Going for an international conference on my maiden trip to the US in 2003 sounded exciting. I was all set for the transatlantic flight having meticulously packed my hand and check-in baggage. Being an over zealous Indian who wanted to play her generosity card right, I had literally 15kg of gifts for all the homes I planned to visit and the rest were different sets of outfits for the five days of the conference.
From Haldiram namkeen to Amar Chitra Kathas, Fab India kurtas, CDs of Bhimsen Joshi to incense sticks and wooden figurines from state emporia, I squeezed in stuff, never mind the "please don't get anything. You get everything here" kind of requests from cousins and friends in the US. I tried arming myself with what seemed like pure and simple logic, that I could buy all the gifts I wanted to as a sign of my love and affection and then use up all the weight and space that was freed up to accommodate the shopping I would inevitably do.
Till I meet my African and Brazilian colleagues at the airport and got an opportunity to observe them. After the initial hi's they breezed through customs and got aboard the metro to the city at less than $5 and here was I. forced to take a cab alone at $80 because of the size of my bags, big enough to frighten my 'light weight' compatriots. And then through the conference while I had to lug around my jackets in centrally heated rooms, they created a new look with lightweight stoles, scarves, drip and dry, iron free kind of shirts that could be rolled up into tiny balls and layering their clothing while I had my heavy, bulky tweeds and sweaters adding to my bulk.
My bags were a sore point through the trip and a reality I soon accepted. I had to pay tips to porters at the multiple cities and hotels we had to check into as part of the study tour. Meeting my cousins was at the end of the trip and I had no choice but to lug the bags around. But thankfully, that was the first and last time that I ended up being impractical and foolish. There after I observed and researched hard to see what I could learn and adapt when it came to travelling light. And now if I do return with a garment that I have not worn or an item I have not used during a trip, I reprimand myself and make sure I get even lighter next time round. For me somehow this exercise has been like a kind of inner cleansing akin to generally removing the clutter from other aspects of my life too. But yes, more of this, in another article, another place.
Obviously the nature of your travel will determine the size, shape and content of your bags. Depending on whether it is a work related business tour or a vacation and then within that too there will be sub categorizations, as in if you are going to a hot, cold, humid place or are going just to one destination or many and if you are crossing time and weather zones. So clearly, the first step has to be to get an answer to all these questions and then to make your lists. As any organised traveller will tell you, 'to do' lists are very very important. The moment the trip is planned the first list should come up with every teeny weeny detail that you think needs looking into. This can get refined as you go along and finally develop into a checklist that tells you the things you are carrying, the numbers and addresses you need to have and the appointments you need to make.
Another important thing to do as you pack is to ask yourself honestly what are the things you need versus the things you think will come handy. The latter is what you need to brutally discard. And then when you do look at the things you need, see how you can opt for lighter more convenient options. Like a friend did when she combined three guide books by getting rid of the hard bound cover and tearing/punching those sheets that were relevant to her and making a small spiral bound booklet for herself.
Good to know of certain standard procedures like ensuring that your cabin baggage is 7"x14"x20" size since it can fit into all luggage compartments; not carrying any pocket knives, swiss knives, nail files and items with jagged edges in your hand baggage and also no liquids (beyond the 100 grams that are permitted). Educate yourself on items that are banned in different countries.
Somewhere I am convinced there how you pack your bags and travel tells a lot about the person you are. Maybe, just maybe, in this attempt to sort out your travel kits you may just end up sorting out some part of your life too!
What qualifies as light?
What you can carry yourself
What you end up using through the trip
What you can keep track of What you need as opposed to what you want
What is not superfluous, excess
How to cut the excess
Travel packs are a good idea they are a cross between a backpack and soft side luggage. With light weight internal frames, handles on the top and the side for flexible use and backpack straps. Veteran travelers steer clear of the wheeled bags leaving them for the corporate types since they are bulkier, heavier, less adaptable and less roomier,
Packing cubes come in different sizes. these are conical cubical structures that can take rolled up clothes and fit into the crevices of most bags taking up very less space and giving a neat look to your bag
Trawl the net for information on the country you are travelling to and see what their guidelines are vis-Ã-vis what is allowed and what isn't
Getting maximum wear out of each shortlisted garment should test your creative quotient by allowing you to give it a new look, mixing and matching and allowing you to team it up with different outfits in different ways
Keep the trinkets and jewellery to a minimum. It adds to the weight and also increases the risk of loss
Odour absorbers or luggage absorbers is a good idea to keep your bags fresh
Opt for complimentary solid colours so if you are going in for brown stick to beiges, maroons, rusts so that you can team up your shoes and bags accordingly; and if it is black go in for shades that do not clash with it. Having small pouches for undergarments, toiletries, medicines, dirty clothes is a good idea for it helps you stay organised till the end of the trip
For places where you intend to shop till you drop and are not keen to have stuff shipped back but accommodated in your bags within permissible weight limits, might be a good idea to carry stuff from here that can be discarded/given away such as shoes, jeans, bags, pullovers and which can be substituted with new buys
Taru works in the development sector on communications and is gradually succumbing to wanderlust as she finds the light-footed traveller in her