We’ve gone from a suitcase to backpacks (but made a few silly packing mistakes)

We forgot to tell you we’re in Georgetown, Penang for the week – and we sort of purposely “forgot” to tell you because it’s not that great and we’re wracking our brains for a positive spin. And also because the wifi’s shit, so we couldn’t update you anyway with photos of nearly getting run over the whole time, or looking constipated through the sheer amount of noodles and non-vegetables (WHERE ARE THE FRICKING VEGETABLES??) we’re getting through each day.

But I digress.

So… suitcase to backpacks. We’re spending a total of ten days away from our “home” in Chiang Mai, and we thought we’d be brave and leave our suitcase behind.

Being in hot countries makes it a whole lot easier to travel light (especially for me: when I’m in Britain, you can often find me still wearing mittens and snow boots in May). So this was a good time to experiment.

Here’s what we discovered:

The good stuff

Air travel has become a breeze

(Admittedly helped by the fact that Ryanair and Heathrow weren’t involved.) We flew from Chiang Mai to Bangkok for a few days, and then from Bangkok to Penang. Pre-flight, we’d check in online, which meant we got to avoid the “bag drop” queue and head straight for security. And at the other end, we didn’t have to suffer any of those “Why can’t I see my suitcase on the carousel?” panic attacks. AND we were first in line for taxis.

It’s cheaper

I used to load up my hand luggage with all the snacks imaginable for the flight, but now I can’t do that because my hand luggage is full of clothes.

So now we buy snacks at the airport, which is more expensive than bringing our own, but less expensive than putting luggage in the hold – which always costs money for short/medium-haul flights. Also, it turns out that the steamed pork buns at the airport 7-11 are just as good as the ones you buy on the street.

It’s freeing

Not to go all “gap year hippie” on you, but travelling so light really does make us feel freer. We can go wherever we want whenever we want, and it’ll take us literally two minutes (we timed it) to pack up all our stuff and leave.

We’ve realised how little we actually need to be happy

We’ve written a few times about how we don’t like “stuff” cluttering up our lives and we’re all about “experiences”, but we still always managed to fill up at least one suitcase with unnecessary clothes, wires, electronic thingamies, porridge oats, tea bags, and sometimes even kettles.

But it’s amazing to see just how little we need to feel comfortable and happy. It comes down to this: t-shirts, shorts, trainers, underwear, socks, laptops, Kindles, MP3 players, mascara, phones, Rogaine (eh hem), deodorant, razors, M&Ms, and a few wires to charge up all the electrical stuff. (See below for the full packing list.)

If we do ever settle down to live in one place, we’re going to make a huge effort to remember this week’s packing list. Because although we’ll obviously need our own plates and forks and things – and there won’t be a hotel bathroom from which to nick shampoo – there’s no need to fill it up with detritus that has absolutely no impact on our overall feelings of happiness.

We’re happier than we’ve ever been. Well, maybe not this week because it’s hard to be constantly happy while fearing for our lives, but in general we’re loving everything about our experiences. Yet we’ve got less stuff than we’ve ever had.

It’s possible to get most things you need at the other end

Here’s an extreme example to illustrate my point:

So, we’re in Penang, as you know. And we’ve discovered we don’t like their coffee or tea. And also, there’s nowhere near us that’ll sell coffee or tea late at night.

(I totally get that that my complaint has a lot in common with Woody Allen’s gag about two elderly women at a resort: one of them says, “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.” The other one says, “Yeah I know; and such small portions.”)

The hot drinks here are pretty expensive anyway, which kind of adds to the bleurghness of the situation. So we went out and bought a kettle for £6, some Nescafe instant coffee for £3, and two mugs for £1 each. The kettle is using the plug point originally allocated to the telly in our private hostel room, and we’re now a whole lot jollier.

Where we went wrong

Hand luggage = no liquids = no suncream = sunburn

I said how it’s possible to get most things at the other end. Totally true of suncream. But we were too cheap to buy some for just a few days (yes, given the kettle story above, it’s clear our priorities are insane). So now we’re the colour of all the different curry soups I keep trying that all look and taste basically the same.

This one’s our fault, but the lack-of-liquids situation is something to be aware of.

As for the curry soup problem… seriously Penang? A different type of noodle gives the soup a whole new name??

You need to be super organised with laundry

Because when you reach Day 3 of your trip and you’ve been getting through two t-shirts a day as a result of sweating, Day 4 means going out in your bra or washing something in the basin and spending a few subsequent hours looking like you’re in a wet t-shirt contest.

