Four Big Things That Make Travel Easier

March 30, 2010  |  Featured, No Sidebar, Travel, Travel Advice

Everybody always focuses on the “little things” you can do to make it easier to travel, like using soap as your shampoo or using a credit card that gives you miles.  Well, here are some of the big ones.  These are the tough ones that will really challenge you, but if you can do them, they make the biggest difference.

Lose the hair.

My Pre-Switzerland Haircut

Cut your hair as short as you are willing to.  Why?  With shorter hair, you need fewer toiletries and smaller quantities of the ones you do need.  That translates to more room in your bag and less weight to carry.  Also, short hair can quite easily be washed in a sink, whereas long hair tends to require an actual shower or bath unless you want to start developing dreadlocks.  Short hair also tends to be able to go longer without being washed, especially if you have turned the “bedhead” look into an art.  I tend to have short hair anyway, but I get it cut even shorter when I go on trips.  Before I leave for Mongolia next year I plan on getting it down to only 2-3 inches.

Slim down.

There are multiple reasons for this one.  For one, smaller person equals smaller clothes equals more room in your backpack and less weight to carry around.  The main reason, though, that I have this one on the list is that if you are thinner, you are much more likely to be able to fit into clothes purchased abroad.  One of my big travel secrets is that I tend to pack light and buy more location-appropriate clothing once I’m in the country of my destination. Clothes are almost unanimously cheaper abroad, and it will save you a ton of space.  But, people in most of the world are smaller than your average American (even a healthy American), and as such it can sometimes be difficult to fit into clothes made for your average Japanese, South African, or German.  By losing weight, you will be more likely to be able to fit into clothes purchased abroad, thus allowing you more flexibility in packing.  If you are healthier you will also be less likely to get sick while you’re traveling, and you will be able to enjoy longer days of exploration before you’re completely tired out.

Get rid of most of your belongings.

Me standing next to all my belongings before I left for Korea.

When you don’t have much to tie you to any particular place, you don’t have much to tie you to any particular place!  I’m not talking about selling your stuff to pay for your trip; there are tons of folks out there with way more experience with that than I have.  It doesn’t matter how you get rid of them: donating, selling, giving away, whatever.  Just try to pare down your stuff.  One of the most liberating things about my nomadic year was the fact that I could carry my entire life with me in my car.  If something went sour with my location, I could just get in my car and go someplace better.  When I was in college I had stuff stored there over the summer and thus I always felt like couldn’t take a semester abroad, because then where would my stuff go?  By contrast, when I was in Korea, I had almost everything I needed with me (the rest is still in bins at my family house in Texas), and when I considered staying abroad for a second year, my “stuff” didn’t even enter into my considerations.

Say no to Fido and Fluffy.

I love pets.  I’ve had approximately 30 over the course of my life, ranging from snakes to rats to dogs.  In fact, I have two cats right now (though I also have a non-traveling boyfriend who takes care of them when I’m away).  But…the truth is, if you want to be a long-term traveler, you’re going to have to say no to having pets.  I cannot stand people who leave animals with disconnected family members for years on end, only to pick them up when they return.  I also hate to see someone with rabid wanderlust being chained down by a pet they have to take care of.  Unless you have someone else in your household who can take care of the pet while you are away, do not get a pet if you are a traveler.  It will only result in heartbreak for one or both of you.


26 Comments


  1. Man Kelsey you are really hitting me where it hurts! I love my hair, I love my stuff, I pine for a puppy and I am really damn lazy. But yes, important sacrifices. Looks like I’ve got some work cute out for me before September…

    • My biggest challenge is going to be losing weight for Mongolia. I really believe that one of the reasons they continue to wear traditional clothes there is because they are what is best suited to the terrain/climate there, and so I want to use them as much as possible during my trip. Unfortunately, while I’m the right size height-wise, I’m a bit stockier than your average Mongolian (though they do tend to be stouter than most Asians), and if I want to fit into Mongolian clothes, I’m going to have to lose some weight. I’m actually strongly looking into Crossfit and other “general athletics”-type exercise programs. As the trip looms closer, I’ll be specfically targeting muscle groups I’ll be using for horseback riding.

      I haaaaate exercising (other than walking, which I love and can do for hours), so the “slim down” commandment is definitely the hardest for me.

      • Yeah I need to get in better shape for my trip as well. Not super worried about the clothing issue so much as the running around all day without getting tired bit. And the hanging out at the beach bit. The hair thing is a big debate for me. I’m very vain about my hair!

