Traveling Light

Sometime in my twenties I was bitten by the travel bug—I’m not sure exactly when or where it happened, but I realized that being in airports, train stations, hotels, and unfamiliar cities made me extraordinarily happy.

Interestingly, this passion developed during what I’d call an “accumulation phase” in my life. After graduating from college, my now-husband and I went through the typical process of “setting up house.” In fact, decorating our apartment became a creative outlet for us. Since we had little money, we scoured antique shops and flea markets for hidden treasures—and hauled a good deal of “junque” back to our abode.

I think in some sense travel became an escape from my increasingly-cluttered environment (though at the time, I never consciously regarded it as such). I loved the opportunity (and challenge) of editing my possessions down to a single suitcase. I’d start making a packing list weeks in advance, and select the contents as thoughtfully as if I were curating an art exhibition. (Thankfully, no one was privy to my intense internal debates about whether to include hand cream, or an extra pair of socks; they would have thought I’d lost my mind!)

Why the enormous effort in packing for a week’s vacation? As a teenager, I had over-packed for my senior class trip to Florida (thinking, in typical teenage fashion, that I needed a new outfit for every day of the trip). I suffered the misery of dragging around a heavy suitcase, half the contents of which I never even used. I remember wondering how anyone could enjoy traveling when they had to cart around their stuff like a pack mule.

That was the last time I checked in a suitcase at the airport. In the following years, I realized that travel didn’t have to be so burdensome. On my first trip to Europe, I took nothing more than a small carry-on bag (swapping my wardrobe of clothes for a packet of laundry detergent). I knew every ounce would weigh on me like a little anchor, so I was determined not to include a single item that was unnecessary or superfluous.

The experience was exhilarating—while others trouped to the baggage carousel, I hit the ground running. I was mobile, flexible, and fancy free—and never once struggled to maneuver my bag on buses, subways, or long flights of stairs. Furthermore, my sightseeing schedule was unaffected by hotel check-in and check-out times; I could carry my little bag to museums and tourist sites, and stash it in a locker when need be.

I had never felt so free! I was heady with the notion that I could go ANYWHERE when all my stuff was in one little bag. When I returned from a trip, I would count the days until my next vacation. Half the excitement was the opportunity to explore other cultures; the other half was the chance to recreate that feeling of unbridled freedom. I looked forward to those precious weeks when one bag sufficed to meet my needs.

Eventually, the idea of living with just the essentials expanded beyond the days of my twice-yearly vacations. Traveling light became a metaphor for how I wanted to live my life. I began to edit the contents of my surroundings with the same fervor as I had my suitcase. As I slowly ditched the extra “baggage,” I could feel the weight lifted from my shoulders.

My passion for minimalist living now equals my passion for travel. In it, I’ve discovered a way to practice the art of traveling light 365 days a year. And in the process, life has become an easier, more exciting, and infinitely more interesting journey!

15 comments to Traveling Light

  • jessiejack

    very thought provoking- I also love traveling light – It’s almost a game to see how many combos I can make with a few shirts and pants. I have calculated exactly how much shampoo to bring so I don’t overpack. I’ve also noticed that I am much more orderly in a hotel. I have a place for everything and put things back right away. I think it has to do with the amount of stuff I can manage and keep track of. I am trying to edit at home so I can have that same orderly feeling.

  • Greg

    Great article. My last two trips to mexico I travelled with just a small suitcase (like the airline personnel carry) it WAS liberating. Yet upon returning home I found more items that could have been left home. Maybe clothes wise this is just easier for guys!

  • nicole 86

    I hope I am not too old to learn how to travel light. I have always be overpacking and however missing a few items. Si i xould be very intersted if you could list your suitcas ( I am a 58-year French woman) Thank you for your answer.

  • miss minimalist

    Thanks so much for the comments!

    jessiejack, I’m also more orderly in hotels–now the trick is to create that “everything in its place” system in our homes. :-)

    Greg, you guys may have it easier with clothes, but we have an advantage with shoes! I usually only travel with the pair I’m wearing, but can easily slip some ballet flats or dressy sandals into my bag if a formal night is on the itinerary (my husband’s dress shoes take up MUCH more space!).

    nicole 86, you’re never too old to learn to travel light! I’ll publish a post, listing the contents of my suitcase, in the near future.

  • nera kay

    Oh yeah! Perhaps this is how you can identify if you have a minimalism gene: you might be a minimalist if you spend your waking hours dreaming of escaping to a place with nothing in it. :)

    I just got through a packing fiasco – I brought too much to begin with, and then the weather was completely different from what the weather channel had said was normal, and I wound up with a second whole suitcase full of clothes (thrift-store madness, dontcha know). NEVER AGAIN. Small anchor indeed, on the way home my luggage weighed slightly more than I did.

  • miss minimalist

    nera, you’re right, the weather can throw a wrench in the most perfectly-tuned packing system! My advice: pack things you can *layer.* I once had to pile on half the clothes in my suitcase during an unexpected chill. :-) If I’m really in a bind, I’ll buy something at my destination and consider it a souvenir.

  • Yes! Particularly my first time traveling in Latin America, I felt that my husband and I stuck out like a sore thumb, carrying more on our backs than some people owned…Our second trip we travelled much lighter and as you note, had the added benefit of being extremely mobile. Most of the trick is finding clothes that can be really versatile and that dry quickly when you wash them.

  • miss minimalist

    Hi Elizabeth! I agree, dragging around heavy bags is akin to wearing a sandwich board with TOURIST on it. I like the fact that my bag can be carried on my back when I need my hands free, or like a briefcase if I want to “blend in” with the crowd.

  • chucksmommy

    Miss Minimalist –
    Whenever I clean a shelf or the refrigerator I feel like a huge weight has been lifted. And I have a hidden fascination on how other people pack light. It’s nice to know that I’m not alone

  • Annabelle

    I LOVE THIS POST!!!! Your point about, “Traveling light became a metaphor for how I wanted to live my life. I began to edit the contents of my surroundings with the same fervor as I had my suitcase. As I slowly ditched the extra “baggage,” I could feel the weight lifted from my shoulders.”

    AMEN to that. I hope you don’t mind if I, too, take on the ‘traveling light metaphor’??? Thank you for sharing! What a joy and lifted weight from MY shoulders. :)

  • Kat

    I have traveling light down to an art! One of my daughter’s was in competitive cheer and the other parents would marvel at how she and I could travel to competitions sharing one medium sized duffel bag, my purse, and her little sling back-pack that contained her uniform and cheer shoes, while they all hauled in several heavy bags each. My husband and I travel together with that same duffel, and we always tote jeans in it. If need be, I just use the hotel dry-cleaning for the jeans. My oldest daughter travels with us, using a back-pack, and my younger two daughters share a duffel as well. It’s easy, once you get used to it!

  • Totally agree. I spent 3 months travelling all over Europe with a rucksack small enough to be carry-on luggage. Worked like a charm.

  • Tina

    Travelling with less and less. Taking only what we need and use. We don’t travel to impress other people anyway.

  • […] And yet, we insist on caring a bunch of stuff with us while we’re here. 65. Travel lightly. Minimal luggage means maximum adventure. 66. Avoid the touristy areas. Seek out the local people, eat their food, […]

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