GOING SOLO – Keeping It Light

Your stuff or your life.

On the road, you rob yourself of energy and joy by lugging luggage full of stuff you don’t end up wearing or using. I promise, wherever you go they will have stores and markets at every price point should you find yourself in need. Chances are you won’t though.  And anyway, Amazon delivers to pick up locations in all major cities, so really, don’t buy stuff just for a trip unless you will use it on day one.

Just about every town in Europe has a regular outdoor market where you can buy food and shop for inexpensive clothes, shoes, housewares, and the like.

You don’t need all that much clothing when you travel solo. Travel partners often dress for each other and for the story of the trip that they will share down the road. But on your own, nobody is looking at you, taking photos, or holding your hand across a candlelit table while the earrings they gave you sparkle. The story of a solo trip is all about what out there, and so your clothes should be serviceable and comfortable so you can give it your full attention.

Black jeans, sneakers, and a cotton top made casual by the plaid over shirt: I can swap out items for a more dressy look.

A couple pairs of pants or skirts. Three or four shirts, at least one nice enough for a good restaurant if you plan to eat out. A second light layer for cooler mornings and evenings. A sweater or jacket you can wear inside as well as out. For gals, an all purpose dress or skirt, especially for when it’s beastly hot. Two pairs of great shoes: comfortable soft-sole flats with arch support and some well-worn sneakers you can hike or run in. Something to sleep in. Socks, swimsuit, and underwear. I toss in a light sleeveless top or two since they weigh almost nothing and don’t take up space. Something for the rain, something light, like a shell or a plastic poncho. That, and what you’ll wear to travel in, including coat, scarf, and hat, and you’re done. If you’re really disciplined, you can reduce even more by counting what you wear on the plane in the totals. 

A deluge in Paris and anyone with a cheap plastic poncho was glad to have it.

Clothes add pounds, but nothing adds weight like gadgets and doodads. That said, I can’t travel without them. I need my cell phone so I can stay in touch. I used to travel with two so I could put a local SIM card in my spare, but nowadays I pay for world calling and use my iPhone everywhere. I take my iPad so I can draw, and a bluetooth keyboard so I can type.

Camera. If photos are your thing and you are inured to lugging lenses and accoutrements, then by all means pack it all. But if you are someone who thinks that this vacation is your opportunity to take stunning and stellar professional quality pictures, at least do a practice run around town carrying camera, case, and all for a whole day before you put those things in your suitcase. If you don’t want to use phone memory or want to be able to zoom in on distant objects, then get a pocket camera.

Pocket cameras give you the benefit of a zoom lens without adding weight to your traveling life.

When I’m on the road for extended periods, I do take my laptop for work. But if you don’t have pressing work to do that absolutely has to be done while you’re away, leave it home. Put the files you think you might need to have access to on a thumb drive and use a computer center rental if you need it. 

If you’re struggling to get up the aisle or stow your bag, you’re carry ing too much. The less you lug, the happier you’ll be.

Invest in at least two decent mobile chargers. Using gps to navigate in strange places will eat up your phone battery fast. I never head out without taking some extra juice in my purse or pocket. I advise having two so that one is always recharging in your room while the other goes with you everywhere. To plug all your devices wherever you go, get one very good international adapter and then use a 99 Cent Store power strip to take multiple devices at the same time.

Make sure all your footwear is the best you can afford and is broken in. You don’t want to lose the joy of the rainbow because your arches ache.

I always pack a small MacGuyver bag for quick fixes. Scissors, for intstance. Scissors open plastic packaging, snip tags, work as a quick screwdriver or makeshift knife… I pack them if I’m checking a bag or buy a cheap pair when I land. I also always have some single-serve superglue. Needle and thread. Tweezers. An LED night light/flashlight. A few zip lock bags. A lanyard to hold a key. A small lock. Some rubber bands, a couple zip ties, scotch tape, and  a few paper clips. It is amazing how hoppy it makes you to have a way to deal with broken necklace beads (ziplock) or a wedged suitcase wheel (scissors as pry bar). 

Susan diRende travels the world on her own and has been living with no fixed abode since the end of 2014. This twice-monthly column aims to encourage others to try going solo and explores what can be gained from the experience. All photos ©Susan diRende

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