Travelling lightly is like a unicorn. An amazing, beautiful fairytale that is largely unattainable once you actually start trying to "find" this miracle. But coming from a reformed extreme-heavy packer, travelling lightly IS possible and not only is it a reality but its so unbelievably amazing that once you crack the trick of taking only what you NEED, you will never take your kitchen sink again! Here I share the enlightened trip that I decided to go away on a short trip with barely any baggage. P.S. Yes it may look like those two bags is a lot, but together they were 7kgs.
The Magic Art of Travelling Light....
I have developed an intense hate for “stuff” and this is ESPECIALLY true for stuff that forms luggage. After travelling extensively on and off for 3 years now, I am fairly experienced in packing now having learnt the hard way! When you travel for 3 months with a lot of luggage of which you don't want to throw anything away- you learn to leave anything possible at home at you don't NEED!
I decided to test out my capsule packing and decided to do a little 3 week travel on just hand luggage. It was 18 nights in total with three stops- Kuala Lumpur, Bali and Thailand. So here's the break down of what exactly I packed and what I learnt!
Things I checked before committing to only hand luggage:
-What classes as carry on with AirAsia (who I’m flying with on my short haul flights) which is a carry on size bag AND a handbag (score!)
- That everything I needed to take were allowed in cabin, i.e. medications.
My first long haul flight out to Asia included luggage, so I checked in my main backpack for the long haul flight, even though I didn't need to, but took advantage of the baggage free time! I luckily also came to the conclusion to take small backpacks. This was a life saver as it meant I could take laptop etc in smaller bag and "luggage" in the other. So they were both light but I had a day bag.
Cliff notes: I loved this and this experience taught me deep lessons about possessions and my lack of desire for "things" and also just how little I needed to be happy! But here's a few more specifies tips on how I continue to improve my packing...
ALWAYS take more than enough of any medicines you may need. Medication is serious, and a must pack. It is also so important you are ready for most situations. You might be on an island with NO shop or pharmacy and you need to be prepared for any situation. Medications are so light- this one is non negotiable.
The perceived benefits of no check-in baggage vs reality:
Saved me roughly £55 in check in costs- YES it did indeed!
Saved my back(!) YES!
Easier getting on and off boats etc, more mobile YES
Faster when getting off the fights YES
A fun challenge! YES TOTALLY!
The perceived negatives of no check-in baggage:
Limiting on what I take, can’t exactly be fashionable.. (Was I anyway?!) This really wasn't an issue for me. I packed stuff that mostly matched and was multi use.
Costs of buying things on location- was minimal except for said Tampons!
Have to wash clothes (Again- not an issue for me!) Over 18 days I didn't need to wash anything except pants which dry quickly. Muahaha.
Can’t buy too many souvenirs! Bit of a bummer I guess, but could have packed less to leave more room.
Can’t take some semi-essential items such as nail scissors. I mitigated for this by getting manicures and pedicures. Amazing if you’re travelling where this is cheap (£3 for Thai pedicure yes please!) but not so great if not… Plan for your specific adventure!
If you have sensitive skin, you might have trouble finding decent shampoo in Asia- that isn't heavily scented- or expensive or whitening. I really dislike whitening products in Asia, but I am happy to buy the more expensive “natural” products that I would likely buy at home anyway.
I did buy some more comfy clothes- luckily for me in I could get quality natural fibre clothes cheaply in Thailand. If you’re going somewhere you know will be expensive, plan plan plan!
Some hacks for cutting down weight and bulk:
1) If you are going for a relatively short trip there is no need to take full toiletries. Take half used tube of toothpaste for example (just make sure its labelled under 100ml!) Take non essential lids off. Toiletries are ALWAYS something I overpack. This time I took shampoo out with me- and bought one little bottle of conditioner. Make up wipes were a mistake as they are surprisingly bulky. Next time I'll take some baby wipes in a sandwich bag- they're far more multi-use. Think absolutely and completely minimal. Mascara. A lipsalve that doubles as a lipstick. A concealer. Done. When you’re hot as sweaty, the last thing you will want to do is cake on makeup. Its a nonessential.
2) Only pack things you know you will wear every or most days.
This requires a lot of planning though which comes down to
the right mix of clothes (think capsule wardrobe extreme). I look
neutral clothes with natural fibres that would be comfortable
in humidity and that all matched! Clothes that are smart casual
are also a god send- as they can often be sassed up for surprise
posh events or calmed down with denim shorts for a day trip.
Note: the bottom image is my linen t shirt. It's a weird concept
but this t shirt has been there!! Its currently littered with holes,
but I still use it, as it can be worn with chinos and look smart, and
it looks casual but is incredibly light. Hallelujah!
3) Detag, and deplastic new and old items! Sounds silly but taking
ANY unnecessary weight out is a good thing. It's also kind of
interesting seeing the full extent of how much packaging
most things comes with!
4) Take a day bag! A second light weight bag for days you don't have your luggage is essential!
5) A Sarong is a travellers bestest friend ever. It can be used as a towel, beach wrap, scarf, blanket, sheet, storage, skirt, dress, table cloth... It is honestly the most important part of my packing.
What did I learn??
Many people I met on the way, noticed my small luggage- and they agreed whole heartedly that its liberating the less you carry- because effectively its less that you need to survive. Because when it comes down to the nitty gritty you need very little to survive- and its somewhat of a challenge to cut that more and more.
It was without doubt been worth travelling on just hand luggage for my short 18 night trip. Every short haul flight I got off felt good knowing I didn't have to wait for baggage, and risk having a lost bag! Jumping on and off boats in Thailand was made a million times easier with little luggage- especially when you don't have someone else to help you haul your bag in.
The biggest take home message of my little experience was- I loved it! It gives SO much freedom and liberation. Regrets: not bringing enough tampons… I paid £10 for a box of tampons in Ubud because I ran out. Not cool. Next time this is the essential that I will take an abundant supply of. You can always donate if you don't need them before you return. Tampons are notoriously hard to get in Asia, ESPECIALLY the Muslim countries in which Tampons aren’t prohibited.
If you’re thinking of travelling on hand luggage, I can not recommend it enough. Its good for your trip but also a great lesson in how little you actually need, and I believe that once you realise this, you’ll minimilise your whole life and be soooooooo much happier forever! :)
What I packed:
5 tops 4 t/shirts vests and semi smart blouse
Semi smart skirt
7 pairs of pants
2 pairs of socks
1 sports bra (bra that doubles as a bikini)
Very basic make up
Small hair brush
Half used toothpaste
Medications (Including Mossie Bracelets!)
Make up Wipes