Today, I leave for two weeks in London and Paris. Don’t get excited – I’ll be working, and I’ll be by myself, so there won’t be any pictures of me trotting blithely across a French back street swathed in a thick knit scarf and gripping a neon clutch bag. Instead, there will be other clichés to delight in.
My Big Three travel issues are packing, managing sleep, and tactics for food. Everything else is either mundane, easy or pure pleasure. Packing relates to keeping down to one carry-on bag. Sleeping has to do with jet lag and work days. Food tactics are required to keep the fruit and veggie intake up. I’m not an especially picky eater, but I do notice benefits from a lot of fruit and veg in my diet – not always easy with a lot of restaurant meals.
Packing can be nearly effortless (and I like effortless). The simplest and most minimal solution would be first of all to decide to wear trousers for two weeks. Then I can pack two pairs, one for wearing while the other is being dry-cleaned. What else? Four work-appropriate tops, to be able to mix it up a bit, two sweaters and / or cardigans and / or jackets for layering. Four or five sets of underwear, pairs of socks. One pair of jeans and a couple of tops for evenings and weekends. Two scarves because they don’t take much room and help with warmth.
On the plane I’ll wear something comfortable but also nice enough to wear at destination.
With the support of the hotel laundry service I can cycle through these pieces and my suitcase will be blissfully light. This does mean you can’t pack anything really delicate – you need to stick to things an unknown dry-cleaner can manage.
The most minimal solution includes a walkable shoe that goes with everything. Sometimes I can settle on a shoe that’s suitable for casual and work and then I only take the shoes on my feet. There aren’t many shoes that I’m happy with for that. Most shoes look good in one situation or the other, but not both. Or I know I’m going to be in a meeting where I want to look smart and then the compromise shoe won’t cut it. In that case I’ll take a pair for work and wear the casual pair on the plane.
The reek of effort
Where this all breaks down is once you get it in the suitcase there is Still Room. This provokes the brain into considering Other Options for Variety, like another pair of shoes that I’ve been wanting to wear, or a dress or skirt to have a change from trousers. Dresses and skirts lead to wanting knee-high boots or heels to go with them. And a different handbag… and a different jacket… and why not an extra t-shirt…?
Before you know it you are reeking of effort as you try to be selective, you have to sit on the bag to zip it up, and can barely carry it downstairs.
The bright side of this situation is that as long as you can still fly with the bag and get it to the hotel without much difficulty, most of the effort expended has been in private and no-one needs to know. You’ll still get all the advantages of the one-bag policy and have the enjoyment of what you packed when you are at your destination.
The real enemy is the Bigger Suitcase. Now you’re checking your bag, having to wait at the baggage claim, where it may or may not appear. You’re not going to zip as quickly through the airport, you struggle on the stairs in the train station, and you won’t be able to waitlist on flights if problems or opportunities arise. Now you really reek of effort and most of the extra stuff you packed won’t be worn anyway.
The No Baggage Challenge
I thought I was a pretty good champion of avoiding multiple or big suitcases on a trip, but Rolf Potts has taken it to a whole new level. The No Baggage Challenge chronicles Rolf’s round-the-world trip without a single piece of luggage. Six weeks, twelve countries, including Britain, France, Morocco, Egypt, South Africa, Thailand, Australia and the USA. Everything he took went in his pockets. Check out his site to find out what he chose. Was there a toothbrush in any of the pockets – or was that a non-essential?
Granted, Rolf wasn’t working so he didn’t face the challenge of projecting professionalism and didn’t carry tools of the trade that make at least one bag essential for most of us. However his blog captures beautifully the freedom and convenience of travelling with no more than you need. The extras that we take because we think they will be useful or enjoyable end up sapping our enjoyment and fulfilling no useful purpose.
One of my most intriguing new acquaintances was Erin, an Australia-bound Seattle native who was carrying so much stuff that she’d lost track of how many bags she was carrying. In addition to a 60-kilo (132-pound) suitcase full of clothing and enough antiallergenic cosmetics for a one-year stint Down Under, she and I were able to identify nine separate bags (plus a loose pillow that wouldn’t fit in any of them), many of which she had acquired during a recent shopping binge in Bangkok. She claimed that she didn’t want to go to the trouble of buying anything in Australia, but I was astounded by the sheer physical effort that went with helping her to take her bags off the train.
As I helped Erin wrestle her 60-kilo monster-bag… I realized how long it had been since I’d even thought of the psychic and physical hassle that comes with carrying luggage. Suddenly — in that moment — traveling with next-to-nothing felt like an indulgent luxury.