Small backpack travel guide, revisited

2024-06-02 @Travel

For four-five years now I’d taken to consistently vagabond with mainly a small, under-the-seat backpack; not merely for the shorter trips but the whole nomadic shebang. In purchasing just the basest fare from the cheapest fee-itemizing carriers present throughout North America and Europe (less across South America, save for certain routes originating from beyond) I must have annually economized hundreds of USD (or equivalent) on all flights and connections.

This mainly works because of the warmer regions I visit at the respective seasons. There isn’t much place for warm articles but worn atop en route.

But beyond the increased mobility, we gain the economy of both mind and transport. I can walk around for hours without the need for luggage storage. I can hire moto-taxis (or even a bicycle or scooter) in lieu of a car. I can squeeze within tight buses and vans. I can plunge in from the moment of landing.

The epitome of it really struck me last month in New York Manhattan. Arriving by bus and having time aplenty before needing to head to the airport, I roamed around for hours, a rare opportunity especially under budgetary constraints.

Many a traveller can do the same, though it’s not for everyone. At risk of offense to feminism, I don’t think the small-backpack existence is for most women. It’s not for the dandies nor the yuppies. It’s not for the business profile. But a diverse mass of travellers along the margin could otherwise adapt to the stratagem.

It involves more frequent washing, either by hand or wherever a washing machine is of avail. It involves neutral colors free of designs or logos, which also frees up cognitive labor around wardrobe selection. It involves thinner fabrics.

Now for the always tad revealing, crude snapshot of my luggage, some of it naturally worn en route:

Bear in mind our main prerogative: to pass through the airport gate with just the personal item, then relax and slightly expand upon arrival (or even immediately on the plane, should that be the final economic-flight leg).

For this reason it’s important to

  1. wear as much on you as possible, even to the extreme, should you suspect bag oversize. These economic air carriers charge a fortune to purchase carry-on baggage at time of reservation, and double-fortune at the airport.

  2. Use that belt pouch, which doesn’t count against luggage quota.

  3. Toss items like water, thermos, food, in some plastic bag that you pass into the plane, likewise immune to the luggage quota.

Other integral points:

Once local and until the next economic flight, which can span months, I extract that collapsible thin-nylon backpack for additional space for the lighter goods. This grants the liberty to acquire another small handful of articles locally, a pair of sandals, a whole bag of yerba mate, and effectively distribute luggage between the two: the small and the smaller backpacks, the latter which I generally carry in hand (usually obstinate to wear it on the front) and still leverage the same compact transport options. With this setup, both pieces tend to remain light and far below capacity.

It goes without saying that bus and rail travel have never to date presented any economic incentive to collapse luggage into one; it’s only the airways.

Technically everything squeezes (if barely) into the main bag without wearing extra layers or hand-carrying extras. It’s for the airport that the backpack needs appear compact and not too abusive of the published personal-item dimensions. Had those been imposed to the centimeter, this type of travel would never have been possible. Once beyond, you can shove anything inhibiting back into the backpack as I did at NY, then range around hands-free, the belt-clip most likely still around the waist.

There you have it. Send me an email should you have further strategies or comments.

Questions, comments? Connect.