Solo Traveler: Round the World Travel – Packing Light

Sherry Hardage is currently exploring Thailand. This is a spirit house, a little edifice for the displaced spirits when a building or house is built on land the spirits inhabited. They are given food, drink and incense every morning by the new owners of the land, and the squirrels benefit from everyone’s generosity. Photo by Sherry Hardage
Solo Traveler: Round the World Travel – Packing Light

I have always been impressed with people who go on a round the world trip with nothing but a tiny suitcase and what they are wearing.

Deva Houti was an Indian historian I met in 1986 when she spent a few days in Albuquerque. She traveled all over the world giving talks on India, and had the smallest suitcase I had ever seen.  It was plaid and would slide under the seat of most airplanes.  

Fascinated, I asked her to tell me how she could possibly travel all over the world, during different seasons, with such a small bag?

What she showed me was pure simplicity.

Deva had a short haircut that needed no blow dryer or curling iron. All that was required was a comb. She had three items of jewelry; a pair of earrings, a ring, and a bracelet. She had two pairs of shoes, sandals and a good pair of leather walking shoes.

Her clothing consisted of two silk/cotton kurtas, those long shirts worn by Muslim and Indian women, beautifully embroidered, and two pairs of salwar pants that went with either one of them. Two thin colorful scarves were used to dress up the outfits. With everything mix-or-match, she could have several different looks. She carried a small bag with toiletries, a hairbrush, and a length of nylon cord that she could use as a clothesline.

She had a light sweater if it got chilly. With three sets of underwear and socks, she was set to go anywhere, anytime.

I asked how she managed when it was very cold, and she said something I never would have imagined. “I rely on other people to provide what I might need, just as I would help them in my country.”

Simple travel, apparently, is the art of taking the minimum and asking for help. Deva had the advantage of traveling at the request of other people who, of course, would have helped her with anything. But the rest of us can follow her example as well.

A year ago I went to Europe for three months, during the last of fall and into the winter. I took much more than I needed, and packed it carefully into a new 4-wheeler monster-bag that would hold everything. I went alone, and planned to stay for extended periods in rented apartments. I even took a good knife, cutting board, spices, a small skillet, and spatula due to previous experiences with badly outfitted kitchens.

I had four pairs of shoes and hiking boots, warm and cool weather clothes, swimsuit and towel, winter hat and gloves, heavy sweater and gortex jacket. I was prepared for anything!

And my giant bag was right on the verge of surpassing the 22 kilo limit. In spite of the four wheels, it was a horrible inconvenience when trying to get to airports on metros and buses. Fortunately, there were always helpful young men willing to schlep the bag up and down stairs, and into vehicles.

The last two trips I’ve made, to Mexico and Thailand, were done with an eye to NOT checking a suitcase at all.

The maximum carry-on bag is 21 inches long and 9 inches thick. Mine is hard sided, so I can’t squeeze in more stuff than it will hold.

Plus I have a Baggalini, an expandable purse large enough for a laptop, iPad, camera, and all the cords and whistles that usually accompany those things. Even stuffed, it fits perfectly under the airplane seat.

On my current trip to Thailand, I wore a fleece jacket, walking shoes, and the warm clothes on the plane. I’ll need them once again when I arrive back in New Mexico in November. One pair of sandals are my daily walking shoes, and there’s a pair of water shoes I’ll need for scuba diving.

Like Deva Houti, my hair is short, and I only need some mascara for makeup.

My clothes are made from lightweight summer cloth, and so far have worked well in the heat and humidity. There are seven days worth of underwear. Three pairs of pants, five shirts, and a dress can be mixed and matched for a casual look. I doubt I’ll need anything elegant, no invitations have arrived yet from the King and Queen.

A few personal essentials and emergency items like a first aid kit and flashlight round out the contents of the carry-on bag. There are plenty of laundries around, eager for tourist business. I never have to wear dirty clothes like some of the backpacking kids do!

I’m in Thailand for a month, and traveling around the country. In truth, few people will see me wearing the same clothes day after day. More stuff than I brought is just more stuff to carry. Been there … done that! Simple is definitely the way to go.

Editor’s note: Sherry Hardage lives in Los Alamos and has been traveling solo in the U.S., Mexico, and Europe since she retired from Honeywell in 2009. She is a photographer, writer, and guide who organizes tours of Chiapas, Mexico through her website:

Follow the continuing adventures at Sherry’s blog:

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