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The Freedom of Packing Light

“He who would travel happily must travel light. – Antoine de St. Exupery”


So the suitcase is on the bed ready to be packed for the big trip. You look at the pile of clothes and other “stuff” waiting to be loaded in and you look back at the suitcase. It’s like watching a tennis match, back and forth, back and forth. Your mind is trying to comprehend how in hell you are going to fit that pile of clothes and “stuff” into that suitcase.

Well, let me tell you if I can do it so can you? It didn’t happen overnight but it did happen, or should I say it didn’t happen on the first trip or even… no I really don’t want to admit how long it took me to finally learn the art of packing light. But I am proud to say it has happened and I will never, ever be crossing back to the dark side again!


Just in Case

I know what you are going to say. I might need all that stuff. What if it rains? What if I get invited to a night out at the theatre? What if it’s dressier than I thought? I will definitely have to put in some heels, and it will have to be a few pairs because I don’t know what I will wear and one pair won’t go with everything. I have to have ALL my makeup from home because I am going to wear it every day. I have to take ALL my toiletries from home because I couldn’t possibly do without them. And I couldn’t possibly wear the same jacket for the WHOLE trip!

OK so hold on tight while I burst a few bubbles and I apologise ahead of time if I offend anyone. I have been known to be a little direct and dare I say it, blunt.


Time to get Real

So here goes.

If it rains – it’s called an umbrella. Buy one. A cheap, disposable, who cares if you never use it again type umbrella. Or better yet most hotels offer complimentary ones for their guests or buy one of those special looking garbage bag type ponchos (not a very good look I admit). Or be smart. Make sure that your one jacket (yes one and only) you take is also weatherproof and as boring as it might be, go for a black or navy colour (or grey or brown) that will be good for all occasions.

Next – if you get invited to the theatre (lucky you if you do) or like us it was an Art Exhibition Opening, or something similar, people understand you are on holidays. They will not expect you to be really dressed up. And if you have packed a nice pair of black (or navy, or brown, or grey – yes something neutral) pants, with a cute pair of ballet flats, and teamed with a lovely top, teamed with a gorgeous little cardigan and a delightful piece of blingy (but costume) jewellery you will look amazing! And all those pieces of clothing can be worn over and over again throughout your trip. AND if you really do think you need something a little dressier here’s a huge revelation. They have shops! You can buy something if you really need to. And it’s a great memento to bring home. Imagine on your next night out when you are home, wearing that gorgeous dress and someone says, “Oh I love your dress” and you say, ”Oh thank you, yes I bought it in Italy” (insert smug smile here).

And the same theory goes for shoes. Stop filling your suitcase with shoes that you will not wear or at best will only wear once or twice on the trip.

I digress for the minute but just go with me. Picture this. A street in Boston quite a number of years ago and myself, my husband and two kids walking to the local pub for dinner. Yes, the pub, very glamorous don’t you think? And there I am, teetering down the street in this horrendous pinky coloured high heel shoes that were pinching my feet like there was no tomorrow. Now, why would I be wearing these stupid, ridiculous, hideous shoes down the street to the local pub? Because I had packed the bloody things, (we were on a month’s holiday in the USA) because they would go with some of the outfits I had packed (none of which I had not worn either because they were also ridiculous and packed for “just in case” outings) and I was determined not to have made it a wasted effort. Well, I wanted to cry and I’m pretty sure the family were trying to disown me.

So stop packing all those shoes!

Now onto ALL that makeup. Stop it. Do not even think of taking all of it. I don’t even take my toiletries bag anymore it just takes up far too much room. It’s Ziploc bags all the way for me. And it goes in my hand luggage. Yep, all my makeup for my entire trip fits into my liquids bag which I take on the plane. So what’s in it? A small travel size bottle of moisturiser, a small travel size bottle of cleanser, one lipstick (doubles as blush), one lip balm, one eyeliner (the sort I can smudge and make it look like eyeshadow if I want to – or at least that’s what I think it looks like), mascara and foundation.

