I just got back from a week in New York City and a wicked ride down NY-22 by the Catskills, and thought I’d break the usual format with a post on exactly how I carry so little when I travel.
Traveling light is philosophy, religion, and practice rolled up into one. The process of slowly cutting down what you carry feels a little like this generation’s zen. There are a ton of travel blogs that cover this in great detail. I long envied the ultralight traveler, dropped into a foreign country with a single bag, so I’ve been traveling as light as I can for the past few weeks. I’m now down to a single carry-on compatible backpack for travel anywhere.
Here’s some spreadsheets of what I carry while traveling. The first is general, and the second is what I carry when I’m on the bike.
One of the best secret weapons of traveling as light as possible is merino wool because it completely eliminates carrying multiple clothes. The fabric is fantastic at shedding odor; no synthetic does it quite as well. The best example I ever found of putting that claim to the test came from backpacking, here, where a few testers wore shirts made from half wool, half synthetic. One brave soul wore his for two straight months of running and hiking without a wash, and wool came out odorless. Pretty incredible.
I’m a big wool fanatic, and when I know I’ll be going to bars and restaurants while I’m on tour or traveling, it’s my go-to. A basic Smartwool midweight crew gets me through every temperature under 80 degrees, and is fantastic in bitter cold. I wore my extra-lightweight wool stuff when it snuck over 100 degrees in Missouri this summer, and was comfortable in long sleeves. No sunburn!
I could probably get by with one pair of wool underwear, but I carry two. The idea of going “Stupid Light” is one I try to avoid; if I didn’t carry a pair of running shorts with me, I wouldn’t be able to do laundry.
I blog and work from wherever I am, which affords me a lot of the freedom I’m currently enjoying. My Macbook Air is a great system for that.
I take advantage of 3G tethering all the time. I can work from anywhere I have service just by turning on the Hotspot function on my iPhone 5. My computer doesn’t use any more data than my smartphone would while I research for freelance work, so it’s easy to stay within my plan. Just in case, though, I have an application on my computer called FlashFrozen that lets me kill any ads or youtube links automatically so I don’t load excessive data when I’m tethered.
I went through all my electronics with a fine-toothed comb to extend battery life. My iPhone makes no noise, never checks my location, doesn’t update my email unless I ask it to, and I always use 3G instead of 4G. My laptop keyboard is always dimmed and I’ve made sure every possible minute of juice is squeezed. I get about 2 full days on my smartphone and a full 9-10 hours of work off my Macbook.
Everything I carry syncs up nicely. My headlamp, bike lights, and iPhone can all charge via USB off the laptop’s 9-hour battery, so I don’t need to carry an external battery with me. The computer charges up in just an hour or two, and when I’m working, I’m almost always near an outlet. The system is an enabler.
Little things make my life easier. I carry a pencil and paper everywhere, because I can’t remember directions. Most people also pack for what they’re afraid of; for me, that’s why I carry a headlamp, so I won’t end up in a situation where I can’t see my way through something.
The key to the “everything else” part is to carry nothing else. I can do fine on the bare minimum. Travel isn’t about what I’m carrying, it’s what it lets me do. If I have enough clothing to be reasonably presentable to new people, I get to go out and socialize. If I’ve got comfortable shoes, I can walk and hike to interesting places. With a good coat, I can do stuff in bad weather. It’s probably the best lesson I took from bike touring, and it’s a nice way to live.