I’m on a family vacation in Canada as I write this. Most people would not care to spend any of their vacation time working, as well they shouldn’t. My position is a bit different, because I enjoy what I do and I have total control over my schedule. My ultimate dream would be to travel about 80% of the time. Since the nature of my work is location-independent, this dream could well come true one day. This is a very common fantasy, and that’s why I’m sharing some nitty-gritty details about how I travel.
The photo shows my under-seat bag, turned sideways because this seat has slightly less space than usual. The overhead bins above us were also unusually narrow. We were probably the only couple who could have fit in this row without our bags displacing other people's stuff. You're welcome.
One bag. This morning we saw a middle-aged couple getting into the elevator. They had at least four suitcases and a couple of gift bags stacked on a luggage cart, and the man could barely manage pushing the cart. The woman was pulling two separate roller bags. I could only hope they were coordinating luggage for some additional travelers! During our honeymoon, we couldn’t help but overhear a screaming match between a couple down the hall, when the man roared: “What KIND of PERSON... LEAVES a BAG?!?” (Also: “I SWEAR, I will NEVER, go ANYWHERE, with YOU… AGAIN!”) These are our cautionary tales. We really have no trouble maintaining one-bag discipline, and the alternatives are somewhat comical.
Tech. So far, we have used our smartphones (iPhone 6 all the way!) to do the following: Call a repair person to schedule an unpleasant-surprise follow-up - while walking out the door to drive to the airport; GPS; drop a pin marking where we parked; check in for flights; paperless plane ticket; set alarms and check the clock a lot; upgrade to temporary international phone/data plan while standing in the ferry parking lot; look up restaurant locations, menus, and hours; belatedly realize we were in town for a national holiday and find a parade route; pay bridge tolls while on freeway; check the weather a lot; read the news; review attractions; take about a thousand photos and a couple of videos; deal with work email; provide a job reference; text a reminder for the house sitter to give our dog his heartworm pill; stream “O Canada” while walking back from a Canada Day fireworks show; identify Jupiter and Venus in the night sky; check finances a lot; calculate exchange rates; convert measurements to metric; maintain a food log; discover we are walking 5-10 miles a day; identify birds; Google some history trivia; update my website while pumping gas; keep a travel diary; white noise generator; Facebook; podcasts; packing checklist; and probably a bunch of things I am forgetting. Last but not least, only in the past three years have I managed to stop traveling with 10-15 pounds of emergency reading material. Pretty good for a device that fits in a pocket.
The key to minimalist travel is to focus on the goals of the trip. Ours were family time and enjoying one of the most beautiful places in the world. Having systems in place helps stop pointless quarrels before they start, and allows the majority of the schedule to revolve around fun stuff and relaxation. The two main aspects are corralling the Stuff and having reliable information about locations and hours of operation. Basically, don’t bring a lot of Stuff, do a systematic room scan before checking out of a hotel, and do the majority of your location research at home while planning and anticipating the trip.
What did we bring for this ten-day trip?
Me: Under-seat roller bag. Jeans, Capri pants, skirt, three dresses, sandals, boots, sleeveless top, two t-shirts, one ¾-sleeve t-shirt, ¾-sleeve sweater, light cardigan, coat, socks, undergarments, bikini, swimsuit cover-up, two nightgowns, jewelry pouch. Toiletry bag with 1-oz bottles. Pouch with grooming supplies. Laptop, tablet, phone, Bluetooth, extra headphones, splitter, three backup batteries, power cords, chargers, HDMI cable. Two books. Wallet. Sunglasses. Purse that packs flat.
My husband: Roller bag that fits in overhead bin. Boots and shoes. Clothes. Jacket. Toiletry bag. Phone and charger. Book. Secret extra snacks for me. Headphones, only because I told him to. Glasses. Wallet. Mini folding backpack.
What did we inevitably need that we didn’t bring?
On one day of the trip, I couldn’t get warm enough and I felt like the wind was blowing through me. It was about 72 F. I had on a shirt, two sweaters, a coat, jeans, and boots. I suspect I was fighting off a light cold, one of the hazards of air travel. The result was that we stopped at a Salvation Army near the hotel and I bought a heavy cardigan and a long-sleeved shirt. My mother-in-law took the opportunity to pick up a book to replace the one she had just finished. Problem solved: 20 minutes, $15.
I forgot a hair tie for the pool, but I just used hair clips instead. We almost ran out of sun block. We did laundry twice between four people, and had to buy laundry soap packets at the hotel, although we planned on this. I decided against bringing my Therapik, and predictably got two mosquito bites. My husband wore out a pair of socks and threw them away. We packed light, but guess what? It wasn’t the end of the world.
More notably, I brought a bunch of stuff that we haven’t really needed. The laptop and tablet have barely gotten used, including that new HDMI cable I bought for the trip. The splitter and two sets of headphones haven’t gotten used at all. We haven’t really needed any of the backup batteries since I brought the car charger. I’ve only read about 40 pages of the 650-page book I brought. If I’d left all these things at home, there would have been plenty of room for the heavier shirt and sweater I wound up needing.
Every time we travel, we refine our system a bit more. For one thing, the apps keep getting better. I have a mental game of making sure every single object I bring gets used at least once, and I subtract a point from myself for each surplus item. I have an official “travel outfit” and we eat at the same places at particular airports. When you travel often enough, it starts to resemble a standard commute. The logistics cease to be such a big deal. Then the spectacular aspects of new regions and cultures can have our full attention.
Three women, one man, two countries, four airports, five hotels, ten days. So modular.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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