With a recent Air Asia sale, I went a little bonkers and booked myself a couple of few plane tickets… and with these upcoming trips, a new challenge was born – The “Carry-On Only Challenge”. I plan on spending ALL of 2012 taking Carry-On Only luggage on each of my trips away from (and within) Thailand.

What’s involved?

It’s pretty simple really. For the whole year of 2012, I’m going to attempt to only travel with Carry-On Luggage for all my travel plans. That means all my possessions will be at an arms reach, when boarding all forms of transport. I won’t be bringing anything more than what would comfortably fit in my day-pack… eek!

Some background

Before deciding to move abroad, I was a bit of a pack rat. Not the kind you see on those shows “Hoarders”.. I just had stuff.. lots of stuff. I lived in a fairly large house in downtown Toronto, Canada, and as they say.. if you have the space, you tend to fill it. From a big Flat-Screen TV, to leather couches, to shelves over flowing with souvenirs of travels, nick-knacks and well.. just stuff. The decision to move abroad brought with it the dilemma of what to do with this stuff. Do I pay to store it? Or do I cleanse myself of that “baggage”? In talking with a few friends, the general consensus was to do the latter. As un-materialistic as I like to think I am, it was quite challenging. It was only when one of those friends had told me their family had lost everything they owned to Hurricane Katrina, and they clearly were still able to find happiness, even with nothing, that it really dawned on me. I have the choice to rid myself of this weight.. what if someone or something else beyond my control made that decision.. would I be ok? Of course I would.. thus began the cleansing of my attachment to material.

I got my life down to 2 good sized (roughly 85 litre) duffle bags, and a day pack. This is the life I brought with me when I moved to Thailand. Since arriving, as odd as it may sound to some, I feel like I came with far too much! A challenge I will face later (stay tuned) is to get my life down to just one of those duffle bags. I’ve already given away the other bag, so no I will be forced to choose what’s actually important.. and what’s just… stuff.

My life of travelling has really been no different. I know (and preach) the concept of “Lay out what you’d like to bring, then cut it in half”, yet still have often managed to stuff my backpack to it’s limits on more than one occasion. It’s incredibly easy with all the “what if” situations you can concoct in your mind! What if it rains: rain coat AND umbrella. What if it’s too hot/cold: pack clothes for all seasons. What if I end up lost at sea: pack Fox-40 whistle (I wish I could say that one was a joke). What “if” I go camping: sure, pack a tent. Too. Much. Stuff. 

Why the Challenge?

This is a multi-layered answer. The short: I’m doing it for myself, for you, and for the planet. If that was a little vague, by all means, please read on..

I first heard of someone travelling with the “Carry-on only” philosophy on a whirlwind trip to Peru a few years back. It was a colleague of mine, and she insisted it was the only way to travel! She had very little wait time for baggage cues, in fact – by checking in and printing her boarding passes at home, she could walk straight into security upon arrival at the airport. There was never a fear of bags not making it to her destination, and when she arrives.. she walks right passed all of us “saps” who are forced to ‘patiently’ await our belongings which hopefully made the journey. “Seems pretty logical” I thought to myself.. but how can you survive on just the bare essentials.

It’s been a couple years now since that trip, and I have a few extra reasons up my sleeve which aided in the decision. In no particular order, they are:
  • I would really like to examine “what” is necessary for travel. We seem to pack everything for the “just in case” scenarios.. many of which may never even happen! Every trip I will take will involve different activities. Will I be able to fit everything I actually need for them in “carry-on only” luggage?
  • The environment. Though I’m not your typical “Tree-Hugger” per say, I’m still very conscious of the environment and an advocate for Sustainable Tourism. I turn off lights when not using them, don’t waste water, separate my recycling and compostables, use the “take only pictures, leave only footprints” slogan with pride, and so forth. Living a life which involves so much travel, however, the carbon footprint from all my flights is probably the worst negative impact I actively contribute to…. and it’s not rocket science (no wait.. it actually is), more weight requires more fuel to propel the plane. If I remove the 20KG bag I usually lug around with me from the equation, that’s almost a quarter of the weight I would have been adding to the plane’s load (that’s including my own weight). Theoretically, I’ve eliminated 25% of the fuel needed* to be exhausted to get me from A to B….
    *all you math heads out there – I know it’s probably closer to 5% because of all the other variables.. but the point remains, less is needed which means better for Mother Earth.
  • Air Asia – bless their souls for their amazingly low prices, and their regular awesome ‘half price’ sales! Mind you.. when you add up the “seat fee”, with the “luggage based on weight fee”, the “meal fee” and so forth, you can almost double your ticket price (granted, you’re only doubling dirt-cheap, so it’s still quite reasonable). When looking at the number of flights I’ve got coming up (roughly 10 in total), and thinking of adding the $20 fee needed to lug my big back pack around, while “Carry-on only” is without a charge. $20 x 10 flights.. I’ll instantly be saving approximately $200 – which was roughly the cost of about 3 flights! To be honest – I actually quite agree with their policy. If 3-4 passengers’ bags weighs equivalent to another whole person.. and some people are travelling without bags.. of course those with the bags should pay for the extra fuel used!
  • For you, my wonderful readers! I will have many upcoming posts about packing tips on what to bring while planning your next vacation.. but this is going to be raw. The absolute bare essentials. Take what you will from this, it will be a learning experience for both of us, I’m sure.

Where to begin?

This is the dilemma I’m faced with at this very moment. I leave on a trip to Borneo in less than 72 hours for an undetermined amount of time, though I estimate it should be about 3 weeks. There are 3 primary activities I’d like to engage in while there, of which I know of at this very moment. I’ve done little to no research on the area. These activities are “Go to the jungle to see the graceful Orangutans and the extremely creepy looking Proboscis Monkey”, I would also like to “Climb Mt Kinabalu” – a 2 day hike, where temperatures can get quite chilly near the top, and “Get my next level certification of SCUBA diving”. Hmm.. so I need Hot Jungle attire, cold mountain attire, and swim gear. Groovy.

I should have you know, the “Carry-On Only” bag I’ll be using is a specialized Laptop/SLR Camera bag, the LowePro CompuDaypack, with a small day pack at the top. By my calculations, I should be able to carry approximately 2 shirts and my swim trunks in there, a head lamp, a toothbrush (but not my big tube of toothpaste, due to the dang liquid restrictions), my trusty Fox-40 whistle (joking).. (ok ok.. not joking), and let’s not forget any paperwork I will need (passport, etc). I’m a bit nervous about the whole ordeal, but I’m excited at the same time. I am going to try to cheat a little bit, as I travel with a tripod for my camera as well – and am “HOPING” they will let that come on the carry on with me.

If you would like some ideas on how to choose your own backpack for your next adventure, check out his post by Goats on the Road for their tips on choosing the Best Travel Backpack!

UPDATE: The challenge is complete! To see updates from during the challenge, check out these blog posts:
Carry-On Only Challenge – Results After Trip One
Carry-On Only luggage challenge – Lessons thus far