Traveling Light: How to Travel for Months at a Time with One Small Bag

Like the Johnny Cash song, Evelin Strougal (83) and Melvyn Appleton (84) have been everywhere.

The couple know New York, London, Paris, and scores of other cities around the world. They’ve explored the Americas, Europe, and India. They’ve walked island beaches in the South Pacific, Caribbean, and Atlantic.

For more than two decades, they’ve spent half of each year roaming the world. And in the process, they’ve refined the art of traveling light.

Traveling Light

When Evelin and Mel travel, they experience a variety of situations and circumstances. They attend conferences, take in cities, tour mountain regions, relax in beach towns, and explore desert Evelin-with-coatarchaeological sites.

And they do it carrying one small bag each—without ever appearing awkwardly dressed or out of place.

How small is a small bag? On a six-month trip through Mexico, Central America, and South America, Evelin’s bag weighed just 8 pounds. Mel’s bag, which included some winter clothes, weighed in at 12 pounds.

About Evelin and Mel

Long before Evelin and Mel met in 1995, they were both travelers.

In the early 1950s, at age 17, Evelin left East Germany to start a new life in West Germany. After eight years in West Germany, she immigrated to Australia. Then on to New Zealand, and finally to Canada.

Although she settled in Canada, Evelin maintained the travel bug.

On one trip, she spent three months driving a VW camper van from Germany to South Africa. The trip included 12 days of barge travel on the Nile, attending a local wedding, and finding herself in Sudan during the 1969 coup.

In the early 1970s, Evelin traveled solo in South America. Her adventures included riding along with a local trucker the full length of Bolivia’s old Yungas Road. It’s a narrow roadway cut into a steep mountainside. Before it was finally closed to vehicle traffic, it was often dubbed the most dangerous road in the world.

Mel, the son of a British engineer, grew up in Lahore, an Indian city that became part of Pakistan in 1947.

Mel moved from Lahore to England when his father retired in 1949. During his time in England, Mel served seven years in the British army. In 1967, he immigrated to Canada.

He found a good-paying seasonal job in Alberta. It gave Mel four months off a year, which he often spent traveling and camping in the U.S.

Mel and Evelin met at a ballroom dance in Canada. They discovered they shared a love for travel as well as dancing and began traveling together.

Mel-with-his-bag

The Attraction of Travel

For Mel, the main attraction of travel is warmer weather and the people they meet.

For Evelin, its exploring unknown territory and the differences in cultures and languages.

When I ask about places that stick out in their minds, they mentioned the Hawaiian Islands. “Each one has differences,” says Mel.

They recall other island trips: Time spent in Nassau in the Bahamas. And Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands.

“In Tenerife, the weather is great. There’s a cable car that takes you up the Teide Volcano. You see vegetation from different climate zones. It’s so high there’s snow near the top,” says Mel.

The Benefit of Traveling with One Small Bag

“When you travel light, your travel becomes more streamlined and flexible. You don’t wait for checked bags or contend with lost luggage. You don’t always need a taxi or other transportation to move your things. You can walk a kilometer or two with your bags,” explains Evelin.

Evelin’s Travel Advice

When people ask Evelin how to get the most out of travel, she offers the following suggestions: “Take a little bag of clothing. Have lots of time. And travel slowly.”

She is also against over planning. “If you plan everything, it’s like a prison,” says Evelin. “Our best experiences come from following suggestions and accepting invitations along the way.”

10 Practical Tips for Traveling with One Bag

©iStock.com/Chalabala

Over the years, Mel and Evelin gave careful thought to each item they packed, developing ways to travel lighter and lighter. Following are 10 of their strategies.

1. Choose clothes that can work for a variety of occasions

What could you wear on a plane that you could also wear on a bus, meeting friends for lunch or dinner, exploring a new city, or walking along a beach? Finding the middle ground is often a dressy casual look.

2. Wear pants and footwear that can serve double duty

Mel and Evelin wear pants with legs that zip on and off. They can be worn as shorts or long pants, and look good either way.

Instead of bringing shoes, tennis shoes, and sandals, they travel with a single pair of sandals. The sandals are attractive (on the dressy side). With three adjustments, they can be worn with or without socks. They fit so well, Evelin plays tennis in them.

3. Select tops and shirts that look good layered

All Mel’s shirts and Evelin’s tops can be worn separately or in layers. Everything can be coordinated. This further enables them to look put together in a variety of travel settings.

4. Bring a few pieces of jewelry

A few items of jewelry take very little packing space and can dress up your look. When going out in the evening, Evelin may wear earrings and a string of pearls.

5. Seek lightweight and compact options

When selecting clothing, choose lightweight articles that compress to a small size for packing. Both Mel and Evelin wear coats made by Marmot that are warm, yet, thin and light.

6. Opt for clothing that’s easy to care for and easy to clean

When you travel light, you need clothes you can wash in any situation. Evelin chooses clothing items she can wash in a hotel sink, wring out, roll in a towel to remove more moisture, then hang out overnight. If it’s dry in the morning and isn’t wrinkled, it passes the test.

7. Put your clothing in a plastic bag before packing

This prevents your things from getting wet if you are caught in the rain or your bag is splashed.

8. Buy clothes you’ll only need short term along the way

“Instead of packing a clothing item you might need, wait to see if you really need it. If you do, buy it on your trip. If it’s something you want to keep, it becomes a souvenir. If it’s something you will only need for a little while, you can give it away afterward,” says Evelin.

Here’s an example: “We took advantage of a promotion with Lait Airlines to visit 10 islands. We were spending about three days exploring each Island. But we had to go back to Lait’s hub in Puerto Rico between each flight, says Evelin.

“A travel agent told us about a cruise special. With the special, we could spend a week on a cruise ship for the same money we were spending per week with the flight sale.”

Traveling light, Evelin and Mel didn’t have clothes for cruise-ship socials. But they didn’t want to miss out.

“So, we went to a mall and bought some cheap clothes and a $5 watch,” says Evelin. “When the trip was over, we gifted the clothes to the travel agent who found us the good cruise ship deal.”

9. Reconsider the electronics you bring along

What do you need in the way of electronics when you travel? A tablet, a phone, and an e-reader? Evelin and Mel don’t carry any electronics. Not even a phone.

How do they get by? They use computers available in hotels where they stay and/or internet cafes to read up on places to visit, make online reservations, and email with friends.

Evelin and Mel find traveling without a phone encourages more personal interactions and a stronger connection to their surroundings.

10. Carry a shopping bag instead of a purse or handbag

Instead of a purse or a handbag, Evelin carries a shopping bag, which she uses to carry things she wants handy. This may include a book she’s reading, brochures, and notes related to their travels.

The shopping bag is lightweight and can be tucked into her small pack if she doesn’t need it. Another advantage is one of security. A humble shopping bag is less likely to be snatched in an unfamiliar area than a purse or handbag

What to Pack

What Evelin Brings:

What-Evelin-Packs

  • Double layer Marmot jacket
  • three pairs of pants
  • Three to four tops
  • Sometimes she takes along one light long sleeve shirt for sun protection
  • Bathing suit
  • 1-2 pairs of socks
  • Belt
  • Change of underwear
  • Sandals
  • Hat
  • Earrings and pearl necklace
  • Toiletry bag

What Mel Brings:

What-Mel-Packs

  • Double layer Marmot jacket
  • One pair of pants (with zip-on legs)
  • Three shirts
  • 3 pairs of socks
  • Change of underwear
  • Sandals
  • Hat
  • Insulated vest
  • Gloves
  • Scarf
  • Toiletry bag

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