Monday, October 15, 2007

Traveling Light And Shopping

Anyone who’s flown in the last couple of years knows the increasing hassles of weight and size limits for both carry-ons and checked luggage. Not to mention dragging all your stuff through multiple airports; nor the chance that your luggage will be “mishandled” (lost, delayed, damaged, or in Nairobi).

So we have a radical suggestion for certain types of trips: Buy your clothing, cosmetics, personal items and the like at your destination. Just carry one small bag onto the plane, into which you have:

  • In-the-air comfort items – book, headphones, ipod, etc.
  • A few truly essential medications and cosmetics – ibuprofen, hand soap, toothbrush, etc.
  • Your best walking shoes (if you don’t wear them), a spare shirt, a change of socks and underwear.
  • Sunglasses, hat, gloves, guidebooks, maps, camera, other small incidentals.
  • And then wear several layers of extra clothing onto the plane, say both a fleece sweater or vest and a jacket.
What else do we really need for the first day or two of almost any trip? Or for the whole of the trip, for that matter? You can buy an umbrella at the airport when you land. You can pick up shampoo, toothpaste, and laundry soap at a store on the way to your hotel. Beyond that, what do you immediately need? Not much. Then, after you’ve arrived and settled in, go shopping. You’ll probably be flying into a city – anywhere in the world – where you can buy an extra pair of pants or a couple of blouses. Maybe a few more pairs of undies and socks. You can also buy a small extra bag to carry those items in while on your trip, or bring a small, light (very light) folding duffel in your carry-on.

Other benefits include not having to wait for your luggage. Getting to the car-rental counter before everyone else. Being able to check-in online for almost every leg of your trip. Going direct to the gate when you have your online boarding pass. And going shopping for clothes that are made for your destination and which your friends will envy when you get home.

One of our favorite pairs of shoes are clogs from Prague – purchased because we had horrible blisters on our heels and couldn’t wear the shoes we’d brought. We also have purchased scarves perfect for the March weather in Paris, and a swimsuit in Canada (for the hot tub). Every second shop in every town on the planet sells T-shirts. Of course, this costs. But it will be far cheaper than being hit with an over-weight luggage fee. And possibly much “cheaper” than the emotional cost of a piece of lost luggage. By shopping sensibly, you should be able to pick up all the essential “extras” (except for maybe shoes) almost anywhere in the world for under $100. This seems to us a small price to pay. Of course, you can always spend a lot more, too.

What to do with all these extra clothes and bottles on your return flight? Trash or give away the shampoo and such. Ship a box of clothes home slow and cheap. Go to a local post office, purchase a sturdy box, and strap it up with that roll of strapping tape you brought. We shipped a surprisingly large and weighty package from Slovenia to Colorado for about $50. Everything arrived just fine. And if the package doesn’t show up, well, it was just some spare clothing anyway. Or, you could always donate the clothing to a charity before you return home.

Obviously, this idea won’t work if you’re a business traveler who needs more than one suit or several dress shirts. Nor if you’re on a ski trip with boots, skis, poles, etc. Nor if you’re a professional photographer with massive amounts of gear. But how often do most of us travel that way? The other time this strategy won’t work so well is if you’re flying multiple legs to multiple destinations. But then, you’ll be traveling light on those trips anyway (we hope).

Other than ski trips, we could have traveled this way on more than 75 percent of our air trips the last few years. And reduced the stress on both our backs and our nerves.

You may think that there’s some “thing” that will prevent you from traveling this way. Our fly-in-the-ointment is how to carry our Leatherman-type knife/multitool. We’ve only partially solved that one (we take nail clippers and bandage scissors on the plane, and buy a small kitchen knife on arrival) – your individual challenge will probably be different. But you’ll figure it out if you get as fed up with airports as we have.