The Virtues of Traveling Light

Ever since college I've been a fairly frequent traveler. In college, I packed for long trips to foreign countries. Nowadays, I usually pack for short 1-3 day business trips to domestic cities. Over time, I've developed some ideas about how to ease the burden of business traveling. The most important one for me is to travel light. My appreciation for traveling light came from backpack camping. You start to question the need for every little thing when you have to schlep it on your back for several miles. But packing light improves business travel too. The less you bring, the less time and effort required to carry, pack, and keep track of stuff. And that makes trips a lot more enjoyable to me.

The golden principle: Bring only what you know you'll need and don't pack for contingencies.

So how does that work in practice?


  • Find out the weather forecast and bring only the clothes you need for the predicted conditions and your predicted activities. I don't try to pack for every possible situation, only the ones that have a high probability of actually occurring.
  • If you're going into cold or erratic weather, bring layers instead of packing a big heavy coat. It will take up less space and it will be more versatile in inconsistent weather. I will usually bring t-shirts, outer shirts, one thin fleece sweater, and a light jacket, all of which pack down really small and can be added or taken off a layer at a time as the weather changes.
  • Plan out your clothes for each day and bring no more than that. This is important. You have to exercise some restraint here. If you absolutely must bring extras, then bring one extra change of clothes and no more. In fact, what I usually do is limit it to one extra pair of underwear, socks, and tee-shirt. And normally I don't even do that. If for some reason I go through my clothes quicker than planned, I can always launder some at the hotel, but I've never actually needed to do that.
  • So what do you do if something unexpected comes up and you don't have the clothes you need? Well, I go to a store at my destination and just buy them. In over 30 years of traveling this has occurred only a few times for me! That's a trade-off I can totally live with. I'd much rather spend a little dough once in a blue moon than lug around a bunch of junk I don't need on every single trip. So the most important thing I pack for contingencies is a credit card.
  • Shoes are your enemy if you want to travel light. Ideally, try to plan your clothing so that you only need one pair of shoes and then wear them on the plane. That frees up a ton of luggage space! Of course this isn't always possible, especially for vacation travel where you might be strolling on the beach in the morning and eating at a posh restaurant in the evening. But at least try to minimize the number of shoes you bring, and narrow down your clothing colors so you don't have to bring multiple pairs of the same type of shoes.  
  • Don't just grab all the toiletries out of your bathroom and pack them. That's packing a month's worth of stuff for a few days of travel. Instead, use travel-sized bottles of your toiletries. Since I travel frequently, I have duplicates of all my toiletries in containers big enough for about 5 days of use, that's it. For my typical trip, any more than that is just carrying around too much useless stuff. I put it all in a small bag ready to go whenever I need it.
  • Fold all your clothes carefully and make use of any cinch straps in your luggage. This will not only let you get more stuff into your luggage, but it will also reduce wrinkles. You can roll your clothes too which is the most space-efficient method, but I only do that if I'm backpacking because I don't want to deal with the wrinkles.
  • Choice in luggage is a tough one and I'm not sure I have settled on the best thing yet for me. I like to have luggage that is size-appropriate for my trip. So I have a few different bags including a very small overnight bag, a small backpack, a sports duffel bag,  and some proper rolling luggage for longer trips. If I'm trying to avoid checking in my luggage, then I like to use a bag that is small enough that I have an extremely high probability of getting it into the overhead bin even if I get a crappy boarding pass number (which is most of the time). Usually this is either my duffel or a backpack. I'm not a fan of rolling luggage for carry-on because nowadays flights run out of overhead room more often than not and rolling bags end up getting checked. 
  • When I'm at my destination, as I use up my clothing, I will fold it up neatly and put it in a drawer in the hotel room. That way, packing for departure goes really quickly, which is important to me because I often have early morning flights on departure and I don't want to stay up late or get up any earlier than necessary to pack before the flight. I like my sleep, especially when traveling.

I've gotten so into traveling light that I actually make a bit of a game out of seeing how small I can go for a trip and still have everything I need. Now, I don't recommend people going that far with it, but I do encourage people to try traveling light and see if it might make their trips more enjoyable.

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