Updated May 21, 2017
Are you one of those travellers who marvel at those who seem to effortlessly glide through airports with just carry on? Do you aspire to pack light (or lighter) but don’t know how to go about it? Getting in touch with the many reasons to pack light is a start. They might just inspire you to lighten the load.
It fosters good relationships with travelling companions. It’s not fun being obliged to help travel mates with their luggage. It doesn’t promote good rapport if competing for limited space, or having to take more expensive transportation because someone in the group has lots of luggage. When travelling companions share a common interest in packing light, it presents opportunities to share strategies and recommendations. They might just end up with the same type of bag!
It improves mobility. You’re more mobile when rushing to make a connection, or navigating public transportation or city streets. Rural areas present their own challenges with uneven or sandy terrain. City or country, a vehicle can’t always drop you “at the door.” Being encumbered reduces options for getting around.
It’s convenient. You have instant access to carry-on luggage during a flight, and long layovers.
It saves time. No more waiting for the check-in or baggage drop-off counters to open, searching for the right luggage carousel or waiting for luggage to arrive. You’ll never have to line up at the customer service desk to report lost or delayed luggage, or need to purchase emergency replacement items. Be one of the first through customs and on your way.
It makes ecological sense. Packing light translates into fewer vehicles needed to transport travellers and their luggage, resulting in lower fossil fuel consumption. The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions estimates that for each reduction of 1 kg (2.2 lb) per passenger, an aircraft can save 9,000 gallons (34,070 litres) of fuel annually. Extra weight means extra emissions. Travelling with less promotes walking and use of public transportation. Doing both is better for us, and the planet.
It promotes independence. Being self-reliant feels liberating. No one needs to check your bag, or carry it to your room. You don’t need a drive to your destination because your bag is so heavy you can’t walk a reasonable distance or rely on public transportation to get to where you’re going. The mantra “you pack it, you carry it” means you and you alone are responsible for carrying and looking after your stuff.
It promotes conversation. Where’s the rest of your luggage? Are you happy with your choice of bag? Where did you buy those neat travel pants? People who pack light usually love to talk about how it’s done, and welcome new ideas on how to be better at it.
It saves money. With carry-on luggage, there are no excess or checked baggage fees, or lost or damaged luggage or contents. Because you’re the only person to handle it, your luggage will be clean, dry and undamaged on arrival. Bags will last longer. No more tipping bellhops, or paying for a luggage cart, porter or baggage storage facilities. There’s no need to base a decision on whether or not to take a taxi or larger rental car because of too much or awkward-to-handle luggage. You have access to budget airlines with more restrictive weight limits. You could choose budget accommodation without elevators, or alternate accommodation with limited space (such as a camper van, or cabin on a barge).
It reduces the risk of injury. Schlepping a large heavy bag around city streets, across uneven surfaces or up and down steps can be hard on the body. Lifting it into the trunk of a car, and rearranging bags to fit in smaller vehicles can be tough on the back. In tight spaces, chances of injuring others are reduced if you’re travelling with a smaller bag.
It encourages planning and organization. Rising to the challenge of packing light inevitably involves making lists and not packing at the last minute. Having fewer possessions to pack increases the likelihood of knowing exactly what they are, where they’re located and being assured space when it’s time to return them to your bag. It usually results in a well organized bag, and a quick repacking experience when it’s time to move. Packing the essentials means not carrying around dead weight, and chances are you’ll have room for purchases and souvenirs.
It promotes security. Less stuff means less to look after. Thieves are less likely to target a traveller who looks like s/he doesn’t own much. If a storage locker is needed in a hostel or transportation hub, there’s an excellent chance it will fit a carry-on bag (and perhaps those of your travel mates in the same locker). When taking a taxi, shuttle or ride share, you can choose to take your luggage inside the vehicle with you. Losing sight of a checked bag increases chances of pilfering, having contraband inserted, or never seeing your bag again. Worrying about whether or not luggage will arrive with you at your destination or how to keep possessions secure can weigh heavily on the mind, promoting fear and anxiety. Sort of defeats the whole purpose of travel, right?
It’s safer. If you need help carrying your bags, or look like you need help, you lose some of your independence. You lose control of the situation. Once someone picks up your stuff, you need to go where it’s going. You’re forced to follow. Depending on where that leads, it may not be the safest of positions to be in.
It offers flexibility and spontaneity. When travelling with carry on, you can take earlier flights and make tight connections. Or, exploit opportunities when they’re presented. For example, in this era of overbooked flights, passengers without checked luggage can volunteer to take another flight in exchange for a travel coupon. You can take advantage of more attractive routings, or change plans on a whim. Having less stuff means you can hitch a ride on a moped, or in a zodiac or tuk tuk.
It helps us focus on where we are. Travel teaches us that material possessions don’t make us happy. Experiences and being in the moment are much more important. Packing light allows us to focus less on our stuff and more on where we are and all the new and exciting things around us. Travelling light can mean immersing oneself in the local culture and the way most people get around. Being among locals opens up opportunities for observation and conversation.
It’s enjoyable. Experience the joy of finding double-duty and multi-use items, and thinking creatively to lighten the load and make the best use of limited space. Experience packing as something to look forward to, rather than dread. Soak up the satisfaction of becoming disencumbered and no longer struggling with large heavy bags. It’s also addictive, but enjoyably so.
Rick Steves summed it up well: “Go casual, simple, and very light. Remember, in your travels you’ll meet two kinds of tourists — those who pack light and those who wish they had. Say it out loud: ‘PACK LIGHT PACK LIGHT PACK LIGHT’.”
What helps you stay focussed on packing light?