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I swear by traveling light—and you can, too

Nov. 13, 2017

“Simplicity involves unburdening your life, and living more lightly with fewer distractions that interfere with a high quality life, as defined uniquely by each individual.” –Linda Breen Pierce

I don’t mean to sound like a prick, but nothing says “high maintenance” to me more than seeing someone struggling through the airport with a posse of exploding suitcases. My thoughts are usually as follows: Could they be transporting bodies in there? Or perhaps they’re bringing medical supplies to a third world country, or… is there a zombie apocalypse I haven’t heard about? I find the reality is often that they’re just on their way to study abroad in Europe with 2+ suitcases full of jackets, shoes, going-out outfits, etc. “But I’m moving for, like, a yearrrr,” they whine.

Call me a square, but one suitcase for a year-plus abroad is my personal preference, a backpack even better if I can swing it. I’ve come to realize the weight of less is more over the last few years of living and traveling abroad. When I first moved to Spain, I brought 2 monstrous suitcases with me, and I’ll never forget the anxiety of dragging those bad babies across cobbled streets while looking and feeling like a typical materialistic tourist, drenched in sweat and wanting to burn my clothes afterwards. 

At the end of the year and a half there, I moved to Israel with only one of those suitcases. What happened to the other one and its contents? On my last day in Spain, I invited my female colleagues over and shed off my layer of materialistic skin. I laid all my unnecessary clothes/shoes/keepsakes on the bed and watched them have at it. They fought over the items like fierce safari animals on a fresh carcass while I relished in the newfound freedom of being able to compact my life into one portable square.

While I definitely felt some pangs of regret as I watched my belongings fought over, I was so disgusted by the feeling of greed that it was surprisingly easy to rid myself of the excess. It also helped that most of the items were of little monetary value because I am frugal by nature. But in that moment, I decided to make a commitment to work towards a second transition: to shop less and only invest a few high-quality items that would last, rather than continuing to burn through tons of $10 Forever 21 jeans like I did in college.

Living out of one rolling suitcase was my baby step, but I still felt held back by wheels and excess luggage weight. It wasn’t easy enough to flag down a bus or run to catch a train, so my next step was full commitment to minimalism. That meant ditching the suitcase and trading up for a quality backpacker’s bag. Let it be known that this was highly influenced by the nomadic Israeli style I was exposed to, as well as by my experiences living and working in a hostel. In addition to the backpack, I became a full-blown Israeli and invested in a pair of fashionably durable boots and a pair of supportive waterproof hiking sandals (I opted for Blundstones and Chacos, respectively). The next trip I took was 6 months long, and I was well-equipped to travel through the Middle East, Europe, and Latin America during the tail end of winter, spring, and summer with a single backpack full of necessary items. That freedom of mobility was priceless.

So how can you choose what to bring with you on a minimalist journey and still keep up with your reading list, look “hip” at a bar, or dress appropriately for the weather? As a language-learning freak, I found the hardest part of packing light was not being able to carry around all my books. I downloaded everything I needed to my Microsoft Surface, so make use of the Kindle app on your tablet or laptop. Even travel books like Lonely Planet have a virtual version these days, so jump on that train and get a chargeable power bank to keep you going on long travel days. In order to make cold-weather clothes more compact, remember that less is more, and look for clothing items that can multi-task: try buying one quality down jacket that can fold up easily, one sweater, one scarf that can double as a beach towel, one lightweight travel towel, one pair of running shoes that you can tie to the outside of your bag, a pair of jeans, linen pants (be Laguna Beach fancy and comfortable, yes!), shorts, a few shirts, socks/underwear, and a mini laundry soap which will become your best friend! Finitto.

Traveling light is no excuse for ratty hair or white-person dreads, so for hygiene products, I highly advise investing in some compact shampoo/conditioner bars which function like bar soap (Lush makes some that are all-natural and high-quality). You can buy deodorant, toothpaste, and bar soap as you go. Stick to postcards over magnets and t-shirts when buying souvenirs for yourself and friends, and if you have a selfie stick, hit yourself in the head with it as you throw it in the nearest trash can, because there is no space in your bag for foolishness.

Et voila: now you, too, are fully prepared to travel light. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and make some memories!