Pack your bags

“Traveling light” isn’t a term that used to exist in my family. Every summer, we’d load up our car, and inevitably, those in the backseat (and sometimes in the passenger, too) would have bags in their lap. Call it hoarding, call it the aftershocks of growing up with shortages, but we hated to throw anything away, or buy things that we could bring ourselves. Buying food on the road wasn’t always allowed, which is probably why now I find the Starbucks lattes at the train station taste better than any other.

Six years of living abroad, of changing houses, of constantly having to throw stuff away, and with all the short-term travel I’ve done in the past six months alone, and giving my wardrobe a full KonMari treatment, I *think* I’ve got the packing light thing down. I think. We shall see.

I’m heading to a five-week vacation with only one small backpack, and I will try really hard not to ask my Dad to use the space in his suitcase. So… make of those tips what you will.

Here are some tips I’ve cobbled together from sources such as “Rising Strong”, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying”, and my own bitter experience of hauling too-heavy bags at the airport. Adaptable for air- and rail- and bus- travel.

Before buying luggage, consider your trip

Are you going away on business? For pleasure? What are you going to be doing? At any point during your itinerary, are you planning on visiting a fancy restaurant, or does your trip involve lots and lots of walking? Do you have shoes that would do for both?

Are you planning to do lots of shopping? Do you plan on bringing lots of liquids with you? Do you have clothes and equipment that simply cannot handle a carry-on? Are you going to carry your bags for a long distance and/or up and down flights of stairs? (Not every building or station has an elevator, as I found the hard way.) As a general rule of thumb, the more budget your carrier, the more likely you are to travel a long distance to get to the airport. If a taxi is not a problem, you are at your leisure. The rest of us, think very carefully if you are ready to haul a big suitcase up two flights of stairs.

Can your essentials fit in a carry-on?

Essentials = passport, money, clothes, underwear, toiletries bag, medicines, phone and a phone charger, plug adaptors

Nice-to-have = bulky electronics, including a laptop (yes, even a MacBook Air), three journals (one of them a planner), painting supplies, an easel, the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy in hardcover, food to last you the entire week, five pairs of shoes, letter-writing supplies, a roll of pens, a yoga mat and free weights, three separate sets of workout gear.

Now, if you’re a person who can’t live without any of these things, or you need  them (see: for a business trip) that’s a different thing. I might make a song and dance about simplicity, but I’m taking away a notebook, too, along with plenty of writing/painting supplies. I can relinquish a laptop, but I will fight to the death for my journal. But the thing is, I used to bring much more with me, and I wouldn’t use it at all.

Consolidate where you can

After you develop permanent shoulder pain from hauling two or three different hardcovers to and fro all day, and you can merge them into one? You start to reconsider your priorities. Directions to your accommodation can be saved on your phone, and the charger will make sure you don’t run out of battery. Kindle comes as a free app for most phones, too. One notebook can double as a planner, journal, and doodle book. You can use pens to sketch your impressions.

Also, when I say toiletries bag, I mean the kind of essentials you’d see sold in Tesco’s: toothpaste, toothbrush, SPF, moisturiser, lip balm, and a shower gel/shampoo combo. Consolidated makeup routine if you’re like me and you love to paint on your face: foundation (ideally with SPF), mascara, lipstick, maybe eyeliner and one shadow. Think: “How to be Parisian wherever you are”. Your lipstick can double as a blush, depending on the shade. Fake-tan and do your nails before the trip, if you want to, but why haul unnecessary items?

And yes, I know. That sounds terribly boring. But you’re at a new place, hopefully out and about all day, making exciting discoveries. Plus – less makeup means less products needed to take it off later. (Don’t sleep in your makeup. Just… don’t.)

Books, books, books! No?

Sure. Books are great. But be realistic about what you’re taking – can you read all of this in the time you have? Are you excited about reading them? Bookworms like me, we think holidays are a time to get through our TBR, but the older I get, the harder I find it to plow through a 500+ novel in a jiffy (ah, those were the days.)

Besides, if you finish your book before the holiday is out, that gives you an excuse to browse the bookstores.

The subject of technology and experiences

There was a time when I couldn’t live without a laptop and would bring it with me everywhere. And I still need it a lot – I wouldn’t be able to do my work half as efficiently without it, or save so much space.

But – and I’m discovering this more and more – I don’t need to bring my laptop on non-business trips. Heck, sometimes I don’t need to bring it for business trips either. I don’t need a fancy camera, either – my phone suffices. It’s not like I’m a professional blogger or a photographer – I’m travelling for fun, and 99.9% of the time, the only person who looks at pictures I take is myself. If I remember to look at the camera roll.

I suppose I’m not a visual record-keeper. If you are more comfortable with those forms of expression, power to you. But I’m starting to look forward to non-electronic time, to off-line time. To engaging with the physical world more. Maybe that’s just me and it’s all terribly boring to you. But I find it takes a lot less stuff.



Edit: I still managed to overpack. FML.


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