Everything I need fits in my backpack

When I board a train or an airplane, I bring just one bag with me, a backpack that holds everything I need for being away from home indefinitely, yet still fits under the seat in front of me. People on the internet love to look at how mavericks like me do something so seemingly radical, so I figured I’d offer a look at my belongings to those who are turned on by living small.

My backpack home is different from other travelers’ setups in one important way, though. I didn’t buy any of those fancy, reversible shirts you can hand-wash or pants that zip apart to become shorts. I left home in January carrying only clothing and belongings I already owned. I didn’t have money to spend on high-end travel attire, so I made do with what was in my closet.

Here you go. I’m not going to upload detailed photos of what I carry, so if you’d like to visualize what’s on my list, go look in your closet. You already have just about everything below.


  • one pair of jeans
  • leather belt
  • one pair of athletic shorts
  • five cotton t-shirts (all free, from tech start-up companies)
  • five pairs of socks
  • five pairs of underwear
  • one long-sleeved t-shirt
  • one long-sleeved buttoned shirt with a collar*
  • leather jacket
  • hoodie
  • Doc Martens
  • knit cap

Three each of the t-shirts, pairs of underwear, and pairs of socks fit in a half-sized packing cube that makes loading the backpack easier.

Everything Else

  • 11" MacBook Air
  • iPad mini
  • Kindle Paperwhite
  • pocket stuff:
    • wallet
    • keys
    • cheap Android phone
    • Retro 51 Tornado pen
    • business cards in a case
  • charging cables for everything
  • disposable spare pen*
  • refills for the Tornado pen
  • Moleskine pocket notebook
  • two 1 TB external hard drives
  • wifi access point (for hotels that only have wired internet access)*
  • iPad stand
  • ethernet cable*
  • usb extension*
  • mobile broadband dongle*
  • headphone splitter*
  • handheld HD video camera*
  • earphones
  • 8.5” x 11” spiral notebook
  • plastic quart-sized bag for toiletries:
    • toothbrush
    • toothpaste
    • dental floss
    • razor
    • bar of soap
    • deodorant
    • comb
    • tube of hand lotion
    • a few small bandages
    • nail clippers
  • travel bottle of ibuprofen
  • one locking carabiner and a Qlipter
  • small, stowable backpack for grocery shopping or casual day trips
  • padlock*
  • two handkerchiefs
  • pillbox
  • checkbook
  • passport
  • travel towel
  • DreamSack (a sort of sleeping bag made out of silk)

*I haven’t yet used these items.

The travel towel and DreamSack are specialty travel items. I had the towel from an RV trip I took, and the DreamSack was a purchase from almost 15 years ago. You probably don’t have those in your closet, but if you’ll be traveling like I am, staying in people’s homes, you won’t even need them.

What makes this system work for me is understanding I only need to carry what I’ll be using in the immediate future. I can ignore winter items because it’s summer now. When I need to make a change for the seasons or for relocating to a new region, I swap in or out items as needed. When I moved away from Grand Rapids, Michigan, I left the Docs and the leather jacket and replaced them with running shoes and a windbreaker. I also brought an umbrella I’d forgotten to put in storage with my old, unsorted documents.

In Austin, Texas, I left my hoodie at a friend’s house. In Arlington, Texas, I bought a pack of inexpensive t-shirts and two more pairs of shorts, one for working out and one for wearing on warm days. When I left Arlington, I only kept a total of five t-shirts, and I left my umbrella behind.

In Kansas City, Missouri, I tossed out some worn items and picked up a new shirt from a friend. I also bought my first piece of true travel clothing, a short-sleeved button up shirt that dries quickly. I also replaced my shoes with a new pair of inexpensive running shoes.

I originally left for a weeklong trip, but after five months of living without my own home, I can confirm it’s possible and desirable to make do with what you already have. I’ve got a bike and a backpack full of normal items, and I’m doing well. Traveling light is all about being flexible and thinking just far enough ahead to be prepared for daily life. If I focus too far into the future, I’ll bury myself under burdens I don’t need to carry. Why drag those around the world?

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