As we waited for our car, a taxi carrying five middle-aged Americans – two men and three women – arrived. Among them, they carried maybe 10 suitcases. Half of them were of the extra large variety - the type you'd see on an around-the-world cruise on the Queen Mary 2.
We watched the men stuff the suitcases into a large SUV rental. The effort took a considerable amount of time. There wasn’t enough room. Two of the suitcases settled into the back seat, leaving little space for the women. One of them sat on the other’s lap, and the third squeezed in next to the other two.
The scene was so comical, one of the men asked us to take a picture with his camera before they sped off on
a trip not nearly as long as ours.
Had they taken a picture of us, they would have captured four people gloating. Our luggage – all of it - was sitting on the sidewalk in a small pile. There were four suitcases not much larger than the ones you see pilots and flight attendants carting through airports. There were a couple of small daypacks and a pair of even smaller bags. Nothing more.
"Operation Carry-On Only" was looking good.
We had conceived the idea a few weeks earlier. The new checked-baggage fees had ticked some of us off, so we were getting conditioned to carry-on only travel. Three of us were veteran overseas travelers. For us, traveling light was a no-brainer. One of us had his luggage lost during his first trip to
Many of our friends thought we were full of baloney.
"It can’t be done," said John Johnson of
In fact, it can be done. Especially when it’s a temperate weather trip.
I have always traveled sparsely. My previous career as a correspondent took me to developing countries where checked baggage often disappeared. So I carried on board a backpack, laptop and camera bag and effectively eliminated any lost luggage crises. On the downside, most of the clothes I wore were cotton, which were heavy, wrinkled easily and hard to keep clean. I traveled small but not light.
Hooray for synthetics
Technology can be a beautiful thing. In recent years, wrinkle-free, and water- and sweat-resistant synthetic materials have cut the weight of clothes in half and reduced their maintenance even further. In 2007, during a month-long business and pleasure trip to
The star of that trip was the Ultimate Travel Pants, which I discovered at Duluth Trading Co. The pant, which only comes in black, looks like a casual slack. But it can pass for a semi-dressy trouser and also work on the golf course. While flying, they’re as comfortable as pajamas. They never wrinkle. And, after a quick sink wash, they dry in two hours. One pair of the Ultimate Travel Pants, another casual slack and a pair of jeans, and I was good for the month.
By the time I packed for Europe in late September, I had added to easy-wash, sweat-proof socks [Duluth], synthetic briefs [Under Armour], convertible pants [North Face], and three nice-looking synthetic sport T- shirts [Champion] in black, scarlet and white. I included a pair of cargo shorts, synthetic casual dress shorts, a lightweight sweater, a couple of synthetic button-down shirts, a nonwrinkle waterproof jacket and a pair of black jeans. I was set.
My carry-on suitcase, which was smaller than the suitcase I used two years ago, was not full. Neither was my daypack, which included three sets of clothes, a must if you are forced check your suitcase and it’s lost.
The women carried more cotton items than the men – semi-dressy tee shirts and capris, in particular – but they saved space in other ways. Wendy Staley of
Her philosophy on traveling light is worth noting: "Very few people you meet along the way will see you more than once, so who cares if you wear the same outfit a bunch of times, as long as it’s clean."
The women were pros at layering their garments. They also used a shawl as a jacket, sweater and blanket; turned a miniscule synthetic ball called a popcorn crush into a sharp cardigan; and carried a rain coat/jacket stashed into a fist-sized stuff sack.
Shoes out, detergent in
Most impressive was the shoe solution, always the No. 1 issue when packing. Each of the six us took one pair of comfortable walking shoes and a pair of decent sandals. I repeat this because it’s hard to believe: one pair of shoes. A few of us carried flip-flops as a third option.
A baggie full of detergent solved the laundry issue and - a bonus - kept our clothes smelling fresh.
Among our other traveling light tricks, we wore several layers of clothes, including our jackets, on every flight. We shopped, but one couple shipped all their purchases home. Another bought a cheap suitcase at their last stop, filled it with their clothes and checked it at the airport. They then carried on all their valuable purchases.
The most challenging part of traveling light is learning the carry-on size, weight and bag-limit of every airline you'll be on. Size is easy. Those bag-sizing racks you see near every check-in counter allow for suitcases 22 inches x 14 inches x 9 inches [45 cubic inches, total] - or less. That figure is often non-negotiable. For most airlines, the carry-on bag limit is two – one suitcase and another, smaller bag or laptop. A purse – woman’s or man’s – does not count. [At this reporting, new restrictions related to the attempted attack on the Northwest Airlines plane near Detroit Metro on Dec. 25 are not in place. Early indications are that security measures will be increased prior to boarding, and that carry-on baggage rules will not be altered.]
