What’s your happy travel thing?

We’re pretty die-hard minimalists at this point in our lives. That’s not to say we don’t like stuff. I enjoyed the stuff we got rid of to move to France, I just prefer the life I get to live without so much of it. This is not some posh stunt-minimalism (everything I own is white, I only have 25 curated things…snooty snoot snoot), it’s necessity. When we’re not living out of 2 small suitcases, we live in a 220 square foot apartment. Okay, I call it necessity, but it really is a choice. But when it came down to choosing between the crap ton of stuff that was anchoring us in the US and a tiny apartment in Paris plus long-term travel, it was no contest. These constraints mean absolutely everything we own has to pull its own weight. There’s not a lot of room for extras.

In one of my nomadic travel groups, what to bring and how little one can get away with is a subject of discussion. I love a good what-to-pack post and peeping into other people’s bags. It’s not a competition (how low can you go?!?), it’s a way of working out what works for you. Mark and I go back and forth on this, never quite hitting that elusive sweet-spot of comfort vs. heft. If we take too much on one trip, we tend to under pack on the next, to our detriment. In fact, because we left Paris for Seville in an extra-big hurry (here), and we’d packed pretty heavily on our previous 2 month trip, we packed too little and didn’t have enough warm layers. No problem, there is a superb thrift store in Seville. We swooped in and 20 euros later came out with many warm things. It’s the law of stuff, there’s always more of it. We’ll drop them back off again on our way out of town. I’m calling it rent.

But now that we have committed to spending this year moving at a slower pace, we can relax on this super-light packing front. I vow not to ruled by my dread of schlepping too much (within reason). Which bring me to a question for you: What is a small thing that you carry that punches well above its weight in terms of comfort or convenience in your traveling life? Or in regular life? I’m not talking about the non-negotiable comfort items, things you’d take with if you were living out of a backpack. For me that means earplugs, sleeping mask, headphones. Rather, the things you could do without, but it’s so much nicer when you don’t. I asked this of our friend Dianne. After some thought she said it was her clever scissors that hide in a pen-sized case, a headlamp (I agree), and a small magnetic phone stand. It never occurred to me to travel with a phone stand and I think it would be a worthy addition to our kit. The best things are those that solve a frequent frustration. It’s always a challenge to set up our phones when we’re doing video calls with the folks back home.

Maybe your thing isn’t practical, but sentimental? Seville friends and extraordinary travelers Karen and Rich say they always travel with a small, silly, framed photo of them on their wedding day. Over the years, it has acquired various medallions, ribbons, and other enhancements. It’s a small token that makes wherever they are home.

For us the well-worth-it thing is a pair of very squishable down blankets. Mine even doubles as a strange, shiny, cocoon-robe for morning, Mark’s oddly, does not. They crush down small in a compression sack but they also have a pouch that makes them into a travel pillow. I was ungratefully aghast when my mom gave them to us right before a 9 month trip. (Ack, Mom, no! We don’t have room!) Mark grabbed them and wisely said we’re making room for this. We never pull them out of our suitcase without saying, thanks Mom! (For those of you who know my mother, yes, of course they’re from Costco.)

So what’s your happy thing?

My philosophy of stuff: Stuff is concrete time, that is, we trade our time for money that we trade for stuff. Time becomes things. As overworked Americans, we amass stuff for the day when we’ll have time for it. In the end you might not run out of stuff, but you will run out of time and you never know when.




  1. Maer, you are my modern day Montaigne. Your essays are always filled with pearls of wisdom. Or just quirky stuff. This one is full of them. Bon sejour!


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