Why Pack Light? 24



If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that I focus on how to pack light for travel. My techniques are a little bit radical, but so is the concept–that you can live well on the road with virtually no possessions. 

We love our Stuff, it brings us comfort to have everything that we could possibly need. What is the advantage of working to pack light? There are more advantages than you may know.

I was recently having dinner with a colleague in Rome. She told me that she had a number of women on her tour who had watched my YouTube videos on how to pack light. They had followed my advice and trimmed down their bags, bringing very little. They felt very proud of themselves, she had told me, not just because they we able to carry on their bags but because doing so had made them feel empowered and capable.

I started this project for random reasons, not really thinking anyone would be interested. Packing a bag is a pretty normal task for me, nobody could possibly find that interesting. It’s been mind-blowing to me that anyone would want to read my writing, on that topic or any other. Hearing, though, that another woman had felt empowered and emboldened to travel through this project, well, it makes me a little misty to think about.

I’ve been turning this idea in my head like a smooth stone. How can it be that something as simple as learning to pack light can change someone’s point of view?

More Stuff Doesn’t Equal More Good

American culture spends a lot of its time focused on the pleasure of obtaining stuff. House, car, entertainment equipment and on and on and on. We’ve been convinced that more is better. We’ve been convinced that newer is better too, no need to repair what you have.

I have the sense that the sheer amount of things I own is a quiet stress in the back of my mind. There is the cleaning and maintenance of the Stuff. There is the Stuff i need for the organization of the Stuff. There is the constant project of thinning and rethinking the Stuff. Maybe I need new Stuff!

In my years of travel, I’ve come to the conclusion that this just isn’t so. For one thing, my European friends live in houses just a fraction of the size of mine and are perfectly happy to have fewer floors to mop.

My walk-in closet is packed to the gills with a million pieces of clothing, but I can’t escape the feeling that I have nothing to wear. My friends in Europe own far fewer, but far nicer things that they care for and keep a long time.

Letting go of the need to have so much Stuff is a big leap, I think. Learning to pack light is step in that direction in the broader scope of one’s life.

Lighten Your Bag and Your Mind

There are the obvious reasons to pack light: easier to maneuver, no checked bags for the airline to lose, easier on your arms and back. I’d argue that another benefit is the mental lightness of having less to keep track of.

Keeping track of bags is a bummer and distracts from a trip. I hate that sinking feeling you get when you leave a city on a train and remember that you’ve left something in the room, even if it’s a tiny thing. By definition, bringing fewer things give you less to think about and more mental space to enjoy your surroundings. 

For example, bringing fewer beauty products makes my morning routine fast. I don’t have much with me, so I can’t make it complicated. 

Pack Light–Organization is Power

Staying organized while on a trip can feel like managing a three-ring circus. Learning to pack light and bring less keeps the organization simple. If you have less to organize, it is a snap.

Our lives can be chaotic and out of our control. There is often nothing to be done to fix bigger issues. I’d argue that there is a certain power that comes from learning to control the Stuff. It isn’t solving bigger problems, but the sense of accomplishment from doing it can provide the confidence to tackle larger problems. 

It’s All About Confidence

Wrangling our belongings and making a goal to pack light can build confidence. If you arrive at the airport, certain that you have everything you need, and only what you need, it’s like sprouting wings for take off. No worries, you’ve got this.

That confidence can power a whole new set of views. If it’s possible to pack a 16 pound bag, it’s possible to go anywhere. It’s possible to do anything. Maybe you don’t believe me, but that is an actual feeling, a charge you get when you meet a personal goal that seems impossible. It’s not world peace, but you have to start somewhere.

Trim Your Bag, Trim Your Life

Travel gives us a small window of time in which to live life differently. Travel to another place, adopt the customs, eat the food, experience the scenery. It opens the mind to possibilities. That concept extends to the physical things brought along.

You may be the kind of person that drives a car full of things you “might need” or a purse that overflows with the Stuff. If you’re going away for a couple of weeks, it’s a good opportunity to try out a new version of yourself. Leave the Stuff. If you find you need something, you can always buy it at your destination.

When you get back, evaluate how it felt to live with few things. Do you really need all you have? Maybe you’ll find yourself to be a new person when you come home, one that needs to have a garage sale, getting rid of the Stuff to fund more travel.

My gratitude to Anna Pipperato, PhD, for inspiring this post over a spritz.


About sarahinitalia@yahoo.com

Sarah Murdoch is a tour guide and guidebook writer for Rick Steves Europe. Her blog, Adventures with Sarah, focuses on packing tips, travel stories and advice for planning the best trip possible.


