Sometime in the last year, I went minimal. It started with cleaning my room, and ended in an obsession. I wasn’t always this way. When I was younger my parents were worried that I’d turn into a packrat. I hoarded every bit and scrap that had ever come into my possession. I’d read The Velveteen Rabbit and I knew what happened to stuffed animals that weren’t carefully guarded. And there was always the “But what if we need it later?” question. One of my favorite rationales was: “I might need that children’s toy for a project in [insert language here] class!”
But recently it became harder to excuse. And I made a discovery: throwing out things feels good. Really good. So good I do it to procrastinate. As a result I’ve developed an intolerance for waste and bloat. A trip to Costco — land of bloat — just isn’t the same, anymore. After enduring one with me my sister asked me where it ends — am I going to live in a cave? What will I eat? Will she have to eat it too, when she visits?
While I haven’t quite given up processed foods yet, I had to apply my new-found minimalism to travel. Suitcases are not my friend. I don’t have the apparent muscle strength required to carry them, and dragging anything with wheels up a flight of stairs is my idea of hell. On the other hand, backpacks can be painful too — especially when they’re not suited to your size, or over-packed. Sara and I took a backpack each to Comic-Con 2011. We wanted to be able to jump off the plane and head straight for the San Diego Zoo, since we were arriving in the morning. We jammed the backpacks full of heavy clothes and books and then walked around San Diego with them for hours. Needless to say, our backs didn’t let us forget it that weekend at the Con.
When I started planning my fall 2011 China trip, I was determined not to repeat the experience. There had to be a better way. Fortunately, I found a goldmine of advice about light and ultralight backpacking online (see resources below). In the end, I had to go ultralight, and now it’s the only way I’ll travel. The three basic principles are: 1) eliminate any “what if” stuff (you can always buy extra toothpaste etc.), 2) wash your clothes often, if not every day, and 3) be prepared to spend on light, durable, high quality gear. Minimalism, ironically, is not a budget philosophy.
Here’s what I packed on two recent trips. I’ve noted what worked and what didn’t work. On both trips I fit everything I wasn’t wearing into the 19-liter Tom Bihn Synapse backpack*.
*Okay, sometimes I cheated and put my snacks in a plastic shopping bag.
|China (October-November)||Europe (March)||Notes|
|Jackets||Fleece and packable rain jacket||Packable synthetic down jacket and packable rain jacket||
|Shirts||One long-sleeve top, one short-sleeve top, one tank top||Two long-sleeve tops and one-short-sleeve top, plus two sweaters.||
|Pants||Two pairs of thin nylon pants||One pair of corduroy pants and one pair of nylon pants||
|Underwear & Socks||Two pairs of underwear, two pairs of socks, one bra||Added: a second bra||
|Shoes||One pair of sneakers||One pair of Soft Star Ramblers||
|Money & ID||Money belt lined with a plastic bag, plus wallet/pouch. Filled with: passport, cash, credit card, bank card, second ID like driver’s license.||Same as China||
|Cosmetics||Carry-on-size bottles of: Dr. Bronner’s all-purpose soap, hand sanitizer, hair gel, moisturizer, mouthwash, toothpaste. Also: mini MSR PackTowl, travel toothbrush, floss, shower cap, bandaids, chapstick, cold medicine, earplugs, deodorant, razor, hairbrush, hair ties, lunette cup, tissues, stain remover packets, vitamins, Pepto Bismo||Same as China||
|Electronics||Headphones, Smartphone and charger, universal adapter, portable charger, small flashlight||Added: Netbook and charger, travel-sized mouse, USB key||
|Everything Else||Extra pair of glasses, combination lock, flip-flops, a spoon, a pen, a sarong, a pStyle, and print-outs of: reservations, itinerary, Google Maps||Same except no lock or sarong or pStyle, Invisible Shoes instead of flip-flops, and I added: a scarf and fingerless mittens, 12 oz water bottle||