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Reasons You Should Pack Light

Written by Jessica on May 5, 2011

jess and the olgas, packing lightLet me guess. You’re new?

Heard a couple people tell you to pack light? Wonder why they are so hell bent on being minimalists?
There are lots of articles out there about how to minimize your stuff and how to pack light. But they are useless unless you truly understand why it is important.

Trust me, until you successfully travel light, you will not understand how great it is. On my first trip to Europe I met an Australian who carried one small backpack. It contained a t-shirt, a pair of shorts and some basic toiletries. He was wearing a pair of jeans a ragged t-shirt and a pair of sneakers, carrying a little camera and his wallet and passport.

I thought he was loony. Now I think he was brilliant. Here are a few reasons why.

Going anywhere is easier. Carrying 50 lbs on your back? Pain in the ass. Doing it on a crowded street when it’s sweltering outside and you’re mobbed by street vendors. Even worse.

I know you think that little hike from the train station to the hostel isn’t a big deal. But when your train is rescheduled and you are running 26 platforms across Roma Stazione Termini to catch a new train, being 30lbs lighter makes the whole experience less painful.

Small tuk tukFitting on a bus/train/taxi/airplane is easier. You know what I’m talking about. Don’t be that guy with the giant bag holding up boarding because you can’t fit your gargantuan suitcase in the overhead bin. Trust me, the spaces to store bags only get smaller. Trains are terrible, buses are the worst, and taxi’s… well, have you ever been in a Tuk-tuk? 

You won’t smack into people. You know what I really hate? That floozy with the giant backpack who has no idea that whenever she turns right, the person on her left is going to go flying onto the pavement. Funny. As long as it’s not you on the pavement.

Ever been in a hole-in-the-wall souvenir shop with a giant piece of luggage? Can you say bull in a china shop? Big bags are unwieldy and moving with them is difficult. It will annoy everyone around you (especially me).

Packing and unpacking takes longer. One of the worst parts of travel is the constant packing and unpacking. The more crap you have, the longer it will take. That’s time you could spend doing exciting things, like, uh, enjoying the great place you are at.

Less time deciding what to wear and pack. When you only have 2 outfits, it’s really easy to know what to wear. There’s no debates, no big morning rituals. You wear it, you wash it, you wear it again.

No space for souvenirs. My favorite part about watching people who pack too much, is watching them figure out what to do with all the stuff they buy. Gotta buy more bags, more space, more stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I love the right kind of souvenirs, especially for friends and family, but I don’t buy anything I don’t have space for.

Shopping internationally is fun. Have you seen the malls in Bangkok, the markets in Dar es Salaam, the gallerias in Milan? They are phenomenal. Shopping there is surreal. When you need something, it doesn’t have to be a hassle. In fact, it can be fun. What’s more fun than buying new stuff?

Treasure hunts are also fun. There’s a lot of bad information on the world wide web about what is and isn’t available around the world. I’ve forgotten to pack some pretty stupid things, and can say with very few exceptions, if you need it, they’ve got it!

In some places where stuff is generally hard to come by, people are incredibly resourceful. We made a Toyota shock fit a Mitsubishi shock in the Serengeti. Borrowed the only sewing needle to stitch a torn pair of pants in Hoima, Uganda (on a Sunday). We’ve found camera batteries in rural Cambodia, tent fly repair kits in the outback, cold beer in Salt Lake City, and pretty much anything you’ve ever dreamed of in Mexico.

The more you carry the more you look like a tourist. Enjoy being mobbed by taxi drivers, street vendors and lonely street men? Yeah, me neither. Downsize the luggage minimize the giant sign on your back that says “I’m a tourist”.

If you need it, the locals have it. That’s the thing about locals, they’ve been living there longer than you have and know where to find things. And for most aliments their solution is going to be better than any you could bring with. No, you might not find your favorite brand of shampoo, or your favorite pair of jeans. But travel isn’t about that. It’s about new discoveries.

Travel isn’t about stuff. Get over it. Stuff is stuff. It is replaceable. Travel is about people and places and experiences. The less stuff you have to worry about, the more you will be able to enjoy the present.

Trust me.


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