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by Rick Green, photos by Brian K. Smith

Travelers waiting with their luggage outside a train station.Our consumer culture offers a wealth of products to ease or solve a multitude of problems. We carry with us a variety of items to be prepared for every potential scenario that might arise from whatever activity we are engaged in. Consequently, North American society has developed the means to accommodate relatively large amounts of personal possessions—limitless luggage choices, storage lockers, SUVs, minivans, trailers, motorhomes, etc.

When traveling, people naturally want to maintain the level of comfort and safety to which they have become accustomed. However, "more is better" doesn't translate well when going abroad to visit Asia. In fact, the opposite is true. Considering cost, comfort and convenience, less is more.

Cost