How I Moved to India for 2 Months with Only a Backpack

A big thank you to David Anthony for sharing his packing skills in this post. If you would like to learn more about packing light, check out my posts: 6 Tips for Packing Light,  A Backpacker’s Guide to Packing: Winter Edition, Essential items every traveler needs before the next big trip, and Travel Mistakes I Made (So You Don’t Have to).

“Ounces make pounds” is a phrase that’s often thrown around in an infantry platoon, often by your team leader when you start trying to pack another hokey gadget. Spend enough time carrying around your life on your back, and you get a first-hand feel for the consequences of not packing light. In so many aspects of life, overpacking causes grief for a number of reasons.

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This past summer, I completed the US State Department’s Critical Language Scholarship in India. Besides goals like learn as much Urdu as possible and eat my own body weight in chaat, I had another specific goal: successfully survive and thrive in India for two months with only a 38L carry on sized backpack. To do that, I had to be very diligent in which clothing and gadgets I took. I didn’t skimp though. I had my computer, clothing for a week, a towel, business casual clothing, and space for souvenirs. Sure, I didn’t have eight pairs of shoes or a personalized bathrobe, but you don’t need that stuff to travel. Trust me.

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For clothing, the best advice I can give can be summed up in a few key points: make it interchangeable, bring lightweight stuff, and roll it up. Lay out all the clothing you plan to take with you. Now, close your eyes, mix it all up, and pull out a random shirt and a random pair of pants. If they don’t go together, your stuff isn’t interchangeable. This rule should apply for everything you bring. Every single thing should work with everything else. This will give you more options with less clothing. In India, I had about four button up shirts, two or three t shirts, four pairs of pants, and a single t shirt and shorts for working out. You’ll have to do laundry, but you probably do that about once a week anyway (right???). I also took a comfortable pair of running shoes I could use for walking around the city and a pair of flip flops (sandals are very common in India). The final tip for clothing is to roll it instead of folding. For my grunts out there, we all know the Ranger roll is superior to folding. The same applies to packing for travel. Linked is an instructional video about rolling clothing.

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In India, I knew that I’d be spending most of my time in class. The city I was in was also not exactly known for its thrilling adventure, so I knew I would need something to keep me busy. For me, that was my phone and computer. On my phone, I kept the Amazon Kindle app, which had several books for reading while trying to adjust to the jet lag. For a computer, you want to take something lightweight and durable. I personally had a Chromebook. While big PCs and Macbooks are nice, they aren’t always light or easily replaceable. Chromebooks, being tied to your Google account, are a snap to replace if they break or are stolen. Simply log into a new computer with your Google account, and it will instantly start to backup your stuff. They’re also cheap. For my coders out there, it’s easy to install a custom Linux distro called GalliumOS on a Chromebook, really allowing you to unlock its potential. Light, durable, flexible, and easy to replace. No computer is perfect, but for those who are planning to travel light, the Chromebook is close.

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The fact that I was moving to India made things much simpler than if I was backpacking from city to city every few days. I could afford to spread out a bit and get comfortable. Knowing this, I intentionally packed very light in terms of toiletries. I really only took some travel sized items to use if I got stranded in an airport for the night. The best thing to do is buy most of your toiletries once you get to your destination. Not only will this save room in your bag, but exploring the shops is a great way to get to know a new city. I also only packed a small microfiber towel, and upon arrival in India, I bought a larger bath towel for everyday use. Many sundry items are also going to be cheaper abroad than they are in North America. If you’re concerned with having to throw it all away when you leave, look into donating them to an NGO or non-profit. My classmates and I gathered all of our unused toiletries as we were leaving the country and donated them, meaning there’s no issues with having to use up an entire bottle of shampoo before you leave.

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The principles for longer term stays are the same as the ones for short jaunts: be a fanatic about weight and space; always assess and reassess if you really need the things you’re packing; try to pack items that are as multipurpose as possible; and trim down the items you can buy once you’re in-country. It’s that simple. So get out there, start paring your stuff down, and enjoy the simplicity of lightweight travel!

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Disclaimer: if you follow the Amazon link in the body of this post and make purchases through it, I will receive a small compensation from Amazon. This compensation comes from Amazon, not from you, and the price you see through my links is the same as the price you would see otherwise.

Shout-outs:
Microfiber towel link: http://amzn.to/2DCHvdv
Ranger roll video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cq07hyTlrcU
Rolled clothing image: http://forum.expeditionportal.com/threads/57992-Clothes-Storage-for-travel
Travel-sized toiletries photo: https://www.travelfashiongirl.com/5-tips-to-travel-size-toiletries-for-minimalist-travelistas/