What better way to learn about packing light than to hear from someone who has just enjoyed her first carry-on experience - with no lost luggage!
My friend and Regency Romance author, Leigh D'Ansey, has just got back from four weeks in London and France. With all the news and worries of losing bags, Leigh studied up on how to travel with a carry-on bag only. I was thrilled when she agreed to write a blog post for us all here to share her experiences.
Read on for Leigh's impressions of how packing light went for her.
Leigh, all packed and ready for her adventure. Looking smart and comfortable for her long-haul flight to London. Photo credit - Leigh D'Ansey.
Planning for carry-on travel.
When I began planning my month-long trip to the UK and Europe, I was inspired by Katherine’s travelling light escapades, and I was determined to take carry-on luggage only.
I live in New Zealand, which is about as far away from the UK as you can get – almost 12,000 miles. I’d earmarked mid-August to mid-September for my adventure, my first trip abroad for twenty years.
I’m no fashionista and I tried not to angst too much about what I’d take, mostly choosing practical over pretty with one or two dressier options. I have to admit, I didn’t entirely nail it!
Our seasons are in conflict, so while we were experiencing chilly winter temperatures down here in the South Pacific, the UK and Europe were sweltering in + 30 degrees and the landscape was parched from a long summer drought.
It’s quite difficult to imagine dressing for hot and dry when you’re in the midst of wintry cold and wet.
The bags and the planning begins...
Always budget conscious, I combed through my existing wardrobe, and decided to use the daypack I had, rather than purchase a new one. Hand luggage is also permitted, and I bought a many-pocketed canvas satchel that looked as if it would serve the purpose.
Taking heed of advice from The 5 Kilo Traveller and other carry-on enthusiasts, I worked on building a colour-coordinated capsule wardrobe that should cover all possibilities while still being within Air New Zealand’s 7kg weight allowance (including bag).
I would be staying with my son in Camden, so I knew I’d be able to catch up on laundry there, but we also had away-trips planned, including a six-day, three-destination trip to Europe as well as overnight excursions in the UK. Three live shows were on the agenda — Jean-Paul Gaultier’s Fashion Freakshow at the Roundhouse in Camden, 101 Dalmations in Regent’s Park open air theatre, and The Lion King at the wonderful Lyceum in London’s Covent Garden. I needed some smart attire as well as casual.
Leigh's two pieces of luggage - a daypack and a handbag, with her colour coordinated scarf and tops. Photo credit - Leigh D'Ansey.
What Leigh packed in her carry-on luggage.
I packed and unpacked and selected and discarded individual items multiple times!
In the end I took:
- Two pairs of light denim jeans each slightly different in style.
- A pair of white capris.
- A pair of black tights.
- Two navy ¾-sleeve tops, one with lace sleeves for evening.
- Two striped tops (one navy, one rust).
- A white shirt and a striped shirt, both in generous sizes to allow for those hot days.
- A black tunic also for evening and to go with the tights.
- A denim jacket.
- A pair of sneakers (walking shoes).
- A pair of sandals. I wore the sneakers and packed the sandals.
- Eight pairs of knickers and three bras.
- Five pairs of socks.
- A scarf to tone in with everything,
- A light mohair wrap that could be worn buttoned down the front or wrapped across my shoulders.
- Two camisoles (vests) to wear under outer clothing if I felt the need.
- I bought a new pair of light, loose pyjamas, my home nightwear being a random and not-very-pretty selection of whatever’s warm and comfortable.
I also packed
- My laptop.
- The minimum of cosmetics and toiletries.
- A pack of facial wipes.
- A couple of pens and a notepad.
- The meds I take regularly.
- My mobile phone and a wallet.
I also packed items on behalf of other people (more on that further down).
The loose top and trousers Leigh added to her travel light wardrobe. Photo credit - Leigh D'Ansey.
What Leigh wished she'd packed.
I wish I'd packed a warm, light jacket. I thought my denim jacket and wrap would be enough, but I would have benefited from a light down jacket, body warmer, or hoodie. We did a LOT of walking and there were several times when I got hot and sweaty but when we stopped, I was chilled, sometimes to shivering, by an unexpected rainfall or cool breeze.
Without access to a vehicle, we travelled by train, underground or bus and many miles were covered on foot, often on uneven, cobbled or stony surfaces. An additional pair of walking shoes to wear turnabout might have benefitted my feet.
The jewellery I own isn’t necessarily expensive but most of it has sentimental value, and I didn’t want to risk losing anything. I wish now I’d packed one or two pieces. A chunky necklace adds a bit of pizzaz to jeans and a shirt.
I tend to dress plainly but I wish I’d packed a pretty patterned shirt to dress up my jeans and capris.
A chunky necklace would add pizzaz to any outfit. Photo credit - Leigh D'Ansey.
The pitfalls of Leigh's experience.
Neither of my luggage pieces was really fit for purpose. They did the job, but they were both unwieldly when full, and awkward to carry. I was glad to find a trolley when transiting in Singapore where I had a five-hour wait before my flight to Heathrow.
Next time I travel, I’ll take care to buy a more suitable pack and I won’t cram so much into my hand luggage. Wedging myself into the loo was hazardous.
It’s really hard to say ‘no’ when family and friends ask you to carry small items to give to loved ones on the other side of the world! Believe me, if you want to travel light, you must say ‘No’.
