“He who would travel happily must travel light.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery
By Leo Babauta
When you travel, do you want to be as light as possible? A light bag, and a light itinerary?
Many of us have had the nightmare experience of lugging around too much luggage, waiting in the baggage claims area, trying to cram too many activities into each day, and generally being so stressed that we need a vacation when we get home.
Instead, simplify your travel.
A few days ago, I asked the readers of this blog for tips for keeping travel as simple as possible. The result was an amazing outpouring of useful information, in the comments and via email!
I’ve compiled some of the best tips, combining some of them or choosing tips that were representative of a lot of comments. There are dozens more, so if you’re looking for the full list, see the comments in the original post.
I’m definitely going to be following some of the tips. Although there are a lot of great suggestions about useful items, my biggest aim is to pack as lightly as possible and to keep my itinerary loose and light. Here’s my packing list for my small backpack right now:
- Travel docs (passport, credit card, ID)
- 2 pairs of shorts
- 2 T-shirts
- 2 pairs underwear
- swim trunks
- 1 book
- journal and pen
- camera, charger
Anything else I need, I’ll buy in Thailand.
“I travel light; as light, that is, as a man can travel who will still carry his body around because of its sentimental value.” – Christopher Fry
What to Pack
Many of the tips were about packing: how to pack light and what items are essential or useful. What follows are some of the best, but be aware that there may be contradictory tips — choose the ones that will work best for you.
- Pack as light as possible. Ask the simple question: “Do I want it or do I need it and if I need it am I will to cart it around?” There is little you really need when you travel.
- Travel with a light backpack. If you are moving between places, backpacks leave your hands free to hold their hands.
- Pack just a few clothes with only a couple complimentary, solid colors — no patterns. Black is a good idea if you need to be able to dress up and be casual.
- Pack only what you can carry on to the flight.
- Put everything you want to bring in a pile and slowly strip away things that aren’t necessary.
- Leave the laptop behind, as well as blackberry and any other tech gadget. For computer addicts, being away from the internet’s constant flow of data for a few days recharges and relaxes you in ways that you never experience at home.
- Bring along a small, foldable umbrella to protect against the UV rays of sunlight and possible rain.
- Most toiletries can be found easily in your destination country.
- If it’s something you think you can buy there more cheaply than at home, then don’t bring it (especially if it’s something you don’t already have).
- Bring one book, and when you’re done, find a book-exchange and trade it for a new one.
- In Asia, sarongs are a traveler’s best friend! A sarong works as a towel, a skirt, a makeshift bag, a scarf, a sheet. They’re especially good to have if you’re traveling low-budget, staying in hostels or guesthouses, which often don’t offer towels or even top sheets. The best thing is that they dry really, really quickly, even when it’s humid. A wet towel can take all day to dry in the tropics, and if you have to stuff it in your bag before it’s dry it can get all dank and midewy, and so can all your stuff.
- Get one of those totes or bags that fold up into a small package to slip into your backpack. You can use this to collect your souvenirs. Alternatively, mail your purchases home as you go. This reduces what you must carry around with you, what you have to list for customs.
- Bring old clothes and undergarments and dispose of them each day leaving more room for momentos to bring home if you choose. It also cuts down on items that need frequent washing while away.
- Take baby wipes. And lots of Ziploc bags.
- Don’t travel with anything in your pockets except your passport and wallet. You won’t have to dig everything out of your pockets every time you go through security. Sitting in the plane is a lot more comfortable as well. Make sure your wallet is in your front jeans pocket. Sitting on your wallet for long periods of time will put your back out of alignment.
- Photocopies of sections of guidebooks so at the end of a leg of trip the copy goes in the trash.
- Take a photocopy of all your credit cards, passport and any other valuable document you have. Write down the emergency phone number for each credit card beside its photocopy. Leave this with a neighbour or family member along with your itinerary. Should you have your wallet and bags stolen and be only allowed to make one phone call, call this contact person who would be able to cancel your credit cards etc. for you. Alternatively, instead of photocopying your important documents consider scanning them and mailing them to yourself. That way you can always access these documents. Another reader suggested that you should encrypt documents if you email them to yourself.
- Pack only high-tech fabrics, the kind that dry quickly so that you can do a wash in the sink. You can get away with 2 pairs of socks for a 2 week trip by rinsing out the dirty pair at night. High tech fabric means it’s dry by the next morning. Cotton will stay soggy for days.
- Tilley makes underwear you can wash in the evening, and it will be dry by morning. You only need two pair, or even one if you are sure of finding somewhere to wash it!
- Tip for quick drying: roll a towel over wet fabric,and squeeze tightly.
- Bring a small amount of foreign currency to cover incidental expenses upon arrival, then change the rest in your destination country, as exchange rates are usually more favorable.
On Planning and Doing
Aside from what to pack, there were some great tips submitted about what to do when you get to your destination (along with some tips en route to the destination):
- Don’t overplan your trip. Keep your travel itinerary fluid, so that you can soak up the atmosphere in each place. Leave room for the serendipitous and when plans don’t work out, treat it as an opportunity!
- Arrive earlier than you think is necessary — for domestic travel, try to arrive at least 2 hours before flight time; on international, make it three. This reduces the stress of waiting in a long security line as the time of your departure inches ever closer, and those desperate rushes to your boarding area. Besides, a relaxing drink at one of the restaurants is a lovely way to start a vacation!
- Take time for naps. Seriously.
- Smile a lot and talk to the locals.
- Eat, eat, eat and savour the flavors.
- Don’t get caught up with sights. Plan some must-dos and leave the rest to chance.
- Wander around at night and stay open to the crazier elements of the culture.
- Get lots of massages.
- Prepare for security check in: Wear slip-on shoes; don’t wear a belt with metal; put the jacket or sweater in your carry-on before you get to security; have your electronics on the top of your carry-on along with the plastic zip-lock bag with your liquids so you don’t have to search through your bag to find them (and then repack after you go through security).
- Split your cash and financial assets up. Credit card in one pocket. Some cash in another. Some in a hidden backpack pocket. Some in your shoe(s). Some in a money belt. Go to the bathroom and enter a stall before taking out cash from any of these places.
- Don’t bring all your cash/credit cards etc. on you when you go out. Leave some in a safe at the hotel, and leave the extra credit cards back home.
- Keep a card on you featuring your embassy’s #, some local friends’ numbers.
- Get up early. In hot climates, this will help you avoid the heat of the day; in any climate, it will help you avoid the crowds and get more out of your day at a more leisurely pace. Equally, do the thing you really want to do first, as often plans go awry as the day goes on.
- You shouldn’t try and see everything in a given place. In fact, you’ll probably have a better time if you focus on meeting great people (instead of going to great places): visits to great places will naturally following if you meet the right people during your travels.
- Try to stay away from big tourist spots (unless there’s something you REALLY want to see). meeting locals, doing the things they do, and eating the things they eat always makes for a better stay. If you have any friends there, ask if you can stay with them for a short while; that would give you a true local experience.
And a couple of poems
A couple of readers submitted short and sweet poems that summarized simple traveling so well I had to reproduce them here:
Open your heart and mind to everything
Accept everything and everyone
Forget your own background, habits and norms
Follow your heart (or nose)
Reinvent yourself moment by moment
Light Haiku for Trips
by Maggie Marie Dougherty
Pack light and remain
open to light in people
who bless you with smiles.