get rid of a bunch of my things. As the days dragged on, I even considered sending a package back to the US with some of the things I was bringing around but not using. I left a trail throughout Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam with things I’d left behind in hostels. Here are a few things you should avoid bringing so you don’t bog yourself down during a long-term trip:
1. A Beach or Bath Towel
Towels from home are bulky, large, and can start to smell mildew-y quickly. You don’t want to tug around that extra weight and take up that extra space for months on end! Plus, towels can make the rest of your clothes smell like mold and, technically, they need to be washed every couple of days to keep them bacteria-free. Is it really worth all of that work just to have a fluffy towel to use? No, definitely not.
What to bring instead: For bathing, I recommend a microfiber towel – it’s thin, light, and doesn’t stink as much as a full-size towel. These can be a little bit pricey but it’s well worth the investment for something that dries quickly and can be stored in less space than the average t-shirt.
For the beach, I’d bring a sarong to lay out and store easily. These are light, cheap, and easy to find in any somewhat touristy place where people swim.
2. A Camera Bag
Pricey camera bags scream “I HAVE MONEY” to potential bag-snatchers and robbers. Do you want to put yourself in that position? Camera bags are often fairly large and, for the average traveler, have more than enough space for the general public’s camera needs. Unless you’re a professional photographer, a much more simple carrying case will usually do the trick. Leave your swanky gear bag at home and you’ll be in much safer hands!
What to bring instead: Bring a regular tote bag or backpack with a camera insert. This way, you won’t be a target for shuttling around expensive gear in an expensive gear bag.
3. Large Books
I’m a culprit here: I love to read and therefore I lug books around with me all the time. However, I recognize that books are bulky and heavy, and once I’m done reading them, what happens? If you do decide to bring a book, consider leaving it at your hostel when you’re done so someone else can enjoy it later (and so you don’t have to carry it around forever). Or, if you’re like me, pass it on directly to another traveler who you’re particularly fond of.
What to bring instead: Try a Kindle, tablet, or iPad that you can use to read and also to communicate with family back home. That way, you could even have a device to replace your smartphone or computer while you’re on the road!
4. A Yoga Mat
We all want to stay fit and in shape on the road. That’s a given. But lugging your giant, awkwardly-shaped yoga mat around for months at a time? Not something we, as travelers, want. Of course it’s important to get a workout while you’re traveling, but there are many other ways to do this than lugging a giant mat around everywhere you go. Unless you’re on a yoga-infused and inspired trip, you’ll probably find that the mat offers less value and more hassle.
What to bring instead: Bring a sarong or cloth you can fold up nice and neatly, but that also works for you to cover a flat surface for a quick yoga practice. You can also check out local yoga studios to combine your travels with your practice. Otherwise, a pair of tennis shoes and a sense of adventure work great for staying in shape while on the road. If you just want a portable way to work out, try hiking, swimming, or running, which all require few equipment items and can give you a great workout.
Though we love jewelry, it’s just not practical on long-term trips because it makes you a target for theft and can be culturally insensitive to flash your expensive belongings in countries where the general population can’t afford them. Yes, this includes watches as well! Leaving your jewelry at home also causes less paranoia and worry about your things. If you enjoy jewelry too much to leave it all behind, consider buying a new (read: CHEAP) piece in every location you go. Often you’ll see backpackers walking around with a wrist full of bracelets they’ve picked up in every corner of the world.
What to bring instead: Nothing! Go on your trip jewelry-free and you’ll be safer and less worried about your belongings. If you feel you absolutely must wear jewelry, bring or buy cheap things you don’t mind losing or breaking.
If you leave these things behind, you’ll feel more free, light, and confident throughout your trip. Trust me, next time I go on a long-term trip, I’ll plan on taking much, much less!