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24 thoughts on “Why Pack Light?

  • Deb

    I packed relatively light for a 10 day trip to London and Paris. Everything I packed was worn more than once. I brought just a couple pairs of earrings and one necklace. I never felt like I was missing anything.

    I was by myself for the trip from the US to London (my husband was already there) and packing light made navigating the Underground and the streets of London MUCH easier! Same when we took the Eurostar to Paris and took the Metro. Not all stations have escalators or elevators. 🙂

  • Andrea

    Hi Sarah!
    I love, love, love your posts! Thank you for sharing your wisdom and experiences with us all. As a fellow travel addict (and WA resident) the art of packing light and only what you absolutely need is spot on.
    As the wise and amazing man Dr. Wayne Dyer said, “be open to everything, and attached to nothing.” Very fitting for the travel enthusiast! 🙂

  • Susan Whitmore

    Sarah, I just wanted to add my voice to those who appreciate your writing! Five years ago my husband and I took backpacks on our first Rick tour to Italy – we were the only ones not making a racket wheeling suitcases down cobblestone streets, and we loved it! This last fall we were going to France for 3 weeks, and I thought, at age 61 can I really do it again? But your tips really helped me – I really did weigh all my clothes and found that an ounce saved here, an ounce saved there really adds up – my pack was a whole 2 pounds lighter than in 2012 (14 pounds!) and I never felt like I didn’t have enough clothes, even for France! So thank you – your shoe recommendations were great too.

  • Edward Johnson

    My wife and I completed a week in India followed by a 16 day cruise and a day in Greece. We each used one carry-on bag, mine a Patagonia MLC, hers a Timbuk 2 bag. If it didn’t fit, it didn’t go. When we returned there were only about two items in each of our bags that were never used. For us less is better and the items packed must do “double duty”.

  • Megan David

    Thank you Sarah for your delightful blog posts. My husband and I just returned from 2 weeks in Central Europe taking carry on only. Friends seemed surprised by this. It was great not worrying about losing checked luggage and we enjoyed the mobility a small bag provides. I only took clothes I love to wear and was surprised to find that when I returned home I still preferred those items. Time to give away all things not adored.

  • Karen

    You bet you don’t need all that extra stuff! I lost my home, ironically as Andi put it, to “wildfire”.. I lost everything and now I truly know what it’s like to have nothing. Less is definitely best 💜
    Material things can always be replaced.

  • Ladene McClaran

    Thank you so much for this article. My son just asked me why I only take carry-ons. I will send him your answer, as it is more articulate than my response was. We have always traveled with one carry-on suitcase, but our ultimate test will be this fall when we spend six weeks this fall in France and Italy with lots of moving around. I don’t want to lug any more pounds than necessary.

    I love the comment from the person who has been to Africa. We have been three times and love it. But she’s right. We have visited a number of villages and homes there, bomas and other types. The people live a simple life with little stuff, but what they have is gorgeous, elegant fabrics, beaded skirts and jewelry. Quality over quantity.

  • Leslie

    Last week I went on a three day road trip where I drove out and flew back. I took an old computer backpack and a tote with four books. The idea was I could put the book tote in the backpack if the airline insisted. My keys, money and phone fit in my jacket pockets. I had a change of clothes, some very small art supplies (small sketchbook, small watercolor paintbox, and a few drawing tools) and a very few toiletries. The backpack weighed about 4 pounds, and the book tote maybe 3 pounds. If I wanted to just go out for a walk, the essentials were in the pockets of my jacket. I was elated with how liberating and unencumbered it was to just grab one light bag and GO. I’ve always been good about packing light, but this time, because it was only a few days, I set a new standard for myself. The heaviest thing I usually carry is a laptop, so leaving it at home made everything so light that for future trips I’ll even be re-thinking THAT. The quest for simplicity and mobility is one worth pursuing! I love your blog, Sarah!

  • Pamela Goodson

    Great thoughts on packing light and in turn simplifying life. I have packed light for years. Now I want to lighten my stuff. My dad use to say “When you have to start taking care of all your stuff, you have too much.” I know what this means.

  • Joli Wilson

    Traveling changed for the better once I adopted the less is more strategy. I pack a month before leaving, and check the weather a few days before departure so I can adjust (delete or add) what I’ve packed. I only take one pair of earrings, I don’t want to worry about jewelry. Whether driving or taking trains it’s such a relief to have just one small suitcase – it’s freeing! And it does make you realize how much stuff you don’t need especially at home. Beautifully written, Sarah!

