Have you ever dragged 50+ pounds of crap through crowded city streets and cursed yourself for bringing too much?
Have you ever looked in your suitcase or backpack at the end of the trip and realized you didn’t use half of what was in it? Afterwards did you promise yourself you’d do better next time only to repeat the process?
Have you ever had your spouse sneak an extra pair of shoes into your carry on?
Wait that’s just me…
Let me tell you about the worst trip to the airport I’ve ever had.
The wheels on my suitcase broke 2 minutes into a 1+ mile journey to the train station in Oslo, Norway. I was living in Norway with my wife for months and therefore had a TON of crap with me.
Without wheels the suitcase made a high pitched screeching sounds as I pulled it down streets, alleys, brick walkways and through the station.
I was sweating like a polar explorer in a Finnish sauna.
This made me smelly, angry and annoyed which lead to drama queen attacks and increased consumption of chocolates and French fries, leading to an upset belly and multiple trips to the airplane bathroom.
It was a downward spiral of epic proportions.
How do you feel when you are lugging around way too much crap with you when you are traveling?
I’ll tell you how you feel because I know…it sucks!
Packing lighter is better.
It makes the physical travel part of travel much easier.
It makes the mental part of travel easier.
It makes everything easier!
Here are some timeless principles to help you pack lighter and smarter.
Note: I tried to make these principles gender neutral but there will be some differences of opinion between the ladies and the gents. Use these as guidelines.
Timeless Packing Pillars
I. Include items that serve more than one purpose.
Smartphones are the classic example, It’s a camera, phone, flashlight, GPS, and on and on. When it comes to multi-functional items, smartphones reign supreme.
What about your clothing? Could you bring a button down shirt that matches all of your pants and serves as both a ‘nicer’ nightlife outfit, a hiking sun blocker and a casual shirt to keep you warm on a chilly night?
A few other multi-purpose items:
– Stuff sacks to organize clothes, store dirty clothes and electronics.
– A bandana can be a headband, hot pot holder, neck wrap for warmth, a handkerchief, fashion accessory and more.
– Moisture wicking t-shirt for working out or regular wear
– Bathing suit that can double as shorts
And of course the classic knife of the Swiss army.
You get the idea. These are just a few examples but I’m sure you can get creative.
Whenever possible, you stuff should pull double, triple or quadruple duty.
II. Leave What You Can Live Without
This comes down to giving an honest answer to the question: “What do you really need?”
Think deeply about this before you stuff your pack with luxury items. Even seemingly essential items can be dropped without thought.
A somewhat extreme example, I shave my armpits before a long trip (it’s true, don’t judge!). Without pit hair bacteria can’t create that traveler stink making it easy to leave the deodorant at home.
What about shampoo? I use a bar of soap for both my body and head.
Is perfect hygiene a big a deal or am I just embracing my inner hippy?
Losing certain ‘essentials’ turns that oversized toiletries kit into a ziplock bag with these items:
– Small versions of the following: toothpaste, floss, sun block, bar of soap, hair styling stuff (optional), mini first aid kit
Certain luxury items must go too.
Leave the giant headphones behind and opt for a smaller pair. Can’t stand the tinny lack of bass thumping in your brain? Grab a small higher end pair like this.
I’m obsessed with my kindle, reading isn’t a luxury item for me (expect when hiking into the wilderness) so I can have loads of books on the road at all times. Grab a paperback in town when you arrive if you need to feel pages between your thumbs.
Redefine what is essential and lighten your load.
III. Wash More and Get a Little Dirty
Bring less clothing and clean more often.
Many countries offer inexpensive laundry drop off services all over the place. You can also travel with a little rubber sink stopper and hand wash dirty clothing in your room. Heavy up on underwear and wear your other clothes more than once before washing.
It’s ok to be dirty.
IV. Find the lighter version
You may love your stainless steel water bottle but you’d be better off subbing it out for a light weight Platypus or just buy one plastic water bottle upon arrival and refill it.
Can you get by with sneakers instead of boots?
Where else can you cut weight without losing function?
Find the lighter version of an item and use it.
V. The Golden Rule Of Packing Light
Let me splash one more timeless tactic into this mix.
The GOLDEN RULE, when it comes to packing light.
Forget your toilet kit strategies, folding techniques (side note: rolling works great), and various obsessions with organization or lack thereof.
This is the only thing you need to know to pack light and that’s…
The golden rule.
Before I share it, let me tell you a story…
I used to work as a tour manager for Matt & Kim. We would do these one off gigs at locations around the USA, this usually involved flying in for just a couple of nights, playing the show and heading back home or to rejoin the crew on the bus tour.
Swanky hotels and the occasional in-room hot tub make these trips a welcomed treat from the rigors of bus touring life. I got to see acts like Blink 182 and Weezer right from the side of the stage and stand star struck backstage at big festivals while tabloid worthy news was being made, it was fascinating.
Anyway, we had a small rotation of sound guys one of which was Mick (name changed to protect the innocent although I doubt he would care too much).
Mick started off working in grungy clubs 20 years ago, learning how to manipulate sound and run the board on the fly. His early days are full of tales of botched shows, angry bands and live show failures.
But Mick preserved and got damn good, in fact he’s a total pro.
True to his 2 decades of Rock and Roll life Mick is covered in tattoos and perpetual filth. One time I looked at his toe nails and they were caked in what appeared to be mud around the edges. I could never figure out where the dirt came from but it seemed to gather around him effortlessly. Mick was a hard rockin’ Pig Pen.
One time we were traveling to this gig somewhere in the mid-west. I was busy checking in with the band, making sure the airline took good care of our gear and collecting plane tickets for boarding.
Standing in line for security was the first time I had a second to catch my breath and look around.
Mick was next to me, I noticed a small bump in his back pocket as we approached security. “What the hell is that?” I thought to myself.
Suddenly, my mind raced backwards through the morning as a slow realization thundered towards the speaking part of my brain.
Panicky, I asked “Dude, where is your luggage! Did you forget it?”
Mick turned to me in his nonchalant rock and roll veteran sound guy-ish way and said, “This IS my luggage dude,” and pulled a toothbrush out of his back pocket.
Luckily, there was also one pair of fresh undies tucked safely in his other pocket.
Mick rolled through security with his ‘carry on’, which consisted of the clothes on his back, a toothbrush and those undies.
Maybe that’s extreme but for just a night, even in another city, how much do you really need?
All of this leads to the golden packing rule for any length trip.
If you need it, you can buy it.
You can find almost anything you need most places in the world. Err on the side of less and pick up anything you need on the go.
Now you may have one last question.
Should I Check A Bag..Ever?
I love that airlines charge for checked baggage now. I mean, how much do we need? Exorbitant baggage fees make packing light a no brainer.
Some airlines are stricter than others so before you do carry on check the rules. For backpacks you are generally safe to carry on anything between 40-50 liters. Anything over that and you may be pushing it.
Should you ever check your bag?
Only if it can’t be avoided.
Forced minimalism…it’s a good thing.
Now I gotta go before my wife sneaks another pair shoes into my carry on.
Want more? Check out the Zen of Packing For Any Length Trip including a packing list.
*cover photo courtesy of mendhak via creative commons.