It’s been a few thousand miles of travel since my last update - Sydney, Kuala Lumpur, Vietnam - and now I find myself on the sleeper train from Hanoi to Danang. I’m sharing a cabin with two very charming insurance lawyers living in Cologne. They’re travelling down to Hoi An to visit one of Vietnam’s historic cities. In the morning we fall into conversation about their travels and, inevitably, their luggage.
They’re carrying two enormous backpacks, a handbag and another carry-on bag. In total, that’s four bags, which they plan to lug around from north to South Vietnam, on trains, planes, bikes. Quite what they have with them, I don’t know. I could understand if they had a sleeping bags stuffed in there, but they have those attached to the outside of their bags. My guess is that some of the stuff they’re carrying they will never actually use.
Despite being more demanding than ordinary hotel/airport travel, it still amazes me that backpackers travel with so much stuff. Maybe the reason is that whatever size bag you have, you’re likely to fill it. I’m guilty of that, too. My Akra is pretty full! I’ve seen so many people touring around Vietnam with a huge backpack on their backs and one strapped to their front as well. Seemingly, travelling off the beaten track is not incentive enough to take less with them.
I wonder what would happen if they simply took a smaller bag.
Back to my new German friends. I show them the Akra bag and they’re really interested - even more so when I tell them that I’ve been travelling for 3 months with it. “Three months?” they ask incredulously. “And just that single bag? You’re sure there isn’t anything else?” Their trip is for 2 weeks and they probably have three times as much stuff as we do. In total I’m travelling with just under 10kg, and around 10% of that comprises the weight of the Akra + Vaga backpacks.
In all honestly, although Akra is not designed to be a backpackers-type bag, it might actually suit them quite well. It’s water-resistant, and quite resilient in the frequent showers that Vietnam gets at this time of year. And it has the benefit of being able to open flat, which means you can see everything you’ve got in a glance. Much easier than digging around at the bottom of a bag for something.
The bag isn’t exactly tiny, but small enough that I have had to think carefully about what to bring with me. And of course I made a few mistakes. That cafetiere that I was determined to use was virtually useless in North America where they don’t have kettles. I ditched it eventually in New Zealand, just before it would have been useful. And of course it’s not been easy buying souvenirs - a ceramics shopping spree I took in Bat Trang in Northern Vietnam ended up costing me a fortune in postage fees getting the stuff sent home.
But quite often in life, less is more. I am reminded of that wonderful Coco Chanel quote; “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take at least one thing off.” I guess the idea is that we can look better - and ultimately live better - with less stuff. It’s an idea that I think applies to travel as well.
Using Akra doesn’t mean you have to make any serious compromises. It’s big enough that you can fit everything you need inside. But it does make you choose carefully what you want to take with you. And following the Coco Chanel philosophy, you could do worse than to lay out everything you want to take on your next trip and take out a couple of things. And there’s a payoff : taking less gives you the freedom to roam around unencumbered. No more hauling heavy suitcases into the boot of a cab, or carrying a wheelie case by hand up a broken escalator.
Now I just have to find a way to convince my charming German friends to use Akra on their next trip. But taking a glance at their bags again, it’s going to take some work. One step at a time!