On Minimalist Travel


I’ve always been fascinated by the main character in the movie “Up In The Air” with George Clooney. The way he just up and leaves at a moment’s notice is pretty amazing, and he’s very efficient in his life and his use of time and resources. True, he may seem a bit cold at times and he may not be the best example of how to handle relationships, but you can’t deny the fact that he gets the job done and doesn’t waste time. I also read the novel (after seeing the movie, that is) and found that I could really identify with the main character. I love to travel and generally prefer to fly if I’m presented with the choice. The scenes that showed how he packed and unpacked and just seemed to glide through his trips were just fascinating to me. It’s very clear that Ryan Bingham is a minimalist. There’s no way he could pull that off if that wasn’t the case. He keeps his possessions down to a minimum and seems completely at ease with his life choices, although clearly he gets a lot of grief from just about everybody in the story.

But why am I bringing this up? Because I will be flying next week, from Chicago to Puerto Rico, to attend a family event. Again, I love flying, and I always look at it as an experiment in how little I can get away with, how minimal I can get. It’s just fun to me. I call this, “channeling my inner Ryan Bingham”.

I own one carry-on size suitcase (with wheels) and usually carry one additional bag for my tech stuff (iPad, Kindle, cords, etc.). Depending on how many tech items I’m carrying, this bag could be a backpack or a messenger bag. I refuse to carry more than this, and I steadfastly refuse to check luggage. Having to deal with luggage is just guaranteeing that I will be thoroughly stressed out by the end of my flight, and I just don’t have the time and energy to deal with that. But the main reason is that that I just don’t NEED more. Of course, sometimes that entails being creative with the items I decide to bring with me, and they all have to serve double duty. My clothing has to mix-and-match. I usually buy travel-size personal hygiene items when I get to my destination, so I don’t have to worry about travel restrictions and weight issues, and it’s one less thing I have to worry about packing (and forgetting). I also carry the bare minimum amount of underwear (including t-shirts) and socks. I might pack two pairs of jeans/pants (if I’m staying for a week, which is usually my timeframe), and 3 or 4 shirts, a pair of shorts, 2 or 3 t-shirts. Most of the time this works splendidly, although sometimes I end up not using some items at all. This allows me to fine-tune my packing list for my next trip, so it’s a learning experience. I have a washer and dryer at my disposal during my visit, so I can wash anything at any time, slashing my need for clothing to a bare minimum. The weather there is tropical also, so there’s no need for bulky sweaters or coats (except, of course, the coat I have to wear to the airport).

One neat trick (among many!) I learned during my military years was how to roll every item of clothing before packing, and it’s amazing how much you can fit in your bag or suitcase by rolling your clothes. Making sure you take advantage of every nook and cranny in your suitcase or bag is crucial. That being said, one common mistake many travelers make is packing too much stuff into their bags. We’ve all seen the funny images of people sitting on their suitcases in order to close them. This is futile for three reasons: 1. It’s almost inevitable that you will purchase at least one item to bring back home with you and you will need space to pack it, 2. Chances are you will receive some sort of gift if you’re visiting family or friends. Hence, you will need some breathing room in your luggage. You should try not to pack your luggage more than 80 to 85% full. You do NOT want to spend money on a new bag or suitcase for items you may not have use for in the first place and which might end up as clutter back home. Also, not having an overstuffed carry-on bag will ensure you will not be hated by your fellow passengers and flight attendants because your bag either takes up too much space or simply won’t fit in the overhead bins, making everybody else’s flight just that much more stressful. You don’t want that bad karma, trust me. And finally, 3. Our friends at the TSA love to open up our bags and see what we’re carrying (that is their job, after all), and they will not take the time to put everything back in your bag in an orderly fashion. Guess who’s going to have to do it? Right! And if you’re running late for your flight, that could be the difference between making or losing your flight. Again, stress will be guaranteed.

When I get to my destination, unpacking takes just a few minutes. I can start enjoying my stay right away. No hour (or more) spent waiting for luggage, or worse, filing a lost baggage claim (been there, done that, several times), or waiting in line to have my ticket/luggage verified. Also, I have never had my luggage picked up and taken home by somebody else, but I do know people who have gone through that, and that is one travel experience I never want to have.

When it’s time to return home, I may decide to purge an item (or four!) before packing, just to ensure a smooth, stress-free flight home. It always works. Traveling light means feeling light, feeling free, feeling like your vacation or trip was worth it, and that you genuinely had a great time. And that, of course, will make it easier to start planning your next trip.

Ryan Bingham would be so proud.

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5 thoughts on “On Minimalist Travel

    1. Thanks, Jenny! I love reading about others’ travelling and flying habits/tips too, and love seeing pics of their luggage and their travel setups. I aspire to be able to travel the world someday, working from everywhere with my little laptop and just being a professional wanderer. Sounds like a plan, right? Thanks again and see you soon!

  1. I just spent a month in Italy and lived out of a half-full backpack the entire time. Less really is more. Choosing my clothes every day was easy, and traveling light means freedom. Now that I’m back home, it takes me much longer to get dressed just because I have too damn many options! 🙂

    I think it’s interesting that you made a reference to Up In The Air. Granted, I haven’t seen it yet, but it’s cool because I relate: my own on-screen inspiration was always James Bond. Here’s a guy who could literally board any plane at any time and be comfortable wherever he goes. No luggage, no nothing. That continues to be my goal. I intend to, eventually, reach a point where I can travel at will, with no luggage, and no worries.

    1. Hey Randy! Thanks for stopping by! I’m still in awe of your month in Italy with only a half-full backpack. That’s super intense, my friend. I hope to be able to do that some day. And yes, it would be supremely cool to be able to travel with no luggage at all. Again, thanks for visiting, and come back soon!

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