Traveling Light in the New Year | Travel | Smithsonian

Traveling Light in the New Year

Don't overpack is a rule to live by. So why not declutter on New Year's Eve

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Packing light for the new year. Image courtesy of Flickr user Johnny Vulkan

I have always extolled the virtues of traveling light. No matter how long the trip, take one bag you can carry with enough for a week, then go to the laundromat. Traveling with just one manageable piece of luggage means you don’t have to tip bellboys, spring for taxis or pay increasingly strict excess baggage fees at the airport.

Mimi Tanner, a lifestyle expert and author of Declutter Fast, agrees. “The Accidental Tourist, that wonderful novel by Anne Tyler, is about a travel writer who urges his readers to take only one carry-on bag with specific items to make packing as easy as possible. I love his recommendations, and he’s absolutely right,” says Tanner. “If you can go with the clothes on your back and one change in your suitcase, you’re destined for great things.”

But it goes deeper than that. Traveling light is a state of mind engendering freedom, mobility and self reliance. More than anything else, it allowed me to cut the moorings and move abroad, to Paris for three years, Beijing for six months and Rome for three years. During this extremely extended trip, I lived in furnished apartments, moving in with little more than clothes. I left the stuff I’d accumulated in a spooky Hollywood storage unit and after a while didn‘t even miss it.

Before each move I purged my belongings, a habit very useful to travelers because packing light is in a sense very much like purging. Fitness and life balance coach Chalene Johnson says such decluttering includes getting rid of both unneeded material objects (a bag of clothes for each new bag you bring home), unfruitful time commitments and false friends. “When your life has less clutter the things that are most important will stand out,“ Johnson writes.

“Cutting through clutter is exhilarating and exciting,” adds Tanner. “It gives us that sense of accomplishment that encourages us to do even more and frees us for the great tasks we know where are capable of.”

I learned about material and spiritual decluttering from a Tai Chi master-hair stylist in New York’s West Village who observed the ritual of elimination every New Year’s Eve instead of going to a party. One January I discovered that he’d even pulled out his kitchen and was taking meals at a macro-biotic place around the corner.

I never took minimalism to this extreme, but I did adopt ritual purging on December 31, thereby traveling light into the New Year and never having to deliberate over what to take on a trip.

What weighs us down and keeps us stuck in place is excess. We don’t need it. So this New Year’s Eve be it resolved to travel light through life and the world.

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