How a travel writer moved abroad with only a suitcase and backpack – Insider

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When travel blogger Katie Caf left New York City in May of 2021 for Mexico, she only had one large rolling suitcase and a backpack in tow. Somehow, though, Caf says she still feels she overpacked.
“I thought I had only brought the essentials,” she tells Insider. “But truthfully I had a lot more than I needed. Even for work, I rarely use all the camera equipment I brought with me — pictures I take with my iPhone often wind up working just fine.”
Nowadays, Caf relies on a modest rolling carry-on suitcase for all her must-haves while hopping from place to place. 
Below, she shares what it was like moving abroad with minimal luggage and more details on the items she brought with her.
Caf first fell in love with Indonesia on a trip to Bali in September 2019. She vowed to return as soon as possible but had to push off those plans for a while after the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“Due to travel restrictions in Indonesia, I wasn’t able to return to Bali until the summer of 2022,” Caf says.
In the meantime, she spent the first year of her travels hopping between Latin America, North Africa, and Europe. 
Now she considers Bali her home base.
Caf’s convertible Osprey rolling suitcase stored all of her clothing, shoes, and toiletries. 
“My Peak Design 20L camera backpack is just small enough to qualify as a personal item on flights,” she says. “This is what I use to carry my laptop, camera, and all the other electronics I use for work.”
Once Caf settled on Gili Air island in Indonesia, she realized she didn’t need as many belongings as she originally thought she would. So she left her larger suitcase behind at her Airbnb in Ubud. That suitcase contains all the cold weather clothes that aren’t necessary in Bali, like a puffer jacket and warm leggings.
“The Airbnb is run by a family that lives next door, and I made friends with them during my two-month stay,” Caf explains. “They let me store the Osprey suitcase at their house for free.”
Since then, Caf has been living out of a $10 rolling carry-on suitcase she purchased from a street vendor in Indonesia, which is lightweight and easier to transport. 
“Plus, whereas I used to need packing cubes, my smaller suitcase has a zippered compartment on one side that makes it easier to keep clothing organized,” she says.
“Looking back, I can’t believe I packed doubles of certain items like sunscreen and deodorant when I first left the states,” Caf says. “While it’s nice to have brands you’re used to, I realized packing extras of these toiletries is unnecessary.”
Now Caf just picks up more conditioner, toothpaste, or sunscreen at local pharmacies and convenience stores.
One strategy that helps Caf save space in her suitcase is to buy items that serve multiple purposes.
For example, she purchased a pair of water shoes that are also stylish enough to wear out with a sundress.
“I bought them off Tokopedia, which is like Indonesia’s Amazon Prime, for 100,000 Indonesian Rupiah, or about $7 — and I wear them every day,” she says. “They’re so comfortable and cute.”
In some ways, Caf says living in Bali has made it easier to live with minimal belongings.
“It’s always hot here — between 80 and 90 degrees — so I don’t have to worry about bulky jackets, sweaters, and coats,” she explains. “That said, it gets tricky if I want to change climates. When I go home to New York for the holidays I will probably have to buy a hat and gloves at JFK airport when I arrive.”
“When I traveled prior to 2021, I used to lug around a 20-pack of water bottles, which was exhausting, expensive, and wasteful,” Caf says. “Since then, I bought a travel water purifier to use while traveling to places where the tap water isn’t safe to drink. Considering how much bottled water costs, it actually saves me a lot of money in the long run.”
The Grayl bottle filters out any contaminants, including dirt, chemicals, bacteria, viruses, and heavy metals — resulting in cleaner, better-tasting water. 
Caf has used it all over Mexico, South America, and Indonesia, and it only takes about 8 to 20 seconds to filter the water.
Toiletry organizers are something I didn’t originally think to pack, but I’ve come to consider them essential,” Caf says. “Since I can hang both my larger organizer and smaller organizer up, they double as shower caddies. If I’m just going on a weekend trip, I only need the smaller organizer. I use refillable 3-ounce bottles to store my shampoo, conditioner, and other essentials, and these last me for around a month.”
When Caf first left New York City, she packed around six pairs of shoes: a pair of wedge heels for going out, casual sneakers, running sneakers, water shoes, hiking sandals, and flip-flops.
“That seemed minimalistic at the time, but now I only own two pairs of shoes at a time,” she says. “When those shoes wear out, I just buy a new pair to replace them.”
“It’s a totally different lifestyle, but when I think about how many shoes I had in my New York City closet that I never wore, I think it’s a positive change,” adds Caf.
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