In a previous article ("Keep Calm and Carry On"), I shared my philosophy about traveling light, and offered some practical tips for how to lighten your load.
Packing light may be easy enough for a regular trip, but what if you have a special event or activity in your travel plans that require you to pack a lot of extra gear, like ski trips, cruises with formal nights, or weddings?
One specialty trip that some of us at MousePlanet have been taking these last few years has been to runDisney events. When staff writer and newsletter editor Stephanie Wien registered for the Goofy Challenge for this past January, I remembered some of the trouble she ran into with her luggage when we'd all traveled to Walt Disney World for the 2012 marathon a year earlier, so I proposed a project: Try to pare down what she normally packs, to see if she could travel with just her carryon bags for a highly specialized trip. Was she able to meet our own goofy challenge?
To prepare for this challenge, we made sure to outfit Stephanie with some helpful items. To start, she got to use a Tom Bihn Tri-Star, an extremely durable, soft-sided, maximum-sized carryon bag by a small company that makes all of its products in its factory in Seattle. Next, she got a number of Tom Bihn packing organizers to help keep things separated and organized. She also got a set of Eagle Creek Spectre Packing Organizers, which are extremely lightweight and come in different sizes. Properly equipped, Stephanie read up on some general packing-light tips to see what she could apply.
The main challenge for Stephanie was that she wanted to carry two pairs of running shoes so she could avoid wearing the same pair for both the half and full marathons. In addition, she didn't want to rely on the need to wash her running gear right after her half marathon, so she needed to bring two sets of gear. On top of that, as the marathon weekend approached, the weather forecast was indicating cold weather, meaning Stephanie would have to bring additional layers for warmth. For these reasons, she had a much bigger challenge than packing for a simple single-run weekend.
Was Stephanie able to travel with just her carry-on bags? Was she able to pare down her normal inventory and carry less?
In this article, I talk to Stephanie about her experience, and intersperse them with any thoughts or suggestions I may have.
Lani: Were you able to travel with just your carry-ons?
Stephanie: I was mostly able to travel with just the Tom Bihn bag but I ended up breaking down and bringing an extra duffle. I had a couple of extra shirts in there, my foam roller, my throwaway clothes and my food that couldn't go carryon.
[A foam roller, even travel-sized, can take up a lot of room. If you're working with a massage or physical therapist, find out if there are any options you can use that take up less room. Some people use tennis balls (which are not only small but also cheap and easy to replace during a trip) to get at the deep tissue to work out sore muscles, for example. Another consideration if you're doing something like the Goofy Challenge, is to anticipate the shirts you will get when you pick up your packet. A Goofy Challenge participant will get three shirts at packet pick-up (one for the half, one for the full, and a Goofy shirt). Without breaking the "don't wear a shirt for an event that hasn't happened yet" rule, you can still incorporate these new shirts into your wardrobe by planning on wearing them after the events are over. This may allow you to take a couple of shirts out of your luggage.]
Lani: What bag(s) did you wind up taking? How did the bags work out for you?
Stephanie: I liked the new Eagle Creek packing things [Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Cube Set], and your Tom Bihn packers [organizer cubes and stuff sacks]. I might invest in some of those. They really help to keep things separated, and for clothes like running stuff that can be wrinkled they work great.
Lani: Were you able to pack a bag or pack for just your running stuff, or did you mix things up?
Stephanie: All the clothes and some of the miscellaneous things—except shoes—fit in the red Tom Bihn Packing Cube Backpack.
[Shoes are always the hardest to fit in a bag, even if you use some tricks like stuff them with socks. Stephanie was pretty sure she wanted to take two pairs of running shoes with her; one for each event, and in case it rained during the first event. One trick is to wear one of your running shoes on your flight, so you don't have to pack two pairs of running shoes in your bag.]
Lani: Were you able to pack the important things you wanted to take on your trip, without having to sacrifice items?
