I admit that I have a packing problem. I tend to overpack, forcing me from bringing only a light carry-on size suitcase to lugging a large, heavy one I have to check on a plane or haul on and off a train.
Shoes are the main culprit. If I’m going on a trek or major hiking trip, I have to pack heavy hiking boots. If I’m going anywhere near a beach or even to a warm-weather destination, I need sandals. Then there are the comfortable urban walking shoes, which I can wear on the plane. But all bets are off if I have to pack dress shoes for some occasion as well.
I also have a tendency to want to bring a shirt or two for every possible type of weather. And so on. Along with all my electronics and gear that I stuff into my carry-on backpack, my packing list always grows to fill an entire page of a legal-sized pad.
But I know this is a huge mistake, and I’m determined to limit myself to two carry-ons from now on — a 21-inch or so suitcase (that will fit in overhead bins) and my backpack. Here are seven reason why:
1. Save money. Most airlines now charge at least $25 per checked bag for domestic U.S. flights. If our bag is too heavy, you may be subject to overweight charges. And cut-rate airlines the world over make up for their cheap fares by charging sometimes outlandish prices to check any bag. Spirit Airlines, for one, charges $100 per checked bag if you don’t pre-pay for the bag when you book your flight. And that’s for any bag larger than a small day pack. My regular laptop-toting backpack doesn’t even qualify. On mainstream airlines, even if you have to gate check your carry-on due to a full flight, you won’t be charged for it, and your bag will be waiting for you shortly after you get off.
2. Save more money. Yes, almost all suitcases now have wheels, but there are times when you may need the help of a porter to help you get a heavy bag (or two) on and off a train, for instance. Or you may need the help of a hotel bellman, especially if the hotel has no elevator. Tips can get particularly expensive if you’ve just arrived in a foreign country and only have large bills or none at all in the local currency. (Yes, most will be glad to take U.S. dollars, but did you remember to bring small bills?)
3. Save your back. If you have to take a train to get to the nearest big airport, as I do, I have to hoist the bag onto the overhead rack. Not good for the baby boomer back. Not to mention I’ve practically clobbered a couple of fellow passengers lifting a heavy bag down at my stop. Then there are the escalators that don’t work and you have to haul your heavy bag up or down dozens of stairs. (This is a frequent problem in New York City, where I frequently fly out of.)
4. Save your stuff. If you can carry on all your clothes as well as your valuables, you won’t get to your destination and have to worry about whether or not your checked bag will make it. I’ve traveled with several people who had to wear the same clothes for days while the airlines tracked down their missing bags and finally got them to their owners.
5. Save yourself from hassles and possible embarrassment. One of the most annoying things about large ship cruises and some land tours is that they want you to put your large bags outside your room by, say, midnight the night before you disembark or check out so porters can carry them off the ship or down to the hotel lobby, where you’ll retrieve them the next morning. This means you have to keep out everything you’ll possibly need to get dressed the next day, including your trousers (yes, some men on cruises have packed all their trousers in their now-long-gone suitcases and found themselves in embarrassing situations when it’s time to disembark). And you’re going to need your tooth brush, shaving supplies or makeup, and possibly a number of other things you might normally pack in your large suitcase that just won’t fit in your carry-on. At the very least, it’s a hassle to make all these packing decisions late at night after a large meal and perhaps a few drinks. That’s when mistakes happen.
6. Save time. If you’re riding in a courtesy van, say, to a rental car office or hotel, along with a large group of other folks heading to the same office or hotel, the people with just carry-on luggage are likely to get to the front of the line at the counter or reception first, because everyone else has to wait for the driver to unload their bags or at least struggle to unload their own bags. Traveling light could save you a half hour or more of waiting in line — and after a long, tiring trip, that can make a big difference.
7. Save your ego. Okay, I mainly have seven reasons because, research has shown, more people read lists of seven reasons than, say, lists of six or eight. (Don’t ask me why.) However, there is a seventh reason to pack light: other travelers will respect you for it. “How did you manage to get everything into that one suitcase?” you’ll be asked, with hints of envy. I know — I’ve done it myself on occasion, and it always provokes admiring comments. Folks will assume you’re a savvy traveler — as, in fact, you are.
But no one ever envies me for bringing too much.
Readers, have I left out any reasons for packing light? And what are your own experiences with overpacking?
In a later post, I’ll offer some tips on how to pack light, because it’s often easier said than done — as I know well.