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Give yourself some slack on packing light

Below is a section of my trip report from a just returned trip to the UK/Jersey [Channel Island]. I worked so hard to get my carry on down to around 20 lbs. I packed and repacked. I eliminated and eliminated. I obsessively checked weather forecasts. All to no avail. We got there and the weather turned hideous from day 1 through to almost the full end of the trip. What I learned can be outlined in some of these lessons learned in my TR.

Don’t Be Stupid. I suffered for 3 days in the cold, wind, snow, hail, etc. with what I thought would be enough clothing. It was not. One day I wore a large amount in my suitcase: two pair socks, two pair long underwear, heavy jeans, thermal shirt, thin shirt, turtleneck, sweater, thick fleece hat, gloves, and the wool lined raincoat. It was not enough. When I bought Beloved Parka on day 3 the entire trip changed for me. I was actually able to enjoy it. My fretting was over the weight of having to now pack the raincoat into my roller bag for the remainder of the trip. I learned, so what? I was now warm, and able to be much more active. And yes it was expensive. Again, so what? It completely changed the trip for me and I should’ve done it on day 1.

Don’t be Stupid, 2. Due to the fact it was cold my clothes got dirty much faster than anticipated since I had to wear so many every day. I wanted to wash more but the first part of the trip was relatively rushed since part of my family who still work were on a quick schedule. So I wasn’t able to do as much sink washing as usual. Finally just paid to have it done, but even so with this being wintry mix weather could’ve sent it out again. Would’ve been a small price to pay to not be so grubby especially near the end of the trip.

The points above: I got so in my head about traveling light and had been so Sarah Murdoched out before I left that I completely suffered the first three days. As noted above when I finally bought the heavy parka the whole trip became enjoyable again. So cut yourself some slack on obsessively packing light, and when circumstances change—which they did radically for us on the weather—don’t ruin your trip by not adjusting yourself accordingly. Cheers

Posted by
334 posts

I read the AAA thread today and decided to eliminate several items. Now I'm thinking of adding at least 1 shirt back in;)

Posted by
447 posts

Thank you for such an honest trip report. When I picture ALL the clothes you wore one day, I cannot imagine how bone-chilling cold it must have been. I would not have wanted to be outside at all! I would have been miserable too! And...you now have a beautiful, warm parka for future trips.
Laundry: I think we are coming to the conclusion that perhaps it is worth it to "just pay" to have it done at times. So it was reassuring to read your thoughts on sink-washing.

Posted by
1810 posts

I just weighed mine - it’s at 25lbs. We do layer and we have learned to remind ourselves that some things can be bought along the way, except for shoes for my husband with the exceptionally large feet. The older we get, the less easy it is for us to wrangle bags, but there are certain items we just bring. I’ve thrown away too many cheap umbrellas bought in the midst of a deluge, so now I just put one in. I can do cold much better than wet. I was thinking today of the posters who are able to bring their bags in under 20lbs and I applaud you, but I don’t think I’ll ever get there.

Posted by
317 posts

Oh my! I am headed to London and Bath next week. I expect it to be warmer these 4 weeks later. But you have made me think perhaps my heavier and longer Smartwool long undies, winter hat and gloves may need to ride along. Taking fleece, down and wool shirts and socks and my own Beloved Parka.

Enjoyed your trip report. Thanks to your Father.

Posted by
458 posts

We just decided to check bags on the entire rest of the trip. And it was fine. Sure, more hassle and one time we had to wait awhile but with this unexpected weather after all of us had to go buy heavier winter gear we just decided to ENJOY the rest of the trip. People were saying “oh just go get a puffer jacket you can stuff in your carry on”. Nope, the wind and hail, snow, cold were too much even for that. Heavy parka was worth every single penny and saved the trip.

One thing I will say is I did use better and more organized packing cubes this time and they were great. Always going to use them again.

