Minimalist Travel – An Experiment

I recently took a trip back East to visit family.  I decided to use this opportunity to downsize my luggage.

Most people regard me as low-maintenance, and are frequently surprised by the size of my suitcase.  Until recently, I lugged a extra-large L.L. Bean Sportsman’s rolling suitcase around.  It weighed between 50-60 pounds packed.  Porters, taxi drivers and airport personnel have all commented unfavorably on the size and weight of my suitcase.

I received my come-uppance on a trip to Europe.  I had assumed porters would always be available,  but I had to haul my own suitcase on and off a train that had no steps.  You just had to toss it up to the train from from the ground, haul yourself up, and toss it off when you arrived.  Very rustic.  I was also hauling my elderly mother’s suitcase and two carry-ons in addition to my suitcase and carry-on.  My mom still talks about how, at the end of the trip, I left quite a few items behind in our room and told the steward the employees could have them if they wished.  This included three pair of shoes and a cocktail dress.   My back was aching and I just wanted to unload some cargo.

I thought at the time the solution was to pack less, but you know how it is.  If you don’t fill the whole thing, your stuff shifts around and gets rumpled.

The last straw was a week-long stay at a health spa where again, I assumed there would be a porter (or an elevator!).  I ended up lugging 60 pounds up a flight of stairs (and down again). Maybe I DIDN’T need matching sweatsuits for every day of my visit, or a separate outfit to wear to dinner every night.  Hmmm.

For this recent five-day trip, I decided to practice a more minimalist approach.  I brought two carry-on size bags for a five-day trip.  I was visiting family – one day we would be at church and another day I had a business appointment.  So I couldn’t just take jeans.  I rolled most items and used two  1/2 and two  1/4 size packing cubes.

On the plane I wore: stretchy black ballet flats, black slacks, a black/white sleeveless crinkle top and a thin black cardigan sweater.

This is what I packed:

In my black Kenneth Cole rolling bag (18” x 14” x 7”):

  • 1 pair gray slacks
  • jeans
  • black skirt
  • 5 knit tops
  • black high-heeled pumps
  • 2 pr black pantyhose
  • underclothes
  • misc toiletry items too large for plane (next time I will get more travel sizes)
  • misc items not permitted on plane like sharp metal grooming objects – nail scissors, etc.

In my L. L. Bean Sportman’s carry-on duffel (12” x 15” x 8”):

  • thin knit top
  • short pajamas (technically a yoga outfit)
  • Change of underwear
  • 2 scarves
  • misc jewelry
  • misc medication
  • makeup
  • mini toiletries in Ziploc
  • sponge bag
  • book (in case my Kindle died)
  • Kindle
  • magazine
  • water (bought at airport)
  • power cords for phone, Kindle, iPod nano

I was kind of bitter when at the airport gate I noticed other women toting two bags similar to mine.  Instead of a handbag like mine, they tucked a small clutch into one bag so it counted as two instead of three!  Lesson learned, especially since I had to pay $25 each way to check my 2nd bag, which only weighed 20 lbs!

I wore the black slacks, jeans and skirt 2x, and the gray slacks once.  A different top every day.  No one commented on the fact I repeated bottoms, or wore the same shoes with every outfit – no one seemed to care.  I was able to walk to the airport both directions from my office (it’s only 1 mile away).  Saved taxi fare and it felt GREAT to just walk out of there when everyone else was scrambling for cars/taxis/shuttles.

Even though I checked a bag, it was super fast and easy to get it.  It was also fast packing, and easy doing laundry after the trip.  All effort was reduced by at least 50%.  Overall, I would say it was a success and I got some great ideas for my next trip!  And the extra-large suitcase?  It’s headed for it’s new home, Goodwill.

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8 Responses to Minimalist Travel – An Experiment

  1. Jennifer says:

    Good job!!! I once went to China for a week and only brought carry-ons! But I did have to check a bag going back home since I bought so much stuff at the markets.

  2. I promise to try my hand at packing light if you call me next time you spend a week at a health spa.


  3. Reggie says:

    Hey it sounds like the trip worked out great for you and helped give you some ideas for the next time you go away.

    I just came across your blog from Miss Minimalist and I’ve read your about. It sounds like the minimalist philosophy is something you’ve always had inherently. I look forward to seeing where your minimalist path takes you.

  4. I am so pleased to see this. I did the packing less thing this year.. though I did forget to take sandals when I went to the east coast to sit on a boat on a lake– or a couple of extra tees when I was in Hawaii. . Dumb moves but even though I bought a couple things, I still had less stuff than previous trips and didn’t have to buy an extra bag for stuff I had purchased.

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