Marie from BigTravelNut Shares Her Simple Packing Tips for Solo Travelers

Traveler Marie-France Roy

My name is Marie-France Roy. I’m originally from Montreal, Canada, but I’ve been living in Toronto for almost 30 years now. I started travelling solo in 1992 and it’s become my preferred way of seeing the world (60 countries visited so far). I’ve been publishing a travel blog called BigTravelNut for the last four years, and earning some income as a freelance writer for the last year and a half. My blog focuses on affordable solo travel for the 40+ crowd.

How and why did you get into traveling?

As soon as I knew there was a big world out there (from watching TV probably), I knew I had to see it. By age 11, I had pen pals in Europe. By 14, I desperately wanted to travel to Europe. But with university, work, and all, I didn’t manage it until I was 29. I went solo to France, Switzerland, and Italy because I couldn’t find anybody to come with me, and I was sick of waiting. Then I got hooked and decided to catch up on lost time.

Once I’ve decided where I want to go and when, I buy the Lonely Planet guidebook (or ebook) and also start reading about the destination online. Next, I try to find the best-priced flight possible through aggregators like SkyScanner or Kayak. I subscribe to lots of airline newsletters as well. Sometimes I book a return flight, but if I’m unsure of my return date, I book only the outbound segment. Then I decide on an itinerary and start booking accommodation, at least for the first week. Unless the destination is really cheap, I book most of my rooms through AirBnB.

Traveler Marie-France Roy

How do you finance your travels?

I used to have a technical writing job which consisted of consecutive 6 to 9-month contracts, leaving me time to travel in-between. Right now, as a freelancer, I’m relying heavily on savings to finance both my life in Toronto and my travels. Fortunately, I’m a very frugal person. My freelance income went up quite a bit this year, but it still has a way to go before I break even.

About 40% of my yearly expenses are travel-related, which amounts to around CAD$8000 to $10,000. Depending where I go, this can cover anywhere from two to six months of travel.

Most of the money I allocate to my travel budget goes toward flights, accommodation, food, and activities. Not gear. In fact, I keep my gear until it literally falls apart. Experiences are more valuable to me than stuff.

Why is traveling important for you?

You might as well ask me why air is important to me!

Traveler Marie-France Roy

How do you bring your things with you?

Since I travel solo and I have only two hands, I only travel with two bags. One is a small backpack that respects carry-on measurements. The other is a daypack small enough to be considered an “accessory” on those flights that allow two pieces of carry-on. So unless I’m flying on discount airlines, I can take all my luggage with me in the cabin. These are the only two bags I take, whether I’m travelling for two weeks or four months. It’s usually a tight fit packing everything in, but I’ve become an expert at packing light over the years.

My backpack is from Eagle Creek, and my small daypack is made by a company called OnSight Equipment. I’m not loyal to any particular brands and just buy bags that have the features that I want for a decent price. When buying a backpack, I look for something small enough to be taken as carry-on, with a sturdy hip belt, and at least a few compartments to divide up articles.

Traveler Marie-France Roy

How do you organize things in your bags?

While in transit, all my important stuff (computer, camera, passport, money, phone) go in the daypack. I keep that close to me at all times. I fill the backpack with the remainder of my stuff, and things tend to go in pretty much the same place every time. For example, the liquids in their ziplock bag always go in the front pocket so I can easily unzip it and take them out when going though Security.

Ideally, I’d like to have some dividers inside the main compartment of the bag, instead of wrapping things inside plastic bags to separate them (especially the shoes). I actually wrote a blog post with a video a couple of years ago that shows exactly how I pack my bags.

How do your bags and gear hold up?

Now that I’ve finally replaced my MacBook Pro with a MacBook Air, the weight is more manageable. I make sure I can walk or stand up with my gear for at least half an hour.

Since I often overpack the small daypack, the zippers tend to break down every few years and I have to replace the bag. I’ve had the Eagle Creek backpack for about eight years now, travelling two to six months a year, and it’s holding on, except for a cracked buckle on the hip belt (which I should really do something about soon).

Any gear you wish you had brought with you from the beginning?

Since I’m not a perpetual traveller, I replace gear as the need arises, usually between trips. The most important things, besides bags that you’re comfortable carrying around, are good walking/hiking shoes, and a hat (see below).

Traveler Marie-France Roy

What has been your best travel-related purchase below $100?

That would have to be my Tilley hat. I bought the first one in 2007 for CAD$75 (now selling for CAD$90), and replaced it with an identical one three years ago after losing the first one on a Spanish train! It’s a TH4 hemp hat. Its main purpose is to protect my head from the sun (and even rain), but it’s also very convenient on bad hair days, and it makes me look good!

Another piece of gear I like a lot is a long sleeve hiking shirt made of 100% merino wool. This shirt is magic. I can wear it for four days, even while hiking, and it doesn’t smell bad. It’s made by Smartwool.

Finally, my green Goretex jacket serves me well on most trips as either a raincoat, windbreaker, or an extra layer in cold weather.

Traveler Marie-France Roy

What is your best advice for other travelers?

A lot of newbie travellers carry way too much stuff. Pack only for 7 to 10 days and plan to do laundry every week or so. Don’t carry anything you can’t afford to lose. Always get medical travel insurance. Make sure you have a credit card or enough cash available to pay for treatment upfront in a medical emergency. And, especially for women travelling solo, always trust your instincts.

Traveler Marie-France Roy

What will the future bring?

I’m leaving for Taiwan on January 11 for 26 days. It will be my first visit there, and I’m going to travel around the whole island!

One piece of gear I’d like to get soon is a mirror-less camera to replace my DSLR. That would be just one more way to make my luggage more compact and lighter.

Visit Marie-France Roy on her website and follow her Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter

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