My cousin wasn't always good at packing light. But then she met her husband. And in the give-and-take that is a relationship, his take (and her give) was traveling light, which meant a three-week trip through Asia with just a carry-on bag for each of them.
My cousin admitted that traveling light felt quite foreign at first. But she has learned, and now she's a believer. I asked what her first recommendation would be for someone who still travels with six pairs of shoes, three bathing suits and a hair dryer. She came up with a good one.
"Layer," she said, "and wear as much as you can on the plane."
For her, that means a shirt, a sweater and a jacket in transit, as well as the biggest pair of shoes she plans to bring.
After more than seven years of travel writing, I'd call traveling light — or at least traveling practically — one of the most essential facets of traveling well. Traveling with less can make you feel more nimble, make a trip seem less chaotic and, in the era of $25 checked bag fees, will be cheaper.
The truth is that with the proper discipline and approach, traveling light isn't only practical, it's liberating. My biggest rule: Think about clothing materials. I'm a big fan of merino wool, especially when it comes to shirts, socks and underwear. It's a fantastic base layer in cold weather, breathes and dries quickly in warm weather and, best of all, can be worn repeatedly without washing (yes, really!).
SmartWool (http://www.smartwool.com) and Icebreaker (http://www.icebreaker.com) are two of the most prominent manufacturers. And although merino wool clothing isn't particularly cheap, it's worth the investment. (Of course, maximizing its use while traveling also mandates that you're comfortable with re-wearing clothes, which I proudly am.)
For some more tips on packing light, I turned to Clint Johnston, the founder of Triphackr (http://www.triphackr.com), who specializes in "travel hacking" or, as he describes it, "getting the most out of your travel experiences." His tips, which he supplied by email and which are augmented with my own thoughts, have been edited for clarity and space.
1. Invest in maximum carry-on luggage and never check a bag.
Forty-five liters is the maximum size for a carry-on, and it is larger than you think. Bags of this size have plenty of space for at least seven days of clothing depending on the destination. Clothes can be worn twice and washed on the road. There is no need to bring an outfit for every day of a trip.
Josh says: Also, invest in a bag you like and that fits your needs. A backpack? Something with wheels? A rollaboard?A combination of all of the above? A sleeve for a laptop? A compartment for a water bottle? Lots of zippered pockets? Different people have different needs; getting the bag that suits you and your lifestyle makes travel much more enjoyable.
2. Pack for a one-week trip
Whether you are traveling for a week or a month, there is no need to have more than a week's worth of clothing. Re-wearing is perfectly acceptable on the road, and doing laundry on vacation is easier than you think. Hotels often overcharge, but find a local laundry service or a hostel to drop your dirty clothes off while you are sightseeing for the afternoon.
Josh says: And for that matter, pack clothes that can double as casually comfortable during the day and sharp enough to wear out at night.
Merino wool clothing might be the best clothing for travelers ever created. Merino wool socks never smell, and the shirts can be worn over and over again. Pack shoes you can wear for a morning jog, walking the city or to lunch. Shoes take up a lot of space, which is why I always wear a pair of leather boots that double for a hike or a nice dinner and throw some (sneakers) in the bag.
Josh says: Preach!
4. Channel your inner minimalist
More often than not, you will return from a trip with unworn clothing. This is a complete waste of packing space. Don't pack any clothing you might wear and stick to clothing you will absolutely wear. Depending on where you are traveling, you can always pick something up on the road. I picked up tailored jeans in Kathmandu for $10 and a new shirt in Bangkok for $1. When in doubt, leave it at home.
Josh says: "When in doubt, leave it at home" — words to live by.