I don’t travel a ton, but when I do, I make a point* of traveling light. I love it – making it work is a fun game, plus I have the added bonus/challenge of traveling while vegan (not such a big deal anymore) and severely gluten intolerant (a very big deal). My BFF, who traveled with me for six of the 18 days of my most recent trip, was appreciative of my dexterity navigating food challenges and packing, so I thought it would be fun to put it out there.
This is part one of a series:
Part 1: MVPs (Most Valued Products) that made it work.
Part 2: What I packed, and general travel tips I’ve picked up along the way.
Part 3: Traveling (in the US) while Gluten-Free and Vegan
I made the whole trip with a single carry-on bag and a tote as a personal item. The 18 days included flights, cars, the desert, the beach, the mountains, hotels, an Air BnB or two, an RV, sleeping in a tent, hiking, cities, wastelands, hanging out with friends, two hot tubs, a retreat, and a photo shoot. And I had to bring my laptop with me to work – a 15 inch jobber.
As much as I enjoy travel tips and such from more seasoned travelers, so many of them essentially are aspirational travel porn. A title like “7 Essential Items for Traveling Light!” or “Travel Like a Minimalist!” precedes an article where every (sponsored) item is a $750 piece of luggage or a $200 12-in-1 travel size magic skin care serum.
That is not how I roll. The items below that made it possible for me to travel light are divided into big, expensive items (over $100, just two of them), medium items ($25-$100), and small but mighty non-food items (under $25). Most of them are in the small range. Food items will be in a separate post.
If you choose to buy any of these products, please by used when safe, reasonable, and sanitary.
Big Items ($100+)
Patagonia Nano-Puff Jacket ($199)
This is the most expensive single article of clothing I’ve ever purchased and it was worth every cent. It was comfortable in a 40 degree windstorm, rain, and 65 degree sun, depending on how I layered. I slept in it twice. I used it as insulation for cold drinks on a hot day. And, it really does fold into a tiny little pocket. I snagged a thread on a door, which would be unnoticeable to anyone else, but it’s a good indicator that while this coat is terrific for a LOT of different conditions, it may not be the best choice for hiking narrower, thornier trails. Noted for next winter.
eBags MotherLode Backpack ($119.99, 15% off your first order.)
It’s as good as people say. Sometimes, a wheeled thingy isn’t the best option (like when trekking through cities, especially cities that generate abundant urban mystery liquid). If you’ve got a strong back, this backpack is ideal. It also converts to a shoulder bag or can be carried like a traditional suitcase. This bag was key to getting 18 days of stuff in an overhead compartment, with room to spare (in the bag and the overhead). A gander at the eBags site indicates that they have a wheeled version available now, too. When I bought mine, they offered two sizes and I went with the smaller one, which is about two inches shorter than the one they sell currently.
Medium Items ($25-$100)
TSA Pre-Check ($85 for five years)
Real talk: I got pre-check because I knew the only way I could do this trip with just a carry-on would be to wear my hiking boots on the plane, and I didn’t feel like going through the whole routine of bringing extra socks to wear through security or having to sit there like a goober for ten minutes sanitizing my feet. And my phone. And my laptop. And anything that touched one of those trays. I am how I am.
I don’t fly that much, so I’d always balked at paying to get through security faster. I didn’t realize how stressful it is until I didn’t have to do it. The sign-up process was surprisingly fast: I had to go to an actual place with people to get fingerprinted, but the whole endeavor took less than a week from filling out the form to getting my KTN.
Girlfriend Collective Bras ($42-$46, or ~$30 on sale)
Girlfriend Collective bras are about as comfortable as bras are going to get. Plus, they’re made from recycled materials under fair labor conditions, and the whole line is size inclusive (XXS-6XL). The Paloma served as a sports bra, bathing suit top, and a cute layer under a button-down shirt. The Mia worked as a bra and a top under overalls. The Juliet bra is nice and lightweight (and doesn’t absorb stink, which I learned when I forgot to wash it both times I did laundry), although I really, really wish it were a true longline bra. An inch longer, and I’d never wear anything else. If you choose to buy from them or one of their stockists, size up for less compression/everyday wear.
Smaller Items (<$25)
Jansport Half-Pint Backpack ($17.50-$25)
The magical Half-Pint! This has been my only purse/day bag/hiking bag for almost three years. Somehow, it is exactly the right size for everything. Great as a purse type thing, but I can also fit a water bottle and sweatshirt in it. And snacks. How does that work? After three years it still looks new, too. Mine is a delightful sunflower print, and I get compliments on it all the time.
Camelbak Water Bottle, 20 oz. (~$15.00)
My Camelbak water bottles date back to 2010 or so, with consistent use by my spectacularly clumsy self. I’ve replaced the lid, and the bite valve and straw a couple of times. Still going, and the 20 oz. size is good for travel.
TruEarth Laundry Strips ($.48/load)
Detergent for two loads of laundry is the size and weight of a quarter sheet of construction paper. Perfect.
Dr. Bronner’s Soap ($2.00-$3.00 for a 2 oz. bottle)
A drop or two goes a long way and does a lot of stuff. I use it on my face and body, it can be shampoo in a pinch, and works to wash utensils, masks, and small clothing items in a sink. (It can be used to wash produce, too, but I didn’t try that as I only had the eucalyptus variety with me.)
Menstrual Cup (Varies: $8.00-$40.00)
I am not a menstrual cup evangelist – all period-having bodies are different and not everything works for everyone. But if you find one that works for you, it’s the greatest thing ever for travel. No waste, and no worrying about finding tampons, carting around tampons, or having the right amount of tampons or pads with you at any time. Another bonus, and perhaps a bit of TMI: if you’re not sure when your period is going to start, popping in a menstrual cup for an extra day or so won’t do any harm (just remember to clean it as usual).
Up next: What I packed, and general travel tips I’ve picked up along the way.
*HAHAHA POINT. And I’m POINTING. At something POINTY. In a post with POINTERS.