Suitcase Travel: The Ultimate in Conscious Living

Tips for traveling light (stylishly) wherever you may roam.

Anyone who has ever tried to haul oversize suitcases along city streets, onto buses and trains, or up the stairs of a subway platform is well acquainted with the less glamorous side of travel. There are the sweat-stains, the fear of being mugged whilst carrying everything you own, the inopportune dropping of documents, and the desperate search for somebody, anybody, to help you carry your baggage up the stairs.

You’ll often hear globetrotters extol the benefits of packing light, priding themselves on the ability to pack only a modest carry on, whether going away for three days or three weeks.

Recently, I’ve come to realize the benefits not only of packing light, but of living light as well. For the past eight months, through different seasons, continents and hemispheres, I’ve lived only with the contents of my trusty Samsonite bag. Other than the few boxes of sentimental paraphernalia currently gathering dust at my parents’ house, I have little else in the way of worldly possessions.

My stint of extended suitcase living – of which there is no end in sight for the foreseeable future – has been a liberating exercise. At home, I’ve always struggled to minimize my belongings, donate the things I don’t need, and only make conscious purchases. On the road, those practices have effortlessly become a requirement of my existence.

While lugging all your belongings on your back is an impressive demonstration of minimalism, it’s a slightly less challenging one when it’s completely acceptable to look, well, like a seasoned backpacker.

Instead, I have appeared to the outside world as a stable member of society, rather than the quasi-transient one that I actually am. Meetings, interviews, weddings, and dinner parties have all been attended in appropriate and stylish, dress. The best part about this has been proving to myself that living with this kind of simplicity is not only possible, it’s preferred. And somehow, my life seems richer for it.

Shopping is rarely on the list of priorities these days, which is a boon for my bank account. When I do buy something, it’s usually of a higher quality, because I buy things less often. The house wares section of stores – the part that sells things like salad bowls, plush bath towels and scented candles – seems humorously irrelevant to me. In short, when the weight of your material possessions can’t exceed 23 kg, it leaves a whole lot of room for everything else in life.

With that said, there are a few tricks to mastering this spartan sense of style. Fortunately, none of them involve Teva sandles or convertible pants.

  • Find a good blazer– a fitted jacket can make even the simplest outfit look sharp. A black or navy blazer does triple duty – wear it to a meeting, over a cocktail dress, or with jeans and a t-shirt on a long flight – and no one will suspect you have no permanent address.
  • Don’t get attached- Each time I’m about to move on to a new place, I take careful stock of what I’m actually going to use while there. When I realized I probably wasn’t going to need a pair of chunky (and heavy) platforms while exploring Asia and Africa, my roommate in London happily took them off my hands. It’s important to get rid of stuff responsibly though – don’t just throw it away. There are almost always local charity shops, thrift stores, or perhaps even some appreciative locals who might be happy to acquire some of your stuff.
  • Neutral, but not boring- Any list of packing tips will stress packing with a neutral color pallet in mind. While this is certainly a prudent tip, dressing in heather gray, beige and black can get pretty boring when you’re doing it for months at a time. I like to collect colorful scarves and sarongs when I’m traveling – my favorite piece being a green patterned sarong I bought on a beach in Kenya – because they add interest to outfits, can be worn in multiple ways, and don’t weigh much. I also try to keep the weight of fabrics in mind: heavy knits like sweaters or denim should be neutral, because they’re worn the most, while color can be added with light items like linen sun dresses and silk tops.
  • Think about what you’re accumulating– When you’re traveling or living in new places, it’s natural to want to buy stuff. But the weight of those funky wooden beads you bought from the street hawker or those quirky vintage tins you found in that antique market add up. I once watched a roommate pack and find she had accumulated three times the baggage weight allowance for her flight back to Brazil. Don’t think that just because something is cheap and novel that it’s worth buying.

To be fair, there is some sacrifice involved in suitcase living, missing my French press coffee maker and wishing I had a bicycle are two. However, I’ve found in recent months that what I’m lacking in stuff, I more than make up for in the experiences I’m accumulating.

Luckily, I don’t think the airlines will be limiting the weight of those anytime soon.

Flickr: kthread

Rosie Spinks

Rosie Spinks is a freelance journalist from California with a degree in Environmental Studies. Her work has been published in publications including Sierra magazine, GOOD magazine, the Ecologist, and the Guardian Environment Network. A passion for travel, running barefoot outdoors, and reconnecting people to what is good dominates most of her thoughts. You can follow her writing on Twitter and Tumblr.