Posted by
458 posts

Becky many of the great UK folks on this board had given me good places to check the forecast but also warned me you can’t really rely on them in the UK more than a couple days out. We happened to catch a window where it had been 60sF the week before and then returned to 60sF after we left but got absolute mess with 20s, 30s and 49s F and nonstop winds, hail, snow, rain, etc. Yet the forecasts had been saying 50sF and showers. Nope. Layers weren’t cutting it for any of us, we all ended up buying more warm gear. My point really just cut yourself some slack!

Every trip is different; every airline is different; every traveler is different. Hence, packing appropriately is a better concept than just “packing light.” Sometimes, it makes sense to pack “heavy,” use a larger suitcase, and yes!!! - dare I type it - even check a bag!

Do what makes sense for you and your particular trip. No one else cares!

Posted by
1243 posts

Very good advice! I do think we sometimes get caught up in the concept of packing light without thinking about what we actually need. I once read something from a travel blogger who said he doesn't pack light - he packs right. That makes a lot of sense.

Posted by
292 posts

One April, when my daughter was small, we visited friends in the Cotswolds. It was rainy and cold most of the time. It was bearable because we had access to a car, a clothes driver and endless cups of tea. The damp, chilly "English" picnic was a running joke the whole trip. Traveling with a child, I didn't even think about packing light. During an extremely wet day trip to London, I was beyond happy that I had packed us stout, waterproof boots and heavy raincoats. Like they say, there isn't bad weather, there's just the wrong clothes. A new parka sounds nice!

Posted by
144 posts

Thank you for the lovely thread and the great reminders! I love the “pack right, not light” it’s a good reminder that sometimes a bit heavier is for the best

Posted by
2404 posts

he doesn't pack light - he packs right.

That's a good statement. We also embrace packing light, but you need to be realistic about when and where you're going and also what kind of weather you're used to. I suspect I'd be a little heartier than the OP and be able to back somewhat lighter, but still, extra layers on your body do require extra layers in your suitcase.

Posted by
74 posts

Great post. Great practical advice. And isn't it a good time for all of us to give ourselves some slack. Thanks @cchapin100!

Posted by
7696 posts

Very well said, Lisuza.

Thank you for this excellent post, cchapin!

Posted by
190 posts

Thank you so much for your good advice. I really appreciate it. It's exactly what I like to know.

Please tell me what made your new parka so warm. Was it lined in wool? Fleece? Down? Waterproof and windproof?

I'm looking for a warm parka too and have been saving up for it.

Many thanks again. Glad you solve your problem and enjoyed your trip after all.

Posted by
866 posts

It’s so much easier to pack light in the summery warm months. We definitely need to take the season in consideration. I couldn’t pack light in the spring or winter.

Posted by
177 posts

We always pack light but normally travel in September. For the March RS Greece tour we followed the advice to pack layers and followed the historic weather charts to plan our wardrobes. When we arrived in Greece the snow also arrived. Temps were generally in the 40's in the day and 20's at night and the winds were atrocious. We wore every layer every day, changing out which one was on top to appear to change clothes. At least I had packed a knit hat and gloves. Misery loves company, however, and since everyone was cold we managed to enjoy the tour. When we got home I ordered a lightweight coat with a removable quilted lining for future trips. You were wise to follow Rick's advice to "buy yourself out" of emergencies.

Posted by
3243 posts

Thanks for this timely correction to our packing light cult. My takeaway from this is what Rick says and you did on Day 3 "If you really need it, you can buy it in Europe".

Posted by
2927 posts

This post also points out the fact that you can always buy what you need when you are “there”, if you forget something or are surprised by the weather.

Posted by
6876 posts

Another idea is to invest in a single, solid, lightweight jacket. My warmest Marmot jacket (Google Marmot Kristina jacket) weighs less than 2 pounds (yes, it's unbelievable) and has all the elements you can need (700 fill down, water/ snow/wind repellant, Goretex coating, etc). It can easily fold down as well. Also, stand-alone raincoats weigh practically nothing and can keep you insulated in warmer weather than the one you experienced (I have a Marmot raincoat which I love as well).

