Reflections on Packing Light

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As I continue down the path towards minimalism, I’m struck by how obvious its principles seem within a multitude of applications. Ridding your living space of clutter provides more opportunity for activities you enjoy. Minimizing your closet helps remove decision-making from your morning routine, offering brain power for more important considerations throughout your day. And downsizing your belongings while traveling makes an often stressful process considerably more carefree and enjoyable.

I watched several people struggle with the physical and emotional demands of their stuff – literal baggage – at the airport recently. The man who stood ahead of me at security cursed when his bag was taken to the end of the line for inspection. “Every fucking time,” he muttered, shaking his head in frustration. My fellow passengers who boarded the plane looked harried as they made their way down the cramped aisle, their carry-on baggage failing to live up to its namesake as it rolled heavily behind them. It’s a full flight with even fuller overhead bin space, and the anxiety among travelers as they search for an empty bin is almost palpable. Someone’s cane barely fits among the shopping bags and overstuffed totes, and one woman struggles to remove her personal item from her luggage while a line forms behind her.

This show of sorts is all made possible by what people assume they can’t do without during a trip. More often than not, we end up wearing the same things every day, or requiring less options than we think we need. How many times have you arrived home after a trip and unpacked items you never touched? How much easier and carefree might your travels be if you thought less about options, and more about true utility?

I asked myself these questions during my recent trip to California, and opted to pack as light as possible to see what kind of impact it would make on my travels. Having experienced the burdens of packing heavy during an Amtrak tour of the East Coast several years ago, I was ready to experiment with packing minimally. A single backpack carried my essentials: a few clothes, swimsuit, toiletries, flip flops, walking shoes and, of course, a hair dryer. I walked casually through the airport with my belongings strapped to my back, and immediately felt lighter despite the weight on my shoulders. This feeling of ease and relaxation continued with me onto the airplane, where previously I would be searching with increasing agitation for free overhead bin space. I sank swiftly and deliciously into a state of total relaxation as the plane ascended gracefully into the evening sky.

During a time when delays, over-booked flights and lengthy security lines are the rule for air travel, infusing a little zen into the process offers some welcome relief. To paraphrase Timo Way, travel blogger and minimalist, all you have to do is minimize your belongings — in this case, what you bring with you — to maximize your experience.

Reflections on Packing Light

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