Student Travel: Carry On Your Adventures

This week we are pleased to present a guest post by Hannah Miller, a freelance writer, web developer and university student, pursuing a degree in Geography from Queen’s University, in Canada. Hannah has been traveling on her own since she was fourteen and has adventured in twenty seven countries, on six continents. Her website, Edventure Girl, reflects her journeys, at school and abroad.

Students are famous for travel. Whether it’s back and forth between the dorm and home (to do laundry for free on the weekends and eat some of Mom’s home cooking) that long awaited spring break whirlwind trip,  or the classic summer of hopping trains across Europe; all college students are traveling somewhere, sometime. This is a great season of life in which to try on our travel styles and learn to pack like the pros we’re pulling all nighters to become.

My first solo trip, at 14, was backpacking from Guatemala into Belize. Since then, I’ve learned that lighter is almost always better, and a few tricks go a long way to making life on the road easier and more fun. Let’s not talk about the time I had to negotiate stitches in an airport health center in Italy alone (without anesthesia) or the time my iPhone was stolen under the Eiffel Tower, in Paris. Instead, let’s discuss packing, and how to make your trip even more awesome.

Weekend Escapes

Successfully surviving another week at university is a feat which deserves a reward. Whether it’s the end of a regular week, or break has finally arrived, travel is a great way to escape your everyday life for a while and relax. Even if it’s just heading home to Mom’s with a bag full of laundry. We’ve all been there.

Weekend trips are common among students. What a great time to go for a short road trip around the area, enjoy outdoor sports, or meet up with family and friends to rejuvenate your mind before the next week of homework and lectures arrives. In nearly every case, a weekend trip is not going to require a great deal of packing, or preparation. A backpack will hold everything you need to bring with you. It’s best if the backpack is set up for easy organization. Stick to the basics and pack as light as possible for these trips.

Wear & Re-Wear

No need to pack three outfits for a two day excursion, unless you’re going to a conference, or an event where you’ll need to look particularly presentable. Otherwise, pack one versatile extra set of clothes and fresh underwear. Wear your clothes a second day, and you’ll be able to pack less.

Roll, Don’t Stuff

Embarrassed about the amount of laundry you’re taking home with you? Don’t be. It’s normal. My first trek home, after my first few weeks at university, was with my massive hiking bag strapped on; full to busting with dirty laundry. I have a friend who went home with no less than four duffel bags of laundry. Of course, we were both extreme cases.

To pack on a smaller scale, remember this one simple trick: pack your clothes rolled as tightly as possible. Twice as many dirty t-shirts will fit via this method, and it’ll be possible to make the trip using one average-sized backpack.

Another trick: If your clothes seriously stink, throw a mild air-freshener or some baby powder in there with them as a temporary fix.


Don’t bring them, if you can help it. A toothbrush, hairbrush, and deodorant will usually suffice. If you must bring makeup, bring as little as possible. Toiletries can take up space fast, and if you’re only away for the weekend, you won’t need many.

Remember: If you need something you don’t have, you’ll likely be able to find it easily at a pharmacy. Packing for every occasion will just weigh you down.

Long Haul Bus Trips

bus trip

Sometimes you can save a buck at the expense of personal comfort by taking a bus instead of a plane. At times like these, you definitely want to travel carry-on. Smaller is better when you have to move it all yourself, and there’s a higher chance that your bag will end up in the same city you do if you keep it in your own hands.

Traveling by bus can be stress-free if you have a light bag, and miserable if you accidentally overpacked. Packing for a bus trip is similar to packing for a long haul flight. Be intentional about what you decide to bring.

Comfort is Key

Don’t go dressed to impress. Pack comfy clothes and a few more pairs of socks than you normally would. Keep a sweater on hand for warming up, and consider bringing a travel pillow even though it’ll take up some valuable space in your bag.

Make sure the clothes you pack will be comfortable enough to wear on the bus and presentable enough to adventure in when you reach your destination. Avoiding jeans and close-fitting clothes is wise.


Bus food is the only food worse than airplane food, and sometimes it’s completely nonexistent. Pack snacks if you don’t want to be waiting in line to raid an over-priced vending machine in the fifteen minute break you have between buses.

