I have crossed borders with nothing but a rucksack on my back. Arrived in countries with a holdall and that’s it. Last year, at midnight, I booked a plane ticket for 7am that morning from London to Glasgow, packed a bag barely heavier than the quotidian, and off I went. I have gone to Morocco and Egypt in similar circumstances.
Travelling is wonderful, but the downsides – with air travel in particular – are easy to acknowledge: the dragging of heavy suitcases (often with a wonky wheel or broken handle); the queueing; the waiting around for luggage – and the potential for it to be lost; the paying extra for, seemingly, everything. The poor sods rifling through their carefully folded underwear to find something of sufficient weight to remove, rather than pay an extortionate £40 surplus baggage fee.
Smugness is not a quality to cultivate, but I can’t tell you that it isn’t immensely satisfying not to have to worry about all of the above when travelling light. It isn’t always possible, of course – work trips, longer holidays – but when it is, it’s perhaps the closest thing to feeling free. It’s a twist on that hole-in-a-sack riddle: what can you pack that will make your bag light? Nothing.
My favourite lyrical paean to the practice is Jeffrey Lewis and Diane Cluck’s on their appropriately titled Travel Light: “When I was an astronaut I didn’t take my boots / When I was a record store I didn’t have the blues / I travel light and that’s the life for me.”
I have travelled in the opposite situation, too. When I moved back to the UK after living in another country, a huge Klimt print I had bought in Moscow six months earlier had its own plane seat. (I didn’t buy it its own seat, but the stewards were keen on protecting it.) It hangs in my flat to this day, but it was incredibly stressful, moving with everything I owned.
I often travel alone. It is good for the soul, and all I need then is: my passport; a good book or three (paperback, obviously); a playlist relevant to where one is going (surely I cannot be the only nerd who does this?); a language app (if relevant); a rolling countryside view from a train window, or a pointillist expanse from a plane window; and possibly, depending on mood, an incredibly interesting seat partner from whom one learns new things.
Because how many pairs of jeans are you really going to wear? Why take weighty bottles of shampoo when every hotel, Airbnb, or couchsurfing host will have some? Not having much on the back means one’s plans can always change on a whim, too. And, in my opinion, plans are made for changing.