You know about my passion for packing light, right? Well, when I meet other light travellers, the energy and conversation is both enlightening and hilarious as we compare stories, travel bags, gear, scenarios... I think you get the picture!
So I was thrilled to interview Tys Sniffen, who is the owner and founder of the Journey System from Idea Mountain. We are so on the same page when it comes to packing and travel. And it's great to get the travelling light perspective from a guy.
It's such a clever travel bag system, and I was lucky enough for Tys to gift me a bag to see what I thought of it. I loved it, and the review will be the next blog, but for now I wanted to talk to Tys about his packing light journey.
(I am an affiliate of Idea Mountain - if you buy a bag through my link I receive a commission at no extra cost to you. And it helps me to keep doing this free stuff.)
Tys - founder, designer and owner of the Journey System, Idea Mountain.
Have you always been a travelling light enthusiast?
Yes, I’ve always been someone who focused on my gear and got excited about figuring out ways for things to go together and work together.
My earliest carrying situations were with the Scouts, doing backpacking treks as a young teen, carrying everything except water for six day stretches. Then, getting into canoe camping, you realize how much better it is to travel without everything on your back.
As an annoying (lucky) teenager who travelled internationally with his parents, I saw how *the transitions* between things while traveling were the most frustrating: moving from the car to the airline desk to the gate; getting into the train station and finding the right track; arriving at your destination and then having to haul stuff back and forth.
That was a an early lesson: seeing how these transitions frustrated people and wanting to be ‘cooler’ and quicker.
I realised that packing light - carrying less - allowed for smoother transitions, which led to more time actually enjoying your surroundings.
Years of travel helped Tys know exactly what travellers need in a travel bag. Photo Credit: Tys Sniffen.
What started your travelling light journey? Was there a spark that set if off?
There wasn’t really a spark, but to share a strange, goofy inspiration: As a kid, I was always dreaming of becoming James Bond, international spy. He always looked so good, easily traveled across the world, and always seemed to have whatever he needed.
While I’ve given up my desire to use assassination as a work technique, I haven’t stopped wanting to look cool while going around the world. Because I have this fantasy in the back of my mind, I have focused on style and gear that sort of leans towards 007 (probably Pierce Brosnan really) and that has in fact, helped me enjoy travel more.
The Journey System. Perfect for an international traveller (or spy!)
How has your travel experience influenced your bag design?
I think my bag design has been influenced in 100 little ways by my 30 years of travelling as a 'one bagger'. Of course, the fundamental aspect of the modularity - where the day pack disconnects from the travel pack - is a huge one.
I realized that besides packing light, bringing a separate bag for lighter day trips was a waste of weight. Yet using your one bag for everything doesn't make sense either - who wants to take their underwear to the museum tour?
Also, I spent a lot of time thinking through the "rhythm" of travel - you move from transport to a new 'base' (from the airport to your hotel room) and then you want to switch up what you carry, leaving your toiletries and other clothes. I wanted to help make those transitions really smooth and obvious.
This, plus the leaving your stuff in the overhead bin on an airplane while bringing your day pack to your seat transition, is why I wanted the day-pack to travel-pack connection and dis-connection to be as smooth as possible. Thus the very fancy Fidlock buckles with the internal magnets.
Another really obvious one for me is the 'trying to freshen up in the train station bathroom stall' experience. Whether at an airport, a train station, even in a friend's car after they've picked you up, needing to get into the toiletries kit easily without having to unpack everything is important. That's why I designed the snap in toiletries kit that stays at the top of the bag, for easy access and was sure to have all the hooking handles available, so you don't have to put the bag down on the ground.
While I can go on and on about each and every feature, just one more: When I examine my experience of all my travels around the world, usually in quite a frugal mindset - where I wouldn't pay for a taxi when I could take a train or walk - I rarely had a time when I truly needed to HIKE with my travel bag.
Yes, there's transitions between train station and youth hostel, or airport gate to scooter taxi, but those are usually only a few hundred meters or so. Because the Journey System is small and comfortable and I pack light in it, I find that a hip belt is more trouble than its worth. I don't want to be so buckled into my bag (usually in warm weather) and I hate the way they dangle around. So for this reason, I left the hip belt off the Journey design.
Tys (on the right) in Piedmont, Italy. Smart packing equals smart outfits. Photo Credit: Tys Sniffen.
How do people react to your bag?
When people actually use the Journey system, they almost always comment on ‘the clever features’ and react with amused excitement about some particular feature they realize will help them stay organized or move more easily.
“Made by travelers, for travelers”, “so many design features I never would have thought of!”
One of my favorite responses was by a digital nomad and blogger who wrote that “this bag system will TEACH you how to travel lighter”.
