On our recent trip to Israel, we did something we never, ever do: we took a cab to the airport [gasp!]. We usually brave the inevitable bus-to-tube-to-probably-cancelled-train journey to Gatwick or Heathrow Airports. But before this trip, despite repeated warnings from Brits not to do so, I booked our flights out of Luton Airport because they were half the price of any other ticket [GASP! The horror!].
A few nights before our departure, I double checked the time of our flight – 7:00 AM – and realized that to get to Luton, we’d have to take a three-hour, four-bus journey. We decided that this would be the right trip to treat ourselves to a one-hour cab ride instead.
When the cab arrived at 4:00 AM [MC note: WOOF.] and the driver got out to help us with our luggage, he was pleasantly surprised to find that we were traveling with one small backpack each. He asked where we were going and how long we were going for (“Israel, 10 days”) and whistled, impressed with our packing skills [MC: or disgusted by how bad we’ll smell half way through].
I beamed with pride, because packing not just light, but intentionally, is something I’ve been working on a lot since we moved here and began traveling more. Not Mike. Mike will say he’s been working on this as well, but he’s a very happy camper when all he has (when travelling or just sitting at home) is the same (only?) pair of shorts he’s had for the past five years, a plain t-shirt, his sunglasses and some extra hearing aid batteries [MC: don’t leave home without ‘em]. The man basically lived out of his car for a few months at one point, so he’s not one for carting stuff around [MC: ah, my glory days].
We’ve slowly been identifying possessions, clothes and “things” that are the most durable and versatile, keeping these items, and minimizing everything else. Our intentional packing has been an offshoot of this.
I’m sure you’ve been on a trip where you pack an outfit for every occasion or possible occurrence, only to wear the same outfit repeatedly while everything else remains in the suitcase. I have, many times. It’s incredibly freeing to instead travel with just a small backpack, knowing you will use every single item on your trip and therefore you’re not carrying excess weight.
So how have we started to pack more intentionally?
- Pack versatile, comfortable, neutral colored clothing.
I used to pack an outfit for each day of a trip. This adds up quickly – in space and weight. Now, I choose my favorite clothing that I know I will be excited to wear, and make sure I’m packing items that can be matched in multiple different ways. For our trip to Israel, I packed:
- one black tank top
- one white tank top
- one athletic t-shirt
- one gray t-shirt
- one nice button down shirt
- one chambray button down shirt, to be worn over any outfit
- one pair of navy linen trousers
- one pair of black leggings
- two pairs of running shorts
- one neutral colored dress, to be worn to dinner on multiple nights
- one nicer dress for wedding festivities
- one fleece
- underwear and socks for all days
- two swimsuits
All of the items packed could be matched with each other so it never looked like I was wearing the same outfit. I’ve also invested in some more expensive, higher quality clothing that stays clean and fresh longer and dries faster – like Finisterre and Patagonia.
This trip was even easier to pack light given hot weather clothing is less bulky. But I’ve still managed to pack a similar amount for our cold, wet outdoors trips. Just substitute the dresses and linen trousers for some high-quality long underwear, add a light down jacket and a rain coat, and you’re good to go!
- Choose your shoes carefully.
I also used to pack way too many shoes. In the past, for a 10 day trip, I probably would have packed five or more pairs of shoes. I certainly never would wear the heels I would inevitably bring, and would almost always bring multiple pairs of sneakers. Now, I’ve invested in some flat, packable but nice gold sandals that I can wear with any outfit to a nice meal, and otherwise bring hiking boots or sneakers, and one other pair of sandals.
I always wear my bulkiest shoes on the plane to minimize weight and space in my bag. I’m not preoccupied with worrying about whether strangers are judging me if I look like a tourist walking through an airport in my hiking boots. What’s most important is that I’m comfortable (bonus is that Mike still finds me attractive in my hiking gear!).
- Bring laundry detergent.
We’ve started bringing a travel-sized bottle of laundry detergent with us so that we can do laundry mid-trip. You don’t even need a washing machine – simply a sink or bathtub and somewhere to hang dry your clothes overnight will do!
- Minimize toiletries.
I used to check a bag for the sole purpose of being able to pack my whole toiletry kit and makeup bag (and I don’t even wear a lot of makeup!). The alternative method was hoping my clear plastic toiletry bag and the various containers / bottles within would be small enough to get past security (inevitably, at least one bottle would be too big so something expensive gets thrown away). I recently realized how pointless this was, plus Mike was getting fed up with waiting for my bag at baggage claim or dealing with stressfully unpacking and repacking a bag in the security line. I bought a few reusable travel bottles to fill and honed in one which other toiletries are most useful for me:
- Tinted moisturizer with SPF (instead of foundation, sunscreen, and moisturizer separately)
- Waterproof mascara (in lieu of any other eye makeup – it’s amazing how dressed up you can look and feel with just some simple, quality mascara)
- Compact hair brush (instead of my large brush from home)
- Travel toothpaste
This now all easily fits in one of the security-regulation sized plastic bags for carry-ons, and takes up so much less space in my bag. Hurrah!
- Invest in a comfortable backpack.
Mike and I owned similar backpacks that we’d used since high school. These survived through many years of abuse and finally capitulated around the same time last year. At least we got our money’s worth! We did some research before investing in new replacement backpacks. Mike settled on a Patagonia waterproof duffle / backpack which he uses for his cycling/running commute to work in London drizzle, and as his “suitcase” on our travels. I found a new brand, Millican. They make their products with all sustainable materials (natural or recycled), and ensure durability. I settled on their 25L rucksack because it was the most comfortable for me, and seemed like it would be a good happy-medium between every-day-use and travel-use.
- Any other items?
Depending on how much space we have left after our necessary clothing and toiletries, we usually also bring:
- Aeropress (duh!) to ensure good coffee
- Coffee beans
- Writing journals
- Mike’s GoPro camera and my Sony camera
- Kindle /iPad or book of choice
- Sunglasses and glasses
- Water bottles
- Packable, quick-dry towels
Each of these items are reasonably light and compact while providing maximum utility or comfort, and we’re likely to use these repeatedly throughout our trip. Remember it’s all tradeoffs – if you’re only going to use it once, do you really need to bring it? Are you really going to notice (on more than one occasion) that you don’t have a particular item?
So now that you know how we approach our packing, let us know how you approach yours! What are some of your favorite items to travel with? Or do you just think we’re crazy?
(We pack differently for full-on camping trips, of course, so that will require a totally separate post in the near future!)