  • Theresa

    I think all things considered while enjoying a spritz (Campari my fave, sipping anywhere Italia sublime) can often strike -just- the right note amongst us fellow planetary beings. Sarah, you have hit on exactly how smartly enjoyable it is to adjust ones’ concept of the necessity of the stuff we choose. When some of us have ‘extra baggage’ it is not only what is schlepped physically that can be self-defeating and annoying but also an insidious drag on our spirit and temperament. Travel seems to call for freedom by its very nature and freeing your bag from ‘extra’ and opening your mind to other viewpoints supports a greater appreciation for everything and everyone you experience and encounter, when away from home. Thank you, you cast a shining beacon of hope with your shared wisdom and your terrific blog.

  • Elaine

    You are the reason I challenge myself to pack light and lighter! Please keep up your great articles. Just got back from 10 days in London and Edinburgh, I packed the lightest I have ever packed. Thank you!

  • Mary

    Sarah,
    I know you guide groups in Italy. From previous trips, I know that Italians tend to dress well. Very well. I don’t want to stand out in a crowd as a disrepectful American wearing the lightest clothes I own. I want to look as sharp as they do. How do I do that and pack light? I am always dragging a 50 lb., 25 inch suitcase around. Plus I have several chronic diseases and need my normal meds, but my just in case drugs so I don’t have to explore the Italian medical system if I have an exacerbation. Neither do I want these diseases to rule my life. So I would rather go with all my complicated meds than stay at home and feel sorry for myself. So how do I achieve the smart Italian look and all my meds and still pack light. Also I have reactive skin, so I have to take toiletries like shampoo and conditioner and deoderant to last the whole trip so I don’t break out in ugly hives from using an unknown product. We usually travel for 20-21 days at a time. Yes I wash regularly. But I always end up with a full bag. And what about hiking boots and poles and hiking shirts and pants for when we hit the outdoors while we are there. I found folding hiking poles that fit my bag, but again, should we just give up that activity so we don’t have to bring as much?

    • sarahinitalia@yahoo.com Post author

      Italians wear lots of linen, which is lightweight and stylish. But really, it’s more about accessories than clothes. A scarf or a cool necklace is usually all I need. Toiletries can be pared down by concentrating them. Hiking boots and poles can often be rented at your destination. There is always a way to trim, even if it’s a little bit. And anything you can reduce is an achievement!

  • Maria

    Your light packing has really touched a lot of people, and even if they don’t master the 18 pound option, they see the value in keeping it to what they can physically manage. This becomes even more important as people age, or are injured, or particularly for solo travelers. There is no one else around to help you with your luggage, or keep an eye out for it. You are on your own, so make it manageable.
    Traveling with less does make the time traveling more efficient and can help with living with less. I returned from a trip to Africa and literally stopped in the street looking at my modest house and was embarrassed I owned all that for one person. Then I tried to calculate how many Maasai bomas would fit in that space and how many people would live in those bomas. The next six months I trimmed down a lot of stuff. There is a ‘stuff’ purging concept – KonMari Method – that deals with the emotional side of ‘stuff’. It’s a bit woo hoo, but seems to work. It has you strip down your possessions to only the things you love. If you think about it, if we only have the clothes we love, then it makes packing 3 outfits for 5 weeks manageable and less risk of getting bored with the choices while on the road (a common theme I read on light packing threads).
    I find it takes a lot of energy still to hold back the possession creep, but it is more positive than the stress and burden of having too much – whether on the road or daily life.

    • sarahinitalia@yahoo.com Post author

      Beautifully put. Our attachment to possessions is cultural, spending time in other places makes you see yourself more clearly. I had a hard time with my fancy pants new car after returning from Cambodia, it just feels awkward.

  • Barbara

    Sarah, because of your encouragement my husband and I have both traveled light for a 10 day European trip and 2 weeks in Israel. I am a self described take everything just in case person so this was a huge leap. I loved the challenge and it is very empowering to have one suitcase and the ability to hop on and off planes etc quickly. Thank you!!! PS love your blog

  • Andi Cody

    Sarah, as I have gotten older, I have found I need/want much, much less Stuff. This was brought home to me a couple of years ago when I was required to leave my home due to an encroaching wildfire. I had 10 minutes to get my Most Important Stuff. That ultimately included my 2 dogs, my cat, my computer (this was right around tax time!) and my medications plus my purse and whatever was in it. I didn’t really NEED anything else. I have appreciated all your posts but for me, I think this one is the best! Thanks! PS all was well, thanks to our most wonderful volunteer fire department.