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How to pack light for quick and hassle-free travel?

Elvis Elvis

This says it all about packing light:

Jean and I were sitting on the train in Brig, Switzerland waiting to leave for Zurich and our plane home. A young American couple arrived at the steps to our car with 6, count ‘em, 6 big pieces of luggage. They had been there for a week-long conference and apparently took everything they owned. It required six trips into the train to get it all on board. They sat across the isle and behind us. The woman was very angry. I got the impression carrying all that stuff was the husband’s idea. I offered to help carry it in and her response was an acid-dripping, “you don’t deserve this!”

In Bern we had to change trains. When we stood up and each put on our rucksack the angry wife asked how long we had been in Switzerland. I wish you could have seen the look on her face when I said three weeks. She was dumbstruck. The wheels in her head were spinning as she compared our trip with one bag each to their two tons of luggage for a week. She was beginning to understand packing light.

Switzerland is NOT a 3rd world country
You can buy anything you need with ease

1 Person, 1 Bag

Packing light means limiting yourself to 20 pounds in an airplane carry-on size bag 9″ x 22″ x 14″. “Are you kidding me,” you say looking at the bag. Nope, We are not kidding. The secret is layering and coordinated mix and match. Typically, our bags weight 21-23 pounds for Jack and 17-18 for Jean. With that we can stay 3 weeks or 3 months. So think about what you can do without and not what you might want to have along the way. Layering can keep you warm or cool if you plan for it.

Believe me, you will spend your entire trip marveling at how smart you were to pack light and carry just one bag when everyone around you is struggling with several. Whether you carry it on your back, as we strongly recommend, or pull one with wheels, you will thank your lucky stars you took our advice. One bag is easier to keep track of and, with it by your side, is less likely to get stolen, damaged, or lost. AND, it fits in the train station lockers with ease if you want to store it for a few hours of sightseeing before your next departure.

Packing light is key if you are riding the rails. The entry into and out of each train car is 2-3 steep steps spaced far apart. There are usually hand-hold bars on each side and having both hands free to help pull yourself up is important. Toss the bags into the overhead rack, settle back and enjoy lunch or write postcards while you whisk through the countryside. At each stop you will off the train, out of the station, and on your way while everyone else is still getting off. The freedom that packing light in one bag gives you is just amazing. So please, don’t ignore this. Only take one carry-on size bag. Walking to your hotel or B&B is easy with very little weight to carry, and with your hands free you can carry your map and a delicious pastry.

How to pack light for quick and hassle free travel?

Less is More

OK, how do you fit your whole trip’s worth of stuff into one small carry-on size bag? It’s easy, just take less, pack light, and layer. Pack only what you need, not what you might like to have. Don’t pack for every situation you might encounter. Pack for the optimal. Think of ways to do with less.

Toiletries can be replaced along the way, so don’t take the giant economy size. Think small. Use less of some things. When you run out of something you get to go shopping. Both Jean and I love to shop in another country. It’s great fun to see what’s on the shelves. Leave the hair dryer, electric razor, etc. They are heavy, bulky, and you don’t need them. We almost never take anything that requires plugging into an electric outlet. Use hair gel instead of a hair dryer. Use disposable razors instead of an electric razor. Pack light!

The first time you pack light it will take some time and thought. Once you’ve done it, it’s simple. Start by choosing what you think you will need. Lay it all out on the bed or floor and ask yourself, “is this something I will use often enough to make it worth carrying for 2 weeks?” If not, put it away. Everything you add to the bag also adds weight you have to carry. Separate items into groups of similar items and use stuff sacks or mesh packing cubes (see our gear page for these).

Road Clothes

Packing light and taking fewer clothes means you’ll do some washing along the way. Our packing tips list has some great ideas to help with that.

Wash late afternoon or early evening so things can dry overnight. If you’re staying in one place more than a day items can dry longer. If you are staying in a B&B more than one night perhaps they have a clothes line you can use.

Today’s micro-fiber fabrics dry more quickly than cotton and are cool, often wrinkle-free, easy to tote, and perfect for packing light. Some clothes look fine wrinkled. Select those things that will be the easiest to care for in a hotel room. When the final clothing selection is complete give them the test. Hand wash and hang to dry at home. You will know what to expect on the trip.

If you are traveling in winter you will need to add a few things to the clothing list, but not much. Add medium weight silk underwear. You can sleep in it and layer with it. Shoes should be water proof, warmer, and with less slippery soles. Add an extra pair of underwear, an extra pair of warm socks, a lightweight, warm fleece or down jacket, a warm stocking cap or hat the wind won’t blow off, and gloves or mittens. Plan your clothing for lots of layering and take darker, more muted colors that blend together well and dry quickly. Dress with the assumption that you will be out in the cold for several hours at a time.

During the summer and shoulder months (April through September) Jean and I attend church, symphonies, museums, and fancy restaurants dressed casually. A pair of non blue jean style pants, a good looking cotton sweater or nice shirt or blouse will get you into almost anyplace you might want to go. Men can take a tie if desired. Women can take a scarf or lightweight sleeveless vest to add a dressier look if needed.

Most churches require modest dress: no shorts, bare shoulders, mini-skirts. If needed, you can usually improvise something. One lady we met always carries a sarong to wrap around bare shoulders, for warmth, or as a quickly improvised skirt. It is a handy, weightless addition.

Remember our motto here at camp: Light is Right and Less is More! Actually we have a family member whose name really is Les Moor.

Repeat after me: “I will pack light!”