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Travelling heavy is better than travelling light

two people arguing over whether travelling heavy is better than travelling light

The internet seems to be obsessed with minimalist travel, or ‘travelling light’. But travelling heavy can save you time and money, and make your trip more enjoyable.

When I was 23, I did three months of the minimalist backpacker travel that the internet seems to fetishise. I could fit all my stuff into a carry-on bag. But for the last six months I’ve been travelling heavy – with nearly twice as much stuff. It’s been a lot better. Here’s why.

You’ve got room for stuff that makes life better…

I’m currently travelling with a heavy speaker, a large DSLR camera, and the 13” laptop I’m typing this on. I didn’t have room for any of those on my lightweight travels. I could have got smaller, lighter versions, but they either would have been poorer quality, or cost more. You don’t need all your best gear with you when you travel, but it’s worth taking a few things that genuinely make life better/easier.

…and cheaper

One of my best travel decisions was to bring my Travel Aeropress. I didn’t use it for the first three months, but since I’ve been staying in more apartments/AirBnBs over hostels/hotels, it’s saved me a lot of money, as well as the pain of drinking the burnt sh** they serve at Starbuck’s.

If I’m travelling somewhere I can get a resupply of Huel, I get some. That saves me time, money and effort on food.

People who argue you should pack light point out that you can buy stuff as you need it. But most of us have enough stuff anyway, so why not just bring it with you?

Doing laundry less often saves time…

Washing clothes is not only a pain, but it takes up too much time. Time spent travelling should be time to experience the place you’re in, rather than a smelly, grey, cockroach-infested basement where you’re waiting for the dryer to finish. So the less you have to do laundry, the better.

Unless you’re washing them by hand, which I’m guessing most travellers don’t do, then washing more clothes doesn’t mean it takes longer. So if you carry enough clothes for a week, you only need to do, say one hour of laundry per week. It’ll still take you an hour if you have half the clothes, but you’ll have to do it twice as often 📈.

…and money

Depending where you’re travelling, washing can be expensive 💰. I paid – gulp – £25 to get my washing done in Chicago. To get it cheaper, you either have to do it yourself (not always fun/possible), or spend time shopping around.

Depending how you’re doing it, the price for a bigger load isn’t always much more than a small load. So overall you save money by carrying more clothes.

You don’t get completely sick of the clothes you’re wearing…

By the end of the three months of travelling light, I absolutely hated everything I wore. Unless you’re used to wearing the same stuff day in, day out, chances are you’ll hate your clothes after more than a couple of months on the road. But it takes longer to get to this stage if you can rotate a bit 👘.

…and you’ll feel more comfortable

Going to a bar wearing khaki trousers and a fleece made me feel like a creepy middle-aged man. I hated wearing shorts with too many pockets. I desperately missed jeans. OK, I was 23, and probably too worried about shit like that at the time, but I still wouldn’t want to wear a sweat-wicking top on a night out.

It’s obviously better not to care about your clothes at all, but having more variety can help you feel comfortable in more different environments. It’s nice feeling like you fit in, and wearing hiking boots or flip flops in a restaurant isn’t usually the way to do that 🩴.

You don’t waste time/money buying tiny toiletries

If you’ve got a bigger bag, you can take larger amounts of toiletries. So you spend less time buying more.

If you travel to small towns, it’s difficult to buy toiletries small enough to go through airport security. It’s hard enough to find them in big cities you’re unfamiliar with. But you can get the bigger versions in most places, so you save time – and usually money.

A lot of accommodation has shampoo and shower gel, but it’s rare to find mouthwash, or moisturiser that doesn’t burn your face off, so being able to carry that is useful 💅.

Packing isn’t as painful

Trying to cram everything you need into a carry-on bag is always horrible, even if you’ve optimised your set-up. But having a bigger bag makes things a lot easier (assuming it’s not 100% full). You should still get packing cubes and one of those fast-drying towels, but you won’t have to roll everything to within an inch of its life to make it fit, or throw away something really useful if you need to buy something else.

No one walks that much anyway…

Part of the reason people want to pack light is because they think backpacking involves actually carrying your stuff a lot. But unless you’re going on a trekking holiday 🥾, it doesn’t.

The furthest I’ve walked with my bag on this trip is about 30 minutes, and I’m not convinced I’d have done any longer walks if my bag had weighed half as much. So if you can carry your bag for half an hour, you’re probably alright. If not, most of the world has Uber anyway 🚕.

…and if you do, you can usually leave your bag

I’ve climbed a couple of mountains on this trip, but left my big bag with the trekking company and used one of their bags for a few days. It didn’t cost any extra, and it meant I didn’t expose my own bag to the extra wear and tear. So it’s unlikely you need a bag you can carry for a very long distance.

Only having carry on luggage is overrated

Not having to check in a bag and wait for it in arrivals saves time and money. But the wait for bags is usually pretty short, and airlines charge for carry-ons that are anything bigger than a bag of crisps these days, so the savings aren’t always big. Assuming you’re not flying every few days, the savings are probably outweighed by the ways taking more stuff will save you money, as per the above.

Plus there’s always a risk some over-zealous budget airline attendant makes you put your just-under-the-limit bag in the hold anyway.

It’s rare to have a bag charge on other forms of transport, so if you’re taking buses 🚎, trains 🚝, and boats ⛴, this is even less of an issue.

One caveat: carbon footprint

Carrying more stuff with you does increase your carbon emissions – there’s no getting away from that. So, erm, plant a few trees to make up for it 🌲😬