How to downsize a backpack mid travel

Backpack Downsizing

Haven’t we downsized enough you may ask? We hardly own anything and carry around all of our worldly goods from place to place so surely there isn’t a lot of downsizing to do anymore. Well you would be surprised (we were).

Little bit of backstory first. When we wandered away from our old lives nearly five years ago we took just the bare essentials and left with a backpack and suitcase each. Multiple flights all over the world to Australia and the USA saw the cases going into the hold and the backpacks staying in the cabin. Travels within these faraway lands were generally on bus or train so easy to manage and occasionally in hire cars which were even easier.

“Original cases on our first journey across Europe”

Once we got into housesitting and criss-crossed the UK by train we continued with the two case and two backpack system.

The Problem with Suitcases

They may be bigger and are easy to transport but there is a major issue with cases. The wheels! They make it easy to move them around but the wheels of any case are the weakpoint and no matter how well you treat them they do have a reasonably short life. If you’re thinking ‘well I’ve had my suitcase for years and it’s still ok‘ then that could well be true but just think how many days a year you actually use it? How many hours has it been wheeled for and equally as important, where has it been wheeled?

Most cases are dragged through airports or stations or hotel lobbies where the floors are solid and smooth and there is no wear and tear on the wheels. We’ve walked miles down rough backstreets and through busy cities up and down kerbs and across uneven roads. Our cases really earn their keep!

“Waiting for another bus in Halifax, Nova Scotia”

Case Substitutes 

We have had to substitute several broken-wheeled cases over the years and buy new ones in various locations. New suitcases have been purchased in Hobart, Tasmania, Edmonton, Canada and Boston, USA along with other substitutions in Exeter and Maidstone in England.

We’ve tried to get wheels repaired in Melbourne, New York, and Oslo with no luck being told on each occasion that they can’t be fixed and we would need to get a new bag. Great. So in each of these substitutions we buy a new bag, move everything across from the damaged one, and then dump the old bag somewhere.

“More space to roll or fold in suitcases”


Our original backpacks were mainly for laptops, wet weather gear, electronics and books. As our case have been replaced they have also got smaller so the backpacks have had to take more and get proportionally bigger. A year ago we decided to lose one of the cases completely and I upgraded to a huge backpack.

Just before Christmas we changed the remaining case for a really small wheely-case so have been travelling with less and less stuff as the months pass by.

“Our previous setup, pre-downsizing of case, waiting for a train in Wiltshire England”

Why downsizing now?

Well we’ve booked up a few flights and trips over the coming months and decided we didn’t want to take suitcases or book hold luggage on any of the journeys. So as from Monday 24th February we will be on a single 35L backpack each for the next 6 months. The big backpack and small case will be temporarily put into storage as we become complete backpackers until mid-summer.

Buying a new bag may be simple but deciding what we will be needing over the next few months is not quite so easy. A few important questions have had to be asked ……..

  • Do we need coats?
  • What footwear do we need? Boots or trainers or both? Sandals?
  • How many shirts can we carry? Do we need anything smart(ish)?
  • Toiletries? We’ll have to pack for airport security so only 100ml or less. No aerosols of course.
  • Do we take a laptop? Just one? What chargers do we need and how many?
  • Trousers, shorts, skirts …… How many can we fit in? 
  • Books?

So much to decide on and so little space. Plus we have to plan for the English winter, southern European spring, Mediterranean summer, and so much more. We won’t be back with the old bags and extra belongings until well into July.

Oh and did I mention that we are planning a couple of long distance walks in the summer taking up to a week each so will be carrying our bags constantly for them. So comfort and weight are more things to consider in the repacking.

“Old shoes have to go with the pressure of less space”
“Too much stuff? Waiting for another bus in Denver, Colorado”


Downsizing into a new Backpack

So we’ve spent quite a few hours completely laying everything we own out and trying to decide what we definitely need to take, and what we would ‘like‘ to take with us. So many things that we ‘think we need‘ have actually become things we ‘don’t really need‘ after much agonising and thinking.

Apart from clothes we have to decide on toiletries, first aid kit, chargers, books, Jo’s craft stuff (wool and sewing etc),  and then get everything that didn’t make the cut down into our tiny storage container on Monday. Challenging eh?

So a question that our most recent housesitting host asked Jo has become even more pertinent. She asked:

Don’t you get fed up always wearing the same clothes?

Seems a bit harsh but it’s spot on. Jo says she does get a bit fed up of the same clothes constantly but wouldn’t change our way of life for the world. She’s more worried that I get fed up looking at her! No chance of that though.

We do only have a small amount of clothing to wear and an even smaller number of shoes. I’ll have trainers and sandals, and Jo will have shoes and sandals and that’s it. Just imagine it. Two choices of footwear and that’s all.

