Leave this, Take that
A Short Guide to Packing Light
Once upon a time, I thought I packed light. I carried my 50 liter Vaude Brenta backpack stuffed tight with everything I could possibly need for a week-long trip and I usually was the person with the least luggage.
Then I went on a trip with a peace corps volunteer who carried only a small backpack for our 7 day trip to Tajikistan. Oh, and just so I am clear, by small, I mean 20 liters – smaller than the average book bag. He wore the same pair of jeans for 7 days. I’m pretty sure his bag had a pair of pj’s and a change of underwear and that was it.
The encounter made me completely change the way I pack. The trick to packing light is really figuring out what items help make your traveling life both efficient and comfortable, and leaving everything else behind. Here is the list of things I take, and things I leave behind when I am packing light.
1. Toilet paper
you might laugh, but toilet paper is a luxury in most parts of the world – even in parts of Europe. You can buy small travel sized rolls of Garmin, but what I do is just put a roll aside once I’ve used 75% of it. these partial rolls of toilet paper are the perfect size for packing and provide enough paper for emergency use.
2. Good Shoes
Even when I’m traveling light, I rarely travel without a change of shoes. I like to pack a super light pare of walking shoes (like Sketcher’s Go Walk 2) and wear either my heavier sandals or my hiking boots depending on my destination.
3. Limited Toiletries
OK, I still haven’t found the perfect system for this. I like to take only what I need: toothbrush and toothpaste, 2-in-1 shampoo (in a travel bottle), and a small bar of soap. Sometimes I pick the bar of soap up at my first hotel, but hotel soap is smelly and low quality so I prefer to pack my own. If I don’t have travel sized soap available, I cut my own pieces using a cheese slicer. I also have a small hairbrush that goes everywhere with me.
4. Limited Clothes
This is where packing light differs from packing normally. When I pack light, I pack only one change of clothes, swimwear, nightwear, and a jacket. I make sure that I can mix and match every item of clothing I have so that I have 4 combinations and I make sure that one of those combinations looks nice enough to wear for a casual evening out (without sacrificing comfort).
Wait, what about the unmentionables? (Gentlemen, you are on your own for this one) My very wise mother always told me to pack one pair of underwear for each day traveling. If I’m packing light, I use panty-liners to extend the life of my underwear and I usually divide the number of days traveling by two. If I’m gone for a week, I pack three pair. If I’m gone for two weeks, I pack 4 pair and schedule a time for laundry.
If I need specialized clothing I try to extend the use of that clothing – I take the yoga pants that can double as leggings under the skirt I pack or jogging shorts that double as PJs (and do laundry a lot).
Speaking of doing laundry, I like to pack a small travel bottle filled with laundry detergent – enough for three or four sink washes, or two loads in a washer.
5. Miscellaneous Essentials
There are some things I never travel without:
Travel Towel – “it’s a tough universe out there” also travel towels are useful as impromptu picnic blankets, and wraparound skirts
A hat to protect from either the sun or the cold.
Camera (and charger etc.)
A small first-aid kit with bandages, anti-bacterial, and pain killers
Things I Leave behind
Umbrella – Ok I pack an umbrella when I travel to rainy climates in January, but on most other occasions I leave it behind and plan to purchase a cheap one at my destination if the weather turns bad for any length of time.
Make-up – It helps that I don’t wear a lot of make-up anyways, but I like to travel with a couple of colored eyeliner pencils and I use those tiny lipstick samples as a way to pack light.
Fancy shoes – If I am attending fancy arts receptions every night then, ok, I pack the fancy shoes, but I still only take 2 pair of shoes…so I choose which 2 pair of shoes I’ll wear the most.
Blow-drier and curling Iron. Instead of making my hair office-perfect, when I travel I like to let it be what it is. If it gets too wild, I pack a few extra ponytail holders to tame it, but wild hair is part of my traveling look.
In a way, packing light is a wonderful exercise in letting go of the comforts I take for granted in our everyday lives. It helps purge my mind unnecessary clutter and forces me to think seriously about “comfort”.