Hand luggage only: how to pack for any trip
Beat the queues and the airline charges: travel writer Tim Richards shows you his carry-on bag packing secrets.
My name's Tim, and I'm an obsessive light packer. I only ever travel with a cabin luggage-sized backpack, no matter where I go or how long I stay.
In 2011, for example, I spent eight weeks in Europe, travelling through Poland on a Lonely Planet assignment and visiting Britain, Ireland and Germany. My only luggage? That trusty, unassuming High Sierra backpack I bought in 2005.
Travelling like this isn't easy. Being slavishly self-limited to hand luggage involves a high level of obsession and a cultish devotion to the virtues of travelling light. (At one stage, for example, I methodically identified all unnecessary straps on my backpack and cut them off to save weight.)
But it wasn't always thus.
Picture this: Britain, 1990. A train from Salisbury to Bath. It's one of those short-distance commuter trains, with little space for luggage. In fact, no space for luggage, not a gap between seats or a rack at the end of the carriage. At a loss, my wife Narrelle and I have placed our largest suitcase across the two seats opposite us. This works all right until the train starts to fill up, and new passengers eye our case's comfy berth with understandable disdain.
Luckily, being English, they stop short of upbraiding us, settling for muttered asides and censorious glances. But it's enough to cause acute embarrassment. At Bath, we march straight to the main post office, buy a cardboard box, then post home everything which we deem superfluous. After that we buy a smaller suitcase and donate the old one to a charity bin. We're not down to mere cabin luggage, of course, but on our first overseas trip together we've learnt a valuable lesson about the inconvenience of overpacking.
A decade later, we're hopping out of a bus in hilly Siena, Italy. In the intervening years I've worked my way down to a cabin luggage-sized suitcase which is checked into the aircraft's hold while I take a small backpack on board. It's less to carry, sure – but on a hot humid autumn day, climbing narrow streets up to our hotel, it still seems too much. This is when I start to wonder whether there's a formula that could reduce my packing to its logical minimum, a rule to forestall the temptation of tossing in extra items "just in case".
By the time we board a plane across the Pacific in 2005, on an island-hopping journey to Chile which will take in New Zealand, Tahiti and Easter Island, I've finally discovered that formula. Cue heavenly trumpets: it's the Rule of Three.
The Rule of Three involves taking just three of certain basic clothing items: three shirts (one with a collar), three pairs of underwear and three pairs of socks. These are accompanied by two pairs of trousers (one jeans, and one more formal black pair), one light jacket, one fleecy, one beanie and one scarf. Remember, of course, a fair bit of this will be worn onto the plane rather than packed. To this is added a simple set of toiletries, a Crumpler satchel which I pack with the clothing, and some tech, which I'll talk about later.
With this combination, I've found, I'm equipped for the range of weather typical in temperate places from mid-spring through to mid-autumn. For example, I typically visit Poland for Lonely Planet in May and June. If it's a warm humid day, which is fairly common there in June, it's jeans and a T-shirt.
If I'm catching a 6.30am train in the southern mountains, however, the full fleecy/shirt/hat/scarf/jeans combo is in play to combat the chill of the station platform. If I'm eating at a nice restaurant or taking in a classical music concert, the collared shirt and the black trousers are good enough to pass.
But what of shoes, I hear you ask? Yes, they are devilishly difficult to pack, what with being odd non-foldable shapes and all. So I don't. I take a single pair of black Caterpillar walking boots. They're extremely useful for walking along cobblestone streets or hiking through national parks, but when shone are presentable in a more formal setting.
Beyond clothing, technology is the light packer's friend. Any number of books can be stored on your smartphone. Guidebooks are available as apps, and Lonely Planet sells individual chapters of its books as PDF files from its website.
I actually take an iPad and a wireless keyboard with me, but you could leave this sort of gear behind and stick with a phone. I've also found the camera in my iPhone 4S good enough to substitute for my battered old Olympus compact digital, so I generally just take photos with that. Goodbye, varied charging cords.
Are there downsides to travelling this way? Of course. You have to wash clothing more often, either at a local laundromat or, when pushed, in your hotel bathroom. In Europe I recommend Mondays for this task, when nearly all the museums are closed. We once had a pleasant Monday morning in Florence, taking a break from art and drinking espresso while watching our clothes turn round. In Poland, where there are no laundrettes, I strategically hire the occasional apartment with a washing machine.
The positives, however, are great. Bypassing bag drops and baggage claim at the airport; never having luggage lost; being able to walk from a railway station to your hotel, experiencing street life as you go; catching cheap local transport such as minibuses or commuter trains.
I can already hear the cries of protest from those who love their many and varied shoes, or who like dressing up in ever-changing finery for nights on the town.
Fair enough. You don't have to copy anything I've described. In the end, it's up to each of us to decide our own personal level of packing convenience. However, if you've ever cursed your enormous luggage and wished you had less to cart around on the road, it's worth putting some thought into what's truly necessary to pack. You could do worse as a starting point than the Rule of Three.
Carry-on only: what to pack
This is my standard packing list. Remember, of course, I'm wearing or carrying a fair bit of this at any time.
3 shirts (two T-shirts and one with a collar)
3 pairs of socks
3 pairs of underwear
2 pairs of trousers (one jeans, one formal)
1 fleecy top
1 woollen hat
1 pair of Caterpillar boots
Mophie Juice Pack battery case for the iPhone
Chargers for the above
Apple wireless keyboard
Small camera tripod and Glif tripod stand (//www.studioneat.com/products/glif) for the iPhone
Folder with passport and printouts (airport bus tickets, boarding passes etc)
Notepads and pens
Toiletries (under 100ml for liquids and gels)
Tim Richards is a freelance travel writer who blogs at www.aerohaveno.com.
Like Traveller on Facebook.