We don’t travel with carry-ons just to be sensible about getting through customs. The notion of packing lightly really is more about what you have in your head and in your heart about traveling.
We use that term, baggage, as a metaphor for what makes you labor, mentally. If we can lighten up what we carry when we travel, we just might lighten up the load we bear in our heads. In other words, leaving behind (excess) baggage helps you lose “mental baggage,” too.
Being in new places gives you a fresh perspective, but you can’t start anew with a whole ton of baggage in your head; just maybe, neither can you start anew with a whole ton of baggage in your suitcase.
For me, it’s about realizing I don’t have to carry it all with me. I just don’t need as much as I think. I’m not dressing to impress anyone; no one knows me and no one cares that I’m wearing the same thing over and over.
That said, by popular demand, here’s my “essential list of clothes” to end up with a main bag that weighs about eight kilos (17.6 pounds) on the day we leave. Everything else I carry: guidebooks, journal, camera and camera-battery charger, small address book, first-aid kit of bandaids and aspirin, plus a TSA-approved-sized baggie of toiletries. I’ll have plenty of room for purchases and other stuff picked up along the way.
FYI: I’m wearing one outfit from this bunch at any given time (this is for cold-weather trips).
3 well-fitting bottoms (i.e., dark pants, a lined skirt, a pair of jeans)
5 lightweight, longsleeved shirts that can mix and match with each other and any of the bottom options (usually solid-colored)
3 tops that can be worn either alone or over any of the shirts (sweaters, zip-up turtlenecks, button-up fleece or jacket)
3 colorful scarves and several pairs of earrings (these brighten up your look and give you at least a little variety)
4-6 sets of underwear and pairs of socks (choose for comfort and ease of drying)
1 pair of “sensible shoes”
1 warm coat, gloves and hat
Regarding color, start with something neutral (I nearly always choose black) and pick a “palette” of accompanying items. Blue’s my personal favorite, because it’s versatile and flattering. Plus it’s cheerful. Who can be blue when wearing blue? But traveling wardrobes of autumn colors (rich reds and warm browns) and shades of green (think light lime to darkest forest) work well, too.
Peter also carries a lot of black. In fact, on a solo trip to Eastern Europe, he was mistaken for a monsignor….. not necessarily his choice of professional confusion, but it meant the hotel employees he met were certainly respectful!
For warmer-weather locales, match khaki pants and short-sleeve t-shirts under a button-down shirt, which, like the over-tops for colder weather, can be worn alone as well.
We find doing laundry on the road constitutes a memorable part of our off-the-beaten-path immersion into a place. On Christmas Day, 2009, we were merrily pumping euros into the DIY washers and dryers in Athens. I wrote postcards and Peter did a few calisthenics while our stuff got clean. Using a hotel’s “washing and drying” services is ALWAYS more expensive than finding a local laundramat. Figuring out how to use the machines, since instructions are nearly always written in the local language, is just another aspect of the adventure. (And it’s easier than you think to wash undees and socks in a sink.)
“Travel, voyage, and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” ~Seneca