have one carry-on, will travel (or, how to pack light)

For someone who finds it difficult to part with things (and I’ve the overstuffed closets and refrigerator to prove it), I have learned to pare down when traveling. I laugh when I see people taking weekend trips with rolling suitcases that could fit an average-size child in them. With a little planning, anyone can leave the steamer trunk at home and make do with a carry-on.heavy luggage

Having four kids and always having to take road trips because of the cost of flying, I just couldn’t bring an extra suitcase for just my shoes or fourteen changes of clothes for three days on the road. It would be impossible to pack the entire family and all that luggage into a minivan. So I’ve learned to pare down.

Suggestions for traveling light:

  • When flying, bring only enough for just one carry-on and one personal item. Checking luggage may seem convenient–you don’t have to lift the forty-pound bag into the overhead compartment, for one–but locating the baggage area in the airport and then waiting for the bags to unload onto the carousel after a flight is time consuming when you’re likely exhausted. Skip the luggage merry-go-round and carry your own bag. (A bonus: You’ll never have to file a claim for lost luggage.)
  • Pack clothes and shoes that are comfortable and versatile. Pick colors and patterns that match and you’ll get more use out of them and spend less time staring into an open suitcase. A single lightweight, waterproof jacket with a hood will be great for most any weather in the summer. Flats, not heels, can be worn both day and night, and T-shirts and blouses can go with shorts and jeans or a nice skirt. One pair of athletic shoes for heavy walks or hikes should be enough along with those flats and maybe a pair of light sandals in the summer. Stick to neutral bottoms, but pack enough underwear to last the entire trip unless you have access to a laundry.
  • Download books or videos onto a tablet or phone and eliminate lugging stacks of books. Books and magazines are staples for me when traveling. There have been times that our one-week summer vacation was the only time in the year when I could get a good book read. I would bring four or five magazines and at least two books. I still like the feel of an actual book and will pack at least one, but I also download books onto my Nook or Kindle and read them that way. Most libraries circulate ebooks (and electronic audio books) in addition to hardcovers and paperbacks too, so you don’t even have to purchase from Barnes & Noble or Amazon if money’s an issue or if you’re not sure you’ll like the book after purchasing.heavy suitcases
  •  Take pictures with your cell phone. I bought a digital SLR camera a few years back after having wanted one my entire life, so I will pack that camera on special trips. Weekends away or places I’ve been before, however, I make due with the camera on my cell phone, which makes sharing and downloading the pictures easier during and after the trip, too.
  • Look up maps ahead of time and have them sent to your phone. Even before I have every stop planned out, I know generally the places and towns I want to see. Before a trip, I’ll go on Google Maps and plug in cities. There I can see the distance, the roads to travel, and the time it takes to make the journey. The itinerary can be sent to my phone or email address for when I’m on the road.
  • Bring flat shampoos, conditioners, and lotions or silicone containers. Instead of using bottles, I save up the flat individual cellophane packs of shampoo and conditioner samples that sometimes come attached to full-size bottles. I also pack baby wipes or Wet Ones instead of liquid hand sanitizer. There are new silicone pouches, which are flexible and guaranteed not to leak, that a lot of people swear by. These items take up much less space than those in individual, rigid bottles and are lightweight too.
  • Keep like items together.  Don’t be that guy, the one who unzips his luggage and everything goes flying every which way. Keep all your underwear, T-shirts, and pants together in individual compartments (like mesh bags for socks) and they’ll stay neater and save time when unpacking. I’ve read rave reviews for the new packing cubes that look like small versions of luggage. They are used to keep similar items in one section of the suitcase. Plastic bags with zip closures can also work and cost less. They’re great for keeping small kids’ complete outfits together, too.
  • Leave a little space for souvenirs, including new clothing. It’s nice to pack light and then purchase items on your destination to serve as souvenirs and to wear on the trip. You’ll be happier having a little more room for these items than having to check an extra bag at the airport before heading home.
  • Rent sports equipment, like snorkels and fins and tennis rackets, or buy cheap versions you don’t mind checking (or chucking).

It’s tempting to bring extra clothes for every occasion conceivable on a trip, but most of us can get along with less. After all, our adventures–and not the straps from our overstuffed bags–should leave an imprint on us.

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