“Wow, that’s impressive,” the other traveler said, admiring my daypack as I boarded the bus to Orange Walk. “Of course, a lot of my stuff is diving gear.”
“I’ve got a mask and snorkel in there,” I replied. Admittedly, I was pleased by the complement. Packing light was a skill I’d been cultivating for years. It felt good to be recognized for finally getting it right.
Packing Light – Why Less is More
There are a lot of advantages to packing light, comfort being the most obvious. Your feet and your back will be grateful for the lighter load. Less stuff to carry means less stuff to organize- blissful simplicity. It means you are less likely to be targeted for theft and more likely to be able to keep your luggage with you on an inner-city bus ride. Here are some of the strategies that have helped me master the art of packing light:
The Right Stuff
My skill at packing light has improved as I’ve invested in quality gear. Coughing up the cash for specialty items – my super-absorbent-quick-dry-towel, a twisted-elastic clothes line – has been worth it. Next to my passport and my hiking boots, my most important travel item is my pack. I’ve had good luck with North Face packs. Look for one with a wide waist band (you’re going stuff a lot of weight into this puppy), outer straps and pockets and the ability to sit flat for packing.
Packing light means not bringing too many clothes, so they need to be the right ones. A merino wool sweater and windbreaker are not bulky, but together they keep me toasty warm. My loose fitting rayon shirts are always comfortable and can go for days before showing any sign of body odor.
I recommend seriously considering how much technology you want to drag along. What with cases, converters, chargers and the like- high tech may not be conducive to packing light. Could you live with just one multi-use item? A smart-phone or iPad that can serve as camera, music collection, address book, reading light, etc? Less technology will also make you appear less wealthy and less of a target for theft. (A story of mine was recently included in a travel anthology, and one of the other stories – A Quick and Cozy Kidnapping- tells of a traveler being targeted specifically because he carried a computer bag.)
A pocket knife is another great multi-use item. Sadly, it now means having to check your bag when you fly, but I think it’s worth it.
Finally, I’m fond of Doctor Bronner’s Soap. Highly concentrated and good for washing my body, my clothes, my dishes, whatever. Plus, if you run out of reading material, you can entertain yourself with the label.
Reduce, Re-use and Retire
Don’t carry what you don’t need. If you are only going to two countries, why carry a guidebook that covers four? Get out your knife and cut it down to size. As much as possible, cut everything down. Travel-sized toiletries are great strategies for packing light. Embrace the TSA rules as a strategy. A small bottle of shampoo taken from a hotel room can last a week or two.
Packing light means doing laundry. There is nothing that cannot A) stay dirty until the end of your trip, or B) be hand-washed in bathroom sink. My laundry kit consists of a clothes line, a sink stopper, some soap and a few bobby-pins (which can serve as clothes pins) and fits in the palm of my hand. I only need two pairs of pants – the ones I live in most of the time, and one other pair to wear while those are drying. Underwear dry quickly. And how many shirts do you really need?
You may want to acquire a few souvenirs on your travels. Make room for them by ditching items that have reached the end of their life span. If I have a well-loved tee-shirt that has earned it’s retirement I take it on a trip and then leave it behind for someone else. Now I have room for a new shirt.
You can do it! You can probably pack less than I do. (If you’re not nearly blind, you’re not carrying extra glasses and a mini screwdriver. If you’re male, you don’t need bras and tampons. You may not need a mask and snorkel. What else can you leave behind…?)