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Travel Light

I have a research trip to Scotland coming up this summer, and have vaguely started thinking about what to pack. My desire to travel light seldom happens, because I’m usually going to places with opposite climates or have a gamut of activities from research jeans wear to elegant evenings. But this trip the possibility of packing light beckons, because I’ll be in one place doing one thing, mostly. Layering will definitely be needed, because the weather changes so rapidly from sunny to chilly, but I figure I can get away with one cozy sweater and a light jacket.


Once stylish people traveled with multiple cases such as the Belter vintage crocodile trunks and luggage shown here.


It didn’t matter how much people packed or how it was arranged. The traveler wouldn’t be the one carrying it and it went by boat, augmented by trains and the occasional elephant or camel.

Now we use carry-on luggage on wheels, and try not to check anything. In theory, we board an airplane with a carry-on which fits in the overhead bin, and the personal item like a backpack that fits under the seat, and away we go.

Except the dimensions for carry-ons seem to change, and even if they don’t, the bin configuration does. I frequently find that in order to boost my case into the overhead, I end up including my head in the lifting process. I don’t recommend this version.


Aside from the acrobatic aspects, there is much to be said for confining yourself to one small bag. You can laugh at the thought of paying to check your bag. Ha-Ha-Ha. You can take an earlier flight since nothing’s been checked. And, if you can make it through 6 weeks with a tiny bag, you can move up – or down as the case may be – to a tiny house.



I spent an hour doing a Google search on what you need to travel light. I noted only one site that was specifically for men, and many for young women who can scrunch up their short shorts in order to fit their 4 inch heels.

The sites didn’t offer any advice I’m not already following, so this is my take on what you need to take to most travel destinations in North America, South America, and Europe. Destinations in Asia and the Middle East may require more care in terms of medications, sunscreens, and hats. Keep in mind, that anything not in your case does not have to be carried.

Make a List:

In your document organizer, purse, or carry-on you will need

  • All travel documents including tickets and boarding passes. That seems obvious, but you’d be surprised what can happen.
  • If traveling abroad, don’t forget your passport and visas. Otherwise you’ll have a nice tour of the airport before going home.
  • Insurance cards.
  • Credit cards and cash. I like to have some currency in use at my destination.
  • A pen and paper. You never know when you’ll need to fill in a form.
  • Frequent flyer, car, and hotel cards.

In your back pack which also holds your small purse, you should include

  • Every piece of electronics you need with associated chargers, connectors  and earbuds. [I have actually traveled with a small printer — happily, it was a long time ago.] Don’t take the laptop if you can get by with an iPad or other tablet. Or better yet, just your smart phone. [I’ve yet to master that one.]
  • If you have a separate camera, include it and it’s associated material. Of course, you may downsized that item already. ?
  • Prescription medications in their identifiable bottles.
  • Prescription eyewear if you use it. I gave up traveling with contacts. By the time I got over my dry-eyed jet lag, I was used to wearing glasses full time. If you need hearing aids, take them along with extra batteries. I’m told those little devils are expensive.

By the time I’ve gathered my items in a heap on my desk, I usually lose interest in packing actual clothing, but it must be done. There is quite the debate in the travel world about whether clothes should be flat packed or rolled or placed in a bundle. Packing cubes are either the best thing since wheels, or a pointless way to increase the weight of your case. I tend to use the “stuffing” method.

Keep in mind that most destinations (named above) have stores. If you forget your toothpaste, you can buy it. [I once bought a lovely toothpaste in France. Unfortunately the toothpaste didn’t improve my French.]

Most liquid toiletry items can easily be purchased at your destination which eliminates the TSA 3-3-3 hassle.

And, to my joy, you don’t actually have to take that many clothes, because you can wash as you go. Laundromats abound.

Check the expected weather — you may not need the bulky sweater after all. On the other hand, you may need more layers than anticipated. And, remember there are stores.

You get more clothing choices if you stick to a single color palette for maximum mix and match. Once I traveled an entire summer in black and white. This would have been fine except I hated the combination. Now I use neutral. No matter what clothing you pick, if the trip is a long one, you’ll become truly tired of it. But no one else will know you wear the same thing every other day.

Most packing advice suggests putting smaller items at the bottom of your case in the well formed by the case handles so you can pack the other items on a flat surface. It’s also a good place to put shoes. Generally, you should wear the heavier shoes, and pack your dress pair.

Since I’m going to Scotland, I thought it would be fun to check out the best way to pack a kilt – flat or rolled. Turns out, even a kilt can be done both ways.

And, in case you were wondering,

The perfect suitcase does not exist.


Featured Image: My Cat – Always Ready for Adventure


Stack of Belter Vintage Crocodile Trunks and Luggage by Sandrine Z. Creative Commons Attribution. Wikimedia Commons.

Belter Vintage Trunk with B Locks by Sandrine Z. Creative Commons Attribution. Wikimedia Commons.

Museum of Flight BAC 111-510ED One-Eleven Interior by Ad Meskens. Wikimedia Commons.

“What to Pack: The Ultimate Travel Packing Checklist.” Eagle Creek. July 28, 2015.

CNT Editors. “Why You Should Always Flat Pack Your Luggage.” May 4, 2016.

Ryn Gargulinski. “Should You Rolle or Fold Clothes When Packing?” USA Today.

Stephanie March. “How to Pack: The Rolling Technique.” Dec. 20, 2012

Pavia Rosati. “How to Pack: The Flat Technique.” Dec. 20, 2012

Author Sandra Wagner Wright

Sandra Wagner-Wright holds the doctoral degree in history and taught women’s and global history at the University of Hawai`i. Sandra travels for her research, most recently to Salem, Massachusetts, the setting of her new Salem Stories series. She also enjoys traveling for new experiences. Recent trips include Antarctica and a river cruise on the Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel.

 Sandra particularly likes writing about strong women who make a difference. She lives in Hilo, Hawai`i with her family and writes a blog relating to history, travel, and the idiosyncrasies of life.

2 thoughts on “Travel Light

  1. a lightweight down jacket from LLBean – that will pack into a pocket in the jacket may be the perfect thing for your trip. It is very thin but amazingly warm – also ok when it warms up – unzip it – will fit easily into a backpack. I would take that instead of a sweater. Also a thin down vest – Uniglo has amazingly thin and inexpensive ones – comes with a stuff sack. Those are my will it be chilly, cold, warm outer wear.
    I am still looking for the perfect carryon bag -will let you know after I find it and buy one first.

  2. Mary, thank you for the excellent tip. I just checked it out and ordered one. I’m all set for wind, rain, & mist – with considerably less bulk than I expected.


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