Notes from a Floating Life Thoughts about productivity, digital living, and leading a simpler life

Travelling Light

Confession time: I don’t travel as much as I’d like to. And since moving to New Zealand, travel has become a bit tougher and (quite) a bit more expensive than it was from Canada.

But no matter where I’m living (or have lived), I’ve always tried to travel light. Usually with a 35 litre knapsack or a carry-on bag. Nothing more. Obviously, that doesn’t give me much room for what I need to take. Notice I wrote need to take, and not want to take.

I have to be very selective about what I pack. But the advantage is that I don’t need to check my bag and don’t need to worry about being burdened by a bunch of suitcases, containing items I probably won’t use, in the way that many travellers are.

Lately, though, I’ve become a bit preoccupied with travelling as lightly as possible. I haven’t gotten to the point where I can travel the world with 10 pounds or less, but I’m not doing too badly.

Here’s a look at how I’ve been travelling light.

A Boy and a Trip to Silicon Valley

In October of 2013, I took a six-day trip to California to attend an unconference and book sprint at Google’s campus in Mountain View, California. As part of the preparations for that trip, I made a conscious decision to travel very lightly.

That involved making of list of what I needed to carry with me. Here’s a photo of what I took:

What I packed for my Silicon Valley trip

Actually, that load is quite a bit heavier than the one I normally shoulder. When I travel for pleasure, I don’t take a laptop or (in this case) my Chromebook with me. But this time around, I needed to pack the Chromebook because I was going to use it at the book sprint. As I found out later, I didn’t need to bring it — Google would have loaned me a Chromebook for the duration of the event. It turns out that the extra weight didn’t make much difference.

Besides the Chromebook, a 7” tablet, and their chargers my kit consisted of:

  • Three sets each of shirts, underwear, and socks
  • A travel umbrella
  • A toiletry kit
  • A Moleskine notebook
  • A water bottle
  • My glasses (for working and for reading books on my tablet)

I also packed a small passport and ticket pouch (not pictured). The bag on the left of the photo is what all of that went into. It’s a 25 litre bag that I use daily, and which I can quickly convert to a backpack.

All of that was enough for six days (and then some). I even had extra room at top of pack which came in handy on the way back. There was more than enough space for the gifts I bought my daughter to mollify her for not taking her on the trip.

In case you’re wondering, I didn’t wind up wearing smelly clothes for the last few days. I did laundry in my hotel room. My toiletry kit included (as it usually does) some soap for laundry and an inexpensive travel clothesline. More on this in a moment or two.

The Keys to Travelling Light

Those keys are simple. Focus on what you need to bring. Don’t get caught up in the contingency mindset and try to pack for every scenario. If you do that, you’ll wind up packing more than you’ll use. That just adds to your burden and your stress.

Try to make what you pack as small as possible. I rolled my shirts and underwear tightly, and carefully arranged them in my bag — shirts forming the base at the bottom of the bag — then carefully stacked everything else on top. I also made sure that the items I packed were as light as possible.

But what if you need something you didn’t pack? Unless it’s a large item, buy it at your destination. Tim Ferriss talks about having a settlement fund, which is money set aside to buy various items that you didn’t bring. Stick to the basics. Don’t go overboard.

As I mentioned a few paragraphs back, I didn’t walk around in smelly clothes towards the end of my trip. I did laundry in my hotel room. Doing that is quick and easy. While some people I know use the soap in a hotel room’s bathroom, I generally bring along a small bottle of castile soap which does a better job of cleaning clothes.

Looking To The Future

Depending on the trip, I’ll probably do things a little differently. When I don’t need my Chromebook, I’ll just pack a tablet. And I might bring along a pair or two of lightweight travel pants (which can be rolled up easily), as well as a pair of Vibrams. Other than that, I’ll play it by ear.

While this mode of travelling doesn’t work for every trip (skiing vacation, anyone?), it’s a great way to carry what you need without worrying about lugging a bunch of suitcases around.

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