I recall going to a residency interview where one of the interviewees showed up wearing a Metallica t-shirt and jeans, the same comfy clothes he’d worn when his flight arrived late the night before. His professional interview clothing was in his checked bag, which did not arrive in time to impress his interviewers. The lesson this imparted could not have been clearer, and with one exception (a bodyboard I brought to Kawaii) I have not checked an airline bag since approximately 1995.
If you’ve been reading this blog, you already know that while preparing for a post-college trip to Europe I was inspired by the advice of travel guru Rick Steves, whose chapter on packing in Europe Through the Back Door included a photo of the entire contents of his travel pack splayed out on a hostel bed. Before Rick, it had never occurred to me to rubber band my socks and underwear for denser packing. Now, I can’t imagine not packing this way. Before, I assumed that a five day trip required five clean shirts. Now, I choose three travel shirts for a five day trip based on how well they tolerate being washed in a sink and hung to drip-dry. Before, I packed enormous guidebooks in their entirety. Now, I gently rip out pertinent sections, staple them together, and leave them behind as gifts for subsequent travelers to enjoy. (A new riff on this practice tested on my last trip: take hi-res photos of relevant library guidebook pages on my cel phone to use as a reference and delete as you go.) I find that the weight and size of my pack decreases as my travel experience increases.
Packing for travel is problem-solving, and packing light is like walking into the casino and finding your seat among the World Series of Poker crowd. Don’t bother trying unless you bring your A game. I take perverse pleasure in assembling a thoughtfully composed carry-on bag, savoring the minutes spent rubber banding socks and underwear, eliminating unnecessary toiletries from my packing cube, and folding my favorite used clothing into a packing folder. There’s ample literature demonstrating that those who delay gratification through prolonged planning or thinking about their purchases derive greater satisfaction from what they buy.
I cannot discuss carry-on travel gurus without mentioning that I am a huge fanboy of Doug Dyment, the obsessive creator of Onebag.com. If you are consumed by a passion for traveling comfortably and light; if you want a pack that impresses backpackers and business types; and if efficient, minimalist bags are your source of pleasure out of proportion, Doug is the eccentric uncle of your dreams.