The Art of Travelling Lightly

by JLB

People are always asking me how I managed to travel the world with carry-on luggage. I tell them that it comes down to two key steps: 1) only carry what you love and 2) live like a local.

Step 1: Only carry what you love.
This may sound strange, but it’s the most important rule. Often when packing, we can focus on what we think we may need, which is completely different to what we love. For example, when I started out, I had a backpack weighed down with every first-aid kit and travel gadget imaginable. My head was running riot with thoughts like “What if I get stuck in the bush with no clean water?” and “What if all my socks get wet and I need a spare pair?” As a result, I couldn’t bear the thought of parting with anything, not even a snippet of a huge ball of rope that I’d brought to make a clothesline. It was painful, both physically (my back was killing me) and psychologically (I was so weighed down by all this “baggage” that I was unable to really be free to enjoy myself).

Compare this with when I finally ditched my excess baggage and started only carrying what I loved. At one stage, I had a tea strainer (to make green tea), my notebook, a digital camera, plus a few toiletries and items of clothing. With the exception of my travel documents, I didn’t feel like I really needed anything: I just chose to carry a few things out of personal preference. The end-result was amazing: I felt totally liberated and free to connect with the people and culture around me.

Step 2: Live like a local.
It took me a while to ask this question, but if locals managed to live in the area without bringing over a truckload of supplies from a foreign country, why couldn’t I? I realised it was only my fear of the unknown that stopped me from embracing the customs and living like a local.

For example, when I first got to Thailand, I carried a roll of toilet paper wherever I went. It took up space in my bag, made me keenly aware of stores where I could replenish my supplies and worst of all, kept me feeling like a foreigner amidst a sea of locals who were doing just fine without it.

Fortunately, I befriended a local woman who instructed me on the fine art of cleaning myself using my hand and a hose or bucket of water. After a few goes, I actually found it felt more natural than using paper to wipe myself! Not only did I stop carrying toilet paper around, but I started to have a deeper experience of what it was really like to live in that culture.

I hope you find these steps useful, but be warned: once you start travelling lightly, you may never want to check in a suitcase again!

original photo: Fred Hsu