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What I packed for 2 weeks in Sri Lanka

Everything fit into my carry-on backpack, and I still ended up with extras.

I have a friend who keeps detailed packing lists in an Excel spreadsheet. It's a highly impressive document, with tabs for hiking, canoe-tripping, and skiing trips, as well as various destinations such as Europe, Burning Man, and southeast Asia. (She travels a lot.) At first I thought it was overkill, but then I realized it's brilliant. Many of us will take multiple trips to similar destinations over our lifetimes; why not have a go-to list?

Needless to say, she inspired me to pull together a list of everything I took on a two-week trip to Sri Lanka in December. Not only will I reference it someday when I go back to a hot tropical country, but I'm sure it can be of help to anyone else heading in that direction.

I have a self-imposed policy of carry-on luggage only. I hate checking luggage because it usually means waiting in lines, slowing me down, and generally complicating the travel experience. This policy served me well on the way home, when I had an unexpected overnight at Delhi airport and no checked luggage was released from the plane; fortunately I had everything I needed on my back.

Bag: 35L backpack from Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC)

What I packed:

– 3 t-shirts
– 1 long-sleeved cotton button-up shirt
– 1 pair shorts (mid-thigh)
– 1 pair light colored linen pants
– 1 long printed skirt
– 1 casual t-shirt dress (mid-thigh)
– 1 black dress (that could be dressed up or down)
– 4 pairs underwear + 2 pairs socks + extra bra
– Sleeping shorts & tank top
– Bathing suit
– PONS leather sandals
– Flip-flops
– Hat
– Scarf (for sleeping on plane + visiting temples)
– Raincoat

What I wore on the plane:

– Black cotton-hemp pants
– Dark t-shirt
– Hoodie
– Running shoes
– Small sling pack from MEC for documents, phone, etc.

Other items in my bag:

– Laptop + paper notepad
– Phone & computer chargers
– Power converter
– Sunscreen + bug spray
– Toiletries (shampoo bar, toothpaste + brush, mascara, lip balm)
– Medication (Advil, electrolytes, Aquatabs for water purification)
– Headphones + earplugs
– Headband that can doubles as face mask
– Inflatable travel pillow
– Books that could be left along the way
– Water bottles, including one with a filter

See: 11 travel essentials that are always in my carry-on

The trip notes had told me to dress conservatively, so I left behind the usual shorter shorts and racerback tank tops I wear during Canadian summers. Was I ever glad I did that! In fact, I only wore my shorts and t-shirt dress once (and only within hotel property) because I was self-conscious of showing more than half a leg. Rural Sri Lankans dress very modestly and traditionally, with women in saris and men in sarongs, and all bottoms must go below the knee if you enter a Buddhist or Hindu temple, which we did almost every day. (Some Hindu temples require men to remove their shirts at the same time as covering their legs, which I found amusing.)

temple visit© Ajith Kapurubandara / Intrepid Travel

The single most useful item of clothing turned out to be a flowy skirt given to me by a friend. It had a comfy waistband that allowed me to hitch up the sides to make it shorter for walking and avoiding mud puddles, then quickly lower for temple visits. I'll never go back to Asia without it, and now I have an appreciation for those loose backpacker clothes I've seen but never understood.

If it had been summer at home in Canada, I could've left the running shoes behind because my leather sandals have enough grip to allow for decent hiking. Had I known, I also would have left my long-sleeved cotton button-up shirt, which felt too warm compared to my t-shirts.

The secret to packing light is to find clothes that can be mixed and paired easily, and to perfect the art of hand washing in a hotel room. I took 3 packets of Tide travel detergent and washed a few small batches of clothing during the trip, always waiting till we'd stay at a place for two nights. Then I rolled the clean, wet items in a towel and hung them on hangers in front of the air conditioner to dry.

Learning how to pack lightly is a skill that each traveller needs to practice. And if you haven't yet, I urge you to give it a try. It's absolutely liberating not to feel overly burdened by clothing, and simultaneously thrilling to find that sweet spot where you have just the right thing for each occasion.

The author was the guest of Intrepid Travel while in Sri Lanka. There was no obligation to write this post.

Everything fit into my carry-on backpack, and I still ended up with extras.