4 Virtues of Traveling Light

Breaking all the rules in Vienna. Fully loaded with my gear for the trip in this photo.

Breaking all the rules in Vienna. Fully loaded with my gear for the trip in this photo.

Written by Karl

If you’re already convinced about the virtues of traveling light and want tips on what you should or shouldn’t pack, check out my packing list!

Probably the most often cited advice from seasoned travelers is that you need to pack light. Have you ever heard someone wish they brought more bags on their trip?

Why pack light?

I could launch into a million little anecdotes about travelers buried in their bags, but I’ll spare you that and hit the key points.

Packing light saves you money

This point is true in a number of ways. The most immediate being the cost of bags and luggage. Additionally, you save money by avoiding checked baggage fees, which can really add up on some of the budget airlines. Another big savings comes from your increased ability to take public transport. The cost of taxis to and from airports and train stations is far from insignificant in some countries.

It earns you peace of mind

Keeping track of just one bag can already present a challenge, but that challenge grows exponentially as more pieces of luggage are added. Limiting the stress of theft or less can do wonders for helping you find zen in your travels. Also, you don’t have to worry about checked bags getting rummaged through by the TSA and foreign airport baggage handlers while you’re making your way through the terminal.

It saves you time

Checking bags is a huge part of the reason you need to show up so early. If you print your boarding pass, you can basically walk through security, hop on a plane, and then walk right out of the terminal when you land in your destination. You have to experience it yourself to understand how satisfying it is to walk right on by the baggage claim crowds.

It gives you flexibility

Many travelers are familiar with that first jaunt across town to drop off bags when you hit a new city. If you manage to trim your packing list down sufficiently, this step can be bypassed without a hassle, as you just tote your bag around with you for the day. I’ll drop my bags off at my hostel when I’m ready to go to my hostel, thank-you-very-much. Spontaneity is one of the key ingredients to successful travel, and the ability to just go anywhere at the drop of a hat really helps make spontaneity possible.

The danger of overpacking

I was a good boy, and packed super light on my first big solo trip, thanks to the sage advice of a few noteworthy travelers. I didn’t really appreciate how good the advice was until I didn’t follow it on a subsequent trip through South and Central America.

I convinced myself I needed more stuff for that trip since it was going to be so much longer (how much longer, exactly, I didn’t know), but I was wrong. During the first three months of the trip I ended up shedding huge portions of my stuff on multiple occasions, ending up with probably 20% of what I brought down originally. I didn’t miss a single item I got rid of, and I wasted tons of energy lugging most of it around for the early parts of the trip.

What should I pack?

Check out my detailed packing list article for suggestions on what to bring.

About the Author

Karl's picture

Karl Keefer built the Trek Hard website. He has been quasi-nomadic since graduating college in 2009.