The art of travelling the world with seven kilos of gear.
The days when I used to drag along my Panasonic Toughbook and my collection of CDs are long gone, but even after that, I was often guilty of overdoing my luggage, carrying way more stuff than necessary.
So, here is how I’ve learned how to live my time on the road with only seven kilos, which is all you get to carry as cabin luggage on planes.
It was a journey made of mistakes and embarrassments before I reached my modern day strategy.
Hitching a ride to Spain.
Back in the 90s, my friend Caccola and I loved to hitchhike.
We were young, “smelling like teen-spirits” and had no mobile phones or credit cards.
The challenge was to survive on 100.000 Lire (around 50 Euros) for a month! We always made it home in the end, with amazing stories and no cash to spare.
Our backpacks were massive. We had sleeping bags, way too many pairs of shoes and…many more hairs than we both have today.
A few years later we both had jobs and credit cards, but the false sense of security made us take it a little too far.
The Spanish summer took a toll on our travel wardrobe and turned us into those you really don’t want to have in your car.
Still, we were as happy as a pair of fluffy ducks though not exactly as socially successful as we would have wished!
The new Millennium and the road to minimalism.
Since the end of the 90s, some famous environmental organisation was crazy enough to give me a serious job, which involved a lot of air travel, therefore I had plenty of time to refine my seven kilos strategy, so, you’re in luck today!
You can benefit from my trial and error! Read carefully and avoid my silly mistakes if you can.
I must confess that all my travel never required particular attire, so, if you’re a Business Class/First Class jet setter or a Yuppie, you are forgiven for not reading the rest of this story.
Those vacuum storage bags, thanks Mum!
Yes, I did try using those wonderful bags, which are meant to be used in combination with a vacuum cleaner. It was an Xmas gift from my Mum, so I HAD to try them out on a 4 month trip. Pack the world in a backpack and leave the air back home, sounds like a good idea…
However, the bags containing your clothes will shrink solid as a rock and…
if the valve fails to re-seal the bag, once it is time to pack up and go, you’ll find yourself with way more gear than you can fit in your bag. This exact case scenario happened to me, and I had to launch a desperate hunt for a “divorce bag” to get home.
It is a last minute surprise you wish to avoid and it can cost you a fortune having one more piece of luggage, all the way from Europe to Woop Woop.
Wear all your heavy gear NOT, as you catch a plane.
I’ve been there and done that!
I didn’t plan for it, but it was out of desperation, as my checked luggage was massive and deemed “unsafe” for the handlers.
I don’t have a picture of that, but I was forced to wear a few shirts, and a pair of jackets as a result of my stupidity.
It was a very uncomfortable voyage, with no way to improve it, if not hammering the drink trolley to forget the discomfort.
Ever since I’ve bought a digital scale and became a true weight weeneis.
Excess Luggage – The Almighty Ship ragbag
My savior for those years I was working on board a Greenpeace Ship.
Ships are not exactly the right place where to wear white shirts and fancy shoes, there’s a lot of grease around and you might as well say goodbye to your favourite T-shirt, if it’s left in the laundry basket for too long.
After a while in navigation, beards start growing and nobody really cares what each other’s wearing, so, as soon as I used to sign on, I would promptly jump in the ragbag, or, if you prefer the “vintage” store and grab everything which would fit me.
All but underwear…I’d rather bring my own. I’m sure there’s many ex-colleagues who took it a bridge farther.
In times of water restrictions on board, I’ve learned how to shave using a bucket and how to wash my clothes, as I would shower for 3 minutes, using the same versatile bucket.
It’s hard to find a bucket in a world-class hotel, as it’s unlikely to feature in your room, but if you wish to avoid the cost of the laundry service, buy a bucket. You can always use it to chill a yummy bottle of bubbles 😉
Squeeze your clothes in a towel to dry them and hang them in front of the AC all night…et voila’, you’ll be fresh as a daisy the morning after.
Again, no dress code at Greenpeace, just in case you wonder, activism it’s not for fashion victims…
Carry work related items
For many years, I’ve also carried an extravagant amount of equipment, as my job in the field required it. I’ve always been very careful not to get nicked because of it.
It would have been a bit like going for a Greenpeace action and getting done by the police because your driving license has expired.
Flying with a massive Pelican Case, stuffed with electronics is not always a very practical thing, but you can use your socks and shirts to add some padding to expensive gear.
I never had problems, apart from once, entering India in Bangalore.
I was carrying a satellite phone and realized in Brisbane Airport, reading the news, that a French TV crew was serving a few weeks jail time for having satellite phones in their possession.
Once I got to Bangalore, I realized between the plane and the taxi stand there were three metal detectors and there was no way for me to talk myself out of a potential jail situation.
I had no choice but dump an expensive satellite handset in the bin…bugger!
The seven kilos in seven days diet
Time has indeed forged my habits. Now I’m a minimalist. I own few things, but of good quality.
The only excess I allow myself is the number of bicycles I own (four), but I rarely travel with a bike packed in a bag.
I’m also a big fan of Airlines’ complimentary toiletry bags, second hand shops, hope shops and hotel amenities. And, my hairstyle doesn’t require much maintenance.
Among all freebies, a special mention goes for Emirates supplied Bulgari after shave cream…
I’m often striving for the “endless summer”, meaning that I try to avoid going to Europe during those winter months. Yes I do still travel to cold places, but also on seven kilos.
I always pack for seven days only and keep myself clean as much as I can.
I have one pair of good shoes and I might bring an old pair, which I will abandon once I’m done with it. Or, travel with stuff I no longer need, which I can leave in the ragbag before returning home.
After all, what goes around comes around!
Merino undershirts are great and so are quick-dry towels. One item I absolutely hate is quick-dry long pants, which might become shorts if you separate the bottom bits. I find them extremely nerdy. The day I will adopt that style, I will probably be able to travel with six kilos!
To finish, and slightly off-topic, I will never ever wear a Greenpeace shirt or a “rhino-hunter” vest (with a Greenpeace logo!)…
They both attract curiosity, often from those I really don’t want to chat with. As per my sleeping gear: a Greenpeace T-shirt and a sarong 😉