Travel Light!!! That's so easy to sayand so hard to do. I hear of people who claim they can slide everything they need for a three-month trip under their plane seat. Or fit it all, plus the Collected Works of Shakespeare, into a daypack. But let's talk about normal human beings, people who want to travel with a good book, camera, shower shoes, maybe even a snorkelpeople traveling to have fun. They too can travel light, but it takes some thought.
For my first long trip, I wanted to be prepared to dress (up) for any contingency. The predictable result: overload, a greenhorn's mistake. The fact is that local people are aesthetically understanding about travelers. If you look clean and smile, they don't expect high fashion. Randy Wayne White, whose excellent articles appear in Outside magazine, observed that inexperienced travelers take too much of what they don't need, and experienced travelers take too much of what they do need. Instead of throwing or giving it away, they lug the extra stuff mile after mile to be returned unused to the closet.
There's a better way. Don't include an item just because it might come in handy (the deadly "just in case" syndrome). You can almost always do without it. If not, you can probably find some local equivalent. Limit yourself to what you're willing to carry without complaint up a steep hill on a hot day. If traveling with a partner, travel light enough that either of you can carry all the luggage, leaving the other free to sprint ahead to find a room or good seats on a bus.
Try to hold your personal load to twenty-five pounds. Thirty to thirty-five is more likely, and still bearable. If you leave home with more than fifty pounds, I guarantee you'll cut down for the next trip. A few extra pounds may not seem to matter much at home, but they will on the road. Besides, international airlines may charge a penalty for everything above forty-four pounds. Even if they waive the penalty, your back cannot.
Besides weight, you also want to consider the quality of your gear. There is no point wasting money in buying trendy labels, but cutting corners could become expensive if something important fails on the road. Besides, the fancier gear looks, or the more recognizable the brand name, the more it commends itself as a target for thieves. It's best to buy high-quality, durable, lightweight clothing and equipment, but don't let prices of the optimum gear keep you at home. Some people travel with the cheapest gear available and good fortune usually carries them through without a hitch.
When I tired of starting from scratch each time I prepared for a trip, I made a list of everything I'd taken on past trips and evaluated each item in terms of whether it had been needed. I then made a list of everything that had been worthwhile, and that list, tweaked to take climate and special activities into account, serves as the basis for every trip I take. It makes packing a snap.
Remember the guy who gave a speech that went on and on, boring his audience into slumber? At the end, he apologized, saying, "My speech would have been shorter if I'd had more time to prepare." Choosing the right travel gear also requires time and research. Proceeding by trial and error in haste, an inexperienced traveler will always carry too much.
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