Travel. The very word evokes notions of journeys to destinations unknown.

A trek through the Amazon rainforest to visit a remote civilization few have ever seen. A photography expedition in the Mayan ruins of Coba. Kicking white sand barefoot on a Caribbean beach in the shadows of coconut palms. Grazing along a ridge in the highlands of Colombia. Swimming with Whale Sharks during their midsummer seasonal migration off Isla Holbox.

There’s a little Indiana Jones in the corner of our minds, just waiting to be let loose, to have the freedom to explore new places and cultures, to step out of our comfort zone. There is freedom in traveling, but true freedom comes when you travel light.

Think about it. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, there was only one scene where Indy was packing a suitcase for his journey. In the remainder of the movie, all you saw him toting was a simple leather rucksack. Oh, and a bullwhip and pistol. We’ll forgo the weapons discussion here and talk about the idea of traveling simply and realistically.

There’s a beauty about traveling light.  It affords you the convenience of mobility. At a moment’s notice, you can shift from flying in a passenger jet to riding a bus, colectivo or taxi,  without having to lug unneeded weight around (lugg-age).

The idea of traveling is romantic, but at the end of the day, it really just means getting from place to place. It may be from your hometown to a nearby city, or from Dallas to Aruba, But the idea is still to simply get from place to place with a modicum of what you need. Nothing more, nothing less. The idea here is that preparing and packing for a journey – whether it’s two miles or 2,000 miles – should be a deliberate and conscious practice.

There’s something about heading into the unknown that makes us want to overprepare for every possibility. For example, my first trip to the Mexican Caribbean. Envisioning a faraway land, deep in the jungles of the Yucatan, I packed 4 huge bags chock-full of crap I didn’t need. In hindsight, I looked like the Tom Hanks character in “Joe Vs. The Volcano”, foolishly throwing together a bunch of ridiculous junk for a five-day trip. One would think I was going on a three-month safari in Zimbabwe.

In later trips, wherever the road or skies would take me on business or pleasure, I had paired it down to one carry-on and a backpack ready to go within four hours with enough clothes, gear, and sundry items to last at least a week.

You can master the art of traveling light, and we’ll talk more about that in a later post. But before we get to that, here’s the first tip to get into the mindset of traveling light. It might make you shudder a bit. Ready?

Take your list of things to pack, crumple it up into a little ball, and toss it in the trash. Or give it to your cat as a toy. Or burn it in the backyard and roast marshmallows over it. In any case, forget the “Things To Pack” list.

If you want to travel light and think you need a list of things to stuff in your backpack, or worse yet, a suitcase, you’re doing it wrong.  That list will grow, and before you know it, you’ll be dragging out the suitcases that make you a slave to the baggage claim sign in the airport. So take your dog’s advice: kick dirt on that and move on.

No list. Your brain will thank you for this, because, over time, you’ll be packing both instinctively and deliberately. You’ll be out the door in a flash on a trip you planned for months, or maybe just a few hours ago. That’s the beauty of it. You’ll be smiling to yourself as you move swiftly through the airport past the baggage claim. No longer will you cringe at the thought of your bags landing in Cleaveland as you look for them on a carousel in Belize City. You’ll know how it feels to be truly mobile. If the idea strikes you to change hotels, it won’t feel like moving. Just grab your backpack and go.

Traveling light
No luggage. No list. No problem.

The freedom of traveling light is really nothing more than traveling simply. That doesn’t mean wandering around in some remote place on earth looking like a vagabond. It simply means being realistic about where you’re going and what you’ll truly need to get there, enjoy yourself, and get back.  Once you begin actually thinking about it, the process of elimination becomes easier.

If the idea of not making a list seems horrifying, try a little exercise. Think of where you’re going and how long you’ll be there. Make a list of everything you think you’ll need. Then, step back from your list and think again about where you’re going and the amenities available to you both in transit and when you get there. Read. Research. Think long and hard about just what you’ll really need, and open your mind to the idea of simplicity, realizing you really won’t need all of the crap you originally listed. Do you really need all of those extra shirts, pants, and shorts?  Three swimsuits? Seriously?

You’re traveling to see the world, not making a fashion statement. The person you see on the street or on the beach one day is someone you’ll likely never see again.  So, get drastic. Once you’ve absorbed the idea of traveling light, chop that list down by 3/4.  Your goal is to fit everything into a light backpack so that you can just sling it over your shoulder and go.  Dump the safari gear and cut that packing list down until you have something that will fit in a backpack that fits under the seat on the airplane, or beside you in a bus seat, or in the trunk of a taxi.

So, chew on this for a bit. This is your first step in learning the freedom of traveling light. In part 2, we’ll take a look at how to realistically pack your backpack for any journey, anytime, anywhere.

6 comments

  1. You are spot on. I’ve back packed many times in nature. I love the simplicity and feel of having it all in a back pack. not having a cell phone or reception. Oh…that’s another subject.lol….

    I find it so stressful as do many to pack our luggage and trying to remember it all. It’s rediculios and I do it constantly. Many are amused when I whip out the duct tape or whatever else they might need. Often I get comments you are so organized …you thought of everything. It’s really not a compliment as I think about it. Growing up my dad would say…good grief ypu packed everything but the kitchen sink. Lol.

    I realize when I stay in resorts… I go with the packing my dress up clothes, my dress down clothes, my three swim suits and that’s all ok at times. But ….honestly my relaxed times have been the less organized small bag …bam we are going and we don’t have a plan for everything.

    Recently I had an estate sale for my Grandma. She had these old suitcases that were her parents. They were fabulous. I couldn’t get over how small they were. I couldn’t stop thinking how they couldn’t pack much in them at all and how simple it was . It really made me think about how crazy we have gotten with our massive suitcases and we get a 50 pound limit and that’s still not enough.lol

    What a great read. I’m looking forward to the next part. For us gals it’s the hygiene part that gets me. We need a all in one product . It’s the lotion, shampoo, conditioner, sunscreen, soap and so on.

  2. Hi Brenda,

    Thanks for your thoughts. It’s good to know that others can identify with the “traveling light” concept. You’re right, it’s definitely a trade-off, where one must ask themselves whether they’d rather have the security of bringing everything but the kitchen sink, and the burden of lugging it and keeping track of it (only to realize you forgot that one critical item) vs. grabbing and going with the critical items, and the peace of mind knowing it’s all right there in one place.

    Glad you’re liking the series. Part 2 is on the way soon!

    Andy

  3. You are so right Andy. My first trip to Mexico i brought so much crap i never used. After reading many posts in the old days on Loco gringo i learned my lesson on my first trip. I have traveled from China to all over the Caribbean with no more than a backpack and a carry on. If i need something i found out the world pretty much sells the same stuff you’ll need

  4. Andy, so true. TATT and I are going back to carry ons when we come back next June. The last 2 years we brought checked suitcases and it’s always held us up at the airport. And we have found that we don’t use half of what we bring. Love your blog and can’t wait to celebrate, tho be it a little late, with you and your beautiful Kat💞❣️

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