30 Days, 3 Countries, One Daypack Challenge

On my next trip to Turkey, Georgia, and Armenia I decided that I’m going to try something I’d never done before, I’ll be traveling for 30 days carrying only a daypack. Even though I’ve always been a light packer, I’d never really thought about traveling with only a daypack.

RELATED: My Turkey, Georgia, and Armenia itinerary

My orange Osprey 44 Talon - after 5 odd years it's finally showing some wear and tear. It has an awesome suspension system that makes the pack seems lighter than it is.
My orange Osprey 44 Talon – after 5 odd years it’s finally showing some wear and tear. It has an awesome suspension system that makes the pack seems lighter than it is.

Two recent occurrences made me re-think my current backpack size:

1. On my last flight out of Montana, I was given flak by a flight attendant because my bag wouldn’t fit in the overhead compartment. It was a smaller plane so the overhead compartment was super tiny. I was told I had to check in my bag. As I walked back towards the front of the plane, I kept bumping people sitting on both sides of the aisle (this plane is seriously small) I felt like I was carrying an elephant.

2. My favorite nomad couple came to housesit for us this summer and everything they own fit in a 30L and a 40L packs. Everything. Their laptops, cameras, and even at one point, a banjo. That’s when I realised that with some forethought and creative packing, traveling with only a daypack might not only be preferable, it can actually be done.


The Bag

The things I looked for when I was shopping for the bag was a separate compartment for laptop and lightweight. I always want it to be of bright color so it’s easily spotted. On those accounts, Eagle Creek Mountain Valley fit the bill. After the bag arrived, I realised that another feature I’d have liked that this bag lacks is full front loading.

At $100 the bag isn’t cheap but Eagle Creek has a reputation for making durable bags so I hope this one will last close to forever. Jack has an Eagle Creek travel pack that he’s been using for almost 10 years and it’s still going strong.

Traveling with only a daypack challenge
Mr. Cuddleface isn’t so sure about this.

The Challenges

Packing for Cold Climate – If I were traveling to warm places, say SE Asia, things would be easier. Shorts and tshirts don’t take up that much space. But Turkey, Georgia, and Armenia get quite chilly in September and October and it will require me to take the ‘dress in layers’ mantra more seriously.

Jill wearing everything
This is me in Busan, South Korea wearing everything I brought. Still cold.

Guidebooks – I like to travel with guidebooks. I hate the idea of ripping off pages. I can’t stand the digital version. I guess if I have to I could photocopy the relevant pages and take those. Ugh.

Gadget Protection – since I won’t be bringing a separate bag for my laptop (and other gadgets) protecting these from bumps and scrapes has become the toughest challenge. The idea of anything happening to my laptop (my work depends on it) is enough to get me searching for the best backup solution I can find. Then a backup solution to that backup. This is probably the most stressful part of the challenge.

How I Used to Travel

Traveling with only a daypack. Possible?
Bags, bags, and more bags.

My prized posession is a carry-on sized 44L Osprey Talon backpack. I’ve literally carried it around the world with me. It’s the only backpack I’ve owned besides a small laptop bag that I wear in front. It’s an arrangement that has worked well for Jack and me.

We’d throw our main packs on the bus roof or check it in as luggage when flying. Then all we’d have to worry about is our laptop bags (this is where we keep our passports and other documents).

RELATED: Looking for carry on luggage instead?

Why Travel With Only a Daypack?

I’m not so sure exactly why I’m doing this other than to see that I can do it. Even though I’m not a minimalist, I don’t like to be weighed down by things I don’t need. At home I continually get rid of things I haven’t used in a long time.

I guess this zeal of getting rid of excess bleeds over to my travel life. This challenge is my quest to figure out if there are further things I can live without when traveling.

I think this would be a fun experiment to try. Besides, what’s the worst that can happen?

Do you think you can travel with only a daypack? If you already do, do you have any tips on how to make this work?

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19 Replies to “30 Days, 3 Countries, One Daypack Challenge”

  1. When I was 16 years old, I stumbled into a random gear shop in Taiwan and came across my first backpack. It was beautiful. At a 70-liter capacity, it completely dwarfed me, but I could hardly care less. When I slung it over my shoulder, I almost felt like I was already on the road!

    Nearly ten years and dozens of countries later, I've since traded that beast of a bag for another smaller one. At 32L, the new one is less than half the size. I carry everything I own in it:

    One laptop, one DSLR, two lenses, one point-and-shoot, a BUNCH of cables and chargers (sigh), a kindle, and a smartphone. This is the bulk of my gear.

    I generally carry one guidebook (I print out PDFs and toss chapters as I go).

    A couple of t-shirts, one lightweight dress for the beach or a night out, one pair of comfy trousers, one pair of shorts, intimates, one warm sweater, and a jacket. One pair of flats and one pair of flip flops. Hiking boots on my feet.

