Once upon a time there was a young woman who was lucky enough to travel across Europe for two months.
Unluckily, though, she had very little money, which really wasn’t that big of a deal except it meant she had to be resourceful with food (leftovers from an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet make an excellent lunch) and she had to carry what she needed in one light backpack, otherwise she’d be charged extravagant extra-fees by budget airlines for heavy luggage.
Knowing this, and that she may well find herself traipsing across miles and miles of countryside or city looking for cheap hostels, she decided her only option was to leave everything but the essentials.
The problem was she thought all of her possessions were essential. Who could live without two pairs of running shoes? Four bottles of lotion (different scents, of course); a few earring options; straight, skinny, and flared jeans; two bathing suits; a favorite pillow?
Google failed to provide her with a definitive plan for navigating the troublesome judgements so she ultimately developed her own system (patent pending) for deciding what would come and what would stay.
In case you haven’t guessed it by now, the young woman was me, host of Twenty-Something Traveler here on BTR, and this is my (patent pending) “ditch the excess roadmap” for when you need to pack ultra-light.
Research the weather in your destination.
Even if you fancy yourself a geography buff, the true climate of a destination might surprise you. For example, did you know there’s a mountain on the equator that sees enough snowfall to support a ski resort? Or that Iceland is green almost year round, and Greenland is typically frozen over? Or that the Costa Rican Rain Forest never actually gets any rain?
Ok, I made that last one up, but see you may never know that unless you researched it!
Be realistic about your activities.
Listen, if you’ve never run a day in your life, you’re not going to sprint a marathon on your vacation. Unless your travels are centered around fitness you probably don’t need much exercise clothing and you definitely don’t need more than one pair of running shoes, which take up too much of space and weight.
Likewise, if you’re not going to a ball, you don’t need gown. If you’re not going hiking, you don’t need hiking boots. Unless you’re a swimsuit model, you only need one swimsuit. Ever.
Pick a color scheme.
Mixing and matching is a beautiful thing, facilitate it by sticking to one color scheme for your whole travel wardrobe. Pro tip: don’t make white the primary color–it shows all the dirt of the journey and the second you put anything white on you just know red wine will spill all over it.
Not all travel fabrics are created equal.
Sometimes in life it’s hard to distinguish between good and bad. Not so with travel fabrics. Polyester, nylon, denim, or some combination are good, because they won’t wrinkle, generally repel water, and won’t hold smells. Cotton, silk, and linen are bad because they wrinkle like crazy, get and stay soaked, and if you forget to wear deodorant one afternoon these fabrics will alert the rest of the world to your mistake for days (weeks?!) after.
If you can’t pair it, don’t wear it.
The best way to account for varied weather and activities is to pick as versatile a wardrobe as possible, but we’re still trying to save weight here. That means a single piece of clothing should serve at least two purposes when combined with another (three or more for true masters).
Pack by the pasta rule.
The pasta rule states that when you’re making pasta, grab as many raw noodles as you think you need, then cut that amount in half, and that’s how much you’ll actually eat.
The same is true with packing. Lay out everything you think you need and then cut that in half. Nope, not just a little, not 20 percent, not what your mom/roommate says, half.
Invest in an e-reader.
Book traditionalists like myself probably grit their teeth at this one, but books are simply too damn heavy. You don’t want to be bored on planes and trains (and automobiles!) but ditch the extra five to 10 pounds and condense with a Kindle, iPad, or other e-reader.
When it can’t fit, wear it.
There are times when it’s impossible to get around bringing a large cumbersome jacket with you. For example, if you’re going to Russia. In these cases, you have two options: invest in a super warm but also lightweight and easily packable jacket from a specialty brand like The North Face or Patagonia, or, wear your coat when you’re traveling. Usually a great big coat on an airplane will serve you well since cabin temperatures rival the inside of a freezer, but keep in mind you’ll also have to wear it on crowded buses, trains, platforms, and the like.
Finally, always remember, “The journey is inevitable, the baggage, optional.”
So when in doubt, leave it out.
Feature photo courtesy of Sheila Sund.