How to Pack Really Light

I doubted my ability to make this happen. A 8 kg (~17.5 lb) carry-on for a week? With all my clothes, books, camera, etc.? In the past I would have scoffed and just brought my bag and not worried. But times are a changin’; Bags are weighed and measured, and hefty fees are doled out on the regular. So I needed to employ some semi-extreme measures that turned out to be a rather fun game between my husband (of one year!) and I.

Perhaps I should mention this was all elective. We did have a free checked bag each. But as my husband says, We don’t check bags. ha! And he’s right! Checking bags is the worst. On one trip to France my bag was lost for three days. Not only that, but when traveling by public transport and by foot, the lighter the better; My bag ended up being less than ten pounds! Plus, this is more fun.

I wrote this up before we left, but I never got a chance to post it. Having only a backpack was a dream, seriously. The bag was weighed on the way there but not on the way back, conveniently enough for shoppers (though strangely I didn’t buy a thing…too busy wandering fields and side streets of wildflowers, I suppose).  I don’t know why I never did this before. I was able to walk around town and take public transportation with ease, never struggling with a loud rolling suitcase on the cobblestone (even though I secretly love that sound). The only thing I wish I would have brought but didn’t was a pair of jeans or pants for the cool evenings in the mountains. But I made do.

Here are a few strategies I want to remember and hope might help others, too. It should be noted that these applied to a May trip to Portugal, not an adventured trip to South America. But overall, the same principles may apply.

  • Layer like a maniac This is the real secret. On my very first trip I actually wore multiple jackets, shirts, and such. On this trip, one jacket will do, but this outfit (long skirt, camisole, cashmere cardigan, jean jacket, & scarf (with sneakers)) is saving me space and weight:

Remember, no one is stopping you from shedding some layers on the plane. Repeat after me No shame.

  • Use a lighter bag This might sound really, really obvious. But a duffle bag, backpack, or tote bag makes all the difference. My “regulation” carry-on suitcase was 9 1/2 lbs on its own!

  • Load up your “personal item” (i.e.: purse) with the heavy stuff At least in my experience, they don’t weigh this. So toss your guidebook and camera in there if you’re worried about weight or pick up something on your travels.

  • Be a minimalist with your clothing I promise you don’t need that extra dressy outfit. Or the extra pair of shoes. Or the extra pair of pants. Stick to neutral colors and versatile pieces–for example, a top that can be worn with multiple bottoms, a couple of dresses, and a jacket that works everything you bring, and you’ll be just fine. Even better is if your apartment has a washing machine, but I know that’s not everyone’s cup of tea on vacation. Whatever you do, do NOT play the “what-if game”– What if it rains? What if it snows? What if we get invited to a formal event? You get the idea… don’t do it. Also! Be sure to roll everything (layer similar items on top of one another then roll up like a burrito, secure with a rubber band, et voila!) Here’s my collection for our most recent trip:

Note: I wore all but one shirt. Not pictured are my sandals that I brought along (thankfully, since my sneakers (new) turned out to be the worst!) As mentioned, I missed not having a pair of jeans in my arsenal.

  • Be reasonable about your literary and entertainment needs Some people read on vacation. Like really read. I am not one of those people. My lovely friend lent me a book of short stories, of which I read precisely two on the plane back (I watched five movies on the plane, though.). I bring my phone for obvious reasons but not a computer.
  • Don’t bring a “what-if pharmacy” So by now you sense a trend. Don’t try to prepare for every possible what-if situation. Of course you know your body, in addition to the simple over the counter medications that could come in handy should you need them. And of course you always want to bring medications and supplements you need. But bringing a bag bursting with medications that you have never taken while on any trip (me!) is completely unnecessary…especially when they’re expired.
  • Take advantage of your hosts I didn’t learn this until our last trip to Hawaii, but you must take advantage of your hosts when renting an apartment or even in a bed and breakfast! Often they have guidebooks, books, umbrellas, kitchen essentials, etc., allowing you to save precious space. If they don’t advertise it, just ask. They will usually make sure it’s there if the request is reasonable, i.e.: an umbrella, an iron, etc.

So that’s it! One week of belongings in one backpack totally ~4.5 kg  and one small purse, and we were never happier.

PS: I wrote a little something (a recipe!) on Misadventures Magazine’s site if you’d like to see. 🙂

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