    Toiletries – including some basic medicine (cipro, UTI meds, antibiotics, antimalarials, gas-X, ibuprofen, a thermometer, and bandaids)

    Other misc:

    – a silk sleeping bag liner
    – a light travel towel
    – headlamp
    – documents / money belt
    – sunscreen and sunglasses
    – super light umbrella
    – a light nylon shoulder bag that I can fold up and stuff away

    Anyway I thinkt hat's it… all of it fits into the 32L with more room to spare! I've gone more than a month with it, easily. I wouldn't trade it for anything and plan to do a world tour with it one of these days 🙂
    My recent post Photos: A War-Torn City

    1. Thanks much for sharing! Now that I'm back after traveling with my 30l pack I totally see the appeal. The frequent need to do laundry sucks but that's a small price to pay for being the convenience of traveling light. I'd love to see how you pack everything.What bag do you have? The Eagle Creek one that I have didn't do as good of a job as I'd hoped unfortunately. Would love to trade it do something with a better hip belt and shoulder straps.

  2. Best of luck on the Daypack Challenge, Jill!

    Coincidentally (by way of encouragement) – I just finished a 6 week journey to Nepal and Borneo (a pair of diverse climates if ever there was one) with just a carry-on size wheeled backpack plus a zip-off daypack. Interestingly, on several occasions (e,g, a 3 day river trip in Borneo, ditto a monastery at the top of a mountain in Nepal, etc.), I took only the day pack with one change of clothes and my netbook, and… After awhile, I wondered why I'd brought all the stuff left back in the wheeled backpack?

    Turns out – all you really need for 3 – or 30 (or 300?) days will all fit into a day pack!

    Incidentally – for the extremes of temps, I always carry a set of lightweight WOOL long underwear (top and bottom, ever rolled up and stashed in the elastic bands – normally used for water bottles? – on the sides of the day pack. That plus a pair of wool socks and a bitty fleece hat and gloves serve me well even in unheated hovels at the tops of mountains.
    My recent post Coming Up For Air in… Borneo

  3. I think even traveling with your 44l backpack is impressive. I always take my 65l backpack with me (about 13kg when it is fully packed), but I have got the additional challenge of having to take work clothes for my voluntary placements, which are usually office based, with me. I really want to reduce it though for my upcoming trip to South America, but the problem there is that I also need warm clothes. Soooo tricky, so I really feel your pain.
    My recent post Icebreaker shirt review and exclusive giveaway

  4. I somehow managed this for one trip. It really enhances the travel experience. The tough part was when I couldn't buy stuff to bring back unless I'd bought a new backpack and paid to have it checked in. So, now I just suck it up and do the check in, that way I can bring a few more things and more importantly, upon returning I'm able to pick up some unique stuff in the land I'm in and then give stuff as gifts when I get back and keep some things for myself.
    My recent post Magical Minca

  5. I'm sure you can do it! My bag isn't big at all, not sure how big – 30L or smaller – and I managed to cram in everything I needed for 5 months into it. The way you pack plays a big part, so try different methods if things aren't fitting.
    My recent post A Town Called Bender

  6. If you don't mind washing your clothes every night, it will work.
    I've traveled with a person who was backpacking in Turkey for one month, he brought two long sleeve shiirts, two pairs of pants and four very thick pairs of socks. He also brought a long piece of string for clothes drying. This is a must.
    Istanbul is very hot and sticky right now, too humid for us Californians!
    Don't go to Miniaturk. It was total waste of time.

    Good luck!

  7. I am impressed.
    My first trip to Europe I packed like a maniac and 50 lbs later I was in Italy on cobblestones and heaving my bag up the Rialto steps.
    I've learnt my lesson and am currently searching for a duffle bag with the roll away option for my trip to Ireland at the end of the month.
    Packing light has become less of a challenge for me now but still I couldn't do a day pack for more than 3 days.
    My recent post Brewery Tours with Vantigo, San Francisco

  8. I’m always so envious when I see people traveling with just a small bag, but I know I couldn’t do it. We just moved back to the States from China and had so much stuff with us the gate agent made us throw some away!

  9. Kudos to you for even trying to do this! While I'd love to do it – I hate being weighed down by stuff and I think I do a good job packing light — I realize reading this, I'm definitely overpacking. I could probably do it in warm climates but not when it's cold – I hate being cold. Oh, and that means washing often too.
    My recent post Friday Focus: Dana Carmel

  10. Great post! I'm looking forward to reading how you do. I'm a light international packer and a strong believer in Eagle Creek. I've had a EC 40L rolling backpack w/detachable day pack for 30 years – looks (almost) like new. For my last trip to India for 30 days – I took the small 30L EC duffle and did great. No matter how long I always only do carry on. Now I'm planning a 12,000 Amtrak US trip for Spring 2014 and 6 months in India, Thailand, Burma & Cambodia in the Fall 2014. I'm going to see if get down to a 22L Duffle. I bought a new toy based on a recommendation by (I think) Nomadic Matt. It's called a HoboRoll. Compression sack but with 5 compartments – works a lot better than multiple compression sacks. ALL my clothes can fit into this one sack. Have fun! – I love Turkey!

  11. You're really taking packing light to a whole new level! I don't think I could do it – especially not when traveling to a colder climate. I'm not a heavy packer – I usually only travel with a roller carryon and my camera pack. But on my most recent trip to Nicaragua, I told Jave that I want to invest in a smaller roller. You should make a packing video – I want to see your strategy! 😉
    My recent post Out & About in Istanbul

  12. Congrats on pushing yourself, Jill. Good luck. Let me know how it goes and if you like the new daypack. I’m starting to brainstorm a Tortuga daypack, so feedback/ideas are always appreciated.

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