Travel Light & Travel Right

Enjoy a few of Cliff’s travel photos along the way.


Mesa Arch, in Canyonlands National Park, Utah stands at the edge of a cliff about 2,000 feet above the Colorado River. The arch is famous for its sunrise images and the effort to capture the shot is well worth it. It’s about a 45 minute drive from Moab, Utah and then a half mile easy hike from the parking lot. The arch fills up with photographers every morning so you want to be there early to claim a spot.

When traveling, do you normally pack your suitcase with dirty clothes? If you answered “No”, think again. If you are like the majority of travelers, you pack extra clothes and then eventually turn your suitcase into a bag of dirty laundry by the end of a trip. Crazy, huh? It sure is–it’s inefficient, bulky and it takes extra effort to lug around your dirty laundry!
Since you’re reading this on Apogee Photo Magazine, chances are that you’re a photographer and you carry a photo backpack on trips. If so, be forewarned: this article is about everything else you pack–traveling with photo equipment is for another day.

So it’s time to pack light and pack right. Honestly, you don’t need to pack an outfit for each day or take lots of tops and pants / skirts and dresses. When you pack light, you’ll pack three or four tops to mix with two or three pants. And shoes–all you need is two (maybe three) pair for an entire trip. That’s it. That’s all you need for a trip of any length, whether it’s for a few days or a few weeks. Sure, you’ll wash along the way, but that’s not a big deal. With few exceptions, my wife Doris and I each carry one 21” wheeled bag and a small backpack wherever we go.

As a light packer, you’ll take less clothes and accessories, carry a lighter bag, feel better about yourself, and get around a lot easier! So, let’s see what it takes to be a light packer. First, let’s look a little more at the “Why’s” of traveling light.


These soldiers are part of the Terracotta Army of over 8,000 warriors and horses that were built in the 2nd century BC under the direction of to Emperor Qin, the first Emperor of all China, in order to protect him upon his death and to help rule another empire in his afterlife. The life-size figures (approx. 6’tall) were all buried in formation in an area about 1.5 km east of Emperor Qin’s Mausoleum, just outside the city of Xi’an, Shaanxi province, China. The Terracotta Army is now considered the most significant archeological excavation of the 20th century.

Why Travel Light?

1. You’ll have less bags and weight to carry around.

Have you noticed that the farther along in a trip you are, the heavier the bag becomes! You can maneuver a light bag over stairs, into hotels and elevators, on streets, buses, trains, subways and taxis. Even if you are on a tour or a cruise, you will have to handle your bag at some time.

TIP: Your bag should not exceed 22”.

2. You don’t have to check baggage at the airport.

YAH! This is a biggie. You will save baggage fees and on arrival at your destination you won’t be waiting for your luggage at the carousel. That means less chance of your luggage being lost or stolen. Enough said?

TIP: Check in via internet and print your boarding pass before going to the airport. You can go straight to the gate.

3. Save money on cabs, cars and transfers.

It’s easy to use public transportation (trains, buses, streetcars, subways) when you travel light. And with public transportation you can get to know the city like a native rather than as a tourist.

TIP: If you enjoy walking, take a leisurely walk from the train or subway station to your hotel. It’s fun and refreshing.


Touring Antarctica in a sailing yacht has become a popular and adventurous way to experience the white continent. So much so that there were two yachts harbored in front of this glacier at Port Lockroy when we landed for the morning. This scene caught my attention as soon as we got ashore.

4. You will be less obvious as a tourist.

It’s easier to blend in with small, discrete bags than with big luggage. You also become less of a target for pickpockets and thieves.

TIP: Don’t wear a fanny pack or new/white sneakers.

5. And finally, you will feel good about yourself.

This is the “Zen” part of packing light. You carry less baggage, both literally and figuratively. You have the ability to release yourself from the desire to take things you do not really need. Release yourself from the fear of being caught without something. Carry what you need and nothing more. Remember – “If in doubt, don’t pack it”. You will not miss it.

TIP: Take a breath and follow this rule.

There are three points that need to be considered in order to pack light and we’ll discuss each of them below.

1.) What to pack.
2.) How to pack.
3.) Meeting the challenges.

Once you understand the challenges, you’ll make your list, pack your carry-on bag and head out! Oh sure, you’ll wash clothes along the way and that might be new to you, but it’s a small price to pay for all the benefits.


Although not the tallest, the biggest or the highest volume of water, Iguazu Falls separates itself from all the other waterfalls of the world because of its grandeur and beauty. With 275 waterfalls cascading through the jungle separating Argentina and Brazil, the enormity and grace of Iguazu Falls staggers the mind.

