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#1 Secret to Traveling Cheap | Ummi Goes Where?

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:

“PACKING LIGHT”

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:

Packing light for budget travel2018. Two weeks across Europe (Kuala Lumpur – Berlin – Vilnius – Riga – Liepaja – Tallinn – St. Petersburg – Moscow – Irkutsk – Beijing – Kuala Lumpur)

Secret to Budget Travel - Packing Light - Ummi Goes Where?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.

Secret to Traveling Cheap - Packing Light - Ummi Goes Where?
Credit: Thrifty Nomads

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

Secret to Traveling Cheap - Packing Light - Ummi Goes Where?
Credit: Booking.com

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

Secret to Traveling Cheap - Packing Light - Ummi Goes Where?
Credit: Backpacker Lee

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

Secret to Traveling Cheap - Packing Light - Ummi Goes Where?
Credit: Bodega Hostels

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.

Conclusion

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.

Posted in Travel Tips

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33 Comments

  1. Pingback:How to Choose Your First Solo Destination | Ummi Goes Where?

  2. Edahyu

    Masa mengemas nak travel tu memang semua seems important, kan? Tapi, usually end up tak guna pun (especially clothes) 😂travel light comes with experience, I would say..hehe

    • ummi

      Setuju, Edahyu. Travel light memang comes with experience. Bila dah biasa packing, kita tau apa yang perlu, apa yang tak. Bagi yang newbie atau yang jarang travel, mungkin mereka tak kisah bwk beg berat2. Atau mungkin mereka tak sedar betapa bebasnya rasa bila tak bawak barang banyak.

  3. Qeela

    This is such a great sharing, thanks for the tips! I miss travelling and have to cancel our family plan to Indonesia this year due to Covid. Hopefully 2021 can be better right 💪🏻❤️

    • ummi

      You’re welcome, Qeela! Sorry to hear about your cancelled trip. I had to cancel several of mine too, but thankfully didn’t lose any money in the process. Yes, let’s hope 2021 will be better for everyone.

    • ummi

      You’re welcome, Rane. I used to be the same too, but with practice and experience, I got better at it, and it totally changed my travel experience for the better.

  4. atie zieya

    u pergi tanzania ? wow ! how was it ? bestnya.. and i agree with all listed secrets too ! i am doing the same. org tnya how u can go japan 3 times a year? i ckp benda yg sama…. 🙂

    • ummi

      Good for you, Atie! I would say this is a secret that hides in plain sight. Many people don’t realize how packing light can reduce so much in expenses. Tanzania is a beautiful country, but unfortunately, it rained for the most part of my stay. Still quite enjoyable though. 🙂

  5. Rawlins GLAM

    Oh dear. I am not your best travel companion then. Even for an overnight stay at a friend’s will make me pack a home! I am the type of the person that will always overthink about things that will make me overpack – every single time to anywhere!

    I BOW TO YOU LIGHT- TRAVEL QUEEN!

  6. bae Roslan

    such a giod sharing. but i am curious what in your backpack. 3 weeks with just 1 bag. i staycation pun kadnag bawak 2 bag hahahahha

    • ummi

      Thanks, Kak Su. I always find backpacks easier, because I move about a lot and use public transports all the time. A suitcase would only hinder my movement. Anyway, all the best for your future travels! 🙂

  7. Fafa

    Nice sharing ummi. Packing light tips tu bagus tapi untuk i susah sikit .. Kalau beg ringan, i mesti rasa ada barang yang tertinggal hehe. Hope lepas ni kalau travel i dapat kurangkan beg load

  8. Sis Lin

    Ypu know Ummi, Sis kalau travel ke luar negara semua di uruskan partner travel Sis, dari flight hotel belanja semuanya…dan tiap kali pergi dengannya semuanya low budget, entah macam mana entah dia urus, memang puashati.. patut thn ni Sis ke Jepun, pun dapat tiket semua murah.. tup-tup Covid huhuhu…

    • ummi

      Oh kalau saya memang suka bab2 planning ni. Pada saya itu sebahagian daripada kesoronokan travel. Sebab masa kita research dan booking semua tu, kita dah boleh start berangan. Hehe. Dan rasa excited tu akan build up sampai la ke hari kita travel. Yang paling penting, kita bebas nak plan itinerary kita sendiri ikut citarasa kita. Saya memang tak boleh la kalau orang lain yg tolong plan. Anyway, hopefully keadaan cepat la pulih. Nanti sis boleh la proceed dgn trip ke Jepun yang tertangguh tu.

  9. Fas

    Wow! Great to hear you spend minimal amount during vacation… salute u for travelling light… dont think cld do that… however young travellers shld follow this advice – travel light.

    • ummi

      Thanks, Kak Fas. Yes, this would probably be better suited for young travelers trying to cut down their expenses, but that’s not to say that I haven’t seen older travelers who choose to travel this way. I think packing light would benefit everybody, regardless of age or budget 🙂

    • ummi

      Hahaha, thank you Kak Sal. Tapi kalau balik kampung lain kot, sebab mesti kita nak bawak balik buah tangan untuk orang2 kampung, kan? Teringat masa saya duk asrama dulu. Setiap kali balik kampung memang angkut 2, 3 beg. Tapi semua berisi baju kotor. Pemalas betul, duduk asrama tapi baju still nak mak basuhkan 😆

  10. Kitkat Nelfei

    Cool tips….but i no longer stay at hostel.. Lol… Awkward because i dengkur if too tired… London was my last trip staying at hostel, i keluar awal2 pagi, balik lewat malam after everyone dah tdo.. Hahaha..

    • ummi

      Hahaha so kesian you, Kitkat. Ya, staying in hostels is probably not a good option for snorers, out of consideration for other guests. But there are still other options if you want to keep your expenses low, and packing light sure helps you with that!

    • ummi

      Thank you, Grace! You’re no longer backpacking across the world? I started almost a decade ago, and would still have been at it if not because of Covid. 🙁 Will hop on the first plane out of the country once it’s safe again to travel.

    • ummi

      Thanks, Shamiera. Yes, this is beneficial for solo travelers especially those who travel on a budget. But don’t worry, it comes with practice. I will be posting tips on how to pack light soon, so stay tuned! 🙂

    • ummi

      Sama-sama, Ayu. Tak semua kita yang suka travel ni orang kaya. Dan kalau tak kaya, tak semestinya tak boleh travel. Semoga info ni bermanfaat untuk Ayu. 🙂

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