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.
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.