When people ask how I made it through six months of living abroad with only a backpack, I honestly have a hard time answering them. I lived in Lucca, Italy for weeks and weeks with only what I could fit in my Osprey backpack, and though it came with some challenges, it was also incredibly freeing in a way. I could literally pick up and move wherever I wanted to in a moment.
Here are some things I found helpful when living with limited means over an extended period of time.
1. Take the basics.
As much fun as it would have been to have a sexy dress for every occasion, I had to rely on one or two to last me the time I was there. I also made sure they could roll up easily and that they took up a minimum amount of space. The best items I brought? Yoga pants, basic tees and long sleeve shirts, and thong underwear. (Seriously—you would be surprised how much space that ends up saving.) I actually ended up fitting in pretty well in Italy where black is always in style.
2. Ditch the hairdryer, curling iron, and straightener.
I’m lucky that I have extremely straight hair, so all it takes it a comb-out to look like it would if I spent hours blowdrying it. (It makes no difference. I used to spend hours curling it high school to no avail. Sigh.) However, even if I wanted to, there’s no way I could have fit any major hair stuff in my backpack—even a travel hairdryer would have been too much. I found the best thing to do was just to go natural. If there is no way you can possibly do that, then purchase one when you arrive at your destination.
3. Less is more—you can always get it there.
I remember the first time I moved to Venice. I had brought a giant, fifty-pound suitcase that barely made it under the weight limit. I hauled it over bridges and through narrow alleyways, killing myself trying to get it to my apartment. When I was there, I began to notice that nothing I brought was really what I wanted to wear, and I ended up getting a whole new wardrobe, anyway. Tip: bring less, get what you need while you are there.
4. Allow yourself one heavier item.
Expecting yourself to be an expert packer is actually insane. I always look on with envy at professional backpacking expert people who know exactly how much everything weighs and how it’s going to fit within their pack. I’m not one of those people, so I allow myself one heavier item that I put towards the bottom. Usually it’s a book or two because I can’t travel without some.
5. Don’t be afraid to replace and get rid of stuff.
One of the best things I learned while on the road is that unless it is a basic that you’ll wear over and over again, you probably don’t need it. I would donate any clothes I got tired of or that started to look worn out. Any of those items that I didn’t need, I’d replace with something that I did. That way, I knew exactly what was in my pack and that I could use everything I carried.
Have you ever had to live out of your backpack for an extensive period of time? What did you do?