When you tell people you travel light, what are their reactions?
I think there are three types of people:
- People who don’t care about travelling light.
- People who travel light.
- People who THINK they travel light.
So the first group just laughs and says, “that could never be me! I need my X,Y,Z” - which is fine; if they want to be the sort of people who travel with an entourage of crap, fine with me.
The people who DO travel light already tend to be people who have spent time thinking a lot about their kit, so while they often admire the bag. They usually have specific things they need or want in a system. Sometimes the Journey System can work for them, sometimes not.
Most people THINK they travel light, but haven’t really thought about it much. It’s only when they see someone else completely moving freely and looking good do they start to question their kit. You’ll often get resistance or excuses from these folks: "oh, but I have to have my wheelie bag, to carry my X”. These are the people who need to see how they don’t need extra X, or a ‘just-in-case whatever'.
From an idea to reality. Tys' vision comes to life. Photo credit: Tys Sniffen
What are your three top tips for people just getting started in travelling light?
1. Find two bottoms and three tops that all can be mixed and matched. Both pairs of pants should go with every shirt and jacket.
2. Don’t take extra ‘just in case’ nor because you need to have a different outfit for others.
3. Only take two pairs of shoes- the ones you wear and one other, and have them match all your outfits.
What did you wish you knew at the start with travelling light?
It's hard to think back to the beginning, but some of the lessons I could have learned earlier are:-
Looking a little more dressed up than the average helps you enjoy yourself more and gets you better treatment.
And for men (like me), a sports coat is a great travel tool. Tons of pockets, warm without being hot, and looks good in all settings.
When travelling to a place where unique activity is going to happen (eg snowshoeing, snorkelling, river kayaking) figure out how to borrow or rent the stuff - including the clothes - when you get there.
Don't try and pack from home everything you might need. This includes winter weather clothes!
Subtle, darker patterns on shirts hide wrinkles and stains and make good travel clothes that can take a beating.
Laptops are completely over-rated and not a tool to take on a trip. With a smart phone and foldable keyboard (260g total) , you can do just about everything digital you'd ever want. Even traveling for work, there's computers where you're going.
A really good pair of light coloured pants made of wrinkle and stain resistant material that are very *light weight* - that is, cool and breathe-able - are key to looking good and traveling in comfort.
Tys, in his patterned, coloured shirt - great for travel.
What was your biggest buzz/light-bulb moment for travelling light?
Well, a story from back in the day - before smartphones or even texting - a group of us from the USA were meeting in Barcelona so that I could propose to my girlfriend and we'd all celebrate for a week traveling around Catalonia. We were all coming in from different places - Minnesota, California, Chicago - and thus on different flights.
Of course one flight was delayed, which messed up all the plans, as we were all supposed to rally at one point and then choose the hotel or get the rental car together or something. Because we couldn't communicate with each other, all three couples ended up having to struggle by themselves for 10 or 12 hours, in a new city, where no one had a car or a 'base' to drop stuff and go do something fun.
Thus these other couples were saddled with dragging their big bags around the city, sweaty and ridiculous, and I of course had my one carryon sized bag that I could put in a locker AND carry around easily and not look like a goofy tourist.
I particularly remember the hard-sided, pink suitcase one woman brought... which was too heavy for her to carry up and down the stairs herself...so of course her boyfriend had to do it for her along with his own bag. Witnessing that - where travel plans got messed up and seeing how annoying lots of luggage was compared to the ease and light I was experiencing really drove home the lesson of light, one bag travel.
Easy travel with an easy travel bag.
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Just that I think this area you concentrate on - the WHY and the HOW of packing - is much more important than people realize, and I'm really glad you are focusing on it.
The 'psychic drag' that comes from bad gear, heavy bags, too much stuff, not feeling organized and free while moving, all of it takes a toll on the traveller that they could avoid if they knew how.
Many travellers just expect to 'pay the price' of too much luggage, either literally, with money, or figuratively, with sweat and bother when they don't actually have to.
By being organised and travelling light, you're allowed to enjoy more of moving through the world, and take unique opportunities and make connections that you couldn't with extra baggage. There's a reason they call personal problems 'baggage'... and I'm glad you're working on helping people get rid of it!
Coming soon...my review of The Journey System with a winter and tropical getaway. PS. This is Wellington on a fabulous day!
Well, I hope you enjoyed that.
As you can see, it was a lot of fun talking to Tys. He's incredibly passionate about travelling lighter, reducing your load and just making travel so much easier. I love it when people don't just talk about how things could be done better - but actually go and do something about it.
I'll be reviewing the bag in the next blog, but if you want to check it out before that, click on this affiliate link - The Journey System from Idea Mountain.