You will find plenty of ‘How to Pack a Backpack’ articles floating around the web, you might even have seen an informative video or two about how to pack a weeks’ worth of clothes in a carry-on suitcase, but I have a simpler, more honestly achievable tip: squishing.
Let me begin at the beginning though. Setting off for an indeterminate amount of time around South East Asia I had no desire to be outweighed by my backpack. I chose a modest 35 litre with excellent back ventilation but a suspicious lack of side pockets, supplemented with an almost equal sized daytime rucksack. Between these vessels I have squeezed a copious amount of stuff – not all of it needed, including a 15inch laptop, a full summer wardrobe, one pair of walking boots and three pairs of sandals, two mobile phones, a travel speaker, a digital camera, a first aid kit, various toiletries, a sleeping bag liner, travel towel, head torch, plug adaptor and e-reader as well as multiple notebooks and novels and even a small set of oil pastels. And so I promise you, it can be done.
Firstly, as any good blog will tell you, lay out everything you want to take. I warn you now you will probably have to leave some things behind; in my case this was an inflatable pink rubber ring, travel scrabble and a beach bat and ball set which were all ambitious but unrealistic items for the packing list. Think light. You will thank yourself for it when you’re loading yourself like a carry horse once again, or if you’re not looking to pay any excess luggage fees. This is especially true if you’re travelling on small national flights that have a very restricted weight limit – on one flight in the Philippines we were even asked to step on the scales ourselves!
Next, you’ll hear some theory on packing the heaviest items at the bottom of your bag, then against your back and leaving the room furthest away from your back and at the top for the lighter stuff. This is interesting but basically not applicable unless you have an enormous hiking rucksack with a ton of room. In the case of the 35 litre: you put some stuff in and it looks full. Don’t worry, this isn’t the case. I would recommend buying some soft but sturdy containers similar to these M&S ones. This allows you to gather all your gadgets, odds, ends and toiletries with the benefit of them being clear so everything is easy to locate.
Start at the bottom with the heaviest, chunkiest thing, then take some of your clothes or anything else soft or small you’re taking and start squishing all the gaps. This is where the squishing technique becomes an art. Soft clothes in this way can be used to pack every possible gap around the chunky heavy thing until the whole layer is packed so solid it doesn’t even fall out if you turn your bag upside-down. Once you are satisfied that every seam has been stretched, begin the process again. Take something large that appears to fill the entire space and start to squish pack around it until it looks somewhat the same but the sides of your back are hard and quite literally jam-packed.
And lastly, don’t forget your hand luggage as the life-giving packing relief aid that it is. Don’t waste this beautiful gift from the airlines on a small going out bag, or on travel essentials only like your passport. A normal rucksack you might take to school is about 25 litres – almost as much as your backpack! Fill this right up with any clothes or gadgets that you just couldn’t squish any more, and anything super heavy to take advantage that most times on international flights your hand luggage doesn’t get weighed.