Challenges to Packing Light

1.) Packing light requires planning, especially before your first pack light trip.

The KEY: make a packing list, then cut it in half, then cut it in half again! It might be scary, but it will work. You cannot travel light unless you reduce the amount you pack.

2.) Bring only four days of clothes.

No matter how long a trip is, this is all you’ll need (underwear is an exception – pack for the full trip if you want).

3.) Use a light weight suitcase.
See “What to Pack it in” below.

4.) TSA and 3-1-1.

Be familiar with what you cannot bring onboard and be familiar with the 3-1-1 rule. We take hiking poles with us sometimes, so we know we’ll have to check in baggage on that trip. But we still use a small bag!
Website: TSA Rules

5.) Washing clothes.

This is a key to light packing. You will wash every few days, which is why you only need to pack a few days of clothing. You can wash clothes in a hotel sink with hotel shampoo in just a few minutes. They will be dry the next morning if they are synthetic, or later in the day if cotton. Washing is not a big deal, I promise you!


While waiting for the boat that would take us to Machias Seal Island for a day of Puffin photography, I noticed these boats tied to the dock at Jonesport, a small fishing village located in the heart of the Down East along Maine’s rugged coast. The ropes and knots especially caught my attention. I was able to get the angle I wanted by lying down on the dock and sliding a little bit over the water.

What to Pack

These are well-proven tips that help make traveling more fun and convenient. Once you get it, you will be a reformed traveler forever.

The Packing List: This is the most important part of packing light. It is your top priority. I’ve been using my packing list for about ten years. Well, before packing day I review and modify the list. I then print the list and keep it by the bag. As I pack, I check off each item as it goes in the bag. The system is foolproof. You will never forget a pair of socks or a belt again. If you want a sample of my or Doris’s packing list, just email me and I’ll send you a copy.

Once you print the list, STICK TO IT. Do not listen to the small, still voice that will talk to you just before packing or just before leaving the house, that says, “You might need the…..that you didn’t pack”. Do not listen to that voice and do not pack that item. You will not need it. I promise you. The worst possible time to think about what to take on a trip is while you are actually packing.

TIP: Print this paragraph and tape it to your bag. Read it while packing.

1.) Color coordinate and rotate your clothes.

Pants are your key to coordinating. Pack pants in darker basic colors (blue, black, gray) and then mix and match a few tops to those colors. You will end up with a variety of outfits, just by changing tops and pants. I wear t-shirts or polo shirts in any city or environment. I have never felt out of place and never been refused service.

No one will mind (or notice) that you wore the same tops and pants several times in a week. The same goes for shoes – two or three pair will work for the entire trip.

2.) Synthetic materials…

Use synthetic materials, especially for shirts and pants. Synthetics are light and “quick dry”. If you wash in the evening they are dry in the morning. Cotton takes longer to dry. Convertible pants are great–they are not only light and dry overnight, but become either shorts or long pants.

3.) Layers…

Bring only one or two sweaters or jackets for cold weather. You will get by easily without packing a ton of winter clothes. A shell jacket is invaluable; it doubles as a raincoat and as a light jacket. A long sleeve shirt can double as a light jacket in a cool evening.


Early morning breakfast (le petit dejeuner) in Nuit Saint-Georges, an important center for vineyards and makers of fine wines in the Burgundy region of France. Croissants and café are the order of the day.

What to Pack It In & Clever Ways to Save Space

1.) The Bag

Get a lightweight bag if you don’t have one. No bigger than 22″ x 14″ x 9″. This is regulation size for carry-on bags. Quality 22″ wheeled bags can be as light as 7 or 8 lbs. What does your bag weigh? 

2.) Packing Cubes

These are invaluable in packing. If you have never tried them, you need to. Now, I use packing cubes made by Rick Steves. Eagle Creek is another popular brand. All my t-shirts, underwear, socks and shorts go in one medium size packing cube. They stay organized for an entire trip. I can find any piece of clothing in a flash.

3.) Roll your clothes.

This saves space and your clothes will stay in better shape with fewer creases. Roll t-shirts together, roll underwear together. It really compacts your clothing and saves a lot of space. Pack them in the packing cubes or in your shoes and fill cracks and crevices.

4.) Your shoes are storage spaces.

Stuff socks and underwear inside your shoes. Shoes have empty spaces that are waiting to be filled.

So that’s it–packing light can change the way you travel and make your life easier. Are you ready? Go make your packing list!

by Clifford Kolber
Article: © 2009 Clifford Kolber. All right reserved.

All written content (and most images) in these articles are copyrighted by the authors. Copyrighted material from Apogee Photo Mag should not be used elsewhere without seeking the authors permission.

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