Travel light: Carry as little as possible


I'm often asked if I get tired of traveling. One of the things that can make traveling tiresome is carrying a lot of luggage. Most tourists burden themselves with 3 or 4 times more stuff than they actually need. Not me. I leave behind everything that I might need because, by definition, if I might need something, then I might not need it. Why carry something that's not needed?

If I don't have something I need, I buy it. Shopping in foreign countries is a great way to experience the local culture and to see how business is done. It rained hard in Georgia. Did I pack an umbrella? No. The first rainy day, I paid $8 for a 16-spine, black and plaid umbrella with a wooden handle. It was a classy accessory and unlike anything I could have brought from home. It was nice to support the local economy. As I walked down the street with my Georgian umbrella, I looked less like a tourist and more like someone who lived here. When I left Georgia for Jordan, I gave my umbrella to someone who needed one.

Here's what's in my pack these days:

  • Flip flops
  • Lightweight shorts (aka bathing suit)
  • White cotton pants
  • Lightweight pants
  • Long-sleeved shirt
  • Good walking shoes
  • 3 T-shirts
  • 3 pairs of socks
  • 4 underpants
  • Change purse
  • Chap stick
  • Small towel
  • 3 handkerchiefs
  • Passport
  • Wallet
  • iPhone
  • Reading glasses
  • Earplugs
  • Sunglasses
  • Netbook computer
  • Power cord
  • Money belt & cash
  • Cloth grocery bag
  • Toilet articles
  • Emergency food
  • Deck of cards
  • Nylon jacket with hood
  • Extra shoelaces (used as clothesline)
  • BandAids, pills, safety pins, sewing kit, business cards
  • Adapters, USB cables, small lock
  • Long underwear (used as pajamas)
  • Flashlight
  • Family photos,
    travel documents
  • Mosquito repellant, sunblock
  • Plastic knife, spoon
  • Pens and batteries
  • Small water bottle
I'm usually wearing some of the clothes shown above. The remaining items fit easily into a small day pack. I wash my clothes in a sink every day or two. Incidentally, it's no more work to wash one shirt every day, than to wash five shirts every five days. When my clothes get really tired and dirty, I throw them − or give them − away and buy new ones.
When I started traveling in 2008, I had a 20kg backpack. I soon realized that I was using less than half of what I was carrying. The rest was dead weight. So, I downsized.

The little pack that I carry now has been with me since 2010. It goes with me up and down mountains. It sits on my lap on cramped buses. I can sling it over my shoulder as I stroll through towns and cities. I never have to check this bag, which saves lots of time and ensures that I never lose my luggage. Customs officials rarely ask to look inside because it's so small.

Naturally, there's not much room in my bag for souvenirs. So, if I buy something that's larger than a pencil, I take it straight to the post office and mail it home. When I return home months later, I enjoy the surprise of seeing these forgotten treasures.

Traveling light is one of the most important things you can do to make travel fun. Remember, if you get somewhere and you need something you didn't bring, you can buy it − or rent it − wherever you are.