Tomorrow, I go to Macedonia for 5 nights. I haven’t packed yet – and nor do I feel like I need to. This is the sort of thing that drives my well-organised mother mad, but maybe by explaining my thought process will bring a few more of you over to my side. So instead of packing (or sleeping) I will sit here and write this blog post.
My first gripe with packing started when I was younger – I would pack everything in my suitcase all excited, weeks in advance, only to repeatedly raid the suitcase for my toothbrush, that t-shirt I liked, etc. So being a natural procrastinator, I started leaving packing to the last minute. Anyone who has had to pack in a rush knows that it quickly devolves into the equivalent of a black Friday shopping spree – everything is on sale and it won’t be there quick: stick everything that isn’t nailed down in your bag ‘just in case’. One day I managed to do this hung over, with very little sleep and in a rush, on my way to Reading Festival. In my child-like state I grossly overestimated the amount I could carry. Long story short, I arrived at a point, emotionally and physically exhausted, left behind struggling by the more sensible people I camped with, where I could go no further. Shamefully I was reduced to just sitting on my bag and waiting for help until a friend came back to see where I got to. After that I knew something had to change.
The morning of my next festival a year later I found myself, predictably hung over, tired and in a rush after waking up the wrong side of London. This time instead of shoving everything I thought I needed in a bag, I just walked into my house and grabbed five items – my toothbrush, a hoodie, a spare t-shirt and two pairs of spare underwear. Notice there was no tent or sleeping back on that list. We stopped at Tescos on the way and I managed to pick up everything I needed for 45 quid. The tent was so cheap I actually donated it afterward rather than take it back home – everything worked out surprisingly well and I realised that I didn’t actually need anything I normally would take.
Taking this concept further I started purposefully limiting myself to just essentials as a kind of challenge to see what I could get away with. My highlight was touring Thailand for 18 days with only a gym bag full of shorts and vests. The woman at the check-in desk actually laughed in my face after I replied to her that ‘no, I didn’t have any bags to check in, just this rucksack’. I didn’t run into any issues in Thailand: I simply wandered around shops and bought the items I needed as I needed them. In fact, my trip was markedly better because of my limited wardrobe – for example I realised when I got there that I forgot to buy flip flops – everyone had a good laugh at my expense (I looked pretty out of place in jeans) so I wandered around Bangkok marketplaces on my first day with a mission. This was a better immersive experience than just wandering around looking at tourist tat and knock-off DVDs. As well as buying flip-flops (I actually ended up buying 4 pairs of these over my trip but that’s a different story), I got to frequent shops that actual Thai’s shopped in for their basic necessities – which again enriched my experience.
The point is, in 96.72% of cases, the place you are going on holiday is populated with people very much like you – it stands to reason that they buy similar sorts of products to you, and therefore there will be shops selling what you need. It may be difficult to find what you want, and the brands may be unfamiliar, but that is all part of the reason we travel in the first place – to experience a different way of doing things. Funnily enough you can actually save yourself some money buying things there – the UK (and London in particular) is one of the most expensive places to live in the world, so it stands to logic that in many cases the outfits, toiletries and paraphernalia you are buying for your holiday will be cheaper once you get there (particularly if you learn how to bargain). The same goes for currency – on a recent trip to Poland the rate I was quoted at the post office was over 20% worse than what I was charged for withdrawing from an atm.
I really applaud efforts to take this philosophy to its logical extremes – for example the “No Baggage Challenge” by Rolf Potts was pretty well done – he just kept what he needed in his coat pockets. I sometimes daydream about what I would do if plonked in the middle of Trafalgar square naked with nothing on me (I saw it in an episode of “Hustle”) – where would I run to hide, how would I convince/con my way back to safety? I like to think that the less you pack, the more you need to rely on your wits and problem-solving skills (the naked test being the biggest test I could think of), ultimately making your holiday less comfy, a bit harder to accomplish, but ultimately more intrinsically rewarding. Packing minimum is really a process to help us rethink that is really important on a holiday and it helps us unchain ourselves from the cycle of mindless consumerism we all fall into from time to time. So off to bed now: in the morning I may try sleepily spend a few minutes trying to stuff spare undies into my coat pocket before giving up and opting for a gym bag.
- semiambivalent posted this