I’m often asked by my friends what kind of suitcase they should travel with, how any pairs of shoes they should bring, and what voltage blow dryer should be packed.
What they usually get from me is a lecture as long and as passionate as a Sunday morning Bible-thumping sermon. I’m always happy to share my message: “Carry on shall set thee free!”
“The amount of stuff you bring is inversely proportional to the freedom and potential fun you will have” has been my mantra since I discovered how to pack lighter. There’s a reason that people who don’t do well in relationships are considered to have "a lot of baggage." Baggage is something that people feel they need, but it soon becomes a liability.
If you’ve ever stepped off a vaporetto in Venice and have had to carry a suitcase up and down bridges, steps and winding alleys, you know what I mean. At this moment I’m in Piazzo San Marco watching tourists struggling with cases that weigh almost as much as themselves. That image is my inspiration for the following tips.
Ultimately, all anyone needs to travel is a passport and money. If you forgot your suitcase altogether, there’s not a country in the world where you can’t get some socks and underwear. However, It’s nice to have products you like and clothes that fit, so a compromise is in order. Here’s what you really need:
- Find a carry-on you can live with. Check with the airline you're flying and find out the dimensions of carry-ons allowed. So far no one has ever whipped out a measuring tape to size up my bag, but it’s smart to be somewhat close to the maximum size or below. Having a light bag with wheels and handle is essential. Pick a soft case over a hard case for more flexibility if you need an inch or two leeway in an overhead bin. I’m traveling on this trip with an airline that allows a carry-on bag about 21 inches long—mine is a little taller than that, but it’s close enough for horseshoes or hand grenades.
- Limit your shoes. The hardest lesson for many is that you really don’t need five pairs of shoes. Remember that no one knows you and, unless you’re wearing something ridiculous, the shoes in your photos will go unnoticed. Bring a pair of all-purpose shoes that you can walk in, climb mountains with, or tango in.
- Leave the blow dryer behind. Even the most basic hotels usually have a blow dryer and you can save yourself some space, weight, and stress by using the hotel’s—or bring a hat for bad hair days.
- Recycle your clothes. If it’s summer, you’ll be using lighter clothing. In the winter, you can layer your clothing and wear your jacket on the plane. Wearing your pants two or three days won’t kill you and you’ll save yourself a lot of weight. Bring things that don’t wrinkle. In a pinch, you can handwash a few items in the hotel sink.
- Save yourself some time. Automated check-in is becoming standard in many airports. You can scan your passport, get your boarding pass and avoid waiting in a long line to check in luggage if you just have carry on. Once the plane lands, you can pass up all the depressed people waiting around the luggage carousel and save yourself up to half an hour.
- Rethink your liquids. There’s a lot of rules that don’t make sense when it comes to flying and the liquid rules are among the silliest of them all. You can’t bring a water bottle or a bottle of vodka on a plane, but you are allowed to bring as many little bottles that you want with no questions asked. In theory, you could bring (20) 4-ounce bottles of a liquid, an empty bottle, and then fill it up as soon as you pass security. It makes no sense but if you’re packing liquids in a carry-on bag, now you know how to do it.
- Re-evaluate your personal items. In addition to being able to have a carry on bag, most airlines allow a personal item. This can be a purse, computer bag, or day pack. This bag can be packed with items that you need quick access to, like USB plugs, battery chargers, camera equipment, headphones, plug adapters, pens, and your computer.
Once you’ve become the master of your luggage, you’ll find that your trip is more carefree and you might even be able to get by with a subcompact car rental if you’re driving around. But please: try to resist smirking at the passengers at the luggage carousel when you pass them by.