I’d thought if I needed anything extra it wouldn’t be any trouble to pop into a store or op shop. Not true! The last thing you want to do is spend precious travel/sightseeing/visiting time prowling around unfamiliar shops looking for something in particular. While there were several op shops in the vicinity of my son’s flat, they were much smaller outlets than I was used to and without the selection I needed to find what I was looking for.
I’d packed a good bamboo camisole and another very cheap one. The cheaper one actually made me colder on those times when I got chilled. Next time I’ll make sure all my undergarments are made of quality fabric.
What worked well with carry-on travel.
Getting through Customs in the UK was an absolute breeze with carry-on luggage only. I was in the arrivals area before I knew it.
My denim jacket with roomy inside pockets was great for carrying phone, glasses, money, cards and passport etc.
Without jewellery, I used my scarf to accessorize, and I was glad of its width and length when I wanted something light to wrap around my shoulders/back, whether at home or out.
Prepare to improvise! We were booked for the Jean-Paul Gaultier show just a couple of nights after I arrived when I was still settling into the new environment. The weather was so hot I ended up wearing my loose pyjama pants with lace-sleeved top and didn’t feel at all out of place. There were many other women wearing loose floral pants — perhaps they were all wearing pyjamas!
Walking shoes (generally white) were worn by most people, everywhere we went so I didn’t feel under-dressed in my comfortable, casual footwear. I only wore my sandals once.
In Brussels I succumbed to the heat and bought a loose muslin top and trousers from a nearby Primark. They were great choices, light and easy to wash and dry.
Throughout my travels, I saw both women and men skirmishing with colossal pieces of luggage, debating hotly with check-in staff and impeding weary and impatient queues. I couldn’t help but feel pleased I had only hand luggage to worry about.
The capacious inner pockets in my denim jacket were useful for sunglasses, wallet etc.
Stairs, often narrow and winding are around every turn in the UK and Europe, both indoors and out. Our Airbnb apartments in Avignon and Paris were utterly charming but without lifts, and our older hotel on the Isle of Wight was similarly unequipped. Narrow spiral staircases are challenging enough for less nimble limbs without adding the burden of extra weight.
Travelling in warmer weather is an advantage for a carry-on traveller. I’m not sure how it would work when visiting colder climes — although fewer changes would be necessary in cooler weather.
The multi-purpose pyjama pants Leigh wore to the Jean-Paul Gautier show. Photo credit - Leigh D'Ansey.
Using the extra pocket space in a denim jacket. Photo credit - Leigh D'Ansey.
The gnarly bit of carry-on travel.
I’d set off on my adventure knowing I wouldn’t be buying lavish gifts for everyone left at home. But of course, there are people you love who you want to treat, and I did purchase a few easy-to-carry items.
I also brought back some mementos and research materials for myself; leaflets, postcards, programmes, maps etc. as I enjoy the tactile experience of turning pages and looking at pictures rather than limiting myself to online searches. And yes, I also transported items on behalf of friends and family for their loved ones in New Zealand.
It was probably inevitable that my carry-on back weighed more and took up more space than my carry-on over! I accepted the difference, left my pack in the UK and borrowed a cabin-sized wheeled bag that, when packed, weighed a couple more kilograms than the 7kg Air New Zealand allow for carry-on luggage.
While I was disappointed that I was unable to adhere to the carry-on commitment, I knew Auckland was unlikely to present the baggage disarray reported in some of the larger international airports. In comparison to most of my fellow travellers, I was still travelling light!
Notwithstanding my check-in return, I’m firmly committed to The 5 Kilo Traveller principle and could have remained within the 7kg carry-on limit if I’d really wanted to.
Had I been travelling anywhere else in the world but the UK where I have family and friends, the transfer of additional gifts would have been unlikely.
A charming Airbnb in Avignon but challenging stairs without carry-on luggage. Photo credit - Leigh D'Ansey.
Final lessons learnt from travelling light.
The upshot? I truly learned the advantages of travelling light.
In an odd turn of events, the experience has crossed other boundaries. I’ve had a reputation for carrying a handbag that contains everything but the proverbial kitchen sink. Now, my handbag is almost empty, and it’s so much easier to carry.
I’ve emptied my purse of all those reward cards that are rarely used, old receipts and cough-lozenges that should have been thrown out years ago. I’ve culled my wardrobe, getting rid of those garments that ‘I might fit into one day’, or those bought in sales that never looked quite right or went with anything else I owned.
Mostly, I received looks of disbelief when I let people know I’d journeyed across the world for a month’s holiday with only carry-on luggage. Many were genuinely bewildered by what they considered a bizarre choice. It would be interesting to travel with a companion toting several larger pieces of luggage and compare the experience.
Would I travel light again? Absolutely. I can’t wait for the next adventure. Thank you, Katherine, for the inspiration!
The Brighton Pavillion - researching for future books. Photo credit - Leigh D'Ansey.
What a thrill following Leigh's carry-on journey!
Here in New Zealand, I loved hearing Leigh's stories of her carry-on luggage experience. And I'm going to steal her fancy pyjama pants idea!
And here's a link to Leigh's author website leighdanseyauthor.com
I hope this has given you some ideas, inspiration, and confidence that maybe travelling lighter is something you can give a go. It's not necessarily about travelling with just carry-on luggage. Lightening your suitcase is so much easier on your body, and less gear is easier on your mind.
Check out my recent blog on 5 easy tips for travelling with carry-on only. It's jam-packed full of easy tips.