Travel Light

by tjmHolden

17 July 2008


I think I see the light coming to me, coming through me giving me a second sight . . . So shine shine shine Shine shine shine shine shine shine

I Think I See the LIght, Cat Stevens

Those who make it a living to co-exist with me may be surprised to hear this (since it is a rather well-kept secret), but as a rule, I am a rule-governed machine. Although officially I do not abide by people and structures and situations of control, when it comes to the peripatetic act, I adhere to – nay embrace – nostrums and dictums and aphorisms and folk wisdom and humble rules of thumb.

You have read a few in this blogspace over the years, perhaps; things like: “making do” or “listening to the sounds between the notes” or “reading the signs” or “any picture tells multiple stories”. All good bits of advice to keep in mind as one traverses the world’s many nodes and paths.

And now here’s another one for you all (the walrus was Paul—no, just kidding—here goes, for real):

“when traveling, travel light”.


Well, since you took the trouble to ask, here are a few tips.
This is a rule of peripatetic thumb that I find exceedingly tough to adhere to—no matter how many times I pack a suitcase. You would think that there could be fewer things simpler than “seven days and eight nights”. But I guess there are. Compared with that calculus, 2x - 3y = N2 / 4 would have a better chance of achieving a successful solution (and I flunked linear equations!). Because, confronted with a simple week overseas, damned if I can’t avoid having to pack something on the order of:

  • 9 pairs of socks
  • 11 pair of underwear
  • 4 shorts
  • 3 pair of slacks
  • 2 dress coats
  • 3 dress shirts
  • 6 casual shirts
  • 5 ties
  • a sweater
  • at least one set of work-out gear
  • running shoes
  • sandals and/or knock-around slips ons
  • dress shoes, and
  • a huge bag of toiletries, containing:
    • sundry medications (heartburn, constipation, diahrrea, headache, itchy toesies . . . etcetera and so forth) 
    • vitamins (C and Multi-)
    • deodorant
    • shaving gear
    • cologne
    • toothbrush and toothpaste
    • hairbrush, and
    • the kitchen sink

Which, if you have trouble doing the arithmetic, adds up to excessive amounts of cubic centimeters requiring luggage occupancy that simply exceeds the capability for one human to comfortably lug to and through some foreign city.


Fortunately for my ego, this does not appear to be exclusively a personal problem. As I wend my way through airports, my detective’s nose for induction informs me that just to the left, then over there on the right, and even directly dead center, there are a bevy of other folk who share my affliction. So many folk as to render the following images a not uncommon scene at your average pre-flight zone:


Desperate people digging deep into their luggage, extracting hefty objects to transfer into an empty cardboard box or a spacious bag purchased in an adjacent bric-a-brac store for 250 yen; shifting matter from one suitcase to another like they have been suddenly confronted with some life and death pop water quiz out of Die Hard with a Vengeance; finalizing their Herculean mental tasks, they gingerly plop the modified bags onto check-in counter scales in moods alternating between exasperation and resignation, praying that this time the ascending L.E.D. will finally confirm that they’ve made weight.

“Why so much sweat shed?” you might ask.

Because failing to make weight means excess baggage charges. Occasionally the banning of the bag, entirely . . .



exactly am I going to send this bag? I’ve just vacated my apartment, I’ve quit my job—I’ve got no office or home address. All my friends in this country are standing in line with me, tickets in hand! So,


am I going to leave this suitcase with???!”

“Too bad, pal,” you can see the counter person ready to p(ron)ounce . . . “that is not my business. Not my problem. You should have looked up how many kilograms we accept before you started loading up the silverware. It’s written right there on our web site.”

So, to avoid the fiasco of paying the fine (not to mention the embarrassment of exposing the contents of your suitcase [the shade of your panties, the lethargy in your packing style, the foodstuffs you intend to keep you company during your private hours abroad] for the greater public to see as you frenetically seek to make weight), you’d be better served to travel light.

But how?

Well, since you took the trouble to ask . . . here are a few tips:


Traveling light, pure and simple, means avoiding over-sized bags . . . the greater the space, the greater the temptation to fill it. A prescription for disaster, on the one hand; on the other, a sort of mathematical theorum I can offer you free of charge.

Instead of being thankful I can hear you saying “well, duh.”

Okay (you ingrate) sure, go ahead and laugh. Ridicule—even taunt me, if you must— but, as you do, try pulling out a bag the size of the ones below and


try to avoid exceeding the limit.


Okay, so you


find that advice a bit too rudimentary for your advanced faculties. Then answer me this: how will you avoid overstuffing a bag if you are going to be gone for a week or more? A mix of business and pleasure, say, in a climate warm during the day and mild-to-cool at night? Well, that’s a toughy, right? And one without any easy answer. So, let’s put that puzzle (which is sure to leave us prone on the airport tile) aside, while I tell you, instead, about the folks I know who manage to travel with only a set or two of clothes. They wear ‘em in the day, wash ‘em at night. Hope that radiant body heat will prove an effective drier in the aftermath. (And pray that there won’t be too much rain, sleet, or snow in the in-between times).

So, that is one way to go. Another is to travel with nothing but the clothes on your back, buy what you need in the place that you are going to, and then leave it all behind. A material rebuttal, I guess, on the sentiment expressed by U2 in “Walk On”:

The only baggage you can bring / is all that you can’t leave behind.

In this way, taking the U2 lead, we might allow ourselves to move beyond the practicalities. Doing so, “traveling light” can morph into a philosophy to govern the sojourn. A set of dos and don’ts that cautions us to:

  1. eschew the strung-out queues . . .


  2. eat the fluffy fare; and steer clear of the greasy stuffed skins . . .


  3. keep abreast of the time in your ever-changing zones, and


  4. press through space with nothing more than you can carry in your hands or pull along behind you . . .

It may not be much, but a la Kundera, this is (and has only aspired to be) a philosophy about lightness, after all.

A slight trifle, a brief dalliance, a smidgen of reason, to help you cats see the light.

(Shine, shine, shine . . . )

To help you pick your way through, and maintain your balance along, whatever treacherous treks are to come.


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