Paltry Packing (Part 1): 10 Tips for Travelling Lightly

It may seem hard to conceive, but my 2-year-old daughter and I are about to embark on a 10 day trip to Morocco with just a handbag and two small backpacks as our luggage (her toddler-sized backpack being particularly small!).

Our luggage for 10 days abroad: a 'laptop backpack', a toddler backpack and a handbag.
Our luggage for 10 days abroad: a ‘laptop backpack’, a toddler backpack and a handbag.

And, no, despite our family ties over there, we don’t keep a second home in Morocco stocked with belongings and necessities.

Whilst my confidence in our ability to travel this lightly stems from my knowledge of the country and the frequency of our visits, I believe a light load is possible for anyone with a little forward planning.

This time, for me, packing lightly is necessary thanks to my advancing pregnancy (I shall be nigh on 6 months pregnant) and the realities of travelling with a 26 month old whose preferred form of transport is to sit on mummy’s hip. Previously, a Mei Tai sling was our travelling carrier of choice, but the baby bump no longer allows for this.

I write this post from the perspective of my forthcoming trip, which includes a plane journey. This makes things all the less flexible. If your own trips don’t include such restrictions on baggage allowances, take from this what you will and adapt any of these ideas to the nature of your individual journeys.

You may have the luxury of your single backpack being a 35 litre hiking rucksack – for many, this could still be considered ‘travelling lightly’ (if the piles of suitcases on some airport trolleys are anything to go by).

So, without further ado, here are some of my tips for ensuring a jolly journey without all the baggage:

 

1) Head for the sun

Forget all the “Just in case it’s cold” wear!

Less clothing may not be so much of an option if you’re planning to trek around the Outer Hebrides or have Iceland as your destination. However, assuming that most people tend to head for warmer climes on their family travels, this tip sticks.

Thin and light clothing is a necessity for warmer weather, and it’s also a necessity for travelling lightly. Once these are neatly rolled up in the bottom of your backpack, there should remain more than enough room for the other items that you consider necessary for your trip. But perhaps only if you also follow rule number 2 . . .

2) 2 changes of clothes + some domestic duties = a light load

Based on rule number 1, this shouldn’t be too much of a feat – after all, the lighter the clothes, the easier they are to wash and dry.

In Morocco we usually have to handwash our clothes (I take very little credit for this – FreeToBeB tends to eagerly take on this responsibility), yet you may well have the luxury of staying somewhere with a washing machine or laundry service. Either way, the stress saved in not having to cart heavy bags around is worth a couple of hours of domestic labour.

3) Dress to undress

On your actual journey from home to your destination – assuming it’s not already too hot where you’re travelling from (easy for me to say, I’m in England) – make ample use of layering your clothing. Cardigans and jackets can easily be tied around waists or attached to a bag if you find your temperature rising, and they make good bolsters if you fancy a nap as you travel.

This makes rule number 2 somewhat easier to bear as well – you might find you actually have more changes of clothes than your meagre luggage would suggest.

4) Purchasing power

Wherever you’re going, you won’t (unless you’re attempting something like an Everest expedition or a trek into a rainforest) be existing in a vacuum away from other people who need to eat, drink, dress, wash and do pretty much all the things we all need to do in order to survive.

Even in many rural areas, there will be outlets where you can buy things that you’ve forgotten or that you hope to purchase at the other end to at least make your outbound journey lighter.

During my first trips travelling with FreeToBeZ as a young baby, half of my suitcase was taken up with eco-friendly nappies. On our very first trip with her, I even took a hefty, heavy stash of cotton washable nappies (plus their liners and covers) and a huge box of Ecover washing powder.

Nowadays, I compromise my eco-ideals for the sake of my health and sanity: I’d much rather purchase standard disposable nappies when I arrive at my destination than cart a supply of my favourite type through 3 train journeys, a bus to and from a hotel prior to an early flight, only to eventually get them checked in (with a huge sigh of mental and physical relief) at the check in gates.

Really, when you’re travelling with kids, short cuts are a good thing, even if you have to suspend your usual, ethical purchasing habits. It took me a while to realise that being a martyr over some nappies was not a sensible idea.

5) Minimalist mindset

OK, this one is best cultivated over time in accordance with ‘living it’ at home as well.

Sometimes a sense of spiritual ascetism can be good, at least until it gets you where you need to be. You can rage against it when you arrive at your destination and bemoan all the things you wish you’d brought (if only that damn woman on that blog hadn’t extolled the virtues of travelling lightly!).

Yet, seriously, it helps to try to take on a more minimalist approach to life. I’ve found that travelling has helped instil that in me anyway. From the realisation that so many people in this world can function with so little compared to our Western consumerist lifestyles, to the desire to rid myself of clutter in order to ultimately fit my life into a camper van; there have been many opportunities whilst travelling to appreciate a life of less.

Without the distraction of your possessions, you can tune in to your travelling. Perhaps leaving all those entertainment gadgets behind will encourage you to spend more time sitting and talking to the locals? Perhaps without a huge array of clothes and accessories to choose from, you get up and go with more speed in the mornings?

However it works for you, it’s true that we have to leave many home comforts behind when we travel anyway: between you and the neglected suitcase, what’s a few more?

6) Downsizing

Wherever possible, take the ‘mini’ option.

If there’s one thing my clutter-clearing has been wary of, it’s been my well-stocked bookcases. I’ve always loved having plenty of reading material whilst away from home too.  In the past, this would involve at least 5 books in my suitcase for a week’s holiday.

Thankfully, we’re now in the days of the e-reader. Yet we can go one better than that: there is no need to even waste space on a Kindle itself – I ensure I have plenty of reading material on my smartphone’s Kindle app and away I go!

