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You CAN'T Take It All With You: Keeping the Load Light



Every time I travel, I marvel at the number of people with two—or even three—large suitcases setting out on what looks like migration, not a vacation.


You’ve seen them…pushing the bags through the check-in line, trying to keep bags and children in the same place,  
heaving the heavyweights up onto the scale at the counter, and breathing a deep, deep sigh of relief as the bags go their way, and the family heads for the gate. Or at least for screening.


Say a little blessing for them, because it’s the only part of the trip where all those bags aren’t going to complicate everything they do.


I know. When I started traveling regularly, my wife and I took a 28” suitcase, a 26” suitcase and a 24” suitcase—a nice matching set—and our daypacks. We hauled them to the airport, we hauled them through the next airport, we heaved them onto the train into the city, piled them in a corner and sat with them, dragged them off and into a taxi, and then up three flights to our vacation apartment.


And then we unpacked and stowed everything. When it was time to go home, we realized there was an awful lot we hadn’t even touched. Half a suitcase of books—but we were too busy seeing, eating, meeting and walking to read them all. Three weeks worth of clothes, plus extras—but there was a laundromat around the corner. Six pairs of shoes (only two were mine). Extra jackets. Extra everything. The sad part is that it took us the better part of ten years to come to our senses.


We’re down to a pair of 21” carry-ons (which we usually check when it’s free) and modest daypacks for even our longest trips. The payoff is we’re freer to wander, we get our luggage on and off trains and buses easily…and we get to sigh with relief every time we see someone stuck with too much.


No need for everyone to follow our foolish footsteps. Instead, take a look at these thoughts on how to travel light without feeling like anything is missing and start now. There are many more tips and tricks…we’d love to hear more from you!



  • Think again about what you need—it’s probably less than you think. Take fewer clothes, fewer gadgets, fewer shoes—keep it light. More on that below.
  • Make it multi-purpose: Alton Brown’s kitchen rule against single-purpose tools applies to packing. For instance, a lightweight windbreaker combined with a sweater over an extra shirt can be warm and stylish when it’s cold—and each of the pieces can be used in different combos as it warms up.
  • Pack it thoughtfully: many things can be compressed into less space than you’d think; shoes can become containers for socks and such…leave no hollow spaces!



  • You don’t need an outfit for every day of the trip, or even really for every day of the week. Pants and skirts can certainly go more than a day between washing. Plan for about 8 days’ worth of clothes; it gives you flexibility about when you’ll do the wash, or have it done. If you hate to look the same every day, you’ll have enough pieces to mix and match.
  • In the age of e-readers, even confirmed old book-o-philes can save a ton of space.
  • Limit the footgear. You’ll need something comfortable to walk in all day, and you may feel the need of something dressier in the evening. For men, walking shoes (Rockports for me) that are styled like shoes rather than sneakers answer well.
  • Ditch rigid containers. Empty out your toilet articles kit into one or more plastic bags; they’ll fit in the nooks and crannies of your suitcase. We always carry a few extra sandwich, quart and gallon bags.




  • Your rental host or hotel desk will be able to point you to a local Laundromat if you haven’t spotted one already. Often, you’ll find one where you can drop off and pick up; on the other hand, self-service gives you a break to read, and an opportunity to meet and chat with locals.
  • Many vacation rentals come with a washer and sometimes a dryer. If you don’t have a dryer, there may be lines or a rack; if not, improvise! Carry or buy a few feet of lightweight nylon cord; it takes almost no space or weight, but quickly becomes a clothesline.
  • Washing in the sink works best especially for lightweight quick-drying clothes. Companies like TravelSmith and Magellan have a lot of choices; some are not cheap, but if you keep them for travel you’ll have them a long time. They usually dry overnight.
  • The Dirty Secret: some people swear by just bagging up clothes in plastic with a Febreze sheet; it won’t wash them but it will make them fresher-smelling and socially-acceptable!

Another word about those travel clothes specialists…some of their products are incredible. My wife has three TravelSmith overshirts that are colorful, crisp-looking and dress up whatever she wears them over—and they fold so small and tight that three of them fit together in a 1-quart Ziploc. Despite the crowding, they come out again ready to wear. I wish my shirts did as well! If your shirts don’t do as well in the suitcase…put them on hangers, hang them over the shower rail, and let the hottest water run for about 15 minutes (not on them). The steam treatment will straighten them out fast!





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The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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A nicely written piece, PHeymont, with lots of good tips in it.  I generally have two packing philosophies

1)  Road trip (North America0.  If I've got a large car trunk, then I'll take a lot of stuff along just not to have to bother with stuff like laundry.  Might even throw in a heavy tripod and good pair of hiking boots, as well as a fishing rod, etc.

2)  Overseas plane trip.  Lighter is definitely better.  A carry-on size bag like you and your wife use is idea.  Especially if you will be traveling on trains.  They often don't stop very long and you'll be glad your bag is light enough to let you slip on board and into your seats in what seems like a few seconds rather than the eternity of a massive bag.

3) Beside the nice light weight travel clothes you describe, one of the easiest things not to pack is tons of underwear.  I use ExOfficio brand when traveling.  Very easy to wash out in the sink at night with a little shampoo, hang up and have dry by the morning.  You can get by with 2-3 pieces and have something clear every day.

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