Traveling Light (Literally)

“Is that all you’ve got?” they ask incredulously, as they pick me up at the airport or ferry, or as we load luggage onto the bus. I was actually thinking I had packed too much, as I had both a carry-on sized suitcase and a small backpack.

I travel light. Both metaphorically (see my previous post, Traveling Light) and literally.

Many people seem amazed that I pack so little for extended trips. Yet I always feel that I have brought too much- clothes I haven’t worn, a book I didn’t read, a hair product I didn’t use. My packing hero is a friend of a friend who went on a month long trip with only a 10 pound backpack. I can’t match that, but for those who are interested, here are a few things I have learned.

My baggage

My first intentional light travels was 10 years ago, for 6 weeks in Europe with my two children, 12 and 17 at the time. We were doing everything from theatre in London to summer cottages in Finland to museums in Paris and a villa in Tuscany. I knew there would be a lot of travel with bags, and the last two weeks their father was joining us and we would be in a car that would need to hold 4 people and all our luggage. So we each had one carryon and a small backpack, which included not only all our stuff but gifts for the friends and family we would be visiting.

That first time, I planned it carefully. I spent 6 months analyzing and collecting what we needed. This scarf? Shawl, headscarf, bathing suit coverup, skirt. These shoes? Waterproof, arch support, yet pretty enough to wear with my skirt on a night out. And by the way- everything was black.

It all fits in the carry-on. Do you detect a theme?

So first tip- choose a colour and stick to it. Ten years ago, everything was black, but since then, my theme is green, with a couple of orange accent pieces. The advantage to getting away from black is that you will provide much incidental amusement to your travel companions, who will never tire of the “green” (or whatever your colour is) joke. As in, here’s a green jacket. I wonder whose it is? <general hilarity> But be wary of light colours, as they show the dirt.

Tip two: pack less and pack light. You don’t need 6 tops or 4 bottoms. If you have them, you might wear them, but you can get by with much less. And think about the weight. Cotton is heavier and bulkier. I never take jeans when I fly. Modern fabrics have a lot of advantages: light, stain resistant, quick to dry. I occasionally use a hotel laundry service, or friends’ machines, but a rinse of a few items in a hotel sink can extend your wardrobe choices.

Tip three: Be realistic. Often I would realize the items I didn’t use were ones I had romantically pictured myself wearing before I left. OF COURSE I was going to need two set of gym clothes and running gear because I was going to exercise EVERY day! And the flowing skirt with the hippy sandals, wouldn’t I look so great in it as I wandered through the market? Think about what you are actually going to do. Unless you make your living through your Instagram account, does it really matter what you look like as you are having your great travel experiences? Who will care if you wear the same outfit three days in a row?

New purse on left replaces the 20+ year-old one on the right. Oh look, they’re both green!

My big challenge is footwear. I can’t get away with wearing flip flops anymore, my feet will hurt and my back will ache. But shoes with proper support take up a lot more room. And I do have a thing for shoes, as anyone who has seen my closet will tell you. Winnowing it down to one pair of hiking shoes and one pair of sandals for dress/beach was difficult, but seeing half my small suitcase filled with shoes gave me the incentive.

Of course, where and how you go will affect your packing. If you stay in Japanese hotels you won’t need pyjamas, as they are provided. In the Middle East you don’t wear short shorts, unless you are at a resort or in Tel Aviv. Your toiletry choices will be quite different if you are staying in hostels. But in all cases, less is better.

I left a large suitcase of clothes at my sister’s place, thinking that between trips I would be desperate for something different to wear. To my surprise, I barely opened it in the last two weeks, and when I wore some of the alternate clothing it was mostly about not getting my travel clothes dirty. I think when I get back from this trip I will purge my wardrobe even further.

I have discovered the joy of less. I spend less time thinking about choices when there are fewer options. With my travel wardrobe, I never have to think about what goes together, because it all does. On my last trip to Japan a series of mishaps left me with only one pair of casual earrings, and I happily gave up deciding which pair to wear each day.

The extra items I’m bringing for the road trip

So as I leave today for another two and a half months of travel, I go light. There is less in my suitcase than on my last trip. Even though I have room in my car for much more, I only select a few, special items: a pair of jeans and belt, a mini Bluetooth speaker, my stovetop espresso pot, an extra book and scarf and yes, another pair of shoes, hiking sandals.

Because I do a lot of walking on my brave travels.

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