Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Adventures in Traveling Light(er)

I'll admit that I am not the lightest packer. In fact, I am quite a heavy packer. Most of my trips revolve around work, so I end up carrying quite a bit of gear with me including a 48 pound toolkit and two laptops. Between my checked and carry-on bags, I carry over 100 lbs of equipment with me on an average trip. I know that this isn't traveling lightly, but it is a style of travel to which I have become accustomed to. A recent familial obligation necessitated my traveling to Southern California on short notice, and it changed the way I'll look at traveling and packing forever.

My trip required me to be in town for two nights, and I couldn't risk having my bags delayed so this left me with only one option: carry-on only travel . It required me to pack by a new set of rules, which have opened up a whole new world of travel possibilities.

The most obvious changes were that I wouldn't be able to bring a pocket knife with me and that I'd have to be careful to follow all of the TSA rules for carry-on travel. Additionally, I needed to remember that I'd be carrying everything, so weight was also a concern.

Once I started to think about traveling solely with carry-ons, I was reminded of a line from one of my favorite movies:

"Take only what you need to survive" -Lone Star to Princess Vespa, Space Balls

I'd heard this phrase repeated many times over the years, but never before had I encountered the perfect context for it.

With the sagely wisdom of Lone Star ringing true in my mind, I set about deciding what would stay and what would go. Since I only needed a couple changes of clothes and an extra pair of shoes, I decided to go with a roll-a-board case that would hold my clothes and my day pack, which held my water bottle, food and my toiletries. I'll admit that I didn't do a full purge of my backpack as I should have, but time was short so I ended up lugging around a lot of gadgets that I didn't need to take with me.

In addition to the above items, I also packed a 2 pound round of cheese for my father (he really likes sharp cheddar). The cheese went into a soft sided cooler which fit nicely in my day pack. When checking into my flight I weighed in to find that I was lugging about 35 pounds of gear with me.

While sitting in the boarding area, I started to take a close look at everything that I ended up carrying with me, and I realized that there was quite a bit of redundancy. Did I really need a water bottle and a travel mug? Did I need to carry fresh fruit when dry is available? Isn't carrying 4 magazines a little excessive? Would a lighter/smaller book reduce my reading enjoyment? Do I need a comb and a brush?

Even though I had cut down the weight of my gear considerably, there was certainly more that I could have done. Realizing this, I was thrilled with the possibility of making carry-on travel a regular part of my life. In a moment of clarity, taking advantage of last minute travel deals and
spontaneous travel changes suddenly became a reality. It was as if I could finally see for myself what others had been telling me for years about what travel could be.

As it turns out, there's a great website for traveling without checked bags called OneBag. I really wish I would have found this resource before my trip to Southern California, but I've been enjoying it in preparation for my next carry-on only trip.

My first carry-on only trip went fairly smoothly, and I didn't miss any part of checking my bags (ie: having to wait at the baggage carousel, watching my bags get loaded on the plane and wondering if my bags would arrive with me) . While I wasn't able to take my pocket knife with me, that was a minor inconvenience when compared to the gained flexibility and peace of mind knowing that my bags would not be lost. I look forward to my next carry-on only trip because I've learned a lot since then, and I can't wait to really apply myself to this style of travel.

Do you regularly travel with only carry-ons? Do you recall your first carry-on only trip? Please respond in the comments section below.

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  1. One bag is the only way to go. I don't use a wheelie; my bag has a shoulder strap and handles. I can travel for a week without doing laundry with just that (only a weekend if I have to bring a suit). Only if I absolutely have to do I check a bag.

    Four magazines isn't excessive if you're flying round trip; just recycle the ones from the first leg when you arrive. And flights are a good time to read the magazines that pile up at your house and thus get rid of stuff.

    It is a bit of a drag not being able to bring a pocket knife.

  2. Love your article, but Books? that's the last thing you should consider. If you can replace what you read with audio, you can go with an ipod! Audio books are wonderful!

  3. TB: I usually get my magazines from my departments shared library at work. When I'm done, I have to return them unless they are 2 months old. Even then, we put them in the break room for general circulation. If it was a private subscription, then I'd probably try to leave the magazines on an airport chair away from the path that the cleaning people take.

    Suzanne: Yep, books. I'm old school in some ways I suppose. The feel of an actual book is something that, for me, has become part of traveling. I do have an MP4 player, but it's less convenient to load with content and make sure it's charged than tossing a book in my bag.

  4. Well, if you can't ditch the magazines, then there are two options: figure out how many magazines you will get through and just bring that many, or bring a book. A book would probably be better.

    I can't really get into audio books.

  5. TB: Books are tough to beat for entertainment density (entertainment benefit/weight) without the need for batteries or other people. I also take a travel journal with me for my own amusement, and it too is entertainment dense.

  6. I always travel with my iPhone. Consequently, it's very easy for me to pack several feature-length films, a season's worth of whatever TV show I'm currently watching, and music. Those are pretty obvious travel niceties. However, here are a trio of less-obvious iPhone travel programs (all free) that I really value:

    Pandora - internet radio with music based on your preferences.

    Yelp - location-aware search of local eateries.

    Stanza - ebook downloader and reader with free and paid books available.

    Oh...noise-reducing earbuds (I use in-ear Shure's that block noise only mechanically, but have great sound) are a must for airplane travel.

  7. I try to travel with one bag as much as possible. But this does mean I can't have my pocket knife, hate that! I think it is so much faster than having to check bags. I think I still over pack though and could always do better. Thanks for the link to onebag, I saw you twitter it and I checked it out. Great ideas!

  8. Thanks for the link to OneBag, which I decided to try out on my last job. It was a tight fit getting spare clothes in with all my photo and backup photo equipment, but it sure was convenient not checking any bags in!

  9. As a Flight Attendant I have a little
    "equipment" I have to carry with me on work trips...very little, actually. A two inch binder containing my legally required manual, flashlight, passport, watch...and into my "under the seat in front of me" tote bag it goes, as well as my laptop and small bag of cords/iTouch/plug adapters. In my 18" suitcase...I lay it out like this in my head when I'm packing: work clothes, play clothes, jammies. And, I load up on magazines (GOOD ones, like People!) and give them to the FAs as I read them to lighten my load and recirculate. (Not that you'd ever see a FA read a magazine...just doesn't happen!!)