Ditch Your Stuff: 10 Reasons to Travel Light

This week we are pleased to present a guest post by Powell Berger a freelance writer based in Honolulu. Powell traversed the continents world schooling her three children and is an expert in packing light. Her website, powellberger.com, showcases her writing.

Every summer, I return home from Paris with this magic laundry stain remover all-in-one thing. I don’t know exactly what’s in it, or even the correct way to get the best results since I don’t speak or read French. But I first discovered this magic wand in a rental apartment five years ago when red wine threatened to ruin my favorite pants. I slathered this stuff on my pants, and voila! Problem solved.

Now it’s my mission to bring one home every summer. I treasure it, saving it for only the worst stains, making sure I have enough for the year before I return again next summer to get its replacement.

The same is true of my Nivea deodorant. I know deodorant is a pretty utilitarian thing, but I found this little gem in Iceland, at the airport I think, and I now make sure to smuggle two or three little glass bottles home with me every summer.

The Packing Light Club

IMG_1876That’s the thing about being a devotee to the packing light club. When I’m looking at three months of travel and one carry-on bag, every item goes through a serious vetting process before making the cut and making the trip. That means things like toiletries, jewelry, first aid supplies, and other “necessities” get added along the way. Nothing makes you go local faster than needing something and having to find it on the fly.

It’s a hard transition for some, trading in the plus size bags for a single carry-on, but once the leap is made, most folks don’t look back. For most of us, it doesn’t take long to realize that packing light isn’t just about weight and convenience, although those are pretty compelling results. Packing light is a travel philosophy, an e-ticket passport into adventure, culture, and community, whether that’s in Chicago or Katmandu.

Join the Club: Top 10 Reasons to Pack Light

Here’s my top ten list that has nothing to do with the space under your feet or in the overhead bin. Join the club, and you will almost certainly find your own discoveries to add to the ditch-the-big-bags list.

10. You Brought It; You Haul It

This mantra has carried my family traveling brood across fifty countries.

No porters, no bell men, no wheelie carts at the airport, and no waiting for someone else to schlep our bags from spot to spot. It sounds silly perhaps, but being the one in charge of your stuff puts you in charge of your travels. Want to make a last minute detour? No problem.

9. Life Goes On: Practicalities in a Foreign Land

I’ve pointed to my red runny nose in pharmacies in France, mimed a migraine in Germany, and figured out the translation for heartburn in Beijing. In every case, my medical needs have been met and I’ve come away with something much more valuable – an everyday connection with someone local, who made it their job to help me, despite my language deficiencies.

While I still travel with an emergency round of antibiotics, I’ve now ditched all that just-in-case medicinal arsenal, confident that I can find what I need just about anywhere in the world. I’ll get my problem solved, and have a story to tell.

8. Little Discoveries & Lasting Reminders

An airplane size bottle of Reyka vodka sits on my desk, a reminder of a writing conference that became a three-day vodka binge. My stain remover immediately transports me to Paris when I spill red wine (because I’m a klutz on all continents), and deodorant in a glass bottle makes me smile every morning. My zippered pen-holder found me in a small stationary store in Stockholm, and my favorite cell phone carrier came from a street vendor in Chiang Mai. All of these items – and so many more – are part of me now, and each jumped into my bag for a reason, because I needed this or that in a particular moment.

7. Accessories

“The only thing that separates us from the animals is our ability to accessorize!”–Clairee, from my favorite movie, Steel Magnolias.
Scarves, rings, necklaces, and earrings – a dig through my dresser drawers is like a mini round-the-world adventure. The only accessories that travel with me are the ones I wear – all others are collected along the way. That means every piece tells a story, and I’m almost guaranteed not to run into it on someone else at a dinner party. (Why buy these things, you might ask? Because they are easy to pack of course!)

6. Nothing Left Behind

Packing light is not for the messy, mis-matched throw-the-bag-together-and-go crowd. Packing light is a dance; every item has its place in the bag, like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Nothing gets left behind, because its absence is immediately known.

5. Travel Cred.

Don’t laugh. It’s a thing.

Show up with a steamer truck and hat boxes, and certain assessments are made. From the folks at the airport to your tuk-tuk driver to the people at your hostel or hotel, they are sussing you up and have you pegged as a big spender (and probably clueless).
Show up with one bag and the swagger that comes with being in charge of your stuff, those same folks nod with approval, aware you’re not to be messed with.

4. Simplicity & Purpose

Those of us traveling with a single carry on don’t take hours to get ready. We don’t fret over which dress or shoes or whether we should wear the blazer or the sweater. We know what we have and we know what we’re going to wear. We do laundry regularly and we don’t fret if someone sees us in the same outfit twice. (Besides, we’ve bought new accessories, so chances are they don’t even notice.)

3. Tech Simplicity

Even seasoned travelers confess that it’s not the stuff that tips the scales, it’s the technology. From cameras to laptops to tablets to phones to hard-drives and all the accessories to keep them all humming, we are hard-wired to think we need it all.

Travel with one carry-on, however, and there’s forced prioritizing. Laptop and tablet? Not a chance. Three different lenses? Maybe, but it better be worth it, and really, isn’t two enough? Or one? A different charger for each item? No way! For most of us, this one’s tougher than cutting back our favorite jeans, so lay all the pieces out and start downsizing one at a time.

Choose the pieces that multi-task and leave the rest at home. Worried you’ll forget something? Don’t fret. When I did actually forget my camera charger, I found a replacement in Sydney. Easy peasy.

2. Security

A funny thing happens on the way to downsizing and simplicity – we realize how very little stuff we really need. Three pair of pants, four tops, a skirt, a couple pair of shoes, my books, my laptop and my journal. I don’t want to lose any of it – especially my laptop and journals – but if I did, my travels would go on.

I’m not tied to this stuff – it just helps me get where I’m going. Lose it and I either replace it or decide I didn’t need it anyway. It’s the people, the experiences, the moments that can only be had out there, on the road – that’s the valuable part of travel. Nothing in my bag can bring me that kind of joy.

1. Freedom

One bag, travel cred, simplicity, purpose, and confidence that I can make it work. Me and my one bag, we’re a team, and we’ve got this. That’s freedom. That’s “no baggage.” And that’s the ticket to getting out there and seeing the world, not traipsing across it dragging your bags behind you.


There are lots of good reasons to travel light, not all of them have to do with your bag or your stuff. Powell’s top 10 include:

  • Control over your stuff
  • The ability to make detours
  • Little discoveries
  • Accessories
  • Organization
  • Travel cred
  • Simplicity
  • Light tech
  • Security
  • Freedom

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