Stephanie: I already have way too much stuff, and traveling Southwest Airlines where I can check a bag without fees, I didn't want to be compelled to buy an overpriced clothing item in lieu of bringing something. I ended up not needing as many clothes as I packed, so next time I go on a run-cation that is warm, I might pare things down. I was more interested in comfort than fashion in some cases, so would have left the capri pants at home.
Lani: You had some concerns about forgetting something important. Did the packing list help you? Did you wind up forgetting something because you forgot to add them to the packing list?
Stephanie: The list definitely helped, and I will be using it again. I like that I can reuse it for another trip.
[Stephanie used the Packing Pro smartphone app, which we've reviewed.]
Lani: How was the actual travel experience with your carry-ons? Did you notice any advantages (such as not waiting at the luggage carousel, etc.)?
Stephanie: Doing everything carryon with a bag like yours is convenient, but the bag gets to be pretty heavy. It wears on my shoulders, especially on that long walk to Disney Magical Express from the gates. I ended up having to wait anyway since I brought the extra bag and I didn't have the yellow tags [that quickly identified her bags for Disney's Magical Express service].
[My suggestion when shopping for a soft-sided carry-on bag, is to look for one with hideaway backpack straps. The Tom Bihn Tri-Star that Stephanie used had such straps, but I suspect she didn't think to use them, or didn't realize how heavy the bag would feel. When I know I have to walk a bit, I usually plan ahead and use the backpack straps—it makes the packs much easier to carry. Typically, I'll bring out the backpack straps when I land at an airport because I will likely need to walk a fair bit to the car rental area or to an airport train station (which many large metropolitan airports have).]
Lani: Did you buy a lot of souvenirs and then have trouble packing them all up? If yes, how did you manage What did you do? (for example, send some items home via mail)?
Stephanie: If I hadn't had the extra bag, I would have a really hard time getting everything home. The three tech shirts, cotton shirt from the meet, and Goofy gear I bought all added up.
[As mentioned above, if you know you are going to acquire a lot of extra clothing on your trip, one trick is to anticipate them by counting them into your travel wardrobe. This also includes any merchandise you buy at the expo.]
Lani: Do you think that adjusting your packing list to travel with just a carry-on was a good experience, even if you encountered some problems, concerns, or issues?
Stephanie: It helped me be more mindful about what to bring and what to leave home.
Lani: Do you think you will want to try traveling with just a carry-on in the future, at least for some types of travel?
Stephanie: I normally do short trips, like weekends or MouseAdventure with just a carry-on already.
Lani: If you decide to check in your luggage, do you think you would still make some adjustments to how you pack, taking your new carry-on experience to use? What are your overall thoughts about this experiment?
Stephanie: For a running trip like Goofy, I think it could be rather difficult to only do carry on especially if you have specific foods you must have that aren't carry-on friendly, or hard to fit it all in a baggie. For Goofy, I had a lot of gels. If you have a specific brand you need, you may not find them at the expo, especially if it's one of the more obscure ones, like Carboom.
[Energy gels require a little creativity if you are traveling with just a carryon, because the TSA can consider those as "liquids" that require them to be stored in your 3-1-1 toiletry kit. An alternative might be to minimize what you carry in your toiletry bag and fill the space with your energy gels. For example, it's easy to use the hotel shampoo and lotion so you can leave those at home. Some stores like Lush even sell shampoo bars so you can leave your small bottle of shampoo at home. Also, if you're not very picky about the flavor or brand of your energy gel, many vendors sell them at the expo.]
I think Stephanie made a valiant effort at packing light. I was very pleased to see how she incorporated a lot of the organizers into her bags, and based on what she's traveled with in the past, I think she made a lot of adjustments. Although she wasn't quite able to go with just her carryon bags, she got pretty close, and she was able to pack her valuables and important things in her carryon so she didn't worry about losing her running gear if her check-in bag got lost.
I knew it was a lot for Stephanie to adjust for such a specialized trip, so I think she did a great job!
Next time you have a specialized trip, why not consider incorporating some travel-light strategies to keep things to a minimum?