Sheila: Hi there, James
James: 👋 Hi my friend, here I am. What’s on the docket for us today?
Sheila: Well, this will be the starter post to a weekly series — an idea I had to hold us accountable to talking and writing about various topics. Topics will be chosen either by us, or by readers (so feel free to comment or contact us with other burning questions you’d like us to cover. We will have other postings as well along the way, such as recipes 1 and City Guides, but you can count on this weekly “interview” episode. Away we go!
James: Today’s interview question was selected by us … we’ve touched only a few times on why we decided our trip hashtag would be #travellightexperienceheavy and it’s time to take a deeper dive into what that means for us — both in traveling, and in life.
Sheila: That’s right! There are various connotations of the word “light,” such as how we are physically packing and how we tread (or don’t tread) while we travel. Let’s get started with the packing and travel gear — James, as you are packing for a trip, what are your central considerations?
Traveling Light - Happy Backpack, Happy Life
James: Something that Sheila & I talked about fairly early on in preparing to travel together was that, realistically, there’s very little difference in how you prepare for a two month trip versus a two-week trip. Preparation and careful layering allowed us to minimize the number of individual garments we brought. When we were getting ready to leave for our trip, I tried to save on bag space by only bringing clothes that packed down well or that I could easily strap to my bag. Other than clothing, minimizing toiletries was my other consideration: razor, toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo and soap … dropping most of the other niceties meant for more bag space for things like a journal, travel book, etc …
Sheila: Too true! Yes, definitely the part about what “packed down well” is huge. This means zero tolerance for items I love, like a comfy hoodie or jean jacket, but it’s seriously worth it. James, did you always pack this way or was this something you learned by traveling extensively over the past few years? I think back to my childhood vacation weekends when I would fill our family car with god knows what… clearly traveling “light” was not on my mind then.
James: Ha no, it was definitely learned fairly recently. Childhood vacations also meant filling the car to the brim. The first time I remember specifically traveling light was the first time I went to Europe in 2011. A friend of mine (hi Lael!) couldn’t believe I was bringing only a small duffel bag for a two week trip. What about you, Sheila? When was the first time that you can recall going on a trip without overflowing the overhead compartment?
Sheila: Hmm it’s probably been in the past 5 years. Like you said, I really came to the realization that packing for a two week trip could mean the same amount of luggage as a 4 day or 4 month. You just have to be savvy! In May and June of 2018, I spent more time traveling than I did not traveling. This included a trip to Quebec, Amsterdam, Spain, and Italy. I knew how painful it was to unpack and rifle through your things looking for specific “necessary” items, so I made an agreement with myself that I would carry just one bag, the same bag, through all three trips. By the third trip (the one to Italy) I had done the best job of paring down, and have tried to sustain that same mindset.
James: This was the same bag that, right before Sheila and I started dating, I was impressed to find as I picked her up from the airport on her last trip. I was used to really … lugging … luggage around and the fact that her bag was so light even at the end of her second back-to-back two week trip … well, I’m not going to say I knew she was my soul mate then, but …
Sheila: Haha! Well, there you go. Traveling lightly can even improve your dating life 😉 At some point we plan to post about our specific travel gear, our reviews, and why we chose it. For now, I’ll mention that we both traveled with Osprey backpacks (He the Variant 52 liter and me an Aura AG 65 liters) and we typically took turns carrying an additional small pack filled with travel snacks and essentials. We saved a lot of money not checking our bags, and carrying everything comfortably on our backs made it easy to trek longer distances. Even if you’re just going away for the weekend, I seriously recommend looking for a backpack versus rolling luggage. You’ll thank yourself as you buzz through the airport while everyone else is struggling not to run into one another with suitcases.
James: It’s true, there’s nothing more chaotic than a roller suitcase at an airport.
Traveling Light - Trains, Buses, and Reducing Waste
Sheila: Other than traveling light in the physical sense, we extrapolated the idea out into the way in which we were traveling. In some of my travel experiences, I’ve observed takeout-heavy dining, food/drinks to go, and fast fashion. We wanted to make sure that, as we intentionally made the choice to travel, we would intentionally make choices to tread lightly as much as possible. James, what did this look like for us?
James: Two things are really important to touch on here: how we moved from place to place, and what we consumed once there. We did fly to two destinations — Mallorca, and London — while abroad, but otherwise tried whenever possible to reduce our environmental footprint by taking trains and buses. Trains are definitely my preferred method for traveling all but the longest of distances, as they typically generate the least amount of pollution per passenger, and they also (on average) give you the most amount of space for your stuff. We had mixed experiences with buses — mostly suffering from carsickness, but also lost items — but still the feeling of reducing our emissions more than made up for any nausea! And when we got to a place … Sheila, care to walk us through some of our favorite strategies for reduction?
Sheila: Yes! For starters — walking! We walked e v e r y w h e r e. This did not only exercise our bodies but our minds. In a world that is so instantaneous and we have a car at our fingertips (hello Uber/Lyft life) limiting ourselves to our own two feet was nothing short of humbling. We planned far in advance, knowing it would take a while to get to each spot, and we reevaluated whenever we felt the stress of getting somewhere quickly — reminding ourselves that the getting there process can be just as valuable as the end result/location. Paris was the place we walked the most, averaging 10 miles/day, and in the heat of the summer too! We also carried certain things with us each day that helped us travel light.
James: The absolute best thing — that I learned from traveling with Sheila — to reduce daily waste while on the road? Travel with a water bottle. I have unfortunately been dehydrated on quite a few adventures in the past without this revelation ever occurring to me. While finding public drinking water isn’t always easy (Switzerland definitely does this best!), not buying water bottles is an easy and feel good way to cut down on waste.
Sheila: Speaking of liquid consumption, we made a rule of not getting drinks (or really anything for that matter) to go from the cafes we stopped into. If we wanted to buy a snack or drink, we would make the time to stop and enjoy it. We also carried our own stainless steel straws the whole trip! I actually don’t think we used them that often but they take up very little room. I almost always carry a reusable straw with me even just doing errands around town in the States. Try it out for yourself!
James: This last tip you can apply anywhere. One of the reasons we loved frequenting farmers markets — and still do — is because they’re one of the easiest places you can go with reusable bags. Getting veggies and food to go always feels much better when there’s no cardboard or plastic waste associated with it. Shop in places where you can bring your own bags for veggies. Buy dried food staples like grains and beans out of bulk dispensers whenever you can. The planet will thank you.
Sheila: Awesome. I think we can call it a wrap on this one, James. I hope readers can take something away from our “Travel Light” ideals. We’d love to see the ways that you travel too! Remember to use #travellightexperienceheavy when you have something fun & fancy to share.
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