Traveling light; Or, how to see the world in 17Kg

I’ve always been the type of traveler typically packed at the last minute, and I invariably end up packing much more than I needed to. But a trip I took recently had some pretty stringent restrictions on luggage weight. I was allowed one soft-sided luggage bag and one carry on bag. The two bags in combination had to weigh less 15 kilos (around 33 lbs). Because I was flying internationally and had 3 flights to my final destination, I also decided I wanted to be able to carry my luggage on-board with me. Both of these constraints forced me to think through my packing strategy very carefully. I wanted to share some of my lessons learned from this exercise in the hopes that it may help others who are trying to travel light.

The first decision I made was to plan out my packing a couple weeks in advance. This gave me plenty of time to consider what I did and didn’t need, to find out the climate and average temperatures for the areas I visited. I used an application called Wunderlist to help me organize my list and to check that I’d gotten everything at the end.

The second decision I made was somewhat related to the first: since I couldn’t take everything I wanted, I needed to decide what items were “must have” and which ones were “nice to have.” I’m a very serious amateur photographer, and so my first concern was making sure I took the right camera gear with me. Clothes were a secondary choice. I traveled with two camera bodies, a Nikon D610 DSLR and a Panasonic Lumix GX1 mirrorless camera as a backup. I had short and long lenses for each camera so I could do everything from landscapes to close-in photos of birds and wildlife. In the future I plan on purchasing a Panasonic Lumix GX8 mirrorless camera and will take it along with the GX1 when weight and size are an issue. As an added bonus I will be able to share lenses between the GX1 and GX8 which means a lighter equipment loadout. I thought about taking my computer to do editing in the field but ultimately decided not to. Instead, I used an Apple device to copy photos from my cameras to my iPad. Some cameras now come with wi-fi capability, and photographers who use one of those cameras can directly upload photos to a website or storage archive.

The third choice I made was that I didn’t need a new set of clothes for each day. These days, most hotels and lodges will do your laundry for a fee. For the places that don’t have facilities, a bathtub or a sink should suffice for a quick clothes wash. I decided that this was a better option than packing clothes for each day, which would have meant a lot heavier luggage. I also carried a small bottle filled with HE (High Efficiency) laundry detergent. Most major brands of laundry soap sell a concentrated HE formula, and it usually only took a few drops to wash a couple of shirts or a pair of pants in the sink.

Knowing that I was doing clothes on the road led me to my fourth decision which was the type of clothes I was going to take with me. For this trip I chose comfort and convenience over fashion, but your decision may vary based on your destination and your mode of transport. I chose clothing made of nylon or poly/cotton blend. These fabrics tend to be low wrinkle, and dry very easily and quickly. I took a few pair of REI Sahara convertible pants and several short-sleeved poly/cotton blend shirts. It helps that I used to be a runner and have a lot of shirts from races I’ve done in the past – these were perfect for the trip.

Making all these decisions and planning out a strategy helped me stay well within the limits imposed on this trip. I also saved my packing list in Wunderlist, and so I’ll have it available for future trips. The good news is I can substitute items as needed based on where I’m going and how. If I need more “dress up” clothes I can substitute khakis or slacks for the convertible pants, and a wrinkle-free dress shirt for one or more of the athletic shirts. For colder climates, I can throw a jacket into my bag – I’m a big fan of the packable jackets from North Face.

It takes imagination, creativity and planning – but learning to pack light is a great skill for frequent travelers to have!

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In defense of the 2-week vacation

beachHow long was your last vacation? More importantly, when was the last time you took a vacation? My wife and I just returned from a twelve-day safari in Africa (photos and story coming soon!), and friends I have from the UK and Europe average three to four weeks off per year. Vacations like this seem to be the exception for Americans rather than the rule – Americans earn, and take, less vacation than virtually any other industrialized country in the world. The data for Americans are staggering:

Not only are fewer American workers eligible for vacation than any other time in history, even fewer people are taking the vacation to which they are entitled. Why is that, exactly? Reasons vary, but it often is directly related to one’s job or career. People don’t want to take long vacations because they might be perceived as being slackers, or due to the workload that would pile up in their absence, or they’re afraid of missing out on critical business. In short it’s not because the trip isn’t affordable, it’s because of the strong attachments many people have to their careers.

A 2013 article from Forbes magazine lays out the very strong case for the benefits of using all your allotted vacation time. Vacations help workers deal with job and life stress better, and actually help people become better workers. These, in turn, help companies reduce employee burnout, lost productivity and turnover – a significant problem in business today. A 2010 study from New Zealand shows that people derive mental and physical health benefits from the act of planning a vacation. From personal experience, I can say that the planning aspect of a vacation is at least half of the fun!

I was fortunate enough to take two separate two-week vacations this year. One was spent camping in some US National Parks out west, and the other was spent on my African safari to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. Both vacations were wonderful, relaxing and fun. They also helped recharge my soul, which I really needed.

Careers are important, don’t get me wrong – but there is more to life than work. Don’t get caught in the trap of thinking “Someday I will go to…” The time is now. Where will you go? Get out there, enjoy life and take a vacation!

Plan a visit to a city in the US you’ve never visited like New York or Chicago or Dallas. Take a few days to get away to Bermuda or the Bahamas. Or take a longer trip to the Caribbean or Central America when the weather at home turns cold. But do something – the change of perspective and the break from the ordinary will do you a world of good.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay / csharker