On my very first semi-solo trip to Greece 14 years ago (wait, that can't be right, that means that I am...oh man...), I found a 120L backpack from the 70s in my parent's basement and decided it was perfect (clearly over-packing was a genetic flaw). The inner lining was flaking away from age and it smelled a little moldy, but what did I know? It was there. And I filled the whole thing to the top.
Practicing walking with it on before leaving, I was convinced it was fine. It easily weighed in at over 40lbs and contained every t-shirt I owned, because I was 21 and I didn't realize that the rest of the world does laundry too.
I cursed that bag every day of my trip. One fateful day walking in Santorini I considered the real consequences of just tossing it off the cliff...but I had just bought more stuff to carry in it.... I still have residual trauma from that bag and vowed never again.
I have since become a master of the carry-on luggage.
Two months in Greece? no problem. Three weeks in Thailand, I'll just bring my small gym bag.
I get a lot of, "Where's the rest of your luggage?"
So how did I pack a 60L bag for 10 months of travel? Gantt-style!!!
Travel schedule and activities list
I chose the direction of my trip in order to maintain a constant temperature between 20-35 degrees. No heavy jackets or winter boots for me. Layers is where it is at.
Countries and seasons are my task list. Starting at the beach first? Bathing suit and sunscreen are at the top. Warmer clothes at the bottom.
Every day has the same requirements: underwear, pants and shirt. These are my constant for the whole trip, and 3 sets of each is sufficient.
Activities are categorized according to their required resources/outfits, in order.
Events that have fixed dates already can go together in a bottom section for access without disturbing the rest of the packing flow. This means my blazer and skirt for meetings or more formal events are rolled together at the bottom of the bag.
Accepting the travel requirements
Nothing got packed that wasn't part of a plan. As much as I miss having choices in footwear, what I needed was one pair of hiking shoes, one pair of walking shoes, one pair of sandals and one pair of flip flops (I really miss showering barefoot).
Do I miss my closet? YES. But this isn't a fashion trip, it's a project management one.
The heaviest thing in my bag is my medical kit. I have enough malaria pills for a month, contact lenses for a year, and Purel in most pockets. These are items that I figured would be more difficult to come by while travelling or would be needed quickly. Luckily, they are also the items that get used and weight less as I go.
Packing is project planning
You can't prepare if you don't know where you are going. I had a list of activities and dates and then ordered my resources accordingly - and voila! a Gantt bag! By seeing travel through project management eyes, you avoid unnecessary items, manage your resources and can pack according to your timeline. You can also find replacements for heavier items. Instead of a rain jacket, I have an emergency poncho - same use, 1/10th the size and weight.
My bag for 10 months is under 30 lbs, I have easy access to everything I need without unpacking every time, and organisation is easily maintained.
If you pack like you plan, you'll never find yourself lacking what you need or carrying useless items. The analogy seems pretty clear to me, at this point, I almost see my backpack as a spreadsheet.