A week in New York, then a flight to Milan. A week to get to Prague. A 20 hour layover in Paris on the way to Bangkok. All that for $177 through a crazy deal I found on the internet. Add on two weeks in Thailand, a week in Myanmar, a week in Egypt, and a week in Turkey, then head back home to Seattle. All in, less than $1000 in airfare for a 7 week trip around the world and back.

As a Martin Brody once said, “… I think I’m going to need a bigger backpack.”

Or maybe not.

Maybe I needed a much, much smaller one.

Zac's Packing List Realization

This is me in 2008 getting ready for my first big solo adventure — an 8 week bus, train, and plane trip around the United States visiting parkour and freerunning communities. I didn’t know what I would need… so I brought everything. Note – I’m actually wearing TWO backpacks here. A hiking backpack with a frame, and a day pack strapped to the bottom. You know – so I could leave the big one somewhere and still have a backpack to use during the day!

I realized something halfway through this trip. Maybe… just maybe… I brought too much stuff.

After that, I switched to just the smaller day pack. I loved that bag. I used it as my everything bag. School, work, travel. That thing was never farther than 30 feet from me. It had so many pockets, so many straps, so many loops to hook stuff to.

People always laughed about how big it was, but I loved that – I could put anything in it! And people always joked about how heavy it was, but that was awesome – it could (and did) survive anything! But about a year ago, I was teasing someone about how their Dell laptop was four times heavier than my Macbook when I paused.

“Wait a minute… Oh crap. I get it now.”

After 6 years, and just a few months before my seven week trip around the world, I realized… it was time for a new backpack.

And so, just like I went from a two backpacks to just the day pack… it was time to go from a 50L backpack made from heavy canvas to something much smaller and much lighter.

I started researching minimalist travel. I knew I needed to carry everything I owned on my back for 7 weeks. On trains, on taxis, and tuktuks. On planes, ferries, and busses. And on foot. Oh man, there was going to be so much walking.

I ended up talking to my friend Tynan, who travels for about 300 days a year. He raved about his Synapse 19 although he kind of wanted a 15L version. He’s someone who’s product recommendations I trust blindly, so I went to tombihn.com and ordered mine that day (although I decided I wasn’t quite as extreme as him and got the 25L version).

Zac's Packing List Realization
Soda can for size reference.

And I’ve never looked back. The Synapse 25L can cause a few major changes:

1. You force yourself to bring less by having less space. One of the biggest space and weight savers for me was transitioning to more travel friendly clothing and going all merino wool (socks , underwear , shirts ). Now when I travel, I only need two pairs of each type of clothing. Because I pack smarter now, I have a ton of extra room.

2. You no longer need to ditch your luggage. Several people I traveled with brought huge hiking backpacks (like I used to), and they always had to stop at the hostel to drop their bags off before they went exploring. My bag is so light, I can go straight from the airport to the city and start exploring right away.

3. You don’t have to stress about hostel security. Hostels are awesome, but they’re not the most secure place to leave your things. So now, I don’t leave anything there. When I go out for the day, I repack my bag and carry everything.

4. Mild feelings of superiority. When you see someone lugging two giant roller suitcases through the airport for a one week vacation, or when the hotel clerk asks curiously “Where is the rest of your luggage?” If you’re already a fan of minimalist travel… you know what I’m talking about. 🙂

5. You don’t have to check bags at the airport. This makes your airport experience go from hellish to almost fun (not quite fun, but almost there). If you have to check a bag, you need to get there two hours before your flight. You need to wait in line to check in. You need to make sure your bag is tagged right, then (often) pay to check your bag. After you land, you rush off the plane only to wait around at baggage claim for fifteen or twenty minutes. You stress out looking at every single bag that goes by, wondering why it isn’t yours. When you finally find it, you need to drag it outside, find a taxi (or god forbid, a tuktuk), and drag your bag all the way to the hotel to ditch it.

If you DON’T have to check a bag, you can check in online, roll in an hour before your flight departs, cruise through security, stroll over to the gate and walk right on the plane. When you disembark, just walk off, find your cab, then maybe go grab some lunch and visit a museum.

6. It takes you less than 5 minutes to pack for a trip. Since I use the same bag for traveling downtown and traveling to Asia, it’s always stocked with the things I need throughout a day. When it comes time to pack for a trip, my bag is already halfway packed!

Switching to the Synapse 25L was the best travel equipment decision I’ve ever made. Minimalist travel liberates you from so many constraints that everyone assumes is just a given when traveling. The less you bring, the more freedom you have.

I believe in minimalist travel so much I’m about to start another round of minimization. Who knows, maybe I’ll even bump down to the 19L version.

Zac Cohn travels the world for speaking engagements and for fun. He rents an apartment in Seattle, but his friends aren’t really sure why he bothers. If you’re dying to know how you can find crazy deals on airfare like he did, check out his company, Amazing Airfare. He helps people get 50% or more off international airfares.