Traveling Light


I love to travel. I hate to pack. But whenever someone picks me up at the airport, they invariably note my two carry-on bags and say, “Wow, you travel light.”

It was not always this way.

I’m one of those nerds that thinks they’re going to spend an entire week reading. I’m one of those indecisives that thinks they’re going to need clothes to suit every occasion for three different kinds of weather. I’m one of those “fashionistas” (I use the term relatively) that needs four pairs of shoes for one weekend.

But one day I go to a conference with a few coworkers. One of whom has his entire two days’ belongings tucked neatly into a laptop bag. A bag zipped and snapped securely, not misshapen and barely clinging together (as mine would have been).

As I lug my backpack and rolling Samsonite to the car, I gaze enviously at his light and elegant baggage. I am inspired.

Surely if he can distill his weekend necessities to one small bag, so can I.

This is an ever-evolving practice, but I’ve simplified life, conserved energy, and saved some cash with the following travel tips. I hope you like them too.

1. Make a list

Important things seem to pop into my head at inopportune moments. Rather than trying to remember all the stuff I need/want to pack on a trip, I really benefit from keeping a running list. It’s much harder to forget anything important, and much easier to avoid packing the truly unimportant (and weighty/bulky/misery-inducing).

2. Your carry-on

What will you need while traveling? And I mean, really need? Will it all fit in your purse or an easy-to-carry backpack or shoulder bag (that closes)?

I plead with every traveler to do away with the notion that you need a purse and a laptop bag and two or three shopping bags on a plane. Not only is it annoying for everyone you’re traveling with, but it’s such a headache for you. Why do that to yourself?

Streamline this process by taking the important things out of your purse (if you normally carry one), which in the grand scheme will probably boil down to: your wallet.

Put the wallet in your carry-on and pack the purse in your checked bag. That way you are only carrying what you truly need during the flight, and are not beset by half a dozen bags dangling from your appendages as you scurry to make your connecting flight.

I always bring snacks on a flight. A bag of nuts or trail mix and maybe cut fruit will do the trick. These don’t take much space in your carry-on, and won’t go south in un-refrigerated conditions.

I also bring a notebook. Writing is one of my favorite things to do on a plane, and I often get a ton of ideas since I’m just sitting there for hours at a time.

A good book rounds out the inventory, or if you are so blessed as to own an Amazon Kindle, bring it. My Kindle Fire is really a marvelously efficient travel companion, with storage for as many books as I wish to borrow, buy, or check out from the library. I can also listen to music and watch movies on it. It’s now a necessity (and I really mean that, no one paid me to write it).

Toss in a lip balm and a brush and I’m ready to fly. Without pulling my shoulder out of socket lugging my junk all around the airport.

3. Your wardrobe

In my experience, the bulk of my suitcase is filled with clothes. So combining outfits and sharing big accessories (like hats, belts and shoes) can really save space.

For instance, I have three skirts that can be worn with boots. The boots are easy to get on and off, but bulky, so I can wear them on the plane and only need to pack one other pair of shoes for non-boot-appropriate outfits.

It’s like a game. See how many outfits you can create with just a few variables. Rather than packing 7 sweaters, 7 tops, 7 bottoms and 7 pairs of shoes, you can get creative with half the volume.

4. Ship ahead

If you’ve pared your mountain of belongings down to a reasonable level and still find you can’t fit it all in a carry-on, consider mailing the extra. The US Postal Service has a flat-rate box that ships Priority Mail for less than the cost of most bag checking fees.

If it comes down to traveling with two carry-on bags or a carry-on and a checked bag, try mailing the extra items to yourself in your new location. A quick call to the Post Office should give you the skinny on rates and delivery times. Even if no one will be there when your box arrives, you can pick it up from the nearest Post Office within a few days of the initial delivery.

And when all is said and done, try not to sweat it. Traveling light is a state of mind as much as it is a state of being. We don’t need to lug all our favorite things from home in order to enjoy the new place we’re going to explore.

It’s a new experience in a new environment. Embrace the possibilities.

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