It’s one of the stand-out images of the 1980s. Joan Collins stands proudly next to her five pieces of Louis Vuitton luggage. She places a hand lightly on a holdall, as a red blazered porter struggles under the weight of it, probably thinking of his tip. Travelling with this much luggage is about as far away from ‘packing light’ as it gets.
I’m talking about a time when greed was good and conspicuous consumption ruled supreme. But times change, and even Joan Collins doesn’t travel like that anymore. In fact, when I read a recent Guardian interview with the Diva, I was struck by how sensible her suggestions for packing were.
“I like to plan and set out all my outfits for any events or parties on a portable rack ready to be packed,” she tells The Guardian in an interview.
Lighter Or Smaller Versions Of Things
Light versions of her items are also key: “my staples are cashmere trousers,” she explains. This is a philosophy that strikes a chord. I always try to find lighter or smaller versions of things if possible. And what better way to figure out how wearable your clothes will be than by laying them all out and making sure they fit together? Combining lightweight versions with ruthless wardrobe editing is going to result in some really light packing.
But why bother to pack light at all? Why not just travel like 1980s Joan?
As someone who is currently completing a 99-day trip around Eastern Europe and Asia, I’m acutely aware of how much stuff I’m carting around with me. Most of the time when people see my bag, they ask, “is that it?” - surprised at the fact that I’m able to travel with a single piece of hand luggage for such a long time. But I still feel like I have too much with me.
Flexibility and Freedom
The advantages of travelling light are not difficult to expound. Firstly, I save a lot of cash by not checking in luggage, as well as time at the airport waiting at the carousel. But more than that, I enjoy the freedom to wander at will, without having to trail a clunky piece of rolling luggage behind me. I arrive in Toulouse and have an hour to kill before my train departs; the perfect opportunity to walk around and soak up the Southern French vibe. A run through a Polish airport or German train station is a lot easier to navigate when you’re travelling light.
Only Pack Essentials
After a long day of walking around with my backpack, I can feel a sense of regret that I didn’t bring less with me. I’m thinking of the items I’ve worn only a handful of times and don’t have the courage to throw away. That means you, crisp white shirt that was a present from my in-laws and which I thought I’d wear “on nights out” -- I’ve worn it once in three months. Every time I have to pack and go, I faithfully roll it up and feel a slight sense of shame.
If I were to start my trip again and use the Joan Collins school of packing, I’d do as she advised and lay everything out to make sure that I really need everything. In an effort to fit into a yoga school in southern India, I bought a whole load of hippy-chic clothes which I am still cramming into my backpack and not wearing. I can almost feel Joan’s arched eyebrow judging me for not thinking about the long game: if it doesn’t fit with your wardrobe, there’s really no justification for bringing it.
I’m not sure what advice Joan would actually have given me for this trip; the main challenge to balance the cold in Poland and Tibet, with the heat of India and Thailand. Her solution most likely would be cashmere (of course), and also “A gilet for layering.” In other words, bring stuff that you can wear in different locations in conjunction with other stuff if it’s cold. Advice I could have heeded.
And isn’t that the best way to travel light? Just bring less stuff! I’ve met quite a lot of people on the road who have been wandering the planet for longer than me, and their experience seems to be the same. The more you travel, the more you realise how little you actually need. I bet any money that you’ve taken things with you on your travels that you haven’t used. Sure, we can all afford to bring a luxury item or two, but otherwise just leave it at home. And don’t give in to the temptation of buying stuff you’re never going to wear again!
Written by Will Ford, Co-Founder at Arcido