So we’re morphing into JWalking Backpackers before your very eyes. Should be an adventure.


How to Downsize a backpack mid travel


  1. I try and travel with a backpack as much as possible, I really need to buy one with a waist strap though because even the normal sized backpacks can get pretty heavy when walking for a long time!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. So interesting to read how you manage your belongings as you constantly move from place to place. Everyone’s different and we must be at the exact opposite end of the scale because as a family we each take lots of luggage, often even for a short trip but we seem to manage fine. Airlines have needed to replace luggage for us on our return to the U.K. a couple of times due to broken wheels but fortunately it’s never happened outbound. Looking forward to reading about your upcoming adventures, it’s always nice to have trips to look forward to!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. We can’t recommend our Osprey luggage highly enough. Not the cheapest but have a lifetime guarantee. Like you we have to drag them a long way and Asian roads are unforgiving. They have heavy duty wheels which make it easy. They’re also hybrid – they do have straps zipped up on the back so you can put them on your back if you want, but we never have 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    • Looked at them and they look really good but we’re now down to small packs only for a few months. No hold luggage or cases at all now. Tricky to get packed though.


      • Our Osprey packs are awesome. We travelled for a year (2016) with one Osprey pack each and one mid size case between us. Even after many shorter trips since the packs look as good as new. As for the wheely case it took about 3 weeks’ in before one wheel completely buckled. No chance of a replacement wheel…
        Looking forward to your posts Jonno! Have an amazing adventure 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Excellent in the moment account of what you’re doing. Bottom line seems to be weight of the backpacks and how to include needed items in regards to that.
    Hard to do, indeed.
    I’m expert at cramming in more than seems possible into a backpack – however the weight issue eludes me, so I’m interested in how this evolves for you.
    Take care.

    Liked by 2 people

    • The weight of our backpacks is fairly crucial Laura, especially with a few flights to negotiate. Final packing this morning was crazy though as that’s everything for the next six months in multiple locations. Wonder what we forgot?

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Yes, packing is the hard part. I do not travel full-time as you do. But, I do have a 2 month trip to England, Wales, Ireland coming up and I have to say that the packing always stresses me out a bit. But, I know what I took last year for 6 weeks and what I used out of the clothes . There were some I did not use!! Heavens forbid !! So, I am going light , light ,light.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. Both Andrew and I travelled alot with our work. And the advantages of just grabbing the luggage from the overhead locker and walking out is great – no hanging around, no chance of your luggage being left behind or sent off on journeys all by itself. It takes some planning, the so called capsule wardrobe where everything goes with everything else, wearing the best on the plane can be interesting – hence the Ryanair and the Channel knock off story, and I always have a stock of sachets of shampoo and face creams – and buy more in a local shop if needed. And why pay for hold luggage when it really is just enabling you to take a towel. Buying a cheap towel there and leaving it in a charity shop as you leave can save you a fortune. It goes against the grain to keep buying, but the maths is often overwhelmingly in your favour and you can think of it as a donation. We have the advantage of coming back to one place whereas you generally are moving on, so there are additional considerations for you, and Jo, I am sure you have your own version of being a Barbera. It is a mind set and I recently travelled to Ireland for a week with a friend who just didn’t get it. The story of the kilo pot of aqueous cream would need another entry. Love Sarah

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hey Sarah. We’re now on such small bags that it’s going to take us a while to get used to it. Hold luggage is always unnecessary and we don’t own any towels at all. Just have to roll with it and see how we get on over the coming months. Hope you two are both ok?


  7. You two are an inspiration! And you are so right: Even for those of us who aren’t on the road for as many months at a stretch pack far too much more than we need when we travel. I’m taking your tips in mind for planning my next trip–and I’m reminded that I need to go ahead and buy a backpack finally. (I’ve put it off!)

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thanks Leslie, we’re just getting used to the downsized small packs but looking forward to seeing how we get along over the next few months. You will need a backpack though.


  8. I am definitely the kind of person that gets tired of wearing the same clothes all the time. I’ve had to travel out of a backpack for about a month – 6 weeks on a few different occasions, and that was enough for me. When I went to New Zealand, I had to pack a month’s worth of clothes for all weathers into half a small suitcase as we travelled from north to south, and I was so sick of everything I packed by the we got home that I never wore any of those clothes again. So more power to you both for being able to do that long term!

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Trying to get your stuff from a suitcase to backpack reminds me of that scene in Apollo 13 where they tip a load of bits and bobs on a table and tell the engineers to make a filter out of it. How much room would all your stuff take up in your old house I wonder?

    Liked by 3 people

  10. I had to pack a month’s worth of clothes for all weathers into half a small suitcase as we travelled from north to south, and I was so sick of everything I packed by the we got home that I never wore any of those clothes again. So more power to you both for being able to do that long term!


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