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Light Travel - Carry-On Only

By Steve Gillman

Light travel? The last time my wife and I went to Ecuador, I had 10 pounds of luggage, all in one carry-on bag. Ana had just 8 pounds in her carry-on bag. We spent six weeks in Ecuador, at times on glacier-covered mountains, and at other times lounging on Pacific coast beaches.

Why travel lightweight? Simplicity. With only carry-on luggage, we were in a restaurant in Quito, while others still waited for their checked luggage. On busses our luggage was safely with us, not in the hold below being cut open, like one time when I was in Mexico. Others struggled down the street with three heavy bags, while we had our hands free and were walking comfortably with our daypacks. We had less to lose, less to be stolen, less to wait for, less to pack and unpack in hotels, and less to worry about.

Light Travel Issues

Expect an extra question or two from the customs officials at the airport (Six weeks with only this?). Also, a small bag may not work if you plan to bring back many souvenirs. In this case, you could plan to buy a second bag at some point, to carry your acquisitions. As for not having enough clothes and other things, it isn't as big a problem as you may think.

My silk shirts weigh three ounces, and travel well if rolled up. Nylon dress socks weigh less than an ounce, and are cool and comfortable. Poly-cotton blend t-shirts weigh 5 ounces. Supplex or other lightweight travel slacks weigh 9 ounces, and are sufficient for a fine restaurant or a walk in the woods. Half of what typical travel clothes weigh, these take less space, and function the same. There's no sacrifice involved here.

You don't even have to buy new clothes, if you don't want to. You don't have to buy a scale and count ounces. Just choose lighter alternatives whenever you can. Set aside your lightest jacket, socks and pants for your next trip. Simplicity, not complicated planning, is the goal.

More Light Travel Secrets

Money can replace weight. Why carry two pounds of shampoo when you can buy small bottles as you travel? It won't cost much more to buy things as you go. Also, you really don't know what you'll need, particularly on an overseas trip. Buy things as you need them, and you won't have a pile of useless things in your luggage. Don't we all regularly unpack things at home that we never once used during a trip?

Gifts and souvenirs? If you buy bulky gifts for family or friends, why carry them around for weeks? Put them in the mail.

What I Took For Six weeks in Ecuador:

  • 8 pairs of thin nylon socks (less than an ounce per pair)

  • 2 silk shirts for restaurants and discos (3 ounces each)

  • 4 poly/cotton blend t-shirts (5-6 ounces each)

  • 5 pair of light underwear (2-3 ounces each)

  • 1 extra pair of lightweight slacks (9 ounces)

  • Single layer nylon shorts for hiking or swimming (2 ounces)

  • Thin gloves (1 ounce)

  • Thin hat (1 ounce - honestly)

  • Thin wool sweater (11 ounces)

  • Waterproof/breathable rainsuit (14 ounces for the set)

  • Light plastic camera (3 ounces)

  • Sunglasses (1 ounce)

  • Small chess set (3 ounces)

  • Bathroom kit (5 ounces)

  • Maps, notebook and various small things (3 or 4 pounds)

My pack weighed ten pounds. My wife's weighed 8 pounds. We never felt deprived. I'm not suggesting you start counting ounces (that comes from my backpacking days), or that you buy all new lightweight things. Just start setting aside your lightest shirts, socks, etc., and you can enjoy the benefits of light travel.

About The Author

Steve Gillman hit the road at sixteen, and traveled the U.S. and Mexico alone at 17. Now 40, he travels with his wife Ana, whom he met in Ecuador. For more on light travel, plus travel stories, tips and information, visit:


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