How Light Can You Travel? | Bruce Turkel

Those of you who know me or have been reading this blog for a while know that I am obsessed with traveling light. In my mind, there are only two types of luggage: carry-on and lost. I prefer the first kind.
I’m very careful with what I carry and how I carry it. I prowl camping stores for folding toothbrushes and smaller and smaller bags. I constantly try to pare down the electronics I need for presentations and entertainment. I look for new ways to mix and match what I wear for meetings and sightseeing. And I experiment with new folding and packing techniques to take up as little space as possible.

As I said, I’m a little obsessed. So obsessed that some of my tips and tricks were reported in an article that was reprinted around the world. And speaking of around the world, my wife and I spent five days in Austria for a friend’s incredible 50th birthday party celebration, chock-full of cocktail parties AND even a black tie event, and we did it all with carry-ons. A few folks who unwittingly donated their luggage to Heathrow’s dread Terminal Five showed up at the formal in the blue jeans and tee shirts they had traveled in, but it wasn’t us. And just last month we spent 11 days on a trip that included two presentations, three business meetings, and a week of vacation, and again we managed the whole thing with carry-on bags only.

But the other day, as I was getting ready for a business trip to New York and Greenwich, I saw a Twitter post from my friend, Peter Shankman, that read, “Doing a 24-hr trip tomorrow, EWR to LAX, one speech, then home. Taking only my @scottevest – LOVE that.” and I thought, “I have one of those, I can do that, too.” So I accepted his unchallenged challenge and edited my minimal travel kit down even further. (Yes Mom, if all my friends jumped off the roof, I would too).

The morning I wrote this article, I left my house with just the jacket and the clothes on my back. I left my laptop in my briefcase, replaced by the iPad I’m composing this post on. And yes, I do prefer reading actual books to scanning digital text – and when I’m at home, that’s what I do. But I’m sure the subject of the book I’m reading won’t mind if I continue trying to decipher his philosophy on my iPad.

To carry as little as possible, I didn’t even bring my beloved noise-canceling headphones or Bluetooth keyboard. Instead, I’m listening to Dave Matthews on earbuds and actually typing this post on the iPad’s glass keyboard, something I thought I’d never do. Oh, the sacrifice! Other electronics stuffed into the many pockets of my jacket include my cell phone, a cable to connect to a projector, and the smallest charger I could find.

My toilet kit is just as sparse – a folding toothbrush, a tiny travel tube of toothpaste, a disposable razor, and some gel deodorant in an itty-bitty ziplock bag. That’s it. I’ll use hotel soap and shampoo and shave with their moisturizer (don’t worry, regardless of what the TV ads say, shaving cream is just slippery soap anyway). I thought about putting a cologne-soaked cotton ball in another tiny ziplock bag, but c’mon, that’s too precious, even for me. I’ll have to settle for smelling like soap.

Since I set off on my quest to travel as light as possible, I’ve pretty much reduced my wardrobe to black, gray, and blue. That way, everything matches no matter what I put on. I was explaining this to a friend the other day and he asked if people ever notice that I mostly wear the same thing all the time. “No one’s ever noticed or said a word,” I answered. My wife, who sees me almost everyday, remarked that I do not in fact wear the same things – which both proves my point and shows how little it matters. After all, if the one person in the entire world I most want to look good for hasn’t noticed, why would I care what anyone else thinks?

I’ll spare you the nitty-gritty details about fresh clothes and laundry, but basically the minimalist traveler has three options: carry spare underwear, socks, and a tee shirt for each day you’re away; wear your unmentionables for days in a row (yuck); or choose quick-drying versions and wash them in the hotel shower at night. After years of experimentation, I’m partial to ExOfficio’s travel skivvies and SmartWool’s base layer black pullovers, but you can find lots of different brands online and see which you like best.

Lucky for me, I don’t run on Wednesdays so packing jogging gear this time wasn’t an issue. Even though I’ve gotten my workout kit reduced to a thin little bundle, thanks mostly to the Nike Free running shoes that have no heel cup and therefore crush down to little more than the height of their soles, I’m not sure how I’d be able to bring that stuff without a small bag at my side. If you’ve got some solutions, I’m eager to hear them.

What else? A pile of business cards doesn’t take up much pocket space. Neither does a small sketchpad, two pens, or a few harmonicas, although I concede it’s a good thing I don’t play the cello. I don’t need a belt because I wear my pullover untucked (quicker through security, too). My eyeglasses have auto-tint lenses so I don’t need sunglasses (I told you I was obsessed), my keys are locked in the trunk of my car, and my only jewelry is my wedding ring. Even my wallet is edited down to two charge cards (business and personal), ATM, two insurance cards (auto and health), and my driver’s license. That’s my entire travel inventory.

The real secret to all this, besides my obsessive-compulsive tendency, of course, is the technical jacket by Scott e Vest. It’s got enough zippered and Velcro pockets and pouches to please a Sherpa. If I was willing to shoulder the added weight, I could probably schlep along the entire World Book encyclopedia and 50 pounds of goat chow. The other secret is a hard-earned, Zen-like acceptance that we don’t need most of the crap we dutifully tote along. Truth is, walking through an airport without carrying anything at all is a truly liberating experience and something I’ll bet you have never done.

Of course, like most obsessions, my need to travel light just gets more and more intense with every high. What I’ve discovered is that my good time friends – the camping toothbrushes and quick-drying underwear – turned out to be the entry drugs of the light-travel addicted. Worse, mainlining a Scott e Vest jacket and quick-dry drawers only satisfies for so long.

Arnie Gellman turned me on to the Jack Reacher action novels by Lee Child. Reacher is a retired military policeman who travels around the country with just a folding toothbrush and an ATM card – no charge card, no cell phone, no nothing. When he gets hungry, he eats. When he gets tired, he sleeps. And when his clothes get dirty, he buys new duds and leaves the old ones in the trashcan by the clothing store’s fitting room.

I have seen the future. And it’s even lighter.

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