“Everything you own must be able to fit in one suitcase; then your mind might be free.”
Pack Light Advice Doesn’t Work For All Long-Term Travelers
Typical Pack Light Expert Advice
As recommended by most travel experts, I tried for many years to pack as lightly as possible. I followed their specific 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.
- Place your stuff into several small bags whenever possible to better distribute the load.
While I think the advice always to pack as lightly as possible is valuable, I have learned over time that I need to consider how I will travel before I decide to pack light or heavy. Other Fifty Plus, Nomads need to consider that sometimes packing a bit on the heavier side may be worthwhile.
The experts’ advice makes several assumptions that usually do not apply in my case.
Assumptions Behind Most Pack Light Advice
Most pack light advice assumes 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.
- Will wash their clothes in the sink frequently.
Why I Often Don’t Pack Light
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 sometimes take a small extra bag with me if I 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 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 will do your laundry in the sink. As a whole, I wouldn’t say I like to wash my clothes. They do not get clean, and I usually cannot wear clothes for more than one day without them getting unpleasant. I prefer to bring enough clothes for ten to fifteen days and wash the clothes at least every week or so whenever I am traveling for an extended time. 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 mentioned that I often regretted NOT packing enough stuff for my seminar students in the 2000s, I would get blank stares. After a while, I realized that I did not travel like most of my students, and they usually traveled as the experts did or, most likely, rarely left home for extended periods.
The experts’ advice would have worked if I had just taken a two-week trip. 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 if it got unexpectedly hot or cold or if I decided to alter my travel plans.
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 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.
Lowlands in Latin America are warm year-round, and in the winter, mountainous areas are cold (often below freezing at night), mainly since indoor heating is rare. Nowhere was this more true than when I went on short trips into the mountains in Latin America after a more extended stay in the lowlands. (I wore shorts and t-shirts for the lowlands and froze my ass off when I visited the mountains).
Pack the Right Clothes for the Climate
I usually equally divide my outfits between colder and warmer climates if I travel to parts of the world where it is impossible to predict the weather. Areas where you cannot predict weather are usually:
- North of the Tropic of Cancer.
- South of the Tropic of Capricorn.
Areas with highly variable temperatures include most of North America, Europe, East Asia, and the former Soviet Union. (This is especially true in spring and fall).
I also pack the following items in my luggage on almost every trip, even if I go 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, 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 significant city like Istanbul, tour the rest of the country, and return to the central city. Since I returned to the main city after visiting the country’s rural areas, I could leave excess clothes behind and pick them up again when I finished traveling.
It is tough to determine what to pack if I know I will travel continuously for extended periods without returning to the same spot. As a result, I try to store my things in the places noted below and return later to pick up my stored luggage:
- 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 the US, Canada, and Europe).
Storing clothes is particularly valuable if I have clothes for a climate that I won’t be experiencing during my shorter trip. For example, I saved my shorts and short sleeve shirts I used for travel in Dubai and India in a hotel in Madrid. Then I traveled in early spring around northern Spain in 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 and experienced day after day of ten-degree Celsius high temperatures (fifty degrees Fahrenheit).
Sometimes I Religiously Follow Pack Light Advice
I follow pack light advice in Pack Light: Quick and Easy Tips for Traveling Everywhere with Exactly the Right Stuff by Karen McCann when I travel to multiple destinations on a relatively short trip (a month or less) independently.