I remember watching the scene in Spaceballs when Princess Vespa declares that she has only brought the necessities as Lone Starr and Barf are struggling to carry her trunk, garment bag, and suitcases across the desert and laughing at its absurdity. As I have had my fair share of similar moments where travel companions have asked me whether or not it was necessary to bring certain items, I can relate to the desire to attempt to justify the things I’ve packed rather than admit it was a mistake. It’s a sin we’ve all been guilty of. Who hasn’t had the thought, “I’ve packed far too much stuff for this trip” while schlepping their heavy suitcase or backpack through the streets to their hotel or a bustling airport? I recently read a travel memoir by Clara Bensen called, No Baggage: A Minimalist Tale of Love and Wandering and found the idea/movement behind the story to be an interesting one that I have begun to implement in my own travels.
Clara had known Jeff for a mere eight weeks before he propositioned her with the idea of traveling for three weeks across Europe, starting in Turkey and finally ending in London, all with just the clothes on their backs and the items in their pockets and Clara’s purse. For Jeff, this was the only way to travel and he had been doing so on his breaks from teaching at the Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, Texas for several years now. Jeff and Clara relied on the kindness of strangers through the Couch Surfing website and friends for accommodations each night.
As I read from Clara’s perspective, the idea of not carrying any baggage for three weeks became less of an extreme manner of travel and more of a way to focus on the actual trip itself. Does it really matter what you are wearing to tour Versailles? Other than having comfortable and appropriate footwear for the day’s events does it really matter if those shoes go perfectly with that outfit? These are the things I don’t want to worry about when I travel abroad. I would rather remember what I saw and the people I met during that time. While I don’t think I could ever be as bold as Jeff and Clara and venture onto an airplane with only the clothes I was wearing, I like the idea of not having a lot of baggage to weigh me down.
Your baggage should not be an obstacle that works against you during your travels. I’ve found that keeping the items that I pack to a more minimal amount has helped me to not repeat some of the mistakes I have made on previous trips. When my friend, Jay and I recently spent three weeks traveling from Reykjavik to London, Paris, the coast of Croatia, Stockholm, and New York City I found out the hard way what happens when you are struggling with your heavy baggage and on a time constraint. Our flight to Zadar, Croatia left from the Beauvais Tillé airport, which is an hour train ride outside of the city of Paris.
These trains run on a set schedule each day and left us cutting it rather close to arrive at the train station and hail a taxi to drive us the 3.5 km to the actual airport. I spent a portion of the train ride reading a book on my Nook tablet and the rest of the time chatting with Jay and drinking the remainder of the wine I had bought and poured into my Nalgene bottle. I couldn’t possibly have left it behind that would have been shameful. As we arrived at the station I sat my case containing both my tablet and eReader down on the seat while I was struggling to lift my heavy backpack on my back and position my smaller, school sized, backpack on the front of me. While I was so consumed with focusing on getting my luggage situated, I completely forgot about my tablet case lying on the train seat. In fact, I didn’t realize I had left it behind until we were going through security at the airport and opened my bag to remove it and place in the container to be scanned. Once I realized my error I had a decision to make. I could get mad, sulk, and just be a miserable person to be around or I could accept that this was genuinely stupid and neglectful of myself, but there was nothing that could be done and move on and enjoy the rest of the trip. I chose a combination of the two. As Jay and I purchased sandwiches and drinks in the tiny airport’s single restaurant I told him that I was going t be mad and complain for one hour; no more, no less and then be done with the entire incident. I’ve learned that there is nothing wrong with having a “moment” as long as you keep it under a certain time limit as to not wallow.
Another problem that can arise from over packing is there is no room left in your bag for things you buy while traveling. Even though I limit my shopping while traveling there are times where you may find something that you want. On the first day of our trip in Reykjavik we ventured into a Goodwill store. There I found a pair of electric blue, vintage ankle boots that I just had to have. I had been scouring the Internet for a pair of blue boots for several months and I was not about to pass up this opportunity to seize them, though this purchase did inspire some creativity for the remainder of the trip every time I had to repack my backpack when traveling to the next country. Luckily, I could roll items of clothing like my tights, swimsuits, and underwear and stuff them into the boots. There’s always the option of shipping things home to lighten the load, which is always something to consider, especially if the places you are traveling to have an extreme difference in weather conditions and temperature.
Having a big piece of luggage, whether it is a backpack or a suitcase, or too many bags can become awkward when trying to quickly board a train, plane, or a taxi. It takes longer to stow your luggage or it may not even fit or be allowed and this can become a financial burden as well. While I never willingly check my bag, some of the smaller airlines that fly in Europe, such as EasyJet and Ryan Air, have a limit of 7 kg for carry on luggage. They also limit the amount of bags that one can bring aboard. Most of the time I tuck my actual handbag into a bigger bag like my laptop bag or a school size backpack to place under the seat in front of me while my bigger carry on luggage in stored in the overhead compartment. When we flew both of these airlines during our trip we were forced to check our bigger pieces of luggage and pay $50, negating the cheap plane ticket we had purchased.
As I stated earlier, sometimes when packing you have to get creative with your process. Each time I unpacked and repacked my backpack I felt like I was playing a very sinister game of Tetris. Nothing quite fit the same way the next time. Sometimes all of my shoes fit into the shoe bag and could be easily tucked into the separate compartment at the bottom of my backpack. Other times it would fit and would have to be placed in my smaller backpack. My shoes (aside from the blue boots and then later a pair of sneakers adorned with unicorns I found in a shop in Zadar, Croatia) consisted of a pair of Sanuk slippers, two pairs of sandals, which were relatively flat, and a pair of Doc Marten high tops that I thought were necessary to have for two days in Iceland (they were not.) Even though on travel days I always wore the bulkier shoes, it still was problematic packing the remaining pairs. Since this trip (almost a year ago) I have purchased a smaller 32-liter backpack and have shaved off many of the items I found to be unnecessary. Having a smaller backpack limits the amount of items you can pack to start with and works well to keep the weight of your baggage under the limit. I try to keep my clothing and shoes to a minimum while still choosing items that will be functional for my needs while traveling. On a recent trip to Edinburgh, Scotland during the winter holidays I packed my Sanuk slippers and wore a pair of insulated, waterproof Sorel boots. These boots worked well to keep my feet warm and dry and because they were black, went with all of the items of clothing I had packed. I initiated the same practice of only packing one pair of shoes and wearing a second pair when I traveled to Oahu last month and looks to be a practice I will continue for my future travels.