There are also jackets like 3-in-1 types from Patagonia which have 3 layers in one jacket so they're very flexible and can be tailored to the occasion. They don't weigh much either. I think you can have the best of both worlds (carry-on and keeping warm) but it requires picking the right, lightweight pieces that can work in a range of weather conditions. Companies like REI, Patagonoa, Marmot, etc design for hikers/ sports enthusiasts who carry stuff on their back most of the time, so it has to be lightweight and functional.

Posted by
245 posts

Yes the cold!! Rick usually travels in summer (and many guys do not feel that cold). but I am cold all the time.
recommend lightweight down(artificial) jackets - they are super light and even if they take up space, highly compressible.

p.s. the AAA post was interesting.

Posted by
458 posts

Since I had 3 days of suffering I had a good idea what I wanted. Down type puffer alone wasn’t going to cut it. I ended up with a North Face completely waterproof, completely wind proof, down and other fill with four zip pockets on the outside and stash on the inside. A major hood. It’s heavy, haven’t weighed it since I got back. Arctic. The biggest issue was howling winds. When it’s -2 C up to maybe 5C with howling winds I needed something windproof and enveloping. I like those of you who mentioned “buy your way out of an emergency” or other situation. And, I pretty much wore it all day every day the entire rest of the trip. I bought a canvas souvenir tote in Jersey and could stuff the parka in there while at a museum and carry it like a backpack. I’ll have this parka the rest of my life and despite its weight won’t hesitate a bit to take it on any other trip. However, this was the first time in years had done any travel in “Spring”, normal time for us is always summer or fall. But due to having to coordinate schedules of 4 people and get mileage ticket it worked out this was when we could all go.

Posted by
2404 posts

Practical advice I can give as a person from a cold weather climate; get something a bit oversized that is windproof and waterproof and use layers underneath. You'd be surprised how thin outerwear can be and still protect you from the elements. With these two jackets and layers as needed underneath, I'm good for temperatures ranging from -30 to +30 Celsius.

https://www.eddiebauer.ca/p/38832403/men%27s-microtherm(r)-2.0-down-hooded-jacket?sp=1&color=Med%20Indigo

https://www.eddiebauer.ca/p/38888641/men%27s-cloud-cap-stretch-2.0-rain-jacket?sp=1&color=Rescue%20Orange

Posted by
6876 posts

It’s heavy, haven’t weighed it since I got back.

What kind of Northface did you get? It really doesn't need to be heavy to work well. Even the warmest Patagonia parka (Jackson Glacier Down Parka) weighs 2 pounds. My Marmot Kristina jacket also weighs ~ 2 pounds and no need to layer anything underneath (I prefer to wear a snugly fit jacket without need to layer - saves space, time and is lighter). Wore it in the rain, in the sleet, in the snow, during lots of wind with just a t-shirt underneath - and the Goretex coating worked perfectly. Inside is fully lined with down (it's basically a puffer on the interior and a heavy duty rain/wind coat on the exterior). I did tons of research on winter jackets (read reviews, including outdoor blogs and Wirecutter, etc) and bought online since availability at stores was limited.

Posted by
1482 posts

We have gotten tons of advice from Rick and from so many of our fellow forum members about the advantages of packing light. So it's refreshing to hear a different perspective.

A few additional things to consider:

  • It's nice to dump your heavier luggage when you arrive at the airport and have the ease of wandering around the airport, shopping, going to eat, etc. without dragging the rollaboard around with you. (I'm usually a solo traveler, so this is a particular advantage for me, as I can't leave my carry-on with a travel partner while I go to the baño.)
  • Going through security is much easier.
  • You can pack liquids without size limit.
  • You don't have to worry about getting on the plane ahead of others so you can find room in the overhead bins, or so they won't force you to gate-check your bag. You can sit and relax in the waiting area, be the last to board, and just slide into your seat.
  • You don't have to lift your heavy carry-on into the overhead bin.
  • You won't have to spend as much time washing clothes in the sink and hoping they dry in time.

