Everything you own must be able to fit in one suitcase; then your mind might be free¨
While I think that the advice to always pack as lightly as possible has value, I have learned over time that it does not apply to me most of the time.
Most pack light advice is based on the assumption that travelers move around a lot, take public transportation, and will wash their clothes in the sink at night. None of these assumptions apply to me most of the time.
Instead, I need to consider how I will travel before I decide to pack light or heavy. It is often better for me to pack more than travel advisors recommend. In fact, I have had more problems caused by packing too little than too much stuff.
Excellent Traveling Light Resources
Here are some excellent resources for more information of typical, pack light advice:
- After looking for a while for an excellent book on packing lightly, I found Pack Light: Quick and Easy Tips for Traveling Everywhere with Exactly the Right Stuff by Karen McCann. Pack Light is concise and I agree with most of its advice. It also has a women’s point of view, which I don’t, and has a lot more detailed advice than you will find in this post.
- I also have found some handy packing tips in Tips from the Cruise Addict’s Wife by Deb Graham.
Typical Travel Light Advice
For many years, I always tried to follow their typical advice to:
- Take ½ the things that you plan,
- Try to carry the bags around your neighborhood before you go to encourage you to pack light,
- Use lightweight, soft side luggage to reduce weight;
- If you acquire anything new, get rid of something; and
- Place your stuff into several small bags whenever possible, to better distribute the load.
Assumptions Behind Most Travel Light Advice
Most packing light advice makes the assumption that most travelers:
- visit multiple destinations,
- travel independently,
- use a lot of ground transportation (trains, buses, etc.),
- spend only a couple of days in each place, and
- will wash their clothes in the sink frequently
My Packing Experience
I find that I often do not need to follow most of the advice from packing experts because:
- I usually only go to a few places over several months and spend a week or more in each area. Usually, I go to a city and take tours/public transport for day trips using the central city as my base. After arrival at the hotel, I won’t need to carry my bags again until I leave. Even then, the luggage is not much problem because I use taxis to get to and from the airport. (Note: I do sometimes take a small extra bag with me that I use in case I decide to go for a short one-or-two-night trip away from my base)-
- I often take tours and cruises, especially for rural travel or when I want to visit many places quickly. Most of these tours or cruises include baggage handling. I have been on some tour companies like Rick Steves and Intrepid that do require me to carry my bags. If that is the case, I will try to pack like the experts recommend or leave some of my clothes behind if I know we will be returning to the same destination.
- Most expert advice assumes that you are going to do your laundry in the sink. As a whole, I do not like to wash my clothes in the sink. They do not get clean, and I usually cannot wear clothes for more than one day without them getting unpleasant. I prefer whenever I am traveling for an extended time to bring enough clothes for ten to fifteen days and wash the clothes at least every week or so. If I am in a situation where I need to pack light, I will pack enough clothes for four to seven days.
Why Packing More Can Be Better than Packing Too Little
When I used to mention that I often regretted NOT packing enough stuff to my Big Blue Marble seminar participants, I would get blank stares. After a while, I realized that I did not travel like most of my students. They usually traveled as the experts did, or most likely, rarely left home for extended periods.
If I had just taken a two-week trip, the experts’ advice would have worked perfectly. All I would have needed to do was research the weather to help me plan my outfits. Then I would bring one or two additional outfits in case it got unexpectedly hot or cold, or I decided to alter my travel plans.
However, the expert’s advice did not work for me. In fact, whenever I took the experts’ pack light advice as the Gospel truth, I regretted NOT packing enough more often than I ever regretted packing too much. I almost always found that I did not have enough clothes that were appropriate for the climate.
To limit my suitcase’s weight, I would only pack clothes that I was sure were necessary for whatever appeared to be the primary weather at my destination. As a result, I frequently had to buy clothes on the road whenever the weather took an unexpected turn, or I decided to change my travel plans at the last moment.
Nowhere was this truer than when I went on short trips into the mountains in Latin America after a longer stay by the beach. (I wore shorts and t-shirts for the lowlands and froze my ass off. Lowlands in Latin America are warm year-round. Mountainous areas are cold in the winter -often below freezing at night- particularly since indoor heating is rare.
In addition, I have learned that I can’t count on buying any additional clothes on the road. Many travel experts recommend that you do not worry about packing all the clothes you need for a trip. They say that you can always buy clothes if needed when you get to your destination. I have found this advice does not work. As a heavy-set man, I have had a hard time finding clothes abroad. Usually, I end up buying ugly, ill-fitting, and expensive clothes that I never wear again. (I presume anyone short or tall would have similar issues).
Pack the Right Clothes for the Climate
I usually equally divide my outfits between colder and warmer climates if I am traveling to parts of the world where it is impossible to predict the weather. Areas where you cannot predict the weather are usually:
- North of the Tropic of Cancer and
- South of the Tropic of Capricorn.
These areas include most of North America, Europe, East Asia, and the former Soviet Union. It is especially true to predict the weather in these areas in spring and fall.
I also pack the following items in my luggage on almost every trip even if I am going somewhere where they do not seem appropriate for the climate. That way, I can always deal with unexpected situations:
- a bathing suit
- a sweater
- warm socks
- a light jacket
- a pair of shorts
Consider Returning to the Same Place if You are Traveling for an Extended Period
In 2013, I spent nearly five months traveling in India, Dubai, Turkey, and Spain and Portugal. I spent over a month each in India, Turkey, Spain, and Portugal. Each region had vastly different climates ranging from extreme heat in India and Dubai to relative cold weather in Turkey and Spain.
Trying to manage packing for all these different climates was not easy. However, I found a solution. I would arrive in a major city like Istanbul, tour the rest of the country, and return to the central city. Since I returned to the main city at the end of visiting a country, I was able to leave clothes that I would NOT use behind and pick them up again when I finished traveling.
I find it is particularly hard to determine what I need to pack if I know that I will be traveling continuously for extended periods without returning to the same spot. As a result, I try to return to the same place and store my things either:
- at the hotel (this is usually OK if you have a reservation to stay at the hotel when you return)
- or train or bus station (storage places at these stations are common outside of the US, Canada, and Europe)
and get them later.
Storing clothes is particularly valuable if I have clothes for a climate that I can leave behind and pick up then. For example, I saved my shorts and short sleeve shirts which I used for travel in Dubai and India, in a hotel in Madrid. Then I traveled in early spring around northern Spain, with sweaters, long-sleeved shirts, jackets, and pants.
While most of the time this worked well, I did have a problem in Turkey when I left some of my cold weather clothes behind (thinking the weather would vary from hot to cold) and experienced day after day of ten-degree Celsius high temperatures (fifty-degrees Fahrenheit).
Want More Advice About Packing and Selecting the Right Baggage for You?
The above text is from one of the lessons in my course on Packing and Baggage Tips.
Check out these lessons for more valuable tips about packing and baggage: