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Every time I travel is an opportunity to better hone my bag-packing skills.  One thing that always keeps me in check is the knowledge that, while I have never said during vacation “I wish I packed more”, I have every time, without exception, said “I wish I packed less.”

As a result of this gradual awareness I have taken along with me fewer things, carrying a slightly lighter load on each trip.  Proportionately, the level of travel-related stress also dropped.  This is science in full effect.  It is a consummate example of cause-and-effect, and it has again been demonstrated beautifully on my première trek to Tulum, Mexico last week. 

Most people overpack
You just don’t need seventeen outfits with you on the road.  When I pack I think of it as a game to see how much stuff I can leave at home.  You can live with very few things for quite a stretch of time, and you can always buy whatever you need as you need it.  If you’re really intent on bringing a tonne of stuff with you, you’re going to have to keep track of, and carry, it.  Luggage is very aptly named, and the more detailed and adventurous your travel itinerary, the more your possessions become poverty.

Though, as much as I like to believe I am a seasoned artist with travel packing, there are still items I packed that got no use in Mexico – hence room for further tweaking of my method.  For instance, the item that took up the most real estate in my cubic foot-and-a-half backpack was a thick beach towel.  For some reason I allowed my travel partner to convince me that a beach resort in Mexico might not supply them.  Don’t laugh.  Here are 5 helpful strategies for packing for any trip…

1. Pack light enough to avoid baggage checks
Setting in place a ‘no checked baggage’ rule is an effective way to keep your packing to the essentials.  Plus, beyond all the obvious benefits to travelling light, the act of sauntering smugly past baggage-claim and being the first in and out of customs has a psychologically freeing effect that puts you in an excellent frame of mind for sight-seeing.  And it’s a good way to get an early start on it.

2. Pack items that you have no intention of bringing home with you
This is a very effective strategy that I use when I go away that always makes the return home a lighter, and happier, experience.  These items could include nearly finished books (or magazines if you read them), threadbare socks or underwear, shirts or pants that are on their last legs, or items you just won’t need beyond your voyage.  For me, on this trip, these items were a thick winter coat, a slightly torn, but beach-worthy, button-down short-sleeved shirt, a 600-pager that I was 2/3 of the way through, and a flashlight.

3. Roll everything
Rolling up your clothing maximizes space in your bag, and keeps the clothes surprisingly wrinkle-free – even collared shirts.

4. Bring a cloth bag
Before I leave home, I take a strong cloth bag and roll it up like a knockwurst and slip it into the backpack.  Then if I buy any gifts I have something to put them in.  It can also come in handy if you go for groceries at some point.  I often end up using it as a small laundry bag.

5. Always pack aspirin
Travel can be full of so many little headaches that need help with conquering.  Nothing can take away from the experience of discovery like a pounding skull.

Below is a detailed list of the items I wore and the items I packed for my vacation, and how they fared…

What I wore

  • Jeans (wallet & cash in pocket)
  • T-shirt
  • 1 pr. of socks
  • 1 pr. of underwear
  • Button-down long-sleeve shirt
  • Hoodie
  • Thick winter coat (it was -6 degrees Celsius when I left Toronto – I left the coat on the back of a chair in which a cold-looking fella was sleeping at the airport)
  • My Adidas (worn-in to a sexy degree and doubling nicely as sandals)

 What I packed

  • Beach towel
  • 2nd button-down long-sleeve
  • Zip-up long-sleeve top
  • 2 prs. of socks
  • 2 prs. of underwear
  • Short-sleeve button-down
  • A book
  • Pen/Notebook
  • Cloth bag
  • My cozy flannel pyjama bottoms
  • Beach shorts
  • Flashlight (this is something I never use, but my travel partner and I were staying in a cabana with no electricity – when we left, I donated it to the next occupants)
  • Toiletry bag (Q-tips, toothbrush, tooth paste, floss, deodorant, aspirin, and a gastro-mix bottle with Gaviscon, Tums, and Pepto-Bismol tablets)

 In the Utility Pocket

  • Travel documents
  • Passport, I.D.
  • MP3 player/earbuds

The first 4 items I packed didn’t see any use at all.  The weather never got cool enough to need more than a short-sleeved shirt, and if it had I could have just thrown on the one I wore.  And the only time I wore socks was on the days of the flights.  I didn’t bring any shaving equipment along with me.  I just shaved clean on the day of departure and let it grow wild throughout the week – ’cause I’m a wildman.  The MP3 player died on Day 2 and, having no way to charge it in the cabana, became useless weight for the rest of the trip. 

A last word of advice:  I’ve never lost anything while travelling, but I’ve come close.  Don’t ever let anybody rush you into not doing an idiot check for your belongings before you leave your lodging.  Invariably, that’s when things get left behind.

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  1. Thanks for sharing. I’m always curious as to how people pack light

    • Well thanks for dropping by, Jenny!

      I hope that I’ve brought along a new idea or two to the travelling-light discussion. It’s nice having you as a reader. Hope my methods have been helpful.


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