This Is Not Another “How To Pack Light” Article. Sort of.

There are so many articles out there about how to pack. What to pack. What not to pack. When to pack. What pack to use. It goes on and on. So we decided to add to the chaos, with one little twist. This is not just about what or how to pack, but why the way you pack matters not only to you, but to the people and places you visit. In other words, is there a way to pack that can help my travel be more revolutionary? Great question!

Packing light allows you to disrupt communities less

It is just a fact of travel life that often times we will be a disruption, distraction, or at the very least stick out like a sore thumb when we travel. This is especially true if you are going places where you might look much different than the local people. Though it is not ideal, it’s just the way it is. Packing light allows you to at least minimize your impact. Imagine someone strolling through a Masai village in Western Kenya with a couple rolly suitcases and a duffel bag. Not only do they look like a dork, it just puts unnecessary strain on people’s lives and that’s the last thing we want. Keeping a slim profile with your pack at least allows you to blend in somewhat.

Being light, nimble, and agile leaves you open to spontaneity

Being open to the unpredictability of travel is so vital in finding those small ways to make your travel a positive force. When you interact with people in an open and positive way, you have a much higher likelihood of creating an environment where travel, travelers, and local people can have a positive experience. This is a huge part of making travel and tourism an agent for change in the world. Positive individual interactions, when extrapolated across the millions of people who travel, can create a ripple effect whose impact we may never see but will be very real. It’s pretty hard to jump on the back of a new friend’s motorcycle to go meet their family for dinner when you are lugging around a giant suitcase!

Bringing less forces you to relay on those around you

This is a tricky one, but one we think is still a positive for community travel. What we want to avoid is being a burden on local people. Showing up to a place unable to be at least self-sufficient might cause a negative impact if people who already have little have to take care of you. That is not what we mean. The thought process here is when you bring only the essentials to take care of yourself, that when you want or need something more it forces you to interact with local people. It forces you to maybe speak a language you don’t know or go into a place you might have passed by before or inject resources into the local economy instead of bringing stuff from home.

One of our fondest memories of travel comes from bringing few items of clothing and having to find somewhere to do laundry. We were in a small fishing town in Thailand and had dirtied the two pants and two shirts we brought with us. Not being able to stand the smell anymore, we struck out to find somewhere to wash them. As we walked along the dirt road through a small settlement, we stopped to ask an old woman about where we could do laundry. Not speaking Thai, we followed her toward a small house as she pointed and ushered us closer. At the door a young lady greeted us, the two talked, and soon she took the clothes out of my hand. “Tomorrow.” We took this as come back tomorrow to pick up your clean clothes. Fast forward to the next day. We show up and the house is deserted. We knock. Knock. Knock. Pretty soon a frail old man comes to the door. We point to our shirts we are wearing, make a washing motion with our hands, and he motions us to come in. As he walks in the back the old woman from the day before greets us with tea and a biscuit! Laundry with a snack, how awesome. We sip our tea and eat our biscuit as we exchange broken English and Thai with the woman. Some time later the old man comes back with our clothes in a burlap bag. He hands them to me and smiles. We take out some baht from our pocket and try to pay. It is waived off with smiles and laughter. Before we can walk out he grabs the bag, opens it, looks inside, and removes a pair of socks. He nods. I nod. A fair price for clean clothes I think.

What you need you can find. If you can’t, you don’t need it

This goes back to the point of investing and injecting resources into local economies. One of the biggest things travelers can do is support locally owned businesses and people by buying the products and services they provide. Instead of shopping at the mega-mart by the hotel, walk to the market and barter for what you need with the old woman at the fruit stand. Did your fancy Chaco sandal break? Go to the corner stall and find a sweet pair of flippies to buy from the woman with three kids. By using our tourism dollars to siphon profits away from larger, out-of-town corporations and toward local people whose livelihood depends on it, we can make tourism and travel a catalyst for a revolution the world over. So don’t pack 4 tubes of toothpaste or 9 pairs of sandals or five dozen granola bars. Buy local. Support local. Change the world.

All of this is to say the same point. Traveling is not just beneficial to you. Of course travel experience, education, and connection will change your life, but more importantly that experience should also benefit the people and places you visit. By packing light, bringing less, and being more streamlined you can actually do a lot to make your travel part of the change. The personal benefits of a small bag are innumerable, but your positive impact on local people can also be substantial when you leave that extra t shirt or pair of shoes at home. Oh, and with all the “leave it at home talk” there is one golden rule. Never. Ever. Leave the frisbee. Frisbees can change the world. Trust me.

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