Backpacking And Overpacking: A Traveler's Lament

11/08/2011 08:01 am ET | Updated Jan 08, 2012

I'm on the move. After a temporary three year pit-stop in Costa Rica, I'm hitting the road again -- which means having to reacquaint myself with the specialized skill of living out of a backpack. You'd think with nine years experience trekking around the world, I'd have mastered the art of "less is more" packing. But as I prep for an open-ended excursion to Africa, I've packed, unpacked and repacked my bag so many times that my dad's guestroom resembles the final day of a Barney's warehouse sale -- sans the designer labels.

I've downsized from a 55/65 to 45 liter pack thinking that would help me edit. But I found a way to squeeze just as many clothes into a smaller space: vacuum bags, a deceptively brilliant concept. Further, I color code my wardrobe so I can efficiently mix-and-match garments like a Traveling Barbie. I carry no cosmetics, blow drier or weighty styling products, even putting my fancy face cream into a zip-lock bag in consideration of weight. I tuck my feather-light computer into a day bag and have eliminated all electronics but for the most necessary. And still, despite these concessions, I can't adequately lighten my load.

To be honest, I'm a bit of a "bourgeois hippie," which basically means that while I can sleep in tents, crash in squats and otherwise rough it, I maintain my inviolable right to pack personal style alongside my sleeping bag. And unfortunately, "backpacker chic" requires carting around extraneous clothing and unnecessary bling to pull off the look.

In general, guys on the backpacking trail seem to have it easier. They're happy minimalists. A few t-shirts, a couple pairs of jeans and a fleece seem to suffice. Some get away with even less than almost nothing. The toiletry bag of an expat boyfriend in India consisted of a toothbrush which he broke in half and a small tube of paste shoved into an eyeglass case.

Nomadic guys don't seem to care what they wear or how often they wear it. This isn't a criticism but an envy-induced observation. I've read male-penned blogs where the author expresses the ease in which he embraced the "nomadic" lifestyle -- setting out with only what comfortably fit in a small pack, never purchasing anything other than essentials and discarding items along the way.

I suspect some girls can be equally streamlined packers, but let's be real: most of us fancy more than one or two changes of clothes whether traveling for a weekend or a lifetime. And for the woman who must lug half her body weight with a little invisible man doing pushups on her shoulders and the gravity goblins tugging on her lower back, well it's then that she wishes she had heeded the less-is-more wisdom of the packing gods.

I've obviously been thinking a lot about the Pitfalls of Packing and have determined that this could be a good business opportunity for someone. Like people who organize closets for the rich and famous, a packing consultant could come in to quickly and efficiently eviscerate a burdensome bag. I know several people who would pay for "Power Packing For The Indecisive or Chronically Encumbered Traveler."

But, for now, I'm on my own. And time is short. So I beseech the packing gods to endow me with the strength and courage to perform this delicate extraction. To be able to remove stuff from the backpack that -- like my appendix -- I really don't need to survive.