Agile Travel – Go light for maximum enjoyment

It feels good to get off the airplane and walk straight out the airport.  It gives me immense pleasure to walk past all those people waiting by the baggage collection point, and a guilty bout of schadenfreude when I see people struggling with large unwieldy suitcases.  About 2 years ago I was invited to go to a wedding in Hong Kong.  I took the opportunity to plan a trip around the wedding.  The plan was to spend some time in Hong Kong and then move on into mainland China and see how the two regions differ.  To add some spice to the trip I challenged myself to take a very small rucksack (one which I was using to carry documents and perhaps the occasional lunch to work with) and to see just how little I would actually need for three and a half weeks in China.

When I have been travelling in the past I have tried to take the absolute bare essentials, but this was a whole different level of “bare”.  I had approximately 45 litres of bag space, enough to carry your sports kit to the gym and back.  Bizarrely, packing became much easier.  Instead of posing the question, “should I take this item?”, I was asking “is this more important than being fully clothed?”.  The answer to almost everything, was “no”. The bag contained a single pair of reasonably smart trousers (for the wedding),  a pair of shorts, a shirt (for the wedding), a T-shirt and a couple of pairs of socks and underwear.  I took a smart pair of shoes and a pair of sandals (for the shorts).  I printed 2 sides of A4 paper containing some phrases in Mandarin, folded them flat and carried them with my passport.  There were zero luxury items, except for a camera and a Rough Guide to China book (I didn’t choose Lonely Planet because everybody uses Lonely Planet and you can usually borrow one from somebody else if necessary, whereas if you have the Lonely Planet and want a different perspective, you will find it harder to find anybody with anything else to borrow from).  I took a toothbrush, but no toothpaste because I was going to buy it when I arrived.

If you think about it, almost everything you take with you on holiday can be purchased while you are in the target country.  I find that many items make travelling more of a burden because I am always having to worry about them.  For this reason I almost never take an mp3 player with me, or a laptop,  or anything that I would care about losing, or having stolen.

Being mobile means that you are more agile in the face of difficult travel situations.  For example, if you don’t have a room for the night when you arrive somewhere, you can shop around by walking to different hotels.  If you had a heavy suitcase you would have to either take a taxi, of find somewhere to leave your luggage (and then come back for it).  Perhaps your bus arrives late to your destination and there are no taxis around to help you get to your next destination.  Perhaps you would like to walk to your next hotel and see some more of the city.  There are many examples where carrying around a large heavy brick makes life a misery.  If you can carry all of the possessions on your back without breaking a sweat then you have achieved the ultimate level of mobility/enlightenment.

Having things to entertain you only allows you to stay deep within your comfort zone and miss out on being somewhere exotic.  You can listen to your mp3’s, watch your DVDs, work on your laptop etc. when you get home.  It is a terrible shame to waste time doing those things that you don’t need to be on holiday to do.  Going without those things will actually make you appreciate them more when you do get home.  Being in your comfort zone also prevents you from meeting locals and other travellers (if that is your thing).

This advice is not solely aimed at travellers roughing it and sleeping in airports.  Everybody has their own ideas for what they feel they need to go on holiday.  You don’t need to travel the world with a nothing to realise the benefits to lighter travel.  Even taking a lighter suitcase will make life easier.  Try to challenge yourself by taking a bit less the next time you go on holiday and see how much easier and enjoyable everything becomes.

On a more humorous note, other travellers will be in awe at your supreme Zen packing abilities.

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