Kirk and I are traveling through Spain for 19 days with nothing but carry-on luggage. For months, people have been asking us how. This week, with the summer travel season upon us, I take my first-ever break from business topics to share the secrets of literally traveling light. Most of them apply whether your travel is business or pleasure.
First of all, let’s make sure we’re clear on why we should be considering traveling light at all, because it does take some effort in advance, and our time is valuable.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that this summer is projected to be the worst ever for congestion and delays. No checked luggage = one less line at the departure airport.
Many airlines are now charging $50 and up to check more than one bag. It’s just a matter of time before they start charging for all checked baggage, the same way they charge for drinks. No checked luggage = more money to spend at the destination.
It’s no great secret that lost luggage claims are up, too. No checked luggage = no lost luggage.
Here’s my favorite: when we arrived in Spain at midnight after 18 hours of traveling, we got off the plane and walked directly to customs and on to ground transportation. No checked luggage = no waiting 30+ minutes at your destination when you’re sick to death of traveling and just want to get out of there. When we return, it will be the same sweet story.
We move effortlessly from place to place because we’re only carrying 20 pounds each plus Kirk’s backpack and my travel bag. Our backs feel great. No checked luggage = feeling good.
Now, let’s move on the success secrets for traveling light.
The number one secret is to bring only clothing that can be washed in a bathroom sink and hung to dry overnight. For business, it means a well-coordinated wardrobe of dark suits that can be dry-cleaned through the hotel service if needed. Everything else gets washed out in the sink. It takes 10 minutes in the evening. No big deal. It’s not like we’re trying to recreate the full wash, rinse, and spin cycles here!
Because we didn’t own many items that would dry overnight, and they are not readily available in stores, we spent two months ordering clothes from specialty travel catalogues and then sending back or exchanging all the items that didn’t fit.
We learned through this experience that the target market for travel clothes is considerably more, uh, mature than we are, so it took a little creativity to dress our age and not like the shuffleboard-on-the-lido-deck crowd. I wound up buying most of my clothing at the Benetton store near my office when they got in a large shipment of linen.
When you travel light, everything has to coordinate with everything else. We couldn’t just throw all our favorites into multiple suitcases. The best way to figure this out is to take a practice trip. We visited Kirk’s mom in San Diego in mid-April (that’s us on the beach in Encinitas), so we packed as if we were going on our 19-day trip.
It was eye-opening. Even though we thought we had demonstrated extraordinary self-discipline, we saw that not everything really looked good with everything else, and we could cut even more stuff, leaving room for souvenirs. Our souvenirs of Encinitas were two containers of granola from our favorite coffee shop and six books that I just couldn’t resist at a cool local bookstore. Nice and bulky and heavy. This was also when I realized I would have to limit the number of books I schlepped around Europe!
This leads me to the second biggest secret to traveling light: We seriously limited the number of heavy things. We did finally decide to pack our iPod and speakers, though, because we love having our collection of Spanish music with us. I ditched a dress and two tops to make room for it. I haven’t missed them a bit.
The third biggest secret: Pack enough toiletries to get started, not for the whole trip. When you think about it, this is really mandatory because you can’t fit shampoo for three weeks into a 2.5 ounce bottle! Almost anywhere in the world, you can buy a bottle of shampoo, and just leave behind what you don’t use by the end of the trip.
The fourth: Plan to buy some souvenirs that you can use while there. I brought only one scarf, even though I knew I’d get sick of it, because I want to buy a second one here. Every time I wear it back home, I’ll have a fond memory of my trip.
If you’re considering traveling light, to Europe in particular, I recommend that you start with the extremely helpful site ricksteves.com Although they make some recommendations that I just couldn’t imagine doing (like wearing those little white socks with walking shoes and a skirt, yuk), 95% of what you read on the site is excellent, based on years of traveling experience, and they know their stuff. He also sells a few handy gadgets, like a little travelers’ picnic kit with sturdy plastic utensils and a TSA-approved corkscrew, which we’re about to use now. Cheers!