Traveling light. Hand luggage

For a long time now I’ve been meaning to explain how I manage to limit my luggage to just hand bags without leaving anything essential behind. This morning I’m going to Armenia, and I’ve just packed my bags, so this is a good time to deliver on that old promise and take exhaustive pictures of my traveling gear.

I used to travel with huge backpacks stuffed with everything necessary, and a lot of what was unnecessary, for living. Photo equipment took up a separate backpack. Check out documentary proof here, and here. Those days feel like a bad dream now.

Eventually I realized that I bring along all sorts of bulky and useless things, which is particularly inconvenient with a backpack – to take out something buried in the middle, you have to excavate at least half of the stuff. Suitcases are much easier in this regard: snap it open and choose what you need without disturbing the rest. I don’t carry luggage on my person anyway – it always either lies at the hotel or a shuttle/car/sleigh carries it, and so on. And even on wilderness trips there’s a porter or a sherpa shouldering the stuff. At any rate, the suitcase is my bag of choice – or, very occasionally, on Arctic expeditions where you really need to take a lot of equipment and clothes, a large knapsack. But that’s a whole other story. For 99% of the traveling I do, including photo trips, I can’t imagine anything more convenient than a suitcase small enough to pass as hand luggage.

With experience I’ve learned to fit everything necessary for a month’s worth of travel in hand luggage – without omitting anything really needful or breaking air travel rules.

You shouldn’t think I bring only bare necessities either. Most people would say that I bring plenty of excessive stuff: a projector, running clothes and shoes, hard drives, ironed shirts, a hair trimmer, a heart rate monitor, an anorak and more. How does it all fit? Very simply. Here is the inventory of the stuff, and below you can see the same on the pictures.

In the left half of this Samsonite suitcase lie:

– 7 T-shirts, mostly the kind that don’t need ironing
– 3 shirts for various ceremonial occasions
– jeans
– summer briefs
– swimming trunks
– chargers
– 2 Tb hard drive
– 2 tank tops for jogging
– jogging briefs
– spare glasses
– extra batteries for the camera

In the right half lie:

– running shoes (Asics Gel-Kinsei 4)
– heart rate monitor
– Fujifilm X-T1 camera with a 16-55mm lens
– enough underwear to last 10 days without a chance to do washing
– toothbrush and paste, shaving cream etc., perfume
– hair trimmer
– MacBook charger
– anorak in a bundle (we intend to go up to snowy highlands in Armenia); this is the black cylinder on the upper right

Besides the suitcase, I bring two modestly-sized hand bags – both small enough to carry into the airplane and hang off the same shoulder (or across, as on the picture above). Because the suitcase is wheeled, I have one hand free to hold my iPhone and text or take snapshots.

The one is a typical city bag, leather.

Its contents:

– MacBook Pro 15″
– passports and IDs: 2 foreign passports, 1 Russian internal passport, driver’s license etc.
– headphones
– charger
– iPhone 6
– iPhone 5s
– iPad Mini
– all cables and adapters
– money and credit cards
– USB token from the bank to manage the account remotely
– keys – from the house and others, if necessary

Bag number three holds the projector I will need if I intend to give a workshop on the trip. It took me 3 years to find this particular projector – small and high-quality. The model I used to have took up a separate suitcase. If there is no workshop planned, I just leave this bag with the projector, cables and small stuff like flash drives and adapters at home. When I do take it, I sometimes put a few albums from our previous trips there – people often want to see them.

That’s about it. But since wearing things is another way of transporting them, here is what I have on me:

– jeans
– street shoes
– light jacket
– another T-shirt

In principle I could cram a little more into the suitcase, like a pair of sandals. With some jumping on the case it could hold still more, but I prefer my bags to open and close easily. If I absolutely must bring something else, I can sacrifice a couple of T-shirts or shirts.

As far as washing clothes goes, a trip longer than 10 days will probably allow me an opportunity to stop by a hotel’s laundry service. I usually wash up every chance I get, because there is no telling when the next time will be. If all else fails, I can always do a little detergent work with a couple of T-shirts in the evening and let them dry on a hanger. Most of my T-shirts can be worn without ironing, so I’ll just throw them on come morning. After every jog I wash my tank tops and socks, they get dry in just a couple of hours. If it’s winter in Moscow, I usually wear the anorak to the airport and pack it there.

My friends tell me: “All that stuff in just hand luggage? We want proof!” Well, there you are. :) To be honest, the most difficult part was to learn to understand what I would and would not need in advance and stop being a pack rat. It was helpful to think “even if I’ve forgotten something, I can always buy it in the other place.” But I’ve almost never had to actually do that – most things I end up buying are just what I like, not first-necessity equipment. The most important principle when preparing for travel is: take not what may be useful but what you can’t do without. Follow that rule, and you’re all set!


2 thoughts on “Traveling light. Hand luggage

  1. Thank you Pavel for giving me the opportunity to see your pictures and read about your experiences for so long.

    Just a short note: I am a frequent traveler and I am very aware of how cumbersome the luggage can be, it is like carrying an anchor around jeopardizing you mobility. I developed a habit when traveling, of taking a shower with my shirt and underwear on and soap all this along myself. For the underwear I just squeeze the water out. If no towels are available you can also use your rinsed underwear to dry yourself . For the wet shirt I let it dry on a hanger to avoid wrinkles. If not enough time to dry, a hair drier is always useful, available in many hotels; if not you can dress up wearing your humid clothing that will dry up with your body temperature. This allows you to have only two sets of clothing, one in the suitcase or drying, the other one on. This is one of my formulas to travel light and be clean.

    King regards, Jose

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