How to pack REALLY light for a 7-day vacation

This is a mini-tutorial on packing really light for vacation! We only took one backpack (each) on a 7-day vacation across Canada. We were specifically flying from Waterloo, Ontario to Victoria, British Columbia:

Intro

It’s fall 2021 and we just went on our first flight in 3 years! The vacation was a blast… but there are already enough stereotypical travel blogs and videos out there! So today we’re going to actually be focusing on how Natalia and I only packed one small backpack each for a very active trip, involving a lot of:

  • walking
  • hiking
  • biking
  • busing
  • driving
  • flying

Oh, I also had a little fanny pack but does that even count as a bag anyway? NOPE! Two small backpacks and a tiny fanny pack for two people over the course of 7 days of adventuring!

Stereotypical shot when someone asked if they wanted our picture taken by them – “sure!” we said 🙂

So many questions

So, why not just bring a roller suitcase each and pack everything we could possibly need into them for a vacation like this?

What if we didn’t have what we needed when we needed it?

What if we froze to death because we brought too little?

What if we got wet?

What if… any number of things?!

Why even bother packing light?

Well, one of the main reasons in the back of my mind is that we’re pretty frugal and rock-bottom flight tickets typically charge extra for additional bags so that’s a reason but the main reason that we did this is actually for flexibility and ease of travel!

This is all that we had! Just two backpacks in total.

So we were about to pack up and drive to Parksville to surprise my Aunt and Uncle, but I just wanted to emphasize how nice it is to only have two backpacks in total… so watch the video for the full experience and see what I mean, but the gist is that packing light isn’t just for flying. It’s for when you’re actually at the destination! Because these two bags are all that we have! Put one on Natalia and one on me, and we’re entirely ready to go! It’s that easy.

We love being able to pack minimally because if plans change – as they so often do, you don’t have to leave behind 1/3 of your luggage and spend an hour deciding what you may or may not need… because you’ve already spent the time skimming down to the absolute bare essentials before you even left your front door!

A detailed list of everything we brought on vacation

The majority of it was clothing because, for once, I didn’t bring any of my big camera gear like the DSLR or any of its lenses or supporting equipment. Instead, we just used Natalia’s new phone with its three lenses and I shot everything I needed for this video in particular on a little GoPro 7. Really minimal. It was so freeing!

This was pretty much my outfit for the entire trip, give or take a few things each day.

Ben’s vacation backpack contents:

  • 1x Toque hat
  • 1x Patagonia Men’s Torrentshell 3L Rain Jacket
  • 1x thin sweater
  • 1x thermal layer shirt
  • 4x athletic wicking underwear
  • 2x athletic t-shirts
  • 3x socks
  • 1x jeans
  • 1x thermal pant layer
  • 1x thin pants
  • 1x Philips One Blade beard trimmer (super handy), no charger
  • small toilet kit (tooth brush, tooth paste, floss, night guard)
  • 1/2 bar of soap
  • 1x sunglasses
  • 1x Nalgene bottle
  • GoPro 7 + spare battery
  • GoPro chest harness (never really used)
  • Bike gloves
  • 1x USB-C charging cable
  • 1x USB-to-wall charging block
  • Personal documents (Passport, License, Healthcard, COVID Passport, Credit Cards, etc.)

Natalia’s vacation backpack contents:

  • 4x underwear
  • 3x socks
  • 1x jeans
  • 1x jeggins
  • 1x leggings
  • 2x t-shirts
  • 1x long sleeve shirt
  • 1x sweater
  • 1x rain shell jacket
  • 1x fall jacket
  • 1x scarf
  • 1x 2-piece bathing suit
  • small toiletry kit
  • glasses & contacts
  • small container of contact solution
  • 1x pair of hiking boots
  • 1x pair of fancy shoes

Keep It Simple, Stupid

So, how do you decide what to bring on vacation? You K.I.S.S. Aka, you Keep It Simple, Stupid! You can easily get away with wearing two to three outfits throughout the week by just doing one wash in the middle of the week or two if need be.

