I met a woman a few weeks ago who just got back from a trip to Europe. While she was in the Paris train station (near the end of her trip) all of her stuff was stolen. She just put her bags down for a minute while figuring out which train ticket to purchase, and someone came up from behind and grabbed them. Her passport, wallet, credit cards, cash, clothes, everything. She ended up spending 12 days in Paris getting it all sorted out before she could return to the United States. And she said the experience was transformative: having nothing in tow (and no money to spend) was liberating and now she wants to travel with as little luggage as possible.
I’ve been on a trend towards less luggage myself over the past few years. I like traveling around, staying in one place only a night or two, which means packing and unpacking, and moving my stuff around a lot. The size and weight of luggage is especially important when using cheap transportation: local busses, ridesharing, flights with weight limits, and lots of walking. During my year of travel in 2013 I took a 32 liter pack along with a small bookbag size backpack. While this was small compared to what other people I met were carrying, I still felt overloaded when moving around. And the downside to small size is accessibility of stuff: it’s all jammed into a small space and so every night I’d have to take everything out to get at one clean shirt.
For my current trip I’m experimenting with bringing even less stuff but in a larger pack, and trying to work out the optimal ratio of clean clothes (I do like to be clean) to pack size and weight. I’m cutting out things I almost never wore, and upgrading a few items to be lighter and quicker to dry. I’m definitely sacrificing a bit of fashion. But I never was all that fashionable anyway. My goal is to fit everything (including my daypack) into one relatively small backpack but still have access to stuff without taking everything out.
What’s your optimal pack size and shape? Suitcase or backpack? Fashion or utility?