        • With me it’s both. I need to be able to fit into Mongolian clothing, but that trip is also going to be very challenging, physically. I don’t want to have Mongolians snickering behind my back because I get winded easily. :(

          You can always go halfway with the hair. Shorter than it is now, but not wicked short like I showed in the photo. Remember that if you’re going to be spending a lot of time in humid climates or on the beach, long hair is also likely to mildew, a problem you will be less likely to have with shorter hair. Shorter hair is also generally more conducive to that sexy “beach bunny” look than long hair is, as long hair tends to just become weighed down and scraggly.

  2. All great suggestions – I’m definitely looking to keep my hair cut really short while I’m traveling. I think the rest are covered! I’m not in great shape quite yet, but a couple weeks of riding my bike through Europe will beat the rest of the fat out of me.

    I tried life with a dog a couple years ago and sadly, it didn’t work out. I’m glad, though, so that I can travel without worrying about him. He’s in a lovely new home with a yard and other dogs.

    • I think the KIND of clothes you bring matters more than a couple sizes’ difference. That said, being in shape for travel is much preferable because you can do more walking/seeing than if you are not in shape.

      • That was not directed at you, Joel… I just hit the wrong button to comment!

      • Oh definitely, but it can help. For me, it’s more about being able to purchase clothes where I am headed. I generally find that people wear certain clothes in given countries not only for style, but because they are practical for the location. Therefore, one of the best ways to pack light and yet also have location-appropriate clothing is to be able to purchase clothing at your destination, rather than bringing it with you. I did that with Korea, and it was great.

  3. thanks for the shout out!

  4. The suggestion about the hair made me smile. I used to have really short hair when I was moving about a lot but then let it grow out in university and kept it longer in Korea.

    Since being back home, I cut it all off again, part to get rid of the straightening chemicals from Korea but also because I don’t want to deal with it when I take off for an epic American road trip with a friend in a couple of weeks. Shorter hair when traveling for longer periods of time is, for me, the only way to go. And really, it’s only hair and it WILL actually grow back.

    Slimming down is great advice and I’m definitely going to start now.

    • Slimming down is going to be the hard one for me, but it’s also one of the most important. And yes, the thing about hair that people seem to forget is that it DOES grow back, and often quite quickly.

      • I was reading Diana’s blog the other day and she’s had some great things to say about weight loss and health in general. Both her comments on the topic and your note about how being slimmer makes it so much easier to travel light have made me realize that one of my greatest travel annoyances have been that I have to pack all that I might need because it’s often impossible to fit into clothing in other countries.

        And yes, I’m always astonished at those fearful of cutting their hair not realizing that hair grows, can be styled in any way the person wants, and mostly importantly it grows.

  5. I am loving the blog design, by the way. Love, love, love it.

  6. When you get your hair cut down, we’ll look like twins!

    And yes, the weight was difficult when I was in China. My jeans gave out on me about a month into my stay (like disintegrated), and while I can fit into many shirts in China, pants are another story because of all the lithe figures there. I did a pretty intensive daily Tai Chi class there, which helped me trim down just enough belly to fit into the largest pair of pants I could find.

    • Yeah, clothing wearing out is another thing people often forget about. Just because you brought enough clothing doesn’t mean you’ll always have it all. Sometimes it gets ripped or torn or stained and you can no longer wear it, necessitating the purchase of a new, and local, item. I really hope that Mongolian women are as stout as they seem in films.

  7. The first tip is crucial. I have chin length hair but it’s thick and after two days in Mexico I’ve decided I can’t go any longer, it’s just too hot!

  8. Interesting tips! Another reason for travelers to stay away from pets is that they suck the money out of your wallet! My sister’s two tiny little dogs cost her more per month than her baby..!!! No pets = More money to spend on traveling ;)

  9. Great tips – I agree with all of them. We’ve recently left the UK to travel indefinitely. We sold most of our stuff and it was a huge relief – we don’t miss anything. As much as we love animals we’ve always known we weren’t settled enough to have pets – we’ll try house sitting for temporary pets! As for the hair – I cut mine but I’ve realised it looks terrible when I don’t blow dry it (obviously I’m not travelling with a hair dryer!), so I’m looking forward to it growing a bit. Getting past your vanity is an important part of making things easier on the road though.

    • “Getting past your vanity is an important part of making things easier on the road though.”

      This is a great way to look at it. When I see people traveling with lots of hair and skin products, or even makeup, I just don’t get it. Is their self esteem so low that they think they need some sort of creme or lotion to make themselves bearable to the outside world? That a fellow bus passenger will be forever traumatized if they see them without lipstick?

  10. If you’re traveling with your man, you sometimes have to sacrifice to look good :) That may mean carrying around extra beauty products.

    • Or you can get a man who doesn’t care if you’re not wearing makeup. I find that that is far, far more rewarding. If you feel the need for beauty products, I’d suggest that you take a look at either your own self esteem or the values of the man you’re “beautifying” yourself for.

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