I still prefer packing light and traveling with a carry-on only, especially if I'm visiting multiple destinations and using trains and buses to move from place to place. But on those occasions when I need to pack more and check a bag, I enjoy the advantages.

Posted by
865 posts

"Ultra Light" is like a religion that converts aggressively push, but it's just not compatible with some people and/or some trips. My personal lord and savior is having an extra pair of shoes.

I'm a strong advocate of knowing and catering to your PERSONAL packing priorities and then tuning out the rest of the noise.

Posted by
283 posts

What a refreshing thread! I do agree that you don't need to and shouldn't pack the kitchen sink when traveling, but have cut myself some slack after a packing light trip where I had fully embraced this concept. During that trip I had purchased a new piece of luggage to accommodate my new philosophy. That trip was without a doubt one of my most difficult. I found myself constantly looking for something that I was sure that I had packed but didn't, and then making a purchase to compensate. While I have learned to be more mindful about what I was packing, I have also learned that packing light is not a do or die situation. I fully agree with the points that Lane has made, and pack what I feel I will need to make my trip comfortable and enjoyable even if it means to check a bag.

Posted by
190 posts

Hi cchapin100,
Thanks so much for the link of a similar parka.
It does look warm and cozy. Now I'll have a better idea
what to look for.

Posted by
455 posts

I agree with Lane. I, too, often travel solo, and it's a royal pain to visit the restroom in an airport with an 8kg bag and my camera/laptop bag. I am much happier to check my backpack and not have to worry about it again until I reach my destination. Of course, I live in Atlanta, and so having to change planes is a rarity. Cross my fingers, I have never had a bag go missing, and my bag is usually on the carousel by the time I can get off the plane and reach baggage claim.

The other thing is that when I do travel with others, I am often the lightest packer in the group. If my friends or family are checking bags, then I am not gaining much by going carryon only.

When I do check a bag, I always pack a very small, featherweight bag that contains a couple of pairs of underwear, a shirt, something to sleep in, and toiletries --- just in case the gods conspire against me. It has served me well a few times: once when I missed a connection, and again during the great Covid shutdown of March 2020, when our luggage was allowed into Turkey and we weren't. We had to spend the night inside the Istanbul Airport.

Of course, sometimes sometimes I do carry-on only. It just depends.

Posted by
367 posts

20lbs isn't light - the last time I did carry on only it was a Chinese airline - the carry on limit was 5kg (11lb). I was flying to Chengdu and the Tibetean plateau so I knew it would be cold - around 0C - though it got a lot colder overnight - and most places don't heat rooms.

Now I will admit that I was cheating with the carry on because my personal item - which was a laptop and camera weighed around 5kg - my actual bag was just on 5kg. In fact for most of the time in Tibet it was lighter than that - as I was wearing everything.

There is one secret to this -well too - expensive merino and expensive down jackets - with a light waterproof layer over the top. I was wearing 4/5 layers most of the time. Given the lack of indoor heating nothing got washed - and I can confirm that you can wear merino layers for 10 days straight without it smelling.

We are about to fly to Fiji (finally an international flight ) - we have the crazy allowance of 30kg EACH. We will probably just take one bag and full it with 16 tops and about 6 bottoms, plus lots of shoes, a cover up, 3x swimsuits, snacks, and snorkel gear.

I can't be bothered doing laundry on the Fiji trip and I know we'll easily go through 2 tops a day - so actually you can pack less for cold weather than hot if you factor in how much you'll actually sweat.

Posted by
938 posts

In my decades of traveling light and ultralight, I learned many lessons. If one is at 10,000 feet in the Idaho wilderness and a thunderstorm rolls in, and one is going ultralight, one improvises I'm order to stay warm and dry. When bicycle touring, inclement weather is anticipated, but one cannot carry enough stuff to cope with every situation on a bike, so. one improvises. I would not change my lightweight travel packing but, In a similar situation as the OP, I would immediately find the shops to kit up properly for the prevailing conditions. One pays what one must.

