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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