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You're a Traveller, Not a Pack-Mule! How to Travel Light Even When Hitting Different Climatic Zones

Looking for the road less travelled? Then ditch the rolling suitcase and sideline the expedition pack. Unless you’re in the personal porter tax bracket, getting off the beaten path means travelling light; even if your trip lasts several months and yo-yos between climates.


Ready and waiting for the end of the pandemic.

With some careful planning, you can travel light even when hitting different climatic zones. You don’t have to stagger around with one closet strapped to your back and another to your front. Don’t forget, you’re a traveller—not a pack-mule!


Spending four months in South America meant preparing for bone chilling desert nights, searing salt-flats and driving jungle rains. Even though we’re (well) seasoned travellers, it still took creativity and research to figure out what was going to work for our carry-on only travel mantra. Here are our top-11 suggestions for staying light, while also staying warm and dry:


1) Keep an eye on weather and climate trends in your destinations before leaving home. Many websites and guidebooks outline average temperatures, precipitation and sunlight hours, use this to predict what conditions you’ll encounter in advance and prepare accordingly. You can also add your destinations to your phone’s weather app, and keep an eye on it real time.


2) Layering is the key for cold temperatures. Choose a base layer that wicks moisture away from your skin toward the surface of the fabric where it can evaporate. Add other layers depending on the temperature and your comfort. I struggle with cold so brought a hoodie that I could strap on my pack when not using it. It also came in handy as a pillow on buses and trains.


3) Prepare to do laundry; so choose fast drying fabrics that won’t take forever to dry in colder temperatures and damper climates. Take less, wash more!


Our hotel in Sousse, Tunisia kindly let us use their wash tubs. Photo: Noel Van Raes

4) Before you start filling your airline approved carry-on bag, make a list of everything you think you'll need, clothing, electronics, and toiletries—then check it twice! Are there items you can cross off? Make smaller? Buy at your destination? What will you need in different locations? Sunscreen, chap-stick, afterbite?


5) A down jacket is a great outer layer and a real space saver. But it still takes up space you don’t have to sacrifice in warm climates, so be prepared for a trade-off. I loved having my down jacket in the high deserts of Bolivia and Chile, but it meant leaving a couple books at home.


My down jacket earned its worth in Chilean Patagonia where biting winds are the norm, even in summer. Photo: Noel Van Raes

6) If only one leg of your journey involves cold weather—or you’re rolling the dice on a change of season—considering buying an inexpensive coat, hat or gloves locally when and if you need to. I made a quick trip to a market in north Vietnam where I bargained hard for a jacket, leaving it behind when we returned to Hanoi. If you’ve really splurged on a jacket you can always mail it home when you no longer need it.


This knock off North Face jacket bought in Hanoi kept me warm, even on top of Mt. Fanispan, the highest mountain in Vietnam. Photo: Noel Van Raes
Just before heading to the high cold desert plains of Bolivia we stumbled into a market selling used clothing where I picked up this raincoat/windbreaker with a Goodwill sticker still on it.

7) Investigate renting a sleeping bag if you’re only spending a short time in a cold area. I rented one from our tour company for Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, where plummeting night temperatures and unheated hotel rooms are the norm.


8) Include reversible clothing to keep your look fresh without adding additional bulk. Many summer clothing items fit this brief, including reversible swim trunks, bathing suits and even rain coats. My personal favourite is a recycled sari skirt, which can be worn with one of two patterns facing out.


My best purchase ever--a reversible recycled sari skirt. Photo: Noel Van Raes

9) Put a scarf on it! Hands down, the humble scarf takes the prize for multi-purpose versatility—warmth on cold days, a cover-up at the beach, a shawl, a towel, a head scarf for churches and mosques—and last, but not least, it adds style and pizzazz to any outfit. I never travel without at least one.


Our three daughters, stand outside the Gelati Monastery near Kutaisi, Georgia, all wearing head scarves as required by the Georgian Orthodox church.
My scarf was my constant companion as protection from the searing sun of the Chilean highlands.

10) If possible wear your heaviest clothing, including your shoes on travel days. Even trying a jacket around your waist can make a pack more manageable.


11) Pack a poncho! Most dollar and department stores sell tiny emergency ponchos that can be unfurled in a pinch. Unless you’re going to be encountering non-stop precipitation, a light rain poncho will keep you and your pack nice and dry.


No luggage compartment on this bus in Sri Lanka. My pack will be on my lap. Photo: Noel Van Raes

Ready, set, go—happy adventures with your lightened load!

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