A very long time ago when I was less astute with my monies and unscrupulous as feck, I was a young traveler on my way to Manhattan from Ohio to visit a good friend.
I was going for three days, and checking a suitcase that was almost as big as me! This suitcase was so large that it took much wrangling, hefting, and exertion to get it from the third floor of my apartment down to my car, a grunting boost of energy to heave it into my trunk, and even more energy to navigate it from the long term parking terminal to the check in counter. No matter, I was going to the big city for three whole days and needed stuffs!
A Lesson In How Not to Pack
Without any form of editing, I piled the contents of my gigantic suitcase high, and smashed down the cover, laying across the luggage in order to close the zipper that was resisting my attempts at closure. Many times I had to stop to stuff more contents inside, as pairs of underwear, a stiletto heal, a baseball hat, threatened to escape its confines.
I packed for every possible circumstance I could think of, even though my friend and I had already planned an itinerary for each day. I needed jeans, shorts, dresses, skirts, long sleeves, short sleeves, sandals, sneakers, high heels, all the makeup I owned, and my own blow dryer and hair straighter (hers would just not do!). Not only did I need all the above, but I needed doubles. Not just one pair of jeans, not just one skirt, one pair of sandals, one bathing suit. I didn’t pack just enough socks and underwear to fill the days, but double even triple the amount. I also packed clothes hanging in my closet I had never worn before, or hadn’t worn in years, suddenly thinking that the bright lights of New York would inspire to me wear that backless dress I never felt looked quite right on me.
I had prepared for every possible situation when dumping the contents of my life into this luggage, the one thing I didn’t plan was the airline losing it!
Yep. Lost. My original flight to NYC which left on a Thursday evening was cancelled. I knew this before arriving at the airport due to a text message from the airline, but I decided to go to the airport and check my bag anyway, banking on the hope that I could find another flight I could be squeezed onto. Get on another flight that evening I did, unfortunately, my luggage didn’t follow me.
Luggage is Lost in Travel Void
Cut to me arriving in NYC late Friday night and standing forlornly at the luggage pickup while the empty carousel rotated noisily in front of me. I stood watching every single other flyer grab their cargo and head to the line of waiting taxis. I, in such a deep state of denial, stood waiting for my bag for so long that the entire airport had almost completely cleared out. Now a lone traveler in the behemoth of JFK, I sought out a help desk to find my rogue bag. This took another hour, maybe? I was losing precious time in the city, and with my friend while I tried desperately to track down this suitcase that housed my precious belongings. Suddenly, my trip had turned stressful and unpleasant as I not only stood in lines at unhelpful information desks but was now visualizing a trip without out my 400 essentials that I had crammed into the suitcase.
Reluctantly, I left the airport with only my purse and taxied to my friend’s apartment. Once at her apartment the tragedy of it fell away as we journeyed to the nearest wine store for some provisions for the night. We stayed up all night talking and drinking Pinot Grigio, the problems of my suitcase receding into the background for a moment. I wore a pair of her pajamas to bed, dropping my stale clothes that felt grimy and worn from my day at the airport in a neat little pile by the closet. Since I had given my contact information to the airline at JFK, I went to bed feeling positive the doorman would be ringing us early tomorrow morning to say that my luggage had arrived.
Wrong. No suitcase all the next day. I ended up traipsing the city in an eclectic outfit from my friend’s closet. Us not being the same size meant I wore some combination of pajama top and boating shorts on our expedition to the City Flea and lunch.
Later that evening, still no suitcase. Halfway through my trip it arrived, but not without several more calls rife with long hold times and being transferred between different departments.
That was my last trip checking a bag. Granted, the reason for the mix-up was entirely because my flight was changed, but the whole experience was so disastrous that I vowed never to be in that position again. The value of having all my stuff with me throughout the entire flying process, and the ease of traveling without checking a bag and schlepping the dang thing everywhere was priceless.
Finally Learned My Lesson
Years later, I am, proudly, a very light traveler. On our family trip to California for five days for a wedding my family marveled that Steve and I only took a personal item aboard the flight, including the dress clothes we wore to the wedding. When we went on our twelve-day honeymoon we met a group of people at the Orlando airport on our way home that were absolutely flabbergasted that all the luggage we had was the pack on Steve’s bag and the bag on my arm. We’d spent several days in Puerto Rico, and a week on a cruise, island hopping. We visited several cities, had fancy dinners on the ship, and still managed to stowe enough in our small bags. And, I have to tell you, considering the amount of travel and transportation our honeymoon took, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Even with just my 08x18x14 personal bag, I still packed a shirt or two that I never ended up wearing. We were in the Caribbean, so I spent most of my days in my bathing suit, a skirt, or a dress. It helped that we knew the cruise ship would have a laundry room, which we did take advantage of at one point. The cost of doing a load was a few quarters for the machine and a dollar for the packet of detergent. A small amount compared to the cost of checking luggage.
When faced with a big trip the prospect of packing so light may seem alarming for some. So, I’ll provide a few easy tips for how to pack a small bag
How to Travel Light
Edit, edit, edit
I usually start my packing by taking everything out of my closet that I wish to fit into my bag. I don’t censor anything, it can all go into a pile, even floppy sunhats, and magenta ponchos. Then I go through each item and ask if I’ll really wear it, how much space it’s going to take up, and if I can pair it with something else more than once.
Pack just one of each item
One bathing suit, one pair of jeans, one pair of shorts, one bra. One skirt, One button down shirt.
Wear layers on the plane
Wear your big stuff that takes up more room on the plane. If I’m traveling where I might need a jacket, I take that on the plane, I also generally wear gym shoes on the plane as they take up more room in my bag than sandals.
Cut out the big stuff
For me, that’s clunky shoes, hair dryers, curling irons, hair straighteners (I go au natural on my trips, unless the location we are staying provides a hair dryer). I put my shampoo and conditioner in travel bottles under 3 FL, and I usually just take mascara and cover up as far as makeup goes. In the beginning, cutting out the beauty products was really hard because vacation was always where I wanted to look the most outstanding, but now I hate the idea of spending more than five minutes in the bathroom primping every time we go out, and I think my husband is grateful for that as well. Vacation is a time to get away from it all, and that includes your rote beauty regimen that is a drag.
Don’t buy souvenirs
On our honeymoon to Puerto Rico I bought a small ornament for my mother. Once in a blue moon, if we are somewhere exotic and new, we will buy something from a local to take home. Our normal trips to Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, or any other state don’t warrant purchasing things. We have memories in our heads, and photos on our phone.
The easiest way to pack light is just to realize you don’t need much. Instead of taking a small bag and trying to cram the contents of a giant suitcase inside, realize that you’re leaving home for a short period of time and that you simply don’t need a bunch of stuff to enjoy the trip. No one is going to comment on you wearing the same pair of sandals every day at the beach, no one is going to remark that they’ve seen those jeans on you more than once, no one is going to think your hair looks unruly and your skin poor without makeup. Trips are for connecting to the people around you, relaxing, getting away from your everyday life. Travel light, travel happy.