Top ten tips for packing light

Travel with less and you can get round more easily, avoid waiting for bags and never pay for excess luggage, writes Louise Southerden.

Did you hear about the globetrotting National Geographic writer who travelled the world for six weeks with no luggage? He wore a multi-pocketed vest to carry all he needed, including T-shirts and a folding keyboard for his iPhone. 

Appealing as this might be, most of us need at least one bag when we travel, if only to avoid handwashing our smalls in our hotel room's bathroom sink every night. The question is, how to keep it light?

There are three good reasons to be a travel minimalist. It's liberating (save on baggage fees, no more waiting at the baggage carousel), getting around is easier (no heaving a bag through the streets of a new city) and it's better for the environment (we pay for the weight we carry in emissions, and travelling with less lets us walk or use public transport).

But be warned: packing light is addictive. Start this ball rolling and you'll soon be chasing it downhill weighing everything you buy, pack and use, in a quest to answer the eternal question: "How low can those luggage scales go?"

Need help? Try these light-packing tips for size:  

1.  DON'T PACK AT THE LAST MINUTE

There's a reason most people don't pack light for every trip: it takes effort and a bit of thought. Packing at, say, midnight on departure-eve makes it even harder, because you're too tired to exercise the critical faculties that'll help you lighten your load. Start packing, or at least thinking about what to take, a few days before you leave. 

2.    GO WHEEL-LESS

What? Forego the greatest travel innovation of our time? The problem with wheels is that they trick us into taking more than we can carry, then justify their existence. When you have to pick up your bag, there's a built-in incentive to pack light. Going wheel-less (my favourite travel bag is a Patagonia Black Hole duffel with backpack straps) is also an advantage where footpaths are non-existent, streets are cobbled and there are lots of stairs (Exhibit A: most European train stations). 

3.    DON'T ROLL YOUR CLOTHES

This might sound like more heresy and yes, rolling your clothes does help you stuff more stuff in. That's the problem. More stuff means more weight you'll have to carry (you're trying to travel light, remember, not small), particularly when you're travelling without wheels (see above). Pack things loosely and there'll be plenty of weightless air between them.

4.    SHOP LIGHT

Outdoor stores such as Paddy Pallin and Kathmandu and online store Lightweight Traveller (see lwtraveller.com) are temples to the gods of lightweight clothing and gear. Shopping while travelling is trickier and can soon undo all your weight-saving work, so keep souvenirs small (magnets, say, instead of snowdomes) or budget for shipping things home. Photos make the best, and least cumbersome, mementos. 

5.    BE TECH-SAVVY

Some things are worth their weight. Your smartphone, for instance, has a host of functionality and if you're willing to read maps, novels and guidebooks on its (relatively) small screen, could be the only device you need. Those multi-adapters for overseas power points on the other hand? They are heavy as – buy a plug in each country instead.

6.    GO FOR MULTI-FUNCTIONALITY

Give priority to items that serve more than one purpose (so long, selfie stick): sandals that can double as walking shoes, a Turkish towel that can be used as a blanket (and is more absorbent than a sarong), a Buff that's a super-lightweight beanie, scarf and bandanna all in one. 

7.    MINIMISE TOILETRIES 

Take at least some toiletries, in those small plastic bottles available from the "travel" section in major supermarkets, to avoid using hotel products, for environmental reasons. Or forgo shampoo altogether (see nopoomethod.com); apparently it restores your hair's natural shine – eventually. 

8.   PUT YOUR WALLET ON A DIET

You won't need your library or gym membership cards when you're away, so remove things like this from your wallet before you leave. Better still, take a small, zippered coin purse just big enough for a credit card or pre-paid travel card, your driver's licence and some cash. 

9.    GO BACK TO PAPER

Travel apps such as TripIt are a handy way to keep booking details together, particularly when you don't have access to a printer. In remote, unplugged corners of the world, however, a printed eticket, a novel and a few pages torn from a guidebook really come into their own. No chargers required. (It's always a good idea to carry photocopies of the front page of your passport and your travel insurance policy, for emergencies.)

10.    TAKE LESS

The real secret to packing light? Doing without a few comforts for a few days or weeks, maybe wearing the same clothes day after day (thanks, Icebreaker, for bringing odour-resistant merino gear back into style). And remember, packing light is a journey, not a destination. The next time you travel, see what you can leave behind. You might be surprised how little you really need.

See also: What happens when an airline loses your luggage?
See also: 11 mistakes first-time travellers make
See also: What you should pack in your carry-on luggage: the essentials

 

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