In 2009 I packed a suitcase, a small backpack and a carry-on and left my native country to live a life with no fixed territorial boundaries, indefinitely. In 2010, I realized, maybe two suitcases would be a good idea. Essentially what those suitcases and carry-ons contain is all that I own, other than some remnants in my parents’ basement and that which I buy / need at any given location and that which can be disposed of / given away before I embark onwards. I believe in contemporary airport terms, this could be expressed as, at any given point in time, I have to condense the belongings of my life to approximately 66 kgs or 144 lbs of stuff.
Fundamentally I view this as a game, this process of elimination. It’s fun for me. I enjoy conjuring creative ways of adding simplicity to my life. I prefer to surround myself with a few beautiful multi-use items than functional clutter. In addition, I realized when writing this piece, the amount of money I suspect to have saved over the years working from this perspective. In all respects, the small things do add up – in weight, in time lost, in money spent and in resources wasted.
The guidelines below are practices I personally use. They focus on mass for long trips, based on airline restrictions and for short trips where one can only physically carry so much. I’m a 5’3″ / 161.5 cm tall female. I’ve learned to pack light. This ability has been incredibly important on trips that require a lot of walking and motorcycle taxi rides.
The following is meant to keep things simple, functional and enjoyable while cutting down on waste. Please excuse any OCD type wackiness. You can do what I do and blame that on my mother…
In no specific order:
Your travel buddy. When chosen wisely, it’ll save you a whole world of pain. Luggage is among the most important belongings I own. It needs to withstand angry and / or lazy airline workers who’ll throw it around, drop it and see it as nothing more than an obstacle to overcome before their break. It needs to look presentable going through Customs and Immigration, particularly on days you don’t.
I suggest choosing pieces that can withstand different climates, principally those that will minimize or guard against the effects of mold in hot, damp environments and I have no idea what in the cold environments I avoid. Gear that is easy to carry and transport is boss. Can’t decide? Imagine a wheel falling off because it toppled off the airline gurney. In a developing country. In the rain with hungry monkeys. Wherever. Go as high quality and as lightweight as you can afford. I prefer a soft shell to a hard case because luggage made of fabric is less challenging to shove into the back of taxis and non typical modes of transportation (i.e. where as long as it rides, it’s considered a vehicle).
For shorter trips I opt for a small backpack and / or gym bag or carry-on with a shoulder strap over the large, camping style backpack. I avoid the traditional camping backpack at all costs. The main reason being, it screams, “I’m a tourist! Rip me off please.” I also believe it compromises my safety, if traveling alone for the exact same reason, “I’m a tourist! I’m backpacking alone! No one is expecting me to show up anywhere!” Add that confused, where-is-the-bus-stop expression on your face…a horrible mix. Trekking in the jungle? Sleeping under the stars? I suspect the camping backpack is the right way to go, but I’m not the person to ask.
When condensing your items for long trips, or for trips that include multiple destinations, don’t consider the amount of money you spent on an item, consider how much it will cost to replace at your destination. For example, I rather travel with one or two pairs of socks I can hand wash, then replace at a new location cheaply and keep that multiuse merino wool hoodie I love (and wish I had) instead. The weight of a light sweater and a stack of socks are roughly the same or less, in favour of the sweater, depending on knit. Another example (Thailand). Athletic shoes are more cheaply purchased in North America (with a greater choice of style and success of buying a genuine pair, not a copy). Fashion shoes are more cheaply purchased in Thailand by a longshot. Being Canadian, a $60 CAN ($61.50 USD at time of writing) plus 15% sales tax pair of shoes can be purchased for $6 CAN ($6.09 USD at time of writing), no tax in Thailand.
Flying? Wear your heavy clothes on the flight. When I was still carrying around a leather jacket, I would always board with it it. Airlines don’t weigh the clothes you’re wearing, the jacket or sweater you have slung over your shoulder nor that ridiculous hat on your head. Boots, jeans, stacks of rings and necklaces, go for it…..there are no fashion police combing the airlines for heathens. However, I would refrain from pimping out too much….there is a difference between looking like a fashion kamikaze and a burned out addict. Use discretion please. Just a little. Particularly if you’re passing through international borders. Landing in a hot destination? Who cares. Change your outfit in the airport restroom after you pick up your luggage. Easy.
