Is this all going to fit?


My friend Candice created a monster.  She was my roomie during a volunteer home-building event in Fiji.  While the rest of us hauled our monstrous suitcases up four flights of steps in our hotel, Candice floated like a jellyfish up to our room with her little carry-on and daypack.

During our 2-week stay she conjured massive amounts from those two bags:  two outfits for each day (one for construction and one for dinner), cosmetics, toiletries, a hair dryer, two cocktail dresses, heels, swimwear and a full size novel (Fifty Shades of Gray).  Oh my.  I’m sure there was a loaf of bread and a small fish that she would’ve shared with the team if our dinner budget ran out.

After many frustrating episodes rummaging my suitcase for the items I actually used (about 60 percent of what I brought) I decided to follow suit.

And so on my next trip I packed everything in one carry-on and a daypack.   Clothes for three weeks in two countries with different climates and dress codes.

Aside from being held for questioning by the suspicious customs officials in Mauritius (what woman can travel for three weeks on just a carry-on?) this worked out quite well.

So, now I’m upping the ante – FOUR weeks with the same carry-on and backpack.  And I need room to carry the books I’m donating to the orphanage.

Why put myself through so much trouble?

Simply put, I like to travel light. I have more time and energy for my trip, and fewer things to worry about.

What does it take?  Aside from the tricks I learned from Candice or discovered on my own, there is one thing that needs to happen if you want to travel light.

You must let go.

I know, it sounds kind of Zen, but it really is essential.  You need to think of everything you think you need, and then for each item, ask yourself: If this were lost or stolen, on a scale of 1 – 10 where 1 is ‘wouldn’t even notice it was gone’ and 10 is ‘my life would be over’, how would I feel?

If the most items fall in the 7 plus range, you likely travel with a lot of stuff.  Think about the amount of time, money, and effort you spend on managing these things.  This is energy that could be spent enjoying your trip.

Not everyone cares about this.  And some people have personal valets.  But if you want the ease and flexibility of traveling light, you need to identify two things:

What is truly precious to you?

What can be replaced?

Ultimately you need to decide what is too precious to risk losing.  Whenever possible, leave those items safely at home.  For anything you bring along, accept that you may lose them.   If you do lose them, remember them fondly and continue to enjoy your trip.

This is not much different than what one must do when making a major life change, such as leaving the security of a stable but unsatisfying job for something that could really bring joy but that also comes with risk.

You need to ask yourself the same questions.

What aspects of your life are so dear to you that they cannot be replaced?

What items are you willing to release?

I had to answer these same questions very recently.   And I realized I had everything backwards.  The irreplaceable things I held dear – my health  and relationships with loved ones – were all at risk.  In fact, they were suffering, buried under the mass of  things that were replaceable.  To fix this, I left corporate America three weeks ago.

I do have a few precious items that I must take on my trips.  I keep them very close.  Literally.  Thanks to the increase in women solo travelers there are nice alternatives to dorky money belts.

Deciding what is precious vs. what is replaceable is a very personal exercise, but it is one I try to do often.  It helps me live in the present.  It keeps my priorities straight.

In addition, I’ve learned that clearing out excess baggage creates space for something new.

At the end of my last trip, I donated some of my clothing to a local family.  This created room in my carry-on for a collection of  hand-carved masks from Madagascar.  My husband loves them.

Categories: Travel, Volunteer


  • Fang says:

    good tips! Yeah, can be used for any life choices. 🙂

  • Lise Panchmatia says:

    You’re going to be an amazing writer, Ruth. I can’t wait to read your first book!

  • Clint says:

    Exciting start Chili Pepper!

    I found the quote I was thinking of the evening of the floating candle ceremony:

    “Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need – a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing. ” – Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat

    Enjoy the start of your new chapter!! 🙂

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