The Costs and Benefits of Being an Ultra-Light Packer

Pack light and save money.

Photo via Flickr

I just returned from a 4 day trip across the country; everything I had fit inside a small tote bag and this brilliant, briefcase-sized backpack. I don’t know anything about the brand other than the fact that they produce this bag, but it embodies what I like about being a traveler: it’s small, conveniently structured to be carried in various ways, and looks sort of classy. When traveling,my goal is to never stick out as someone who is on the move, but instead be able to pass for someone who just happens to be carrying a classy bag.

Being a light packer comes with some downsides. I claim with great reassurance to others that “if I forget something, I can just buy it when I get there! They have shampoo in Colorado!” Which is true, but I am also lazy at times, and a bit tight-fisted when it comes to basics. This last trip I went on, I forgot lip balm, and Colorado is a pretty dry place. Did I immediately prioritize a trip to a local drugstore? No. I weathered the chapped lips and the pain of dried skin like a sad dragon. If I had immediately solved the problem, it would have been true that my light packing had no negative effects, but often my pride does get the best of me when I forget something. I’d hate for my travel companions to know how many times I’ve forgotten basic items and tried living without them on trips.

I am always a little fascinated by the things people bring with them when they go away: I have a friend who brings her own towel on trips. Sometimes, there’s no price on the familiarity of something you know and like already; never mind that I don’t own a single towel nicer than the ones in the hotel bathrooms. My own towel might be the one thing that makes a long day at a conference or in meetings manageable. For me, and for other light packers I know, these little comforts are vastly outweighed by the comforts of not having a lot with us when we travel.

For instance, I loved the $60 I saved by not having a checked bag on a low-cost airline, and then the half hour I saved on either end by not waiting for baggage claim. I love that it takes me ten seconds to put my bag in an overhead bin; I can settle into my tiny seat while others struggle to get the rolling wheels of their slightly-too-large carry-ons into the bins. I love how easily I can maneuver those rotating doors in hotels, and how I look about the same whether I’m just wandering around the conference or if I’ve already checked out of the hotel and am just waiting for an airport shuttle.

I love how I pretty much never forget things in hotel rooms, and honestly, I love the challenge of living without whatever I forget, or going on an expedition for whatever it is that I now need. On my last trip, some of my friends were wanting to drink some local craft beers in the hotel room, and we realized quite quickly that we did not have the tools to open said beers. Using someone’s old apartment key, I managed to pry the beer caps off — not ideal by any stretch, but it did make us all laugh and the night became more memorable for it.

On the other hand, though, everyone has that friend who has everything you need, and can loan it to you — one friend did that on this past trip, and her loans of hair clips and hand sanitizer were awfully welcome. I wish there was a way to be the perfect combination of ultra-light packer (think Up in the Air) and perfectly prepared, but I think instead that spending time with other travellers seems to help us all fill in the gaps for each other. I am curious though: what do you think are the benefits of your style of packing? Is there one thing you once forgot on a trip that proved memorable? What unusual travel item can you not leave home without? Whatever it is, I probably forgot it, but at least I don’t have to lug it through the airport.

Support The Billfold

The Billfold continues to exist thanks to support from our readers. Help us continue to do our work by making a monthly pledge on Patreon or a one-time-only contribution through PayPal.