I confess I don’t usually spend a lot of time on my makeup most days but I do always wear makeup so I am not one that will travel without any. I carry it all in my hand luggage so in case my suitcase disappears I still have my makeup, otherwise you would see a total meltdown (for the same reason I always carry a change of clothes in my hand luggage as well).


What you think will happen and what really happens

Now let me run through a typical morning on holidays as opposed to the imaginary one you think will happen.

Usually jet lag has you in its grip for a good few days and you tend to stagger out of bed feeling like your head is stuffed with cotton wool. And you usually find you have slept later than you should have (because you’re on holidays and you can AND you were awake most of the night from the time difference) so it’s a quick bolt to the bathroom, a quick cold shower, because you have yet to work out how the bloody hot/cold tap thingy works, you slap some makeup on your face, scrap a comb through your hair or in my case, scrunch it up in something that looks like a ponytail, and race out to either meet your group or for whatever activity that was planned! And then at night when you think you will be off for some glamorous dinner you usually end up running in from a huge day of sightseeing, run that comb through your hair again, slap on some lippy and bolt out the door again to find something to eat.

The world is very casual. And no one bats an eyelid that you didn’t dress up. No one is laughing in the corner that you are still wearing the same clothes that you did all day. And no one certainly cares that you have not carefully and artfully applied a full face of makeup.

The same goes for all your toiletries. I don’t bring anything with me other than my toothbrush and toothpaste, some hair ties, comb/brush and a small travel hairspray and a small travel bottle of my favourite (for sensitive skin) body wash. I use the hotel’s hairdryer (if you really can’t take the chance then invest in a small travel hairdryer) and I use the hotel’s shampoo or buy some when I get there. (If you really can’t leave home without your shampoo and conditioner then decant them into small travel bottles.) And all of that goes into small Ziploc bags tucked into gaps between my clothes in my suitcase.

And yes you really can wear that one jacket your entire trip. If you have packed clothes that you can layer you won’t have to wear them all the time. And you may have the feeling you want to burn it when you get home because you are so sick of it, but that doesn’t matter.

What lasts from travelling are those memories, the cherished moment in time you will never forget, the connection you made with people or a place. You will not be thinking “Oh I wore that same jacket all the time!” In fact, you will look at that jacket when you find buried it at the back of the wardrobe never to see the light of day again, and all those memories will come flooding back.


Why Travel Light?

So why do we need to pack light? Why don’t we just throw everything in? What does it matter?

Well, I guess it doesn’t if you have someone to handle your luggage for you. Or if you intend to have porters tend your bags each time you are on the move and the cost for them doesn’t bother you.

Or you are going to one place and just staying there.

But if you are moving around, if you want the sense of freedom of being able to get through an airport quickly and easily without having to push and manoeuvre a trolley around, if space on any of the transfers or transport your using is huge and if you never have to manhandle your own suitcase into tight spots, overhead racks or up and down stairs then certainly pack the works. I mean why wouldn’t you?

But from my experience over packed and heavy luggage has been nothing but a burden from overweight luggage penalties on the airlines, to the boots of hire cars being too small for all the luggage, to having to ask people to help (and being refused), to hurting my back and shoulder, to… well, who cares what else really.

The sense of freedom I felt with a small suitcase and limited things meant my life of a traveller was simple and easy and really all about the experiences I was having and not the clothes I was wearing. I finally succeeded and it was everything all those “Packing Light Experts” had made it out to be.

Travel is so precious. It brings depth and richness to your life, and special moments you could never buy. It changes you. But not because you packed every item in your wardrobe and you looked stunningly stylish every day, but because everything you are used to is stripped away, your “normal” existence doesn’t exist there, and you are you without any of the fluff and trappings of your daily life. Travel lets you be just you.

And isn’t that the reason we travel?

Cindy x




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Hi there! I'm Cindy the founder of Travel Charm. About 6 years ago I learnt to overcome anxiety to follow my travel dreams. And I haven't looked back! I would love to help you plan your travel so you can start living your dreams instead of just thinking about them.

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Cindy Reid

Cindy is the founder of Travel Charm and her exclusive Travel Club. She is passionate about travel and planning and loves nothing more than helping travellers plan their best trips and fulfil their travel dreams.

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