Don’t put yourself in a position where have to choose between a bathroom break and food.

Noise-Cancelling Headphones

I wish I had splurged on these before traveling across the States by bus last summer. The ability to block out the guy snoring behind you, the kid wailing a few rows up, and the buzzing headphones of your peer beside you, is a blessing you can’t quite appreciate until you have to survive a 12 hour bus trip without this essential piece of gear.

Cheapo Tip: At the very least, bring some standard drugstore earplugs.

A Sense of Humor

Great news! This must-have piece of travel gear isn’t going to take up any space in your carry on. If you don’t pack it, you’ll regret it. The best way to tackle late buses, long lines, uncomfortable seats, and crappy customer service is to laugh it off and give it your best shot.

Remember: Taking the bus means that you’ll have some extra cash in your pocket to splurge with, on fun stuff, when you arrive at your destination.

Backpacking Europe

Is there any trip more classic than this? What university student would pass up the opportunity to backpack Europe? It’s almost become a right of passage to fly to idyllic France, or Italy, and trek the countryside, hauling a soul-sucking, back-breaking 200lb pack. Or, you know, a carry on bag.

Trust me on this one: Leave your monster backpack at home.

Recently, I spent a summer backpacking Europe. Carefully, I packed for every occasion, only to discover, a week into the trip, that I needed a fraction of what I was dragging across the continent. Everything you need can easily fit in a carry-on bag. If it doesn’t, you’ve packed too much.

Later, you’ll thank yourself, when you’re spending your hard-saved cash on gelato and museum tickets instead of exorbitant luggage fees and new walking shoes for your aching feet.

Be a Minimalist

Please don’t bring every single blasted thing you own. Traveling for a weekend, or for a year, with just a few shirts, two pairs of pants, some socks, and underwear is perfectly doable. Pack one good pair of walking sandals. Leave the heels and sneakers at home.

Recognize your personal packing weakness (mine is books) and beat it down to a manageable size without mercy.

A good packing rule of thumb: Pack as little as you think you possibly can, and then go through and take out three things. Check out the Minimalist Packing List for Normal People to learn more.

Space Conservation

No matter where you’re going, or what you’re packing for, how well you conserve space is a determining factor in how much you can reasonably pack.

Consider picking up some stuff sacks, nifty light-weight bags that compress and contain your clothes for easy packing and organization. Packing cubes are great too. Look for hollow spaces that can be filled. Empty water bottle? Use it as a water-tight container in which to safely hide your travel documents. Packing an extra pair of shoes? Stuff your socks down in the toes, along with any easy to break gadgets that might need extra protection.

Be careful! Your first pack is going to be neat and tidy, and everything will fit well. If all goes well, it should stay that way during the trip, right? Not a chance.

Don’t forget: Make sure you leave extra room for purchases on the road and the inexplicable, but inevitable, expansion of your belongings.

Being a Cheapskate is Cool

No, seriously. Those brand-new ultra-expensive lightweight clothes made from the magical floating alpaca of the Travel Gods are unnecessary. And, you don’t need every gadget known to man, either. Your typical summer t-shirt and shorts will work just fine.

Stay away from heavyweight fabrics that will take a long time to dry, such as denim, cotton, or wool. If there’s one expensive thing you should buy, it’s a decent pair of walking shoes.

The Essentials: Don’t Forget Your Friggin’ Passport!

It shouldn’t need to be said, but you’d be surprised. Check to make sure you have all your documents in order well ahead of time. Don’t pack anything sharp or explosive. Check the airline requirements for carry on rules. Keep your gadgets and documents near the top of your bag for easy access.


University students travel often, whether it’s to Europe on a backpacking trip, across the States by bus, or just back home for the weekend to do their laundry. Improving packing skills and ditching heavy baggage for a carry on bag can be the difference between having the trip of a lifetime and getting weighed down and missing opportunities for adventure.

  • Minimize your packing list
  • Pack snacks & a sense of humor
  • Conserve space by rolling clothes tightly
  • Being a cheapskate is cool
  • Stick to carry on only

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