Posted by
37 posts

I'm glad I found this thread. We are planning our first trip to the UK next year and I keep thinking about packing light, taking the bare minimum, and luggage weight. It is helpful to see this perspective.

I recall the times we traveled in the earliest post-Sept. 11 years, when carry on luggage was not allowed. Suddenly On Time percentages were (sorry for the pun) sky high. It really was nice to not be lugging the bag up and down the narrow aisles of the plane.

You have me rethinking not checking bags, especially since we will be doing a non-stop flight. Most of our travel will be in a rental car, with the exception of 2 short train trips.

Posted by
111 posts

Excellent post.
I’m on the My Way Alpine Europe tour this July, plus an extra 5 days in Salzburg and an extra 4 days in Chamonix. A few of the tour stops include Bolzano, Italy (today’s high temperature is 88 degrees), Salzburg, Austria (90% chance of rain & thunder tomorrow), and Aiguille du Midi (very chilly at 12,000 ft+). Need appropriate clothing and gear for heat, glaciers, rain, hiking, and concerts. A checked bag seems prudent.

Posted by
458 posts

The other thing I can say is that you can check a bag and still have a bag you can manage on and off trains. Packing right and being flexible (me buying the heavy parka and my family buying heavier winter gear as well) and NOT holding yourself hostage to the cult of 15 lbs is IMO the way to go. Anyway good luck, at least you will have some warm times too!

Posted by
159 posts

Love this thread! When I took my 3 daughters to Europe in 2004 (London, Amsterdam, Rothenburg, Munich, Venice, Rome, Nice, and Paris), we followed the "pack light" mantra...only one carry-on each...it was tough, but we did it. It helped that we could share toiletries and jackets. When I took my hubby and son in 2010 (London, Rome, Berchtesgaden, Munich, Rothenburg, Berlin, Paris, Normandy, Madrid, Sevilla, and Granada), I told them they could only have one carry-on and they laughed at me. They convinced me to check two large suitcases and promised they'd handle the luggage on trains and cobblestone streets. I remember posting here about what we were taking and getting scolded for taking too much, so I haven't posted much in the years following...there used to be some tough cookies on this site. Anyway, that trip was amazing...I loved having everything I needed and wanted. I've completely given up on the one carry-on idea for subsequent trips. I figure if we can handle what we bring, it shouldn't matter what others think. Fast forward to now...heading to London, Edinburgh, and Inverness with a cruise to Norway in between. I'm trying to keep the two of us to one large checked bag and one carry-on each...wish me luck!

Posted by
11439 posts

I think it's time that I give the correct answer when it comes to packing. The argument for and against light packing--and what constitutes light packing--is frequent.

But I have the ultimate answer.

Are you ready for the truth?

Are you sure?

Here it is......

Do whatever you want. Read the pros and cons of each and then decide what is right for you. It's your trip, your time, your money. You don't have to please anyone here including Rick Steves. None of us are traveling with you. And no matter how much someone yells and screams that their way is the right way, it may be for them. It may not be for you.

Whether your bag is a backpack, two wheel, four wheel, or something else, it's your choice. Whether it's ultralight weight, light weight, not so light weight, or so heavy you need a pack mule, the choice is yours.

The same goes for what you take and how you pack. The choice is yours. If it's right for you then you haven't made a mistake.

Posted by
938 posts

The choice is yours. If it's right for you then you haven't made a mistake.

Mostly. Maybe. There is a long list of silly and totally avoidable mistakes that folks make, even after receiving excellent and well-meaning advice.

There is a difference between one's ability to accept the wisdom of experience and the pigheadedness to stumble blindly into unknown territories, deliberately ignoring such wisdom. What can possibly go wrong?