It’s amazing how much extraneous and heavy packaging you realize companies use once their weight becomes of importance in your life. Basic rules. Move everything from glass to plastic. Move everything from plastic bottles to baggies when possible. Meds and vitamins can be moved to clear baggies (unless photosensitive). I take the labels off the bottles (particularly if the pills/supplements look sketchy) and adhere them to the bags. I wouldn’t recommend doing this if you’re carrying large doses of the same item. You don’t want to show up with a number of large bags of pills. I’ve done it with small baggies which I then place in another bag. I suspect it hasn’t been a problem because, when found, my stash looks like it’s for personal use and harmless (note: contributing factor – it is). Large bags of the same pills in addition to the previously mentioned Point Numbero 3…when in combination and done poorly…..ALL BAD. Avoid it unless you’ve mastered the art of moving through Customs check-points flawlessly. Why? I suspect none of you like to be detained. I further suspect that none of you, or very few of you like the potential plastic glove VIP service provided to your rectum in the Customs Office should you look like a dealer.
5. Assessing Weight
A luggage hand scale is worth carrying around. It’ll save you time, money and grief at the airport. Pitch or give the batteries to someone else when it’s time to leave. (I buy rechargeable batteries, then give the entire hook-up to someone if the set doesn’t make it past the downsizing process.)
6. Travel Accessories
A lot of travel accessory bags have zippers. Functional, sure, but oftentimes, those zippers are heavy. And they break. Utilize travel accessory bags with ties, not zippers. The bag has a plastic end piece thingy that has absolutely no functional value? Not worth it. Next.
7. For Your Head
A hair dryer that fits in the palm of your hand. They exist, and after going over a year without any sort of hair drying apparatus other than a towel and a fan, they now hold a special place in my heart. (Yes, I used to take an electrical fan and hold it (not too close) to my head on those rare special occasions when I was ‘going out’. It worked, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
I’ve done some research and put together a list of items that fit the above criteria.
- Luggage. My large pieces are both Delsey (affiliate link). I wasn’t able to find the exact model I have. However, I chose soft shell and lightweight. I have no complaints about my decision. One piece was beaten pretty heavily on a trip to Japan in 2010. I have no idea what happened to it. In Bangkok, the piece looked almost new. In Tokyo it looked like someone drove an oil leaking Chevette over it. Nothing inside was damaged. No damage to the structure of the piece. A zipper handle was the only casualty.
- Carry-on. My carry-on is Travelpro (affiliate link). No complaints, however, it hasn’t seen a lot of mileage despite me buying it in 2008.
- Backpack. I picked up my Hurley (affiliate link) backpack at a sample sale in downtown Toronto in 2008. I believe I’ve used it several times a week since the time of purchase and it’s in beautiful condition. I can load it with a ton of stuff and it never causes any sort of pain or discomfort. It also generally holds my gym equipment in incredibly humid conditions. Smells civil and no issues with mold. And there’s a zipper head / bottle opener hybrid on it! This excites me despite the fact I never use it.
- Travel scale. This little piece of genius from Heys has never done me wrong. It in itself weighs 4 Oz (113g) and is incredibly precise in determining weight. No overage. Easy check-in. And apparently available in a load of colours since I bought mine.
- Travel accessory bags. From the research I’ve done, I’d say….hit your local dollar store. Anything I’ve been able to find online is either loaded with zippers and heavy detailing or obscenely expensive. I bought the following bags at a dollar store in Japan for approximately $0.33 – $1 USD a piece. The polyester blend fabric of three of them adds a bit of water resistance, which is perfect. For some of the prices I’ve seen online, I rather pick up my own fabric and get someone to custom make the sizes I want for the same price. Possibly even cheaper.
- Micro sized hair dryer. I suggest looking for one that allows you to change the power voltage. Do you check out the voltage of every country you go to? In the past I didn’t. Now I do. The last thing I want is anything blowing up while it’s near my head. I couldn’t find the one I use online, so I chose this one, as a gift set by Farouk (affiliate link). The dryer itself is dual wattage, 9″ in length and weighs 1 lb. At 800 watts, it’s not a strong dryer, but for its size, and from the reviews I’ve read – I think it’s probably a good deal. The dryer alone goes for $55.99 USD. With this set, you get the additional flat iron (I had no idea they came that small!!!), travel bag and product for approximately an extra $25 USD. The travel bag looks heavy to me, but depending on what else you’re traveling with, may be worth it. In my opinion, it’s constructed intelligently. The selling features for me are the material and the hook. Depending on where you’re traveling, you may want something resistant to stains and something you can hang. Showers can get pretty nasty in certain areas of the world. In addition, the closed pockets may be great for other things, such as jewellery. I suspect from the size of it, once you’ve landed, you can affix the bag to a clothes hanger, cover it with a shirt, sweater or jacket and hide valuables in it.
That sums up Part 1 of 3, in this series.