If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’d know that I’m a hardcore budget traveler, especially in the early years when I first started traveling solo. For example, in 2013, I spent 2 weeks in Europe with only MYR 1000 (approximately USD 250) in my pocket.
Even now that I’m not as broke as before, I still try to keep my travel expenses to the lowest possible amount.
So, what’s my secret?
No, it’s not about finding cheap flight tickets. It’s not about finding cheap accommodation.
Although all those things do help, there’s another secret to budget travel that is often overlooked, and that is:
That’s right — you can save a ton of money if you don’t pack your entire home into your suitcase. This is what I usually carry with me:
2018. Two weeks across Europe (Kuala Lumpur – Berlin – Vilnius – Riga – Liepaja – Tallinn – St. Petersburg – Moscow – Irkutsk – Beijing – Kuala Lumpur)
2019. Three weeks in East Africa (Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda)
Why am I saying that packing light is the single most important secret to traveling cheap? Keep reading to find out.
NOTE: This is for those who are serious about budget travel. If you favor comfort and style over price, then this article might not be for you.
In the past, traveling by plane was only for the uber-rich. Today, budget airlines has narrowed the gap. In fact, flying is sometimes cheaper than taking a bus or train. In Europe for instance, you can get from one country to another for as low as just a few euros on a budget airline, while a train ride for the same journey can cost five times that!
But. There’s a catch.
Most budget airlines have VERY strict rules regarding the size of your carry-on luggage. For example, Ryan Air only allows one cabin bag per person, not exceeding 40 cm x 20 cm x 25 cm. If you’re caught with a larger carry-on, you’ll have to pay a penalty which may cost more than your flight ticket.
Another option is to prepay online to check in your luggage. The fee is usually not much, but it’s still money and can easily add up if you’re taking multiple flights during your trip.
So, in order to take full advantage of budget airlines, make sure you pack light!
2. You Can Stay in Hostels
Choosing dormitories over private hotel rooms can save you a great deal of money, especially if you’re traveling alone in more expensive countries like in Western Europe. However, as you’ll be sharing the room with others (sometimes up to 14 people in one room), you may not have that much space for your stuff.
Lockers are usually not big enough for suitcases or large backpacks. Some hostels may not even provide any locker, and you will end up having to put your stuff on the floor and inconveniencing other guests. Plus, hostels are not usually equipped with elevators.
Related Post: How to Survive Your First Time in a Hostel
3. You Can Save on Transportation
If you have large backpacks or suitcases with you, you will have no choice but to take taxis or rent a car to get anywhere. Taking public buses or tuktuks can be extremely uncomfortable, if not impossible. And we all know taxis aren’t the cheapest option.
Most long-distance buses have luggage compartments in their underbellies. But these aren’t always safe when anybody, including the bus drivers and other passengers, can have access to them. Personally, when I take public transports, I prefer having my bag with me all the time — preferably on my lap.
If you only carry a small backpack like mine, it gives you a lot more freedom. Depending on the distance, you can even walk or cycle to your next destination. In 2019, I walked 240 kilometers from Portugal to Spain, and I don’t think that would have been possible if I had a suitcase with me.
4. You Can Save on Storage Fees
Let’s say your flight home is at 10 p.m., but you have to check out of your hotel in the morning. You have the whole day to spend, and you don’t want to sit around at the airport for 10 – 12 hours doing nothing. You want to go out and explore, perhaps buy some souvenirs before you go home.
But if you have a large suitcase with you, surely you don’t want to be lugging it with you the entire time. So, what do you do with it? You could probably leave it at the hotel reception, if they’d let you. Or you could rent a locker somewhere. But both these options pose other problems.
Leaving your stuff at the hotel reception is not always safe (or allowed, for that matter), and leaving it in a locker costs money. And that is if you can find a locker big enough for your bags. Besides, bigger lockers obviously cost more.
If you can’t find any locker, you might even end up having to book for an extra day at the hotel just to have a place to leave your bags in.
Other Benefits of Packing Light
- It doesn’t draw attention. When people see you carrying huge bags or suitcases, it tells them a few things about you: 1. You are a tourist, and therefore clueless and vulnerable. 2. You have a lot of money (and stuff to steal). 3. You can’t move about very fast, and are unlikely to go after them if they run off with your purse. While I’m all for seeing the good in people, there’s no denying that there are bad people in the world too. By having a lot of stuff with you, you’re only making yourself an easy target.
- It’s easier to keep track of your stuff. Wherever I am, I usually try to keep a mental note of the things that I have with me so that I don’t accidentally leave them behind. Usually, there are three items that are of utmost importance to me when I travel: phone, wallet, and passport. If I had more than that, then there would be more things to remember, and more risk that I might forget/lose one of them.
- It gives you more freedom. Carrying a smaller load frees you up to do more things and go to more places, without having to worry about where to leave your bags, or if your bags will fit.
- It gives you more space for souvenirs. Let’s face it: when you travel, even if you don’t like shopping, you will still probably buy something to bring home, if not for yourself, then for other people. Imagine the frustration when there’s so much to buy but no space in your luggage just because you brought too many clothes with you — most of which you didn’t even wear.
Packing light may seem trivial. You may think that as long as you’re willing to carry the load, then there should be no problem in bringing as much as your heart desires.
But in reality, there’s a lot more to it than that. It can definitely affect your travel expenses and your overall travel experience. So, if you ever want to travel on a budget, packing light is the #1 skill you need to hone on.
How much stuff do you usually carry with you when you travel? Do you find it difficult to pack light? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.