While packing, we checked the weather in Victoria, Vancouver, and Parksville which were where we were going and found that the average temperature was going to be a lot colder than in Southwestern Ontario – where we’re from – at the time, so it was going to be around 11 degrees for the week. The actual weather conditions matter too, seeing as rain is definitely a thing on Raincouver Island and on the mainland!

Being creative with bulky items on vacations

Here’s an example of some of our creative problem solving:

Knowing that it was potentially going to be very cold and wet, we brought just one sweater and a rain jacket! Wait what?! That’s right. Here’s the thing though: we’d be visiting relatives and who doesn’t have any spare sweaters to go around? They’re pretty bulky items to pack and in the end, I only ended up needing one extra thermal layer and Natalia didn’t need anything at all! She had everything that she needed for the trip!

Rain gear

Wait… vacation and rain? How do those go together? Answer: Vancouver aka RAINCOUVER!

The rain shells (jackets) that we had were perfect exterior layers to keep the wet out and all the layers underneath dry. Actually, the biggest problem when hiking was making sure that we preemptively took off our inner layers so that we didn’t soak everything from the inside out with our own sweat!

Thanks for the hospitality, touring, and rain pants, Charlene and Darin! <3

Rain pants

As for rain pants, we borrowed some from my aunt and uncle and then brought them in our backpacks when we visited Vancouver but we never once ended up using them. Although, if it had been raining harder, we probably would have used them when we were using the Mobi bike shares. Because your thighs usually get the brunt of the wetness when biking.

Us on a bridge at the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park

Where could we improve?

Actually, I found that we didn’t really use the tripod at all on this vacation because we were so mobile and we were more into actually doing the activities than setting up spectacular photos and poses. Even so, we used the tripod twice over the course of 7 days… which honestly doesn’t seem like enough usage for me to justify bringing it on the next trip. I don’t know it’s, a tough one!

Things we didn’t use on vacation

Natalia never actually wore her jeans or bathing suit and unless jeans are being worn, they’re actually a fairly bulky item to pack.

As for the shampoo and conditioners, they never got used because the hotels and my relatives supplied them for us!

Both of us swapped out our socks every other day, so we technically only used two pairs and then washing them in the tub or sink works pretty well. Same with underwear but it’s kind of handy to have a spare pair – so having maybe three or four – just in case washing goes amiss.

What was the toughest part?

For me, it was convincing myself that I actually had everything that we brought! I mean we packed so few things that I… I’ve never packed like this light before! It was bonkers haha!

Will we do it again?

Yeah! Or at least I’d like to take the learnings from this trip and put them into practice on the next trip.

What did we learn by trying this?

We confirmed that we don’t need a lot to be happy – even when we’re vacationing! See, we travel to reconnect with people in our lives, meet entirely new people, put ourselves in uncomfortable situations, see wonderful places that we’re so privileged to be able to see together and soak in those moments… together.

None of that is helped by having more things with us while on vacation! As long as we have just the basics, we can thoroughly enjoy ourselves… even better than if we had to weigh ourselves down with a whole lot of stuff that we would have brought and never used.

Now we’re obviously not suggesting that this is the only way of doing things and this might not work for different seasons, events, or places, but if you’ve read this far into the post, maybe you’ve gathered a few ideas or thoughts that you can take with you on your post-2021 trip — instead of too many things! Don’t take those. It’s never really worth it.

Stereotypical shot out of the plane window on our way back across the country!

Conclusion

With all of that said thanks for watching just do this all on a GoPro and phone which is part of the minimalist packing arrangement that I had, I was like okay I’m not going to bring my DSLR I’m not going to bring anything and I didn’t know how I was going to work out but it worked out so thanks for watching byeee!

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ben in red shorts on a yellow ebike in a snow storm with a bright yellow jacket on, laughing

Ben Durham

Professional storyteller

Just an average person on a bike who’s focused on getting more people out of their cars and on to bicycles or electric last-mile micro-mobility solutions!

That, and rooting for active transportation infrastructure upgrades in North America (we need to catch up)!

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