Traveling Light

traveling light
Gift Shop on Route 66 in Arizona © Robert Dorband

“If you ever plan to motor west, travel my way, take the highway that is best. Get your kicks on Route 66.”

– Bobby Troup

I just returned from a 9-day road trip with my husband, 13-year old son and 18-year old stepdaughter.

My son and I had driven from Chicago, Illinois, to Amarillo, Texas, many years ago, mostly tracing the old Route 66.

For those of you who don’t know, Route 66, also called “US Highway 66,” the “Mother Road” and “Main Street of America,” was one of the original highways in the US and the first that was completely paved.

It ran from Chicago to Santa Monica, California and is the highway so many people took west during the Dust Bowl. The highway was decommissioned when the interstates in those areas were completed.

However, much of the old highway survives as business loops through towns and cities. Other sections are now state highways labeled “Historic Route 66.” Much of what survives is simply frontage road for the freeway, unfortunately.

“You see Amarillo, Gallup, New Mexico, Flagstaff, Arizona. Don’t forget Winona, Kingman….”

– Bobby Troup

Getting back to my story, this trip picked up where we’d left off in 2007. After visiting with friends in Dallas, we more or less followed Route 66 from Amarillo to Kingman, Arizona. We flew home from Las Vegas.

Because we had to fly and drive long distances, packing was a bit unusual. For a road trip, you can usually just stuff the car full and head out. On the other hand, when you fly, you can’t take as much, but you usually stay in a small area.

Packing light for flying while still bringing road tripping stuff could have been a challenge, but we’ve traveled light for so long now, it was simple.

We didn’t need to check any bags, even though we packed a bunch of extra stuff besides our clothes and toiletries, including a DSLR camera, gifts for my friends’ 2 year old and lots of travel information.

Although I have a smart phone, as I’ve said before, I find paper a lot more convenient for some things.

For road trips, I bring old-fashioned paper maps and relevant pages from AAA guidebooks, as well as a binder with information about where we’re staying and options for things to do.

And information about the history and geology of the places we travel through. And field guides.

And then there’s the loupe magnifier and the mini-spotting scope (better than cheap travel binoculars).

Yeah, I know, we’re nerds. But the amazing thing is: it all fits!

Ordinary People Traveling Light

This post is not for people who want to live out of a backpack. Nor is it for the people who wash their clothes each night because they packed only one outfit besides the one they were wearing.

It’s for average people, like most of those I saw on my trip, each rolling a giant suitcase in one hand and a carry-on sized rollaboard in the other, who are interested in traveling light.

“He who would travel happily must travel light.”

– Antoine de St. Exupery

You might wonder why you should bother traveling light. There are several reasons I prefer it:

  • Even if your bags have wheels, you’re likely to need to carry them up or down stairs sometimes.
  • Once you get past the learning curve, it’s a lot faster to pack less.
  • Smaller or fewer bags mean there’s more walking space in the hotel/motel room.
  • It’s easier to take public transportation, so you can save money by not having to get a cab.

There are even more reasons for traveling light when we’re flying:

  • Once the airline lost all of our bags. We got them back, but it was three days later. Bags I keep with me don’t get lost.
  • On most airlines, you save money by not checking bags.
  • You can (usually) skip the lines at check in, checking yourself in at the kiosk.
  • You can leave when you deplane – no waiting for luggage at the carousel.
  • Even if you’re checking your bag, there are weight limits. If your bag is heavy, you’ll be charged an extra fee. Further, if it’s too heavy, you’ll be forced to get rid of things or repack before you can check the bag.

“I left with my canvas bag in which a few fundamental things were packed and took off for the Pacific Ocean with the fifty dollars in my pocket.”

– Jack Kerouac

Most people tend to over-pack. It’s nearly always possible to pack enough clothes, electronics and other items for a trip of a week or two within carry-on only limits.

For most airlines, that’s two bags: one small “personal item” that fits under the seat and one larger one for the overhead bin.

There are, of course, a few exceptions. Maybe you need multiple dressy outfits or you have more than one child who’s too small to deal with luggage per adult. Perhaps you wear larger sized clothing or you’re bringing large items for activities like skiing, diving or car-camping.

I count those as exceptions not because traveling light is impossible in those situations, but because most people aren’t so interested in traveling light that they want to do laundry every day or two or buy a lot of expensive travel gear and clothing.

What and How to Pack

If you want to learn more about traveling light, watch for my next post. I’ll be giving detailed packing tips as well as advice on preparing a packing list.

And if you have any questions about our trip, please ask. It was fantastic!

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