How and Why To Travel Light

IMG_1009  This is part of a series on “Traveling in Europe: 10 Travel Lessons.” To read main article, click here.

We’ve all heard it repeatedly: Travel Light!… and it’s true. Why? Because it will make your trip more enjoyable, easier to move around, you won’t have to wait at airport carousels or run the risk of lost or delayed luggage, and you’ll stay organized and not worry about where you put what.

If you’re going on vacation for a week or two, you should be able to travel with one carry-on (rolling bag or backpack) and a second small carry-on for camera and daily walk-around things. Back in 2008, as a road tester for TravelSmith, I wrote “Two weeks, one carry-on“. The principles are the same but some details need to be updated, like now you can bring your smartphone and buy a local Sim card for pay-as-you-go calls; and activate Skype or Google chat, etc. to keep in touch worldwide.

Anything you might need is available in Europe. Don’t pack for every possible contingency. Anything you need can be bought at comparable or less than in the US. During my first month in Madrid, I gave away to the woman who cleaned the apartment building many of the clothes I’d lugged from Mexico in order to make room for the super stylish and comfortable clothing I found at street fairs and in charity shops. Don’t burden yourself, and leave room for discoveries and great deals.

Traveling for 5 months (and believing it would be much longer), I had all my worldly possessions with me. Along the way, I left my Apple router with one friend, my Canon portable printer with another. I swapped my small folding umbrella for a larger, more useful one. In England, due to the chill, I purchased a fleece jacket on sale at a sporting goods store for $20 and found a like-new cashmere sweater for $10 in a charity shop on the High Street in Winchester (affluent areas worldwide have the best charity stores). I also bought a beautiful pair of Josef Seibel walking shoes on sale in their brand store at Covent Garden for $30… far less than I’ve ever seen them in the U.S. While I rid myself of many things, my bags never seem to get less full or less heavy. It is a mystery.

Do bring: your prescription medicines (and prescriptions), an extra pair of prescription glasses in case you lose or break them. On one or more sheets of paper, print your eyeglass prescription, copies of your passport, credit cards (with the contact phone numbers on the back) and a list of phone numbers and emails for key contacts. Keep these in a separate and safe place, like your money belt. Make sure you know your ATM PIN numbers. If you stash things in what you deem is a secure place, a good trick is to send yourself an email as to where you put it. It’s amazing how your mind can tell you you’ll not forget, and then you do.

Buy good luggage: Some 15 years ago I won an auction for a set of Eagle Creek luggage and have traveled dozens of trips and countless miles with it, and it continues to hold up and look like new. Eagle Creek stands behind its products with a lifetime guarantee, so although it is pricey it is a good investment. Another consideration besides durability is weight. With strict airline policies, every ounce can matter… so why take up extra with the weight of your bags? Determine the type of travel you plan to do and suit your bags to your travel style.

An alternative for transporting extra luggage: In addition to my 22-inch 2-wheeled carry-on, big shoulder bag and cross purse, I schlepped a 28-inch wheeled suitcase weighing 50 pounds, the maximum allowed on international flights without excess weight fees. While in a place for a week or more it was nice to have all my things, but moving between locales was a hassle, although strong young men helped me lift it on and off trains and up or down long stairways. I do not advise traveling with more than you can comfortably handle.

I discovered Send My Bag, an excellent door-to-door delivery service based in the UK in response to discount airlines and their baggage and weight restrictions; also to ship golf clubs, bicycles, skis and other equipment to meet their owner at a vacation spot. I arranged for my large bag to be sent from my friends’ home in Basel Switzerland to another friend’s in Southampton England where I was headed 2 weeks later. This allowed me the luxury of travel to Paris and a subsequent train and ferry ride across the English Channel without the burden of my big heavy suitcase, which was waiting for me when I arrived in England.

What to do if you bring too much: Depending on the length and purpose of your travel, you may find you’re not using all you brought along, or have a misbuy that isn’t working for you. Everywhere, there are people who have far less than you, and you can find them and make a new friend, as part of the gift to yourself of giving away something. The value of this action lies not in value of the item, but in the inestimable value of creating a new connection between otherwise strangers. And it’s fun!

No matter what you pack, how you pack, which luggage you use or how you transport it, the most important thing is that you go… Whatever your dream, inhabit it!

If you have more ideas and experiences, please leave your comments at the blog post!