Monday, June 28, 2010

Traveling minimally.

My carry-ons
As I was planning to pack for our trip to Italy, I decided I wanted to try to be minimalist in my approach to luggage. I did not want to be weighed down by a huge roller suitcase and a carry-on. S is a pro at traveling for 3 weeks with only a carry-on bag, but for me, it was new territory to approach an extended trip with just carry-ons.* I am not minimalist and like to have various options of clothing to match my mood or weather or unexpected situations that might come up. But for this trip, I packed in a normal –sized backpack (my personal bag) and a small duffel bag (carry-on), which was significantly smaller than the normal carry-on-sized roller bags.

The way I was able to do this was due to the information I gained from fabulous website I stumbled upon called From there I learned so much, but here are the tips that I found most helpful for doing a two-week (or longer) trip with carry-ons:

1. Unless you are only going somewhere for a only few days, you will have to wash. I had planned on mostly hand-washing, but S wanted to go to a laundry mat halfway. Unfortunately, the closest laundry mat was a 20 minute bus ride and the hotel charges about $12 for one shirt to be laundered, so we decided to hand wash everything. Including jeans. 

Hotel Laundry Price List

Due to the fact that we were in a nice hotel (thank you, S’s work!), we were able to wash our jeans in the bathtub after they got salty and sticky after renting a boat and boating around the island of Capri. We washed them in the (thankfully very nice and clean) hotel tub with the detachable shower head. It worked surprisingly well. We washed the rest of the clothes in the sink, and then we let things air dry on the towel racks in the tub. Thank you, Woolite.

2. Only bring clothes that go together. suggests choosing a color family and bringing tops and bottoms that mix-and-match well. I went extreme with this idea, and only brought clothes in black, red, and white. (Aside from my one pair of jeans.) And to be honest, almost everything was black. Every top I brought could be mix-and-matched with every bottom. This was important to me because I wanted to maximize the variety of what I was wearing by being able to combine various things creatively. I choose items that would cover the range from a dress-up dinner or semi-elegant event to working out or hiking. Black is great for being versatile. And to be honest, I probably could have brought less tops. Maybe one or two less. Now I know. 

3. If you aren’t sure if you need it, you probably don’t or you can buy one after you get there. And there will probably be something you need that you did not bring, but that is likely, even with a huge suitcase. For me, that item was a cream for sore muscles/joints, because my left knee suddenly started giving me intense pain.  So I bought cream there (which ended up not working well, unfortunately). And I also bought disposable razors, since you can’t take them in a carry-on.

4. Be intentional about your packing methods.  I roll my clothes and have packed this way since backpacking in Europe AGES ago. It really does save room. And you can categorize stuff in gallon or quart size Ziplocs, or mesh packing bags, to help keep things organized,. I have used both methods. Small Nalgene 3-ounce bottles are wonderful for toiletries. Wear your heaviest/bulkiest clothes and shoes while flying to conserve space.

5. As says, a fabric sarong-style wrap thing is actually useful. I was skeptical but decided to give it a try, since I have one. I ended up using it multiple ways over the two weeks and am now converted to this idea. I did not use the bandana I brought.

6. I love shoes, yet I managed to only bring two pairs. A pair of black Chacos sandals and a pair of red Converse. This worked for me. True, it would be nice to have some sort of elegant shoes, but I doubt I would have worn them if I had some with me. We walked a TON and elegant shoes and uneven cobblestone are not a good match. So my black sandals attempted to fill the place of “elegant shoes” and they sure were comfortable for “dressy” shoes. And they also worked quite well for hiking up active volcanoes.

7. I also like jewelry and accessories. But I mostly just brought jewelry that was not valuable monetarily. One set of funky earrings, one bracelet, and one necklace. The red sarong-ish scarf mentioned above, and another scarf. It was enough to make me feel like I could “dress up” but nothing that would ask people to mug me or whatever. And I ended up buying a cool bracelet as a souvenir too.

After this successful experiment in which I never felt like I was lacking anything I needed, I plan to try to travel light on future trips. It really was incredibly freeing and I think it all comes down to choosing the right things. By that I mean, things that can work in a variety of ways. Like my skirt with a pair of converse and and a cute t-shirt is great for exploring Naples, whereas if I wear the same skirt with a dressier black top, black sandals, and some accessories, it is a nicer outfit.

I think traveling minimally is in a way, counter-cultural. Well, actually living minimally as well. Now that I have traveled minimally and found it freeing, I am thinking about how generally simplifying is freeing and how a dependence on "stuff" seems like a safe thing (ie. having what you "need", you know,...just in case) but how too much stuff can actually be a burden.**

*Well, as an “adult,” anyways. I did backpack around Europe with a large backpack during college, but I had more stuff then than I had on this trip, and when I was backpacking, I was not prepared for any occasions that might come up where one might want to dress nicely. My challenge this time was to pull it off without looking like I was “backpacking” in Europe.
**Especially while moving.


  1. I am VERY impressed. I have always wanted to travel light - but I am hopeless at it! Thanks for the tips though.

  2. I am also impressed and would like more information on how you wore your red sarong...

  3. @Mrs. T: I was hopeless at it before too. S was completely unconvinced that I could travel with carry-ons only. In fact, I think he said he would believe it when he saw it. But I was determined and wanted to try it. And I am pretty sure if I can do it, anybody can!

    @The Turner's: Well, the most useful way I wore the sarong was tied all toga-like in a sort of dress, while I was in the hotel room washing clothes. I also wore it as a wrap one night when we went out to dinner. My other (unrealized) ideas for it were to tie it as a laundry bag and to wear it as a skirt around the pool or beach. I didn't do that, but could see how those would also be helpful sarong tasks. I thought the bandana would be useful, but I didn't use it on the trip. I did, however, use one while moving last week when I could only find one sock (the rest were irretrievably packed) and needed something to tie around the other ankle to prevent a blister that was forming due to not wearing socks. :)

  4. These are gret tips! I will have to check out onebag.