Travelling Light

I just got back from a two week vacation, and this is the luggage I took:

Backpack and items inside it
Some clothes, toiletries, a camera, and a computer – that's basically it

(Not pictured is my packable day bag. I usually take it empty and then put things in it like my camera, extra jacket, snacks, and water when I go out exploring for the day.)

I clearly remember the day I arrived in Norway with two large suitcases, a duffel bag, and an extra jacket that didn’t fit anywhere. It was minus 10 degrees, there was snow and ice everywhere, and I had to climb up a hill to get the keys to my apartment. Trying to lug everything behind me, I watched in horror as one of my suitcases slipped out of my freezing grasp, snagged my jacket and then proceeded to roll over it on its way down the slope.

I swore to myself that I would never ever carry that much luggage with me again.

Inspired by some posts on zenhabits and Ankur’s blog, I decided to try it out on my next trip (it helped that the airline charged even for carry on suitcases, and I was a poor student back then) and was immensely pleased by the results. I’ve been travelling like that nearly everywhere since 2013 and I can’t tell you how freeing and amazing it has been!

It means not having to worry about checked-in bags being lost, being able to get out from the airport quickly, not being forced to take the elevator every time you’re at a train station because there are too many bags to lug up the stairs, and being able to check out in the morning but still spend the day walking around because your luggage is so easy to manage. Carrying less also makes for easier repacking without accidentally leaving things behind.

There are three keys to packing light — pack things that are versatile, do some laundry while travelling, and a principle borrowed from the programming world called You Ain’t Gonna Need it (or YAGNI for short). Do you really need to carry 20 pairs of socks for a five day trip? Or your laptop, iPad, Kindle, phone, and paperback? Just because an airline allows checking in two 23-kg suitcases doesn’t mean that you must.

I try to be practical about the things I carry — if it’s unlikely that I’ll need a particular item, I don’t take it. If I find I completely misjudged it and the thing I forgot to take isn’t too expensive, I might buy it at my destination. But I’ve rarely needed to do that.

For my recent trips I’ve been lucky enough to stay with people that had washing machines and driers. On other trips, I take some laundry detergent and wash my t-shirts and other things while showering or in the basin.

To sum up: try travelling light the next time you go somewhere, and it may just completely change how you travel!

One day in Vilnius

It’s been nearly five years since my visit, yet I remember the day I spent in Vilnius as clearly as if it had been only five weeks ago. Though Vilnius was not originally on my Places to See in Europe list (mostly because I didn’t know about it), when I saw the price of the flights there from Trondheim (60 NOK!) and found out that Lithuanian is one of the oldest living languages, the linguist in me could not resist.

Vilnius Full of Space

I passed by a playground on the way to my hostel. It was a bright sunny day and a horde of kids were happily running around. I suddenly realised how long it had been since I’d seen something like that – all the playgrounds in Singapore always seemed to be empty.

I continued on to my hostel, which turned out to be a cozy little place. The owner gave me a quick tour of my room and a colourful map of all the places of interest, and I was out in the streets, camera at the ready. The first leg of my Europe trip had begun!

It was only a few hours earlier that I’d woken up with a start, taken a panic-stricken look at my alarm clock, and hurriedly gotten into a cab to the airport. Thanks to oversleeping by three hours, I’d missed the train and had to pay ten times as much as the plane I was still hoping to catch. Damn the Norwegian summer with so much light that it’s impossible to keep track of time! Just kidding, I love the Norwegian summer. And the winter.

Vilnius, as it turned out, was a very walkable city. I went to the Vilnius Cathedral and square, up a hill to Gediminas Castle, and just happily strolled down streets lined with people singing, dancing, painting, and having a good time.

Vilnius Cathedral
The Belfry at Vilnius Cathedral

The evening found me at the Lithuanian Opera and Ballet Theatre. An hour before every show they sell tickets to students for seventy per cent off the usual price and I managed to get orchestra seats to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. It was my first time watching a ballet and I was entranced – it remains one of my favourite performances (of anything) to date.

The next morning was spent exploring some more beautiful churches followed by a tour of the “Republic” of Užupis – the artist’s district of Vilnius. It’s a lovely area where a lot of local artists live, work and showcase their art. It’s modelled as its own “country” with a constitution displayed on the walls in about twenty different languages. There’s even a place where you can get your passport stamped with the kind of stamp you get at immigration!

Apple Republic signs inside Užupis
Some signs inside Užupis -- welcome to the Apple Republic!

All too soon though, it was time to move on. The trip fittingly ended much in the same way as it had begun – this time I almost missed the bus to Riga. I’d misread the map and ended up at the train station instead of the bus station (these were the good old days before I had a smartphone guiding me every step of the way). Thanks to a kind lady who walked me all the way to the bus station, I once again made it in the nick of time.

Looking for more posts? Check out the archives.