Monday, August 23, 2010

Traveling Light

How much do you weigh? A question that isn't often asked, but you don't actually need to tell me. How much luggage do you take when you travel? If you take one carry on and one piece of checked luggage, you're probably carrying about 30 kg. I weigh around 70kg, so 30 kg is about 20% of my body weight. Trust me when I say it's a lot to lug about. Foreign correspondents have an informal rule for how much to bring: nothing you couldn't carry at a dead run for half a mile. I can shuffle along with 30kg hanging off my body, but anything quicker than a stumbling jog is out of the question. So the thought of traveling with nothing more than what's in my pockets is quite appealing to me. This is exactly what Rolf Potts, author of Vagabonding (a great book on travel philosophy and tips on long term travel), is doing.
Tim Ferris has the story over on his blog, as well as some tips of his own on how to travel light. Needless to say I was very much inspired by this article and it put me into a bit of self reflection on how to trim the fat from my own luggage. However the kind of travel I'm engaging in hampers my ability to really cut down on my luggage. Unlike Rolf Potts and Tim Ferris, I'm not traveling for just 6 weeks, nor do I have an apartment from which to return from my travels. Each time I move to a new country I am uprooting my entire existence and trying to make a new life for myself there. I have almost 7 kg of camera equipment that I carry (including a beast of lens, the Canon 300mm f2.8). I've also got a recent addition of about a kilo of wood carving tools. So that's my hobbies, plus I have the consideration of finding work while abroad. This means I need several smart outfits, plus a couple of books, a folder of teaching materials and my laptop. I'm pretty much at the max for what I can carry around. I do however have the advantage that I don't often have to lug all 30 kg with me on my travels (except for 2 months in Thailand).
One piece of advice on packing that crops up from time to time is to take half the luggage and twice the cash. Again, this is something I can't apply quite so easily. I'm already taking all my cash as well as all my luggage. While the idea of traveling with just one bag sounds great, I'd rather carry it with me than re-buy things when I arrive in a new place. There are things that I tend to ditch when leaving a place. One is a fluffy bathroom towel. I travel with a Lifeventure travel towel that folds to about the size of a t-shirt, but I find that it doesn't do the job quite as well as a good fluffy cotton towel. These I buy once I'm more settled in. I traveled to Thailand without an umbrella and bought one once I was there. I brought it with me to Korea, but it has since fallen apart. Given the small size and the incredible difficulty in finding an umbrella when you really need one, I'll continue to pack one.
There is something that I want to take away from Tim's advice on packing light, and that is to allocate a certain amount of cash to be used as a settling fund, to buy the things you need once you're sure you'll need them. I think this is a great piece of advice as I'm guilty of buying things in the build-up to a trip that I think I'll need but end up never using. Most things you think you'll need (mosquito netting, personal airline seat cover, hiking boots) either don't see any action or are cheap and readily available at your destination. You might want to do a little research before hand about the availability of certain items in the country you're going to just so you don't get caught out. A surprise for me was despite the massive number of hikers in Korea, decent camping equipment is expensive and not too readily available.

1 comment:

  1. Of journeying the benefits are many: the freshness it bringeth to the heart, the seeing and hearing of marvelous things, the delight of beholding new cities, the meeting of unknown friends, and the learning of high manners.

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