If you’ve read my blog before you know I’m obsessed with traveling light. That’s because a minimalist mindset makes travel more enjoyable and stress-free. Also I believe there are only two kinds of luggage – carry-on and lost. I’ve written about this before, listing a bunch of road-tested travel tips HERE and HERE.
My business partner and I used to go to a lot of industry events. We’d sit in way too cold conference rooms listening to lectures by the SVP of marketing for Humongo Company or director of international relations for Gigantis Corp. During the speech, Roberto would whisper, “You think this person ever made payroll?” When I’d answer, “No, payroll arrives from HR regardless,” Roberto would walk out. If the speaker didn’t walk the walk, why hear her talk the talk?
It’s the same with travel advice. And knowing Roberto would read this blog, and that he doesn’t suffer fools gladly, I made sure it was accurate and “real-world tested” before I uploaded it for you.
My family and I recently made the trip of a lifetime through Southeast Asia. All of us — my wife, kids, and mom — only took carry-on luggage. But I went further and took as few clothes as possible so I could report back to you.
What I learned is that there are three strategies that make all the difference: color coordination, fabric selection, and clothing utility.
The importance of color palette is easy to understand. I only brought black, gray or blue clothes. That way everything matched everything else and I never ran out of combinations.
Fabric is critical, too. Certain cloths are lighter and easier to pack, wash, and dry quickly, don’t hold odor, and keep you comfortable. The magic words are nylon, merino, and wool crepe. Ultra light merino wool shirts and socks from Icebreaker and SmartWool are comfortable on warm and cool days, easy to wash in the shower, don’t retain odor, and don’t itch. Really.
Woven nylon is another great fabric. Nylon cargo shorts and pants are comfortable and easy to wash, drying more quickly than cotton. Best – the new nylon looks and feels like cotton canvas so you don’t look like a fly fisherman.
What did I take? Here’s my entire list:
Three pairs of shorts – two nylon cargos and one pair of athletic shorts for jogging, gym, and pool.
Three pairs of ExOfficio travel underwear. Two are plenty but I splurged and brought an extra pair. I know, I’m wild.
Three t-shirts – two ultra-light weight merino wool tees and one dri-fit running shirt.
One no-iron cotton button-down. Besides being easy-care, you can wear a button-down with a suit and tie or roll up the sleeves and wear it untucked with shorts. You can’t do that with more formal dress shirts.
Three pair of socks – gray and black lightweight merino wool and one pair of low-cut running socks.
Shoes – one pair of black dress sneakers (mine are from To Boot but they’re available from most designers), one pair of Nike Free running shoes (with collapsible heels that I wrote about HERE) and flip-flops for the pool.
What else? A lightweight merino wool sweater, wool crepe sport coat (folds small and hardly wrinkles – if it does, it straightens in a steamy bathroom), travel belt with leather-covered plastic buckle that doesn’t set off TSA alarms, zip-up running jacket (for cold planes), knit silk tie (absolutely does not wrinkle), and a SmartWool watch cap for rain, cold, and to pull down over my eyes to sleep on planes.
Besides clothes, I brought a few harmonicas, Garmin running watch, Apple MacBook Air and iPhone, Samsung DV300F camera, noise-canceling headphones, a reduced toiletry kit, sketch book, and laptop charger – I charged everything else by running their USB cables into my MacBook. All of this – plus a Mountain Smith day bag, fit in my 22” overhead-sized carryon.
Were there downsides? Sure — some mornings I felt like putting on something different but it wasn’t because my clothes weren’t clean or comfortable. And each night I had to wash what I wore that day in the shower but that only added a few minutes in the bathroom.
I know you women are wondering if my wife also took a single carry-on. I’m proud to say she did. Gloria brought gauzy pants and tops that fold up small, silky dresses that also take up little space and colorful scarves to brighten up her relatively subdued palette. She brought four pair of shoes – loafers, running shoes, and low- and high-heeled sandals. And she brought a set of travel curlers from Hot Tools. My mom and daughter also fit everything in a single carryon.
If this seems too Spartan for you, remember that a credit card in your pocket means you can purchase anything you’ve forgotten or can’t live without. But if you forget some of the selection you’re used to, I promise you an easier and much more enjoyable trip.