Travel tips in travel books and on travel websites often advise travelers to “pack light.” In my experience, these sources of travel information don’t go far enough. If you’re a budget traveler you’re unlikely to be relying on hotel porters, taxi drivers, or other people paid to drag your luggage around. You’re more likely to be dragging it yourself – through airports, through subway systems, on and off of buses and airport shuttles, and through city streets.
It cannot be overstated that carrying too much weight around can be the difference between a fantastic, exhilarating travel experience and an exhausting one that you can’t wait to end. If your luggage is heavy, you’re mind will be more on the thought that you can’t bear to drag your luggage down one more street, than it will be on the sights and sounds of that exotic locale. My years of traveling around Europe, primarily by plane, train, bus, subway system and on foot, have taught me several things. The lighter your luggage, the lighter your heart.
Traveling light does not mean hoisting traditional suitcases. The suitcases themselves add extra weight, and suitcases are difficult to carry. I find that holding a large object by its handle, its weight hanging down off the end of my arm is the fastest route to a shoulder and backache. Traveling light also does not mean pulling a suitcase that has tiny wheels on the bottom. Spend a few minutes watching tourists attempting to keep control of that type of unstable suitcase, as they wobble and tip to one side, and you’ll see what I mean.
Traveling light does not mean carrying an over sized, bursting-at-the-seams backpack, either. Unless you plan to do some serious wilderness hiking and camping in the rough, where you’ll have zero access to shops, forget the overloaded backpack. Why lug a heavy backpack through the wilds of London when there are shops on every corner, where you can forage for everything you need?
So, what should savvy budget travelers carry, and how should they carry it? My advice is that you carry one small day-pack style backpack. It can be done, if you think before you pack, and if you make logical decisions as to what you truly can and can’t live without, and what you absolutely must transport to your destination versus what you can easily pick up once you arrive.
For example, if you regularly use a prescription medication, obviously you’ll need to carry an adequate supply with you. Carry a spare as well, and keep it on you, so that you needn’t panic if your pack gets nabbed by a thief. Be sure to also carry the prescription itself, so that you can prove that you’re really transporting a prescription medicine, if you’re stopped by customs or security personnel. It’s even better if you have a prescription that carries not only the commercial name of the medicine, but also its chemical name, in case you need to show it to a pharmacist, doctor, or customs authority, in a country where your own language isn’t spoken.
If you’re traveling to a hot, tropical location, by all means carry a bottle of sunscreen – but buy a bottle that contains the amount you expect to need for the duration of the trip. Don’t burden yourself with a jumbo size container, two thirds of which will be still be with you on the return trip. As a rule of thumb for any type of toiletries, carry (or buy upon arrival) small tubes, bottles and boxes containing just enough for the trip. Don’t drag around weight that you’ll ultimately drag back home with you, or you’ll only end up with a bottle of sunscreen that can boast to its neighbors on the medicine cabinet shelf that it’s been to Tahiti.
If two people are traveling together, whether they’re part of one family or they’re friends sharing the adventure of a lifetime, take only one set of toiletries between you. Carry separate toothbrushes, of course, but pack just one of items such as deodorant and soap and then share them. Half of your toiletry weight will have been eliminated simply by not both carrying duplicate types of items and, believe me, objects like these really contribute to the bulk and weight of your luggage.
Ask yourself if you can live without extras such as cosmetics, perfume and jewelry. Their combined mass and weight can quickly add up. Try a more natural look during your trip. It will save you daily time, as well as saving you daily strain on your arm and back muscles. As an added bonus, the less stylish and flashy you look, the less likely you’ll be to be the target of a mugger.
Forget about electrical appliances and electronic gadgets. You can live without a hairdryer or electric shaver and save not only the weight of these appliances, but also the additional burden of adapters to suit overseas outlets and electrical currents. Carry, instead, a lightweight compact plastic razor, or just let your beard grow. You may later decide that it suits you and decide to keep it ! If you plan to fly, don’t bother packing razor blades or manicure scissors. They are not allowed on planes anymore, anyway, so should be bought locally, if needed, and then properly disposed of before you fly home. I always find it practical to carry a little sewing kit for emergency repairs, but that doesn’t mean an entire kit full of colored spools of thread. It means a single needle plus one little spool of pale thread and one of dark thread together in a little bag.
Keep clothing to an absolute minimum. Stick to one basic outfit that’s comfortable, casual, and not easily wrinkled. Supplement it with a couple of extra lightweight tops and a couple of pairs of socks and underwear that can be repeatedly washed out in hotel rooms. A single sweater or sweatshirt for cool evenings and a thin plastic rain poncho and you should be set.
By sticking to one small backpack per person there are additional advantages that you’ll soon appreciate. You need never check bags at the airport and risk having them lost, you don’t need to endlessly load and unload airport or train station trolleys and count your bags to be sure that none have gone astray, plus everything is close at hand and easily accessible. By carrying just one backpack each, you’ll also look less like affluent tourists, and thus you’ll be less likely to be targeted by a pickpocket or purse snatcher as you move about city streets and in subway systems. Travel light and you can put less of a burden on your muscles, leaving you with more energy and a bigger appetite to truly experience the marvelous places that you are visiting. Travel light and you’ll be more likely to travel happy.