Now that I’m all done with my summer travel, I thought I would take the time to post my conclusions from my little carry-on only experiment. For those of you who might not know what I’m talking about, these posts (1, 2) lay everything out. Overall, I’m really happy that I didn’t take a ton of stuff on this trip. There were so many occasions where I was aware that not having a crazy amount of luggage made things a lot easier, especially during the solo segments of my journey where paying for a taxi on my own would have been pretty expensive. Here is a quick run down of what I think are the pros and the cons of the carry-on only life.
Pro: Easy to navigate cities on public transportation and through crowded streets. This, for me, was the number one advantage of packing light. Because I mostly visited major cities, the airports were generally well connected to the centers via public transit. Trying to get to your hotel/hostel/AirBnB in a foreign city on public transit when you have a lot of luggage is 0 fun. Trust me, I done it and it sucks. This time around, because I was holding everything on my back, I had very little trouble hopping on and off trains and buses to get where I needed to go.
Con: Washing machine dependency/clothes washing dilemma. A major determinant in ones ability to “survive” for longer periods of time without much luggage is access to a washing machine and/or facilities to hand wash clothes. I’m honestly not big on handwashing, especially for larger articles of clothing. I also had sweaty workout clothes to deal with. That being said, I was heavily reliant on staying in places where I would have access to a washing machine. Because I was conscious of this when booking my lodging, however, I didn’t really run into any problems.
Pro: Save money on baggage fees and transportation.This “pro” goes along with the first one in some ways. Being able to opt for public transit instead of taking a taxi, which can get very expensive, can save you a fair amount of money, (especially when you’re dealing with monetary exchange rates that are not in your favor!). If I ever got discouraged while traipsing through a city with my backpack, I just reminded myself of the delicious dinner that I would have that night with the 30 euros that I would have spent on a taxi. So worth it! Also, if you’re planning on making use of low-cost regional carriers in Europe, it makes your life so much easier to be able to carry on since the fees to check baggage are often more than your ticket itself.
Con: Can make gift-buying a challenge. If you intend to bring back big elaborate gifts for friends and family members, this could prove difficult if you only have a carry-on. Many of the blogs that I read suggested that you leave room in your suitcase when packing to accommodate for the things you’ll acquire. But when packing light is a major challenge to begin with, as it was for me, it’s hard to actually make this happen. My backpack has an extension on it that I didn’t use at the outset of my trip because I knew it would make it the dimensions too large for some of regional airlines that I would be flying in Europe. The good thing this was that I was able to extend it on my last leg from Dublin back to the States since I got a free checked bag on my international flight. That being said, I only picked up little things in most of the places that I visited at the beginning and then bought more stuff in Dublin because I knew I had the extra space. Some good ideas for great gifts that don’t take up too much space/weigh too much are jewelry (which explains why I have 4 new rings to my name), spices, light-weight scarves, and small figurines.
Pro: A Small Suitcase does a conscious consumer make. The flipside of the above “con” is that having limited space makes you all the more conscious of the things you buy. Because I knew that everything I bought would take me closer to my luggage capacity, I would have to ask myself if I really wanted it. There were a number of things that I would have bought on impulse that weren’t really all that special had I had the space.
Pro: Perspective. As someone who is fairly type-A, I sometimes find myself overwhelmed with things. It’s very easy for me to overthink things and make life way more complicated than it needs to be. Packing light, for me, was refreshing in that it eliminated a lot of stress by allowing me to see that not having everything that I’m used to having is just not that big a deal. I, as many of us, use a lot of products in various capacities throughout my day. But just because I use them doesn’t mean that they’re actually necessary. It sucks to not have both my exfoliating day face-scrub and my skin-toning night facial bar at my disposal but in reality, my day face scrub works perfectly fine at night as well. All of the brain energy that I put into choosing the perfect outfit for a specific outing is really not necessary as it’s ultimately of little real consequence. The simplicity of packing light allowed me to gain a bit of perspective on how little I actually need to “survive” on a day-to-day basis. I’m hoping to take some of this perspective back into my everyday life.