Have you ever cursed as you struggle with heavy and cumbersome luggage on holidays? I certainly have. By the end of my first big international trip, only 17 years ago, I felt and looked like a camel. I still remember the difficulty of getting a heavy suitcase up and down London tube steps while hundreds of people rushed heedlessly by. And the quiet irritation with myself when I got home, taking items out of the suitcase that hadn’t even been used – those ‘just in case’ things I thought would be useful.
Since then, with international travel a regular part of my life now, I’ve been on a mission to retrain myself to pack less. I’m now a total convert to minimalist packing.
I’ve just returned from a month of family time and research (for my first historical novel), starting in Canada and with the bulk of the time in the US. Only on the homeward leg did I have to check in a bag, doing a favour for two of my grandsons. The little darlings turned me into a gun-runner, totting three large Nerf guns of a particular style that they’d been unable to buy in New Zealand.
Until the last two days (when Toys ‘R Us in Kentucky provided the requested loot) my luggage consisted only of a carry-on bag, my small backpack (with laptop, iPad and travel essentials) and a very small shoulder purse about the size of a paperback book.
Every day I revelled in the luxury of minimalist packing. You can so easily walk up steps with a light bag, you take up a small footprint in your bedroom, you can find your clothes quickly, and it only takes a few minutes to pack when you’re preparing to move on to the next destination. And I love not having to stand at luggage carousels waiting – and waiting – for my luggage to show up.
Many people asked how I could manage with so little ‘stuff’. Here are some of the tips I’ve learnt along the way. (A few are gender-specific.) It’s easier if you’re travelling in summer, although you can still be very economical with garment choices in other seasons. And the tips below don’t just apply to plane travel – they relate to all travel and packing.
- Choose a soft bag (with wheels) – it’s lighter, more flexible, and easier to fit into the cabin locker in the plane.
- Have a bag with an expandable section but leave home without that section zipped open. Then, should you make the odd purchase, you’ve still got capacity.
- My bag also has a separately opening top section in which I keep an emergency soft cloth bag and the occasional bit of laundry. It’s also a useful short-term overflow option. If you use any of the European budget lines like Ryanair, most are very inflexible about only one bag (no matter what size) in the cabin. Last year I had to use that spare cloth bag for my purse and backpack and checked my main bag into the hold.
- If you find yourself putting something in ‘just in case’ – take it out again. ‘Just in case’ is a sure waste of space and almost always you won’t use it.
- Forget fashion. Wear your walking or running shoes on planes. They’re usually the bulkiest and heaviest items. Keep other shoes to a bare minimum – they’re bulky and heavy. On this trip, the only other shoes I had were jandals and a dressy pair of sandals for evening events.
- Ladies, what can you use instead of a coat? Obviously this depends on where and when you’re travelling, but for summer, I find a warm shawl deals with cold planes and is a classy wrap on chilly days.
- You can only wear one outfit at a time. You don’t need a different one every day. If you’re moving from place to place no-one except you will know that you have only two or three options.
- Choose mainly dark clothes that will last more than one day; you won’t always have laundry facilities available.
- Pack clothes you can wear in multiple situations. For instance, a filmy top jazzed up ordinary day clothes into something good enough for evening. With a black tank top it also doubled as a summer top on hot days.
- Wash your smalls in the shower at night and hang up to dry. If they’re made of light-weight fabrics they’ll easily dry overnight.
- Pack items into the toes of shoes if you’ve got that kind of shoe in your bag.
- Get a small mesh bag to contain ‘like with like’ items – e.g. underwear. It’s far easier to find your knickers if they’ll all in a colourful bag. I got my mesh bag from a Kathmandu sports shop – hikers use them.
- Roll clothes rather than pack them flat. They fit into less space.
- Where possible take light-weight garments. For instance, if you need a jacket, try a Puffer Jacket. They pack down to a tiny size.
- Don’t worry about dressing to impress others. They’re not carrying your bag. I even went to the theatre in Chicago on the last Saturday in my shorts and track shoes, although not deliberately, I have to say. I’d been at the open air Jazz Festival in Millennium Park just along the road that afternoon and forgot to put my light trousers and dressy sandals into my back pack. (It doubles as a day bag.) Enjoying the jazz for as long as possible was more important (to me) than worrying about strangers’ opinions of my dress code!
- I’m a voracious reader, but I took no books. That need was sorted with the iPad and Overdrive. If you’ve not discovered Overdrive yet, check out your local library. Sure I could have downloaded Kindle books, but free is good!
- For more ideas, check out https://www.planepack.com.au. I’ve just discovered them. And please add your own favourite ‘light pack’ suggestions in the response box below.
In the interest of full disclosure, if I have to schlep training materials and books for seminars and speeches, it’s not always as achievable but I’m getting close. Since returning from the States I’ve done a trip to the South Island with only one small bag, but with work materials it was just a bit too heavy to go in the cabin.
A version of this article also appears in Robyn’s regular NZ Herald Online column
Robyn Pearce (known as the Time Queen) runs an international time management and productivity business, based in New Zealand. Get your free report ‘How To Master Time In Only 90 Seconds’ and ongoing time tips at www.gettingagrip.com