We’re packing for a long weekend in the Firelite household, and I felt this an opportune moment to reflect on my travel packing philosophy. I must admit I’ve had many years of practice of travelling light, but for most of that time, I thought I was travelling light when I was in fact only travelling lighter than most ‘conventional’ people (who take their “house on wheels” with them on holiday), but compared with a seasoned backpacker, I was a lightweight.. or rather, a heavyweight! So, what let’s consider the why of light travel…
The Why of Light Travel
When I go away, I want to shed my old self behind and immerse myself into my surroundings. By travelling light, we are freer. Freer from the identities that we’ve built for ourselves often symbolised in our ‘stuff’, and freer from having to cart so much of it around with us, from having to pack it away, unpack it, find temporary homes for it, search through it, only to pack it all away again some days later, all the while taking our heads away from our surroundings – the reason why we came away.
I now receive a certain kind of joy from packing very light, from working with constraint, and finding clever solutions. It’s a good reminder that I survive fine without my ‘stuff’. Not only survive, but I even feel better, uncluttered and I move away from old habits defined by my usual habitat that includes my things. I find myself lighter in my step, feeling free without necessarily needing to check-in to my accommodation before exploring. Sure, sometimes there are things I later wished I had with me, but that happens rarely and in fact, I realise I’m still fine. Unless it’s an essential, of course, like my passport, money or phone! Of course, ‘things’ are not inherently bad; it’s our relationship with ‘things’ that can be unhealthy if we feel incomplete without them.
Light travel gives us the opportunity to practice mindfulness daily – appreciating what we have and the flow of what we’re experiencing – without being distracted by ‘things’, and less to worry about. After all, it’s when we’re having a ‘break’ from life that we’re most alive! Sure, take some things that you really like if they enrich your life, things that make life easier when you’re on the go, but do ask: Am I just holding onto things to define to others who I am through my possessions? I found that didn’t make me as happy as I thought it did.
Travelling light is not necessarily an end in itself, thought it can definitely be very practical. Having fewer of our usual things means we’re signalling to ourselves and others that we can focus on what matters more, which may be the following:
- Openness (receptiveness, curiosity, appreciation)
- Experience (learning, positive and stimulating experiences, making memories)
- Relationships (valuing others, strengthening relationships, making friends
Does travelling light make you value these things automatically? Certainly not. But it can be a facilitator, an ally in your quest to know a place, to know the world, to renew your relationship with the world and the people you love. And you shouldn’t ever underestimate how much better the end of the holiday is when you can pack up in 10 minutes! (And unpack at home in 5.)
The Art of travelling Light
Packing very light is a skill that comes with practice, but the central tenet that typical ‘tips’ articles don’t mention is: know thyself. Forget everyone’s packing list; forget yours even! Don’t start with a list. Start from the ground up. A bit like my ideas about lifestyle design. Start from nothing and slowly add in rather than following expectations (e.g. that everyone needs to take a make-up bag). Think about what you use a lot (why?), what you hardly use (will you miss it?), try to consider a smaller version of everything, and what can be multi-purpose. Value versatility.
To give an example of knowing myself, it sounds silly but I realised that, although I like taking ‘special’ clothing items with me on holiday, what I actually would use most is some black leggings. They go with any colour top, any colour dress, can be worn under pants if cold, and can act as comfy pyjama pants too. Since I’m often saying I’m cold, it seems black leggings are a must. In the past, I’d take 2 pairs of coloured or patterned leggings. You know, to show the real me, and you know, just in case and depending on my mood and the colour scheme of the rest of my clothes.
Two questions that I ask myself. Before a holiday: “What are my warmest items?” I wear these to the airport. After a holiday: “Did I use everything?” My general goal is to use everything (bar 2 or 3 items). Tweak accordingly for next time. Travelling light makes every item count, and this also helps me keep a frugal mindset that values experience over things.
And my best items for travel? Firstly, packing cubes – they’ve revolutionised my travel life and unpacking means putting different packing cubes on different shelves! Second, my Kindle. No more paperbacks, much more choice, no need to quickly look for a bookmark, and a handy nightlight to boot. Third, for the ladies: a small handbag. Like a very small one, that fits into your bag (the top of the inside). So no more carrying a second bag unless you want to. Changing over to a thin purse has also been great for space.
This is my packed packing cube, below. This is the smaller of two (the other is my Little Firelite’s) that go into my rucksack that fits under the seat on the plane (pen placed to illustrate size). This is for a 4-day trip. It’s going to be around 20 degrees, which helps with packing light. The remainder of the space in my rucksack will house a few toys, nappies, wet wipes, kiddie cup and my small handbag. The pockets are utilised for make-up, toiletries, snacks, phone, pen, and travel docs.
My packing cube has 4-days of clothes, nightdress, flat sandals and hairbrush. I also include in the picture a sample of small treats for Little Firelite (and ourselves). Note that they are pretty small and makes my packing cube look bigger than it is! Jam portions from B&M for £1 are particularly fab for travel with a picky youngster! The small yellow-lid container (Clas Ohlson) is what I usually use for moisturiser and shower gel – Forget the usual travel size containers; too big! The T-shirt illustrates the kind of fabric I go for that folds/packs well. If you travel much, it’s worth intentionally looking out for fabrics good for travel. Almost everything is small here, utlising the compounding effect. 😉
I do take make-up, but not much. An eyeliner, an eye shadow (sometimes a light and a heavy one), blusher and mini blusher brush, a coloured lip balm. and concealer. I usually have a small mirror either in my foldaway brush or my blusher case. I keep everything in the pocket of my bag, though usually my liquids stay in the liquids bag. It takes up much less space than a make-up bag. Same with toiletries. If we’re in a hotel, I don’t even take toiletries.
But definitely take a carrier bag… That’s always my last-moment add!
Once you’ve packed like this once, it’ll get easier/faster each time. Now I know when we get off the plane tomorrow, no waiting for luggage, no having to cart it around when you can walk around people a lot easier with a backpack, and everything I need is super accessible while I’m on the plane. Once we’re at our accommodation, unpacking is a non-event and we get out and explore. Having a young child does add another dimension to things, but we definitely don’t carry loads of stuff for him! And thankfully it’s getting less and less with each trip at the moment. Less stuff = less burden.
I might even consider how much space I might come back with at the end of the trip – maybe from using up the nappies and snacks. So, I could buy myself something. Maybe, just maybe. I might not, but just knowing that I could is often enough.
What’s your travel philosophy and how does mine sound to you? Are you more minimalist?