I’ve always been interested in packing light, probably because as a musician I’m inevitably carrying a heavy instrument as well. My guitar weighs 6kg, so adding much more restricts my freedom and makes it hard to squeeze into trains, or run for busses.
After each trip I do by train/bus/plane, I evaluate what I took. Was my enjoyment hampered by not bringing something? Or, did I spend 4 days waiting for my shoulders to un-knot because I carried too much?
Here’s what I’ve concluded:
- Being without something you need just plain sucks – I don’t subscribe to the buy-it-when-you-get-there plan, since I’ve often found I can’t.
- You can pack pretty light and still have everything you need, with some clever planning.
- Travelling with a light pack seriously improves everything. Getting it right can literally be the difference between loving a trip and hating it.
Last week I travelled to the UK (from France) for 8 days, and took less luggage than ever before. Rather than my usual 35L hiking backpack, I took a 20L rucksack plus small handbag.
In a nutshell, here’s what I had.
- Essentials (Wallet, passport hidden in a notebook, keys, tickets)
- 3 changes of clothes (including what I wore to travel) and a thin raincoat. It’s June (15-23 degrees C) so light clothes only.
- Laptop (+ cables)
- Phone (+ cables & power bar)
- Toiletries (minimal – toothbrush & paste, floss, mooncup, almond oil)
- Portable office (computer glasses, headphones, bluetooth keyboard and spare batteries, usb mouse, usb sticks [to back up])
- Comforts (meditation stuff, sunglasses, sewing kit, penny whistle, flip flops, notebooks & pens.
Every item has been considered, and I’ve tried travelling with or without it. You can get by with less clothing, unless something goes wrong and you having to wear wet trousers till they dry. Sunglasses and flip-flops make life a lot more comfortable. I think better writing longhand, so I bring notebooks. The office accessories give me a much better experience of working on the road.
The whole lot weighs 5-6kg, and leave plenty of room in the rucksack to bring my own food to save money, plus fit in a gift for my hosts (adding another 2kg, at least until after lunch)
What I like about this set up:
- I can access the handbag whilst walking along, instead of having to stop and unzip a backpack.
- The laptop, flip-flops and 2 packing cubes can be neatly laid out when I arrive. This 10 second unpack leaves the rucksack empty for use as a daypack.
- As I recently “went paperless”, my minimal luggage now includes all my books, music and sheet music.
- A lighter and smaller rucksack is much more comfortable on the shoulders.
Finally, here are some things I don’t travel with:
- Towel or travel towel – there’s always my scarf. Did you know that you can also use a square scarf as a bag?
- Books – digitised
- Kindle – reading on a smartphone is fine
- High tech clothes – For now, I’d like to see if this can be done with normal clothes.
- Laptop stand – I balance it on my pack to raise it to eye hight.
- Travel pillow – I use my rolled up jacket.
- Eyemask – I use a buff, since it doubles as a tube scarf. An eyemask doesn’t double as anything.
- Exercise stuff – actually, I never used to bring exercise stuff, I just didn’t exercise. Since I’ve learned to work out with no equipment, and can do it on the road to unstiffen after long hours in transit.
So, how did it go? Well, it was fantastic to navigate trains, tubes and busses with so little luggage, especially if I had to run, or squeeze into a packed metro. I used every single item I packed, so only could have packed lighter if the items themselves were lighter.
I craved more clothing, as the 3 sets I’d brought were all for different temperatures and the wrong set always seemed dirty on the wrong day.
At the same time, I still felt I had too much to carry and avoided walking for more than 30mins at a time. The same load might have been easier with a better backpack, but it was mainly the weight of the guitar that got me. I’m glad I brought it though. I played it every day and even managed a sing-along on one train, and gave a guitar lesson on another.
My denim jacket was another matter. It’s got 8 secret pockets, which will be awesome for winter travel, but this time I carried it more than I wore it, and should have packed a light jumper instead.
I wonder what I’d add if I was travelling full time but was limited to this setup. Probably two more cubes of clothes, a multitool (?), and two external hard drives. All that would still fit in the little backpack. If I went back to the 35L bag I could add my portable recording studio too. I’d also like someone to invent a super-lightweight guitar flight-case.
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