Yesterday’s blog post prompted some questions from readers. I get the feeling some of you were a bit incredulous. That’s ok, we’ve experienced that incredulity before. We got the question, “Where are your bags?” a few times during our trip!
“May I ask whether you used a specific bag pattern, what fabric you used for the bags, and what on earth are ‘packing cells’?”
I made my own pattern for the bags, a refined version of a bag that I designed several years ago and have been using ever since. It is basically a big, rectangular, fabric box, with a zipper around three sides so that it opens up fully. There are two pockets in the lid – one on the outside and a mesh one on the inside. On the back there are backpack straps so that I can carry it on my back. There is also a grab handle at the top for when you just want to pick it up quickly in your hands.
Our empty bags weighed only 530 grams (my husband’s, which was 5cm longer than the others), 480 grams (mine), and 360 grams for the girls’ bags. Ours were heavier fabrics than the girls’ fabrics.
What fabrics? In the original post that I linked to, I talked quite a bit about the fabrics that I was going to use. You might like to take a little recap. I used dyneema for the girls bags, as it is strong but lightweight, and ballistic nylon for our bags, as it is strong enough to be checked in if we had needed to.
I was a little worried about using the ballistic nylon. I wasn’t sure if it would be too heavy for my domestic sewing machine. However, it was fine. I did try using thicker sewing thread for it, but that just mucked up the tension on my machine, so I reverted to using normal thread, but sewed critical seams twice, and used bar tacking for points of extra stress. Bar tacking is basically a line of wide, closely-spaced zig-zag stitch. You can see a video of a bag manufacturer doing it on a special machine here.
And what are packing cells? Packing cells or packing cubes (which are misnamed because they are rarely cubes!) are basically little fabric “boxes” that have zips along three sides (usually). That’s it. They’re like little bags within bags. As you’ll understand by the fact that I only bought ours just before our trip, we’re only recent converts. Yes, they add weight to the whole thing, but the payoff that you get is nicely organised bags instead of a massive jumble of stuff that all falls down to the bottom of the bag! And when you have such unstructured bags with such lightweight fabrics as dyneema, everything can easily fall to the bottom!
We used packing cells from Kathmandu, but there are many other brands. I just happened to get ours during a sale which meant that they were MUCH MUCH cheaper than the price advertised on their website. I added up how much they all would have been at full price, and well, over $250 is just a TAD too steep for a bit of organisation. I could easily have made my own, but I basically ran out of time.
“I think you are amazing that you can travel with so little although I must ask the question – do you shop whilst you’re away?”
Of course we shop! But what sort of shopping do you mean? We shopped for food, and for souvenirs, but that’s about it. We didn’t purchase any other clothes to wear, there. Three quick dry mix and match outfits are quite enough. All souvenirs are usually lightweight, and easily packable. My husband and I did purchase a few books, but mine were offset by the gifts I took to give away to those who helped me with my research.
The girls’ bags fully packed weighed only about 3kg, so we had heaps more weight allowance (up to 7kg) in their bags if we had needed it for heavier souvenirs.
We took the bare minimum, knowing that there are shops in Italy where we could purchase anything we did need urgently (amazing, they have shops there, you know! ). An example of this was needing to purchase antihistamines. One of us came out in a weird and itchy rash, and as this hadn’t been anticipated, we just went to the local farmacia and purchased ‘antistaminici’. The Italian phrasebook really did help here!