In this carry-on age, most voyagers routinely struggle with the Sea Monster of Samsonite. I still regret bringing three pairs of shoes (including heels) and five books (two hardbacks) on my first adult travel adventure: to Mexico City and the Yucatan Peninsula. After lugging my bursting backpack on a few crowded buses (where chickens are welcome), I gladly cast off all but one of each about a week into the trip. Although wheelie bags won’t work for adventure travel, since their widespread adoption in the late ’80s they’ve let us sail through airports, train stations and town squares.
With the majority of airlines now charging to check overweight or oversized luggage, most travelers are paying more attention to packing. Although they save money, passengers whose bags make the carry-on cut must still race to claim scarce onboard luggage space. The overhead bin hog has become such a familiar annoyance that a recent New Yorker cover cartoon by Bruce McCall showed a man in tropical beachwear straining to stuff a small car into the overhead bin.
The debate over what kind of luggage to take and how to pack it has consumed enough trees to reforest a few clear-cut islands. Although the experts’ advice varies, they all agree that the only way to pack, for economy and ease, is L-I-G-H-T. In August 2010, writer Rolf Potts turned traveling light into a No Baggage Challenge for fellow travelers inspired by his impressive six-week, luggage-free journey covering 30,000 miles and five continents. Wearing only the clothes on his back and a vest full of pockets to carry a toothbrush, passport, phone, ATM card and minimal extra underwear, socks and t-shirts, he took two showers and washed spares in the sink each day.
I was surprised to discover on a recent laptop-free trip to Spain’s Balearic Islands that yesterday’s internet cafes have become today’s wireless, computer-free hubs. It took me a day of asking around to find a public computer to book an inter-island flight. I paid by the minute to use one tucked away in the back of a tiny office store a 3-mile walk and half-hour tram ride from the mountainside village of Fornalutx (FOR-na-loosh, or “place of smokes” in Catalan), where I stayed.
Although Potts’ book speaks to an exceptionally adventurous few, its message should resonate with every airline traveler in the post- 9/11 world. As I count pills and tuck toiletries into my 1-quart bag and pull extra books out of my carry on, I’m reminded of the preparations I once made for high Sierra backpacking trips–when every unneeded ounce added to the burden.
Nowadays, when I’m not carrying my laptop in my favorite lightweight travel bag, I wear a daypack just big enough for a sweater, sunscreen, water bottle, cell phone, passport, debit card and cash, notebook, a few pens and a lightweight digital camera. I’ll have to save the challenge of completely unplugging for a non-working vacation, or another backpacking trip. In the meantime, I’ll try to follow the Native American mantra of every conscious traveler: “Take only memories and leave only footprints.” Now that’s a philosophy worth packing.Ellen Girardeau Kempler, All rights Reserved. Written For: Gold Boat Journeys