Dump Excess Baggage, Fly Light

A few years back I stopped carrying a purse. I keep my credit card, my driver's license, AAA card and some cash--banded with a 6-inch-long, half-inch-wide strip of Velcro--in one pocket and my lipstick in the other. In the past eight years, I've flown around the world with my Velcroed cards in my pocket and just one suitcase.

I learned to make traveling even easier several years ago when I flew to Maui for a week's vacation. The airline lost my bag. There I was with only the clothes on my back, my Velcro-banded cards and my lipstick. I was tempted to run out and buy some clothes and toiletries, but the airline assured me the bag would be there in the morning. So I went straight to the bed-and-breakfast where I was booked, and the proprietor graciously gave me some shampoo, soap and a toothbrush to tide me over.

As it turned out, my bag never did show up, but I had one of the most fabulous vacations I've ever had. I was free: I didn't have to worry about what to wear, how I looked or where to store my suitcases. I hand-washed my one outfit as needed, and my room was never cluttered with clothes, shoes, books or miscellaneous other things scattered about. I traveled from place to place simply, enjoying the view and the people. I never had to worry about lugging all my things with me. I felt liberated--and I liked the feeling.

That incident introduced me to the pleasures of truly traveling light. Now when I fly, which I do regularly, I check one small roller bag, and walk onto the plane carrying nothing at all. I find my row and slip easily into my seat, watching people struggling down the aisle with huge, heavy suitcases, groaning as they try to shove them into overhead compartments or squeeze bulky bags under their seats, then arguing with the flight attendant about whether or not the bags actually fit. I close my eyes and enjoy the hours of enforced downtime.

Recently, commercial airlines have started to get serious about limiting the number and size of carry-on items, so now might be a good time to consider ways you can cut back.


Here are some suggestions for traveling light:

1. The next time you fly, check your bag and take nothing on board with you. Use your flight time to meditate, contemplate, think, rest, and empty your mind of thoughts and worries. Notice how much more relaxed you feel at the end of the trip.

2. Plan ahead. Many people pack too much because they haven't given advance thought to what they'll need. Whether you're traveling for business or pleasure, wear and take lightweight mix-and-match clothes, so you can more easily fit everything you'll need into a smaller suitcase.

3. Consider what's already available at your destination. Call the hotel where you'll be staying to see if they provide hair dryers, soaps, shampoos, alarm clocks and irons.

4. Stop thinking "just in case." Leave behind those heavy sweaters, dressy outfits and extra pairs of shoes that end up in your bag in case there's a blizzard, an unexpected formal evening or a last-minute hiking trip. Allow yourself to be spontaneous, and be prepared to improvise if an unplanned opportunity arises. I have a friend who for years has traveled everywhere with only one change of clothes. If she needs something, she'll pick it up at a thrift store for a few dollars, then leave it behind for someone else to use.

I call this "liberation" travel. If you've ever wondered why you're exhausted and irritable at the end of a vacation, the answer might be hidden in your luggage.


Elaine St. James is the author of "Simplify Your Life" and "Simplify Your Life With Kids." For questions or comments, write to her in care of Universal Press Syndicate, 4520 Main St., Kansas City, MO 64111, or e-mail her at estjames@silcom.com.

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