The smartphone also technically works for music, although I personally prefer slipping my ipod into my bag due to the battery life limitations of my phone, and at least an ipod doesn’t even take up the room of a single book.

What else can we downsize on?

Toiletries are an obvious answer, but you’ll be restricted to 100ml containers of these anyway if you plan on taking a flight with hand-luggage only.

I like to take my own toiletries rather than purchase them at my destination, as this is one ‘ideal’ that I won’t compromise on: I only buy toiletries free from harsh chemicals such as SLS and parabens, and I cannot even buy these in British supermarkets let alone North African corner shops.

I tend to bypass both of these issues by purchasing organic shampoo bars from an online shop that triple up as shampoo, regular soap and body wash.

7) Child’s play

All this is well and good, you may be thinking, but have we forgotten someone here?

My little traveller, aged 3, 2011
My little traveller, aged 3, 2011

In most respects, all of these tips work for children as well as adults. You may find it more difficult if travelling with a young baby or toddler (no chance just 2 changes of clothes are going to last long there!), but there are some simple things you can do to ensure the kids are catered for without loading your luggage with kiddies’ paraphernalia.

The trick is in packing for the journey itself rather than the destination – I find it easy enough to keep the kids entertained on foreign soil without the need for too much ‘stuff’ (you can always purchase things whilst there which may be both local and educational – FreeToBeP was fascinated with our host’s Arabic newspapers and asked if he could go out and buy his own, which cost the equivalent of about 30p). However, keeping them entertained is not so easy to achieve when you have a few hours trapped aboard a plane or train.

Firstly, I plan to pack my kids’ things in my kids’ bags. In the case of older children (who will also be able to handle heavier loads), entertainment may be as simple as a handheld games console or a tablet computer.

As for younger children, this is the chance to collect together all those little annoying plastic toys that have no real home. You know the ones? Originally the contents of a party bag or randomly accrued from some car boot sale or charity shop. Many of these toys fester in the bottom of the ‘miscellaneous’ toybox and by the time they see the light of day for your journey, your kids will either treat them as long-lost friends or as brand new acquisitions.

Either way, it’s a win.

I usually pack this odd assortment into something like a pencil case or small make-up bag, so they’re compact and contained, ready to get out when the restlessness starts kicking in.

8) Food glorious food

Unless you’re a glutton for punishment, it’s impossible to travel with children without thinking about how much food you might need to take for snacks.

Snacks also serve as good distractions even if the kids haven’t actually alerted you to any sense of hunger – many a train or bus journey has been calmed by the fortuitous arrival of a packet of crisps.

I’m very averse to paying the prices usually charged on trains, at stopover hotels, in the airport and on the plane for everyday food and drink items, thus tend to make at least one packed meal for the journey, as well as taking a variety of healthy and not-so-healthy treats to keep the kids sweet.

Rather than use my precious cabin baggage space on things that will have been consumed by the time we board the plane, I take a plastic bag full of the meals and goodies that I expect we might get through before arriving for our flight (and even on our flight if we’ll be travelling through our usual mealtime).

Some airlines allow each passenger to take on board a plastic bag of Duty Free purchases in addition to the usual hand luggage allowance. In this you can surreptitiously harbour your homemade lunch having restocked on overpriced bottled water in the departure lounge.

9) Compare the best deals on airlines

As well as their basic flight prices, check out how generous your prospective airlines are with hand luggage allowance.

If you’re finding it difficult to pack everything down yet are determined to avoid both a heavy suitcase and a heavy fee, it may be worth paying a few pounds more for the flight to go with the airline that has more generous hand luggage allowances, including the Duty Free bag allowance noted above.

Often, the ‘budget’ airlines will make up for their budget prices by charging a lot more for items that need to go in the hold or that require their own seat for the journey.

At the time of typing, Easyjet have a number of family-friendly policies in place, e.g. if you’re travelling with a child under the age of two, you can have two infant items put into the hold for free (such as a pushchair, car seat, travel cot, etc).

That said, I never used that service despite making 5 return trips with Easyjet whilst FreeToBeZ was an infant, as my own way of living lightly – which spills over into travelling lightly – is to make little use of all the baby paraphernalia we supposedly ‘need’.

Sling-wearing and co-sleeping are lifestyle choices that fit my travelling family perfectly, and do away with any sense of needing to lug buggies and travel cots around.

No waiting around at this thing the other end!
No waiting around at this thing the other end!

10) 1 adult, 2 children, 3 adult sized cabin bags

If need be, you can always go for maxing out everyone’s hand luggage allowance irrespective of whether each child needs that much luggage space and provided at least one of the children is capable of helping out with one of the bags. If you’re travelling as a couple, this obviously makes this option easier (depending on how many children of certain ages you’re juggling!).

Any child over the age of two will usually have their own seat on a plane and their own cabin baggage allowance to match an adult’s cabin baggage allowance. This means that you can feasibly take full-sized cabin bags for each passenger in your group – even if one of them is but a little shy of their 2nd birthday and is obviously incapable of carrying ‘their’ hand luggage.

 

To sum it all up, I love the following quote as I have learnt that it’s so true:

“When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.” (Susan Heller, New York Times)

This fits my Paltry Packing philosophy perfectly – we invariably need a lot less than we think we’ll need, and anything we do need is best served by having the cash at the ready!

Next week: Paltry Packing (Part 2), in which I divulge our actual packing list and baggage restrictions for my upcoming trip and how I organise it ‘all’.

Do you have any other tips for travelling lightly? What do you find indispensable when it comes to travelling with kids? I’d also love to hear if you’ve managed to pare things back even more than me! Please feel welcome to leave your comments below.

3 thoughts on “Paltry Packing (Part 1): 10 Tips for Travelling Lightly

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