Starting to Travel Lite As A Couple
As mentioned in our Introductions I have traveled millions of miles around the globe, and due to multiple back surgeries I found it necessary to not only focus on traveling light, but to scrutinize everything I put into my bags. As soon as Travelpro came out with a version of their wheeled bag for the business traveler, I was on board. Back then they were very expensive$$$. The good news was my wife was a supporter of this investment, she knew it was important to help me avoid hurting my back again. Travelpro Bags back then lasted for years of constant travel.
Having said that, as we grew as a family and started taking significant trips around the world; including cruises; all those lessons of packing lite were put aside because it was “family travel”. If you look at the picture below, we are ready to leave our hotel in Chicago on a cruise to Southeast Asia that started in Singapore and ended Mumbai(Bombay)India. A three week trip in all. We each had two large suitcases and a carry-on bag for the long flight over.
It was like carrying our closet on board ship, and many cruise lines still support it today. We also knew that because we were cruising we did not have to repack to go to each different city, but we were hardly traveling lite. The fact that we had to get a special vehicle to get us to the airport proved this. Thankfully we were young, had two girls that were not afraid of carrying their own load, and it all came out OK.
Unfortunately, this was not isolated example of how we packed when traveling as family; it even got much worse; if that’s possible. When we all started golfing on vacation; which was my idea; I’m still how many bags we jammed in those SUV, but we had fun.
Still I kept my focus on traveling lite whenever I traveled for business.
Our turning point – a shiny silver hardtop convertible
After a job change, my wife retiring from teaching, and a couple of other life changing events we were finally free to travel even when school was in session. Since we now lived on the East Coast, we thought it would be great fun to take our new silver hardtop convertible on vacation with us for a three week fall “leaf peeping” tour.
Our first wake-up realization was that we could no longer pack the way we used to. In fact, even two 21 inch carry-ons were too big for the trunk if we wanted to drive with the top down, which was exactly what we intended to do. We also knew the weather could be anything from sunny and warm to rainy; which unfortunately we experienced rain for the first seven days of our trip. Cold was the other weather condition to consider as we were planning to go into Canada and coming down the Old Canadian Road through Maine down to Bar Harbor. We will have a review of this trip in a later Blog if you’d like to follow our route. It was one of the best I have ever planned.
As I recall we bought about four sets of luggage (boy that was a lot of fun returning) before we finally settled on two rolling duffel bags; mine was black; my wife’s was pink, and one six hanger garment bag. Then we went about trying to pack these bags for a three-week trip. But as the old saying goes “you can’t get 20 pounds of crap in a 10 pound Bag” held true.
Fortunately we started this exercise weeks ahead of our planned trip. So we came up with a great plan. Take a long weekend road trip to visit our daughter, in Narragansett, Rhode Island as a test run. The bags worked, but we found that we fully packed them even for a four-day weekend. So how were we going to manage three weeks?
Mind you this was a car trip, we shouldn’t have had these kind of problems. None the less, we realized the first thing that packing lite requires is a much different mindset. Our plans; which were booked well in advance; With the exception of the one hotel; Mt Washington Hotel; none had laundry service, or facilities, plus we were not staying in any one location for more than two nights which made being able to do our laundry in our room a must.
Note: if you plan to see New England in the fall during peak season you need to book way early 6 months is good especially if you want to stay at quaint B&B’s; which of course we did.
There is one other thing that you should know, we like to look our best and avoid jeans, T-shirts and sweatshirts. We weren’t camping, and we enjoy nice lunches and dinners; which may even require a sport-coat. We have discovered that if you dress respectfully, they respect you. It could have to do with the fact if you look nice they think you will spend more, and tip more…. Good old American capitalism at work. (check out our up coming story about going to New Orleans in August)
So….after doing as much research as possible we came up with our own set of rules when traveling in small bags for a long time:
How to travel in small bags for three weeks and still look nice
- Pick clothes colors that are neutral and use dark colors, and don’t wrinkle when packed, this creates as many wardrobes combinations as possible (hides the spots too).
- Plan to wear clothing in layers in case it gets cold or warms up.
- Bring a water proof layer that packs small.
- Find clothing that doesn’t absorb odors, avoid cotton.
- Buy underwear or clothes that dries quickly and can be washed in your room.
- Get a portable clothesline and use soaps like Dr. Bronner’s.
- Bring a Tide stick and pack a scarf it can keep you warm and hid a spot if you dribble on yourself.
- Use toiletries like your flying, i.e. travel sizes (TSA approved)
- Use compression bags for soiled laundry.
- No more than two pairs of shoes; low cut hiking/walking shoes and dress shoes (must be comfortable) one on, one in the bag.
- Electronics: small camera, tablet that acted as GPS, a Kindle and cell phones.
- Bring a small light weight collapsible bag for snacks and travel information in the car.
Off we went shopping once again. By sticking to a narrow color palette of shades of brown, blacks and tans we found we were able to create many different wardrobe combinations. We(I) had to learn about new fabrics (I was a real pressed cotton fan.. fall back from my days in the Navy), and I even found a corduroy sports coat that looked presentable even when it was a bit wrinkled and it doubled as a extra layer when it got cold in the evenings.
Ladies, I’ll let you in on a secret my wife Christy did not think I knew. She always sneaks in a pair of dress and casual sandals as well.
We also had to figure out how to do laundry in our room, thanks to the people at REI we discovered portable clothes lines,and quick dry underwear. The sign at REI showed a guy that claimed to travel Europe for a month with two pair of underwear, no problem. We learned, even with ExOffcio underwear you can’t plan on them drying over night, you sill need 3 or 4 pair. Wring them out with a towel and dry with a hair dryer if you must. If not and its damp and rainy you’ll be putting on damp underwear in the morning, which believe me is no fun.
Last – It’s the little things that matter…
- Besides the wonderful things we saw and did on this trip there are a few things that really stand out.
If you like a paperback book only take one, then find a new on the road and leave the other one. I picked up a book call The Dark Eagle. The Dark Eagle, by John Ensor Harr was about the early life of Benedict Arnold as a Revolutionary War Hero, before he became a traitor. The fact that the places I was reading about were all around us as we traveled made the book even more meaningful.
- Bring a deck of playing cards or a small game; for us it was backgammon; it’s just the two of you so take that time to enjoy.
- Travel with an “Artist Eye”. I like to draw and paint, and I am always amazed at how it changes my Point of view when I take pictures or see beautiful scenery.
- Use travel cubes (large, medium and small) and folder or pack-it fold-over for Sport Coat and a couple of shirts. These great packing aids not only keeps things organized and compressed, but you can pack and unpack quickly. I hate rummaging through a bag when I can’t find something. All my organizational efforts fall apart.
- Don’t make the distance between stays more than 4 hours away, unless you have to. This allows for time to stop, get gas, stretch, have a nice lunch, wander and still get back on the road. It’s all about the journey, not just the destination. I find I have as more stories to tell about the quaint restaurant we found in a little town in Vermont then the restaurant at our destination… Why? Because it was it was a discovery!
- Wander… get off the main roads, don’t just focus on getting to your next destination. You may see something, or a road more interesting; follow it; yes you might get lost, but you’ll get to your next destination sooner or later, that’s why we have a GPS. We’ll discuss using and offline GPS app around the world in an up coming article.
- Last… don’t stress… take it from me; it’s the quickest way to ruin a good trip. That’s a life lesson all on it’s own.