Among my various online research projects these days is finding "post-trip blues" and "unpack with me" reports, posted by folks returning from their first river and ocean cruises, train rides, wilderness backpacking, dude ranches, white water trips, and tours of Europe, including luxury, self-guided, and RS-styled. These are lists of stuff innocent and ignorant newbies learned the hard way not to ever pack again.

Posted by
11973 posts

The more we travel, the more we learn, right? Many of my suggestions come from mistakes I made myself. Others are from listening to others; and realizing why it was good advice, during a later trip.

A large, lined, waterproof parka can make all the difference in the cold. It can be worn on the plane and doesn't affect your carry-on luggage. You don't have to skimp on what you wear on the plane.

One trip, weather in Germany turned unseasonably cold before we managed to cross south over the Alps into Italy. Like you, we went to the store and picked up ski caps, scarves and gloves. Those not only kept us warm but were some of our favorite souvenirs.

I lost a preshrunk wool sweater to a European washer/dryer. I'd washed it quite a few times but the super heat in the European machine made it shrink to baby-clothes size (should have used just the wash cycle and hung it to dry). My flight home went through Iceland. I'd been delayed overnight in Iceland before. I knew you both needed a decent warm layer AND they cost an arm and a leg in Iceland (even though Iceland has some of the nicest winter clothes you will ever see). I shopped a ton in Paris for something to replace it and ended up paying 169 euros for an Arc'teryx sweater, at Printemps in Paris. It was the only one I found made of a good travel fabric with full zip front and zippered pockets. It seemed expensive but I saw the same at REI back home. With tax and currency figured, it was roughly the same price.

I'll wear wool socks under good water-proof shoes (especially to UK). I never wear two pair of socks because I don't want to constrict blood flow (which will make my feet colder). If shoes or socks get wet, that makes them mostly useless. Plus, like you, I'd go through them too quickly for my limited packing.

I'm surprised you didn't mention more about quick-drying fabrics. Shirts, underwear and socks dry significantly slower in cold, wet weather. It's even more important to choose items made of quick-dry fabrics for your pack list.

Posted by
938 posts

The horror stories about lost luggage might bring folks back to this and similar threads. Good luck everyone!

Posted by
3 posts

I see the biggest concern right now as the problems with many airports in Europe canceling flights and losing or delaying luggage. We will fly into Schipol early Sept with carry on luggage only. Don’t want to have a luggage problem right off the bat. They currently have serious staffing problems. But will have to pay to have our carry ons in the hold when flying easyjet from Schipol to Pisa. Their size allowances are smaller and don’t want to risk the hefty fine at the last minute. Will have to do the same flying KLM from Zurich to Schipol to catch return flight home. Have a two day break at Schipol before flying home so delayed luggage at that point should be easier to solve.
Hopefully cancellations and lost luggage are solved by September. (I will monitor as best as I can.) If not, there are alternate airports, trains, and buses as backups. Plan ahead and hope for the best. But unless the situation drastically changes at some of the major airports I would not put luggage in the hold on the way over.
Of course, if everybody else is thinking the same …

Posted by
458 posts

I would TOTALLY agree with all of you now who are doing carry on only with the incredible mess in Europe transits right now. This was written in Spring, WAY before these luggage nightmares started. One thing I can completely recommend is Apple Air Tags. Either way, carry on or checked you will know exactly where your bags are. They can even be used in purse or backpack and you won’t forget them. anyway best of luck, so glad we went on the most recent trip months ago and hoping by the time we go next time all this mess will be sorted.

Posted by
938 posts

One thing I can completely recommend is Apple Air Tags. Either way, carry on or checked you will know exactly where your bags are. They can even be used in purse or backpack and you won’t forget them.

The Apple AirTags, and similar products, require a bit of practice to know how to activate the software, interpret the displays,, and use the information effectively. AND, it must be noted, just because you know where the tag is, and the bag that contains it, does not mean you can do anything about it.