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Tips on Packing Light for Summer Travel

Recently, a reader asked me if I have any tips for packing light and for combating the summer heat. Due to her request and the fact I launch off to Vietnam tomorrow, I’ve decided to share my quickie last-minute information with everyone.

Summer is probably the easiest season to pack for. It will strip you of any excess or bulky layers, whenever your mind enters the zone of HOT and as most travelers know, there’s no such thing as packing too light.  But what if you’re traveling to a culture with conservative dress values? Do you still pack light? Yes and No…

Personally, it depends on where I travel to, how modern or cosmopolitan the facilities are and what I’ll be doing. While you won’t see me looking like I stepped off the set of Sex & the City , I am a bit of a girlie flashpacker with toy gadgets, cameras and cords, that may rival the travel packs of many a lipstick traveler!

1. Size Matters
: How Large is your Pouch?
Going Abroad:
When traveling a developing country, I consider myself a medium packer and seldom second guess busting out the bigger backpack! I pack for emergency survival situations (weather, health, culture, trekking and budget accommodations), because I never know when I might be roughing it, battling insects or having my stomach turn on bad food.  I dress down, so I’m not an obvious mark for touts and my clothing list often takes a back seat to my flashpacking gadgetry.

In Korea:
Korea is easy to pack for. A  small weekender pack, can easily be stored in a hotel or a metro locker; meanwhile, I carry a day purse/ mini backpack around. Many accommodations (i.e. hotels, jjimjilbangs, hostels, etc…) supply you with towel to toiletries for little or no fee; this helps you focus only on basic necessities, such as underwear and clothes. Dress-wise: Korea is a well-dressed society; conservative on top, but not below the waist. Micro skirts, shorts and hooker heels are fine, but spaghetti strap blouses? A big “No-No” though  you might get away it in metropolitan cities. Under-packed in the wardrobe department? No worries- look to the nearest clothes rack to pick up one of the popular fashion t-shirts (cost: 5,000W. A little under $5!). While I don’t quite understand the hype of baggy t-shirts, they are the rage here and can be found at almost any subway clothing store.

2. To buy or not to buy?
No one knows how to cope with the country climate better than the people who live there!  So I always assume I’ll pick up some of the country’s local garb to travel around in. Also, unless you venture somewhere remote, you’ll be able to buy most products  and in most cases, the trip to the local store will prove an interesting and enlightening cultural trip!

When my backpack didn’t arrive with me on my flight to Morocco, I had no choice but to go guerilla style survival. I bought throwaway clothes and underwear (which I eventually decided I wanted to keep as souvenirs), soap and sanitary pads from the a store near the railway station.  I came back with some pretty funky experiences from that trip, as well as new “souvenirs” (out of necessity), such as olive oil soap and a loofah for my hammam baths.

3. What’s in my Backpack ?
Mantra:  Convertible, convertible, convertible . Most things I pack, I make my Swiss Army tools of travel.

Clothes:o Is the country you’ll visit religious or conservative in their wardrobe? The ability to peel down or cover up is good to plan for if you’re uncertain. Also, quick-drying light-weight clothes or thin nylon/spandex fabrics are smart choices. These fabrics will dry even in thick humidity; and believe me,  wet clothes sitting in your backpack is not a fun smell you want greeting you after a day in the summer sun.

• 2 t-shirts
• 2 Indian long-sleeved paps  (*if anyone knows how to dress for conservative, yet battle the summer heat, it’s India)
•1 nylon or sports tank top.
•1 big scarf  or pashmina (* functions as a bandana, face mop & shawl for conservative countries or religious temples)
• 1 cheap $1 raincoat or poncho (*in some countries, summer signals not only heat but monsoon season)
• Optional: 1 very lightweight jacket

•1 skirt (knees length of longer) or sarong
•1 pair of utility cargo pants (*Unfortunately, I forgot my North Face pants at home; it’s interchangeable between pants, thigh highs and shorts)!
•1-2 pair of light-weight, quick to dry leggings
Night wear & Swimming:
•nylon tank top
•1 bra & 5 pairs of underwear
•1 pair yoga pants (* extra protection against mosquitoes)
•1 two-piece bathing suit (Also functions as an extra bra/underwear)
• lots of sunscreen
• A large-brimmed safari hat
• scarf or bandana

• 1 pair Rubber flip-flops  *for casual walking to bathroom showers (bathrooms in Asia are unique– some offer no shower division, just one drain in the middle of the room. These ironically, usually don’t have places for you to hang your clothes to keep them from getting wet)
• 1 pair of running or hiking shoes
• 2-3 pairs of thin nylon socks

Toiletries: Do you really need all that product? Rather than bringing a whole jar of makeup or skin cream, when you only need a 2 week supply, use  tiny 2 oz travel containers and sample sizes.  Alternately, taking used tubes of toothpaste and old hotel shampoo bottles allow you to trade leftovers for interesting cultural substitutes to buy, use and take home as souvenirs just before you leave! For towels, I have a quick drying loofah scrubber and a travel towel.

(Above) sample and trial sizes… and actual samples!
(Below) I cut up my favorite Dove facial towels: just add water and you can scrub your face with it (no mess or explosive containers to deal with).


I always take power bars as rev up snacks and Emergen C (vitamin powder) packets, while I’m traveling. With the summer heat- monsoon or dry desert- I’ll need snacks and liquid drinks to keep going. While I’m not too worried about finding veggie options in Vietnam,  I’ll also be packing a bag of dried fruit and mixed nuts as a meal safety.

Flashpacker items:
Tech gadgetry in a developing countries can range from medium to impossible to find. You can’t always trust the electronics you purchase there. Thus, it’s always best to prepare extra batteries and backups.  Always take the cords you need. If doing a camping or trekking journey, never assume facilities will have electrical outlets. In some instances, they don’t.
– Plug converters
– Extra memory cards and spare batteries
– Chargers and cords
– A power strip in the case you’re sharing outlets with other travelers.

I’ve down-sized my gadget pack recently, but these are the standards:
GSM Sim phone, iPodTouch, USB 4GB PC disk, handy cam, DSLR with extra zoom lens, power strip, power cords, converters, memory cards, day pack and backup batteries. And the Samsung pocket camera I am currently shooting this photo with.

4. Lightweight stocking stuffers you may want to consider:
– Silk liner  (it protects you from your bed & functions as a light sleeping bag/sheet
– 1 bottle of diluted solumel which you can also use as insect repellent (*read my blog on why this is ideal for travelers)
– Travel meds & a small first aid kit
– Pack of tissues or an almost expired roll of toilet paper.
– Baby wipes
– Extra plastic ziplock bags (* for dirty clothes, protecting your stuff from rain or mud, etc…)
– A hook or plastic bag to hang your clothes or toiletries to keep them from getting wet when showering
– A pocket flashlight
– Swiss army utility
– A fold-up travel bag/purse or day pack (*for markets or shopping. Incidentally, in Korea, you get charged for your grocery bags, so most people will bring their own)
– A waterproof backpack covering for rainy seasons.


  1. Laura in Cancun says:

    Great list and tips! I would never have considered a power strip! I usually focus on dressing in layers.

    My mom taught me a great tip for saving space: instead of folding clothes in your suitcase, just fold each item in half, then roll it into a cylinder shape. It takes up much less space, AND it minimizes wrinkles! Tah-dah!!

  2. Barbara says:

    You RoCk! Thanks!

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