Weight is the tough one.
We flew Alitalia from
All-in-all, we had done well and were feeling good about our packing effort – especially after watching the spectacle of the five Americans and their hefty suitcases.
But you can always do better. I couldn’t help but think of Jack Reacher, the fictional hero in the Lee Child adventure series. Reacher, an ex-military, Rambo-type, roams the
In the world of traveling light, that’s known as a perfect game.
Reported by George J. Tanber firstname.lastname@example.org
Ten Tips for Traveling Light
1. Wear several layers of clothes on any airline trip.
2. Stash three outfits - and anything you can't afford to lose - in your smaller carry-on.
3. Take a minimal amount of toiletries. Buy the rest there and dump them before you return home.
4. Suitcase dimensions can't exceed 45 cubic inches. Carry-on weight allowances vary from airline to airline.
5. For your clothing, choose just three colors you look good in; make certain everything matches.
6. Don't worry about wearing the same outfit several times or more. Most people you encounter will see you only once.
7. When you buy things, ship them home. Or buy a cheap suitcase at your last stop, fill it with your clothes and check that bag. Use your carry-on for newly bought items.
8. When in doubt, leave it out of your suitcase. You can always buy things you need.
9. Make certain you have one comfortable pair of attractive walking shoes.
10. Take synthetic, wrinkle-free clothing.
Suggested Travel Clothing/Accessory Items
-Mr. Lee's Ultimate Travel Pants, black; www.duluthtrading.com (click "Specialty Shops," then "Travel Smart"), $59.50.
-Lightweight X-static crew socks, black; www.duluthtrading.com (type "socks" in search window), $9.50.
-Champion Double Dry vented T-shirt; eight colors; www.championusa.com, $25.
-Tilley breathable nylon hat, LT6B, taupe and stone; www.tilley.com , $74.
-Under Armour boxerjocks, long or short; www.rei.com, $20.
-Nike Dri-FIT Tour golf shorts, black; www.golfgalaxy.com, $60.
-Overland Bayliss purse; charcoal, brown; www.overland equipment.com , $45.
-Nike Livestrong considered pants, black; www.nikestore.com, $55.
-North Face convertible pants, three colors; www.altrec.com, $54.95.
-Columbia security check short-sleeve shirt, three colors, www.packinglight.net, $38.
-Columbia Tamiami long-sleeve shirt, three colors; www .packinglight.net , $39.95.
-Nike cargo shorts; black, brown; www.nike.com, $30.97.
-North Face Venture jacket, nine colors; www.thenorthface.com , $99-$119.
-Keen shoes and sandals; www.zappos.com, $85-$100.
-Carry-on suitcases; www.packinglight.net, $100-$350.
-Outdoor Research solar roller hat, four colors; www.altrec.com, $29.95.
-ExOfficio full-cut briefs, black; www.exofficio.com, $18.
-Keen Carmel shoes, three colors; www.zappo.com, $80.
-Popcorn crush cardigan, multiple colors; www.magicscarf.com , $18.95.
-Pashmina wrap, multiple colors; www.thepashminastore.com, $49.99.
-Eddie Bauer tote bag; Eddie Bauer stores, $12.50.
-Smartwool socks, multiple styles and colors; www.thefind.com , $9.95-$12.95.
-North Face Venture jacket, five colors; www.zappos.com, $99.
-ExOfficio no-wrinkle capris, black; www.exofficio.com, $55.
-The ultimate travel skirt, multiple colors; www.travelsmith.com, $64 (one was on sale for $16.98).
-ExOfficio Irresistible Zippy Sweater Jacket; black, white; www.exofficio.com, $68.
-Eagle Creek Vagabond purse, palm and chocolate; www .luggagebase.com , $64.
-Travel clutch jewelry bag, black; www.stacksandstacks.com, $34.99.
-Jay Jill The Perfect Cami camisole tops, multiple colors; www.jjill.com, $22.50.
-Horny Toad Keenan Zip-Mock pullover jersey, multiple colors ; www.rei.com, $66.
-Carry-on suitcases; www.packinglight.net, $100-$350.
Prices as of Dec. 18, 2009