To conclude

You know how you sometimes cook a meal that takes five hours and it tastes amazing and you think “I’m doing this EVERY night. I feel so fulfilled, so happy… it’s such a rewarding experience to spend five hours in the kitchen to prepare this culinary deliciousness.” And then you spend the rest of the week ordering takeout, and then you forget how rewarding the kitchen experience was, and decide that watching The Bachelorette is just as awesome as cooking a meal, and far less effort?

That’s my long-winded way of saying we REALLY hope to stick with this. But I just know it’s going to be tempting to give up on travelling nimbly, and pack our cases full of “what if” and “worst case scenario: there’s a snowstorm in Bali” clothing.

Also, we’ll be travelling around Eastern Europe later this month – so we really will need a few more layers.

Whatever happens though, this past week has proven that we can do it, and we should do it whenever we can. So we really will try…

And now for what’s in our backpacks…

We have a backpack each, plus a laptop bag. We don’t have too much to compare to, but both bags are the perfect size for us, very comfortable, durable, etc.

The backpacks we both use are: Kathmandu Cubic Pack (32L)

And our laptop bags are: STM Alley Medium

FYI All our clothes are from the same shop too. So we do look a bit ridiculous when we go out sometimes.



x5 t-shirts

x1 denim shorts

x1 running shorts

x2 pairs black leggings (excellent way to create a “warm” outfit with shorts at nighttime without taking extra pairs of trousers)

Underwear and socks

TOMS shoes (don’t judge me)

Phone charger (doubles up as Kindle charger)


Contact lenses

Mascara, razor, deodorant, tweezers, toothbrushes, toothpaste, dental floss, hair elastics

MP3 player and charger


Laptop bag:

Laptop and charger





Wearing to travel: another pair of denim shorts, belt, t-shirt, hoodie, socks and trainers



x1 shorts

x1 swimming shorts

x4 t-shirts

x2 shirts

Underwear, no socks (“socks are for losers”, apparently)


Laptop mouse

External hard drive

Misc wires

Stupid bloody online banking keyfobs

Contact lenses


Laptop bag:

Laptop and charger


MP3 player

Phone charger

Passports and boarding passes

Light jumper


Rogaine :(


Wearing to travel: trousers, t-shirt, slip-on shoes

  • Alison Gold

    I loved reading this!!!!! Love to both of you, and huge hugs, and missing you…… Auntie Al

  • http://screwtheninetofive.com Jill

    Hot damn you are hilarious!

    1. I’m mega pissed we missed you guys living in Chiang Mai…we arrived a few weeks ago.

    2. I’m ridiculously impressed you can survive in 2 carry on backpacks.

    3. Penang is the only part of Malaysia I really liked! Mmmm char kway teow

    4. Your writing is top-f**king-notch! I love reading your posts!!

    • Mish @ Making It Anywhere

      Yay – thanks so much Jill!

      I don’t think we really gave Penang a fair chance – we were just too crazily in love with Chiang Mai at the time!

      Can’t BELIEVE we just missed each other in Chiang Mai. Such a shame! We need to swap itineraries to see if we’ll be crossing paths any time soon.

      ADORING your blog, but so annoyed it’s taken us this bloody long to come across it.


      • http://screwtheninetofive.com Jill

        Oh my gosh, I would love to swap itineraries. Here’s what we have planned so far – Chiang Mai. hahahaha!

        For once in our travel lives we don’t have another adventure planned…just bunkering down and working. Aren’t we so exciting?

        Do you guys have any plans of hitting Asia back up anytime in the near/not-so-distant future?

        Also, just launched our site about a month ago so you’re not missing much. Us on the other hand are fuming we just found yours…SO much AMAZING content!

        I’m seriously hooked. Even posted on FB about it…and yes…I’ve kinda turned into a Mish fan-girl 😉

        • Mish @ Making It Anywhere

          MY FIRST FAN!!!!! (Rob and my mum don’t count!)

          Rob and I have got a bit of a “couple crush” on you two, so let’s all carry on bigging each other up and making our respective heads huge.

          Just saw the FB post – so lovely of you!

          We miss CM soso much and DEFINITELY plan on going back… but not for a little while. We’re thinking of going to Bangkok for #DCBKK in October, and if we do that we’ll definitely stay in SE Asia for a few months. If we don’t do #DCBKK, we’ll probably go to Thailand a bit later – maybe December/January time (also for a few months).

          Need to keep in touch and make sure there’s crossover at some point!

          • http://screwtheninetofive.com Jill

            No. freakin. way! I didn’t know you guys were a part of the DC! We’ve been members since mid-last year or so :)

            We’re absolutely hitting up DCBKK and now I’m even more pumped because I might get to meet you! *fist pump*

            Either way, we’re not going anywhere…we bought a place on Koh Tao that’s still being built so we are here until late April next year for sure :)

            Absolutely keep in touch and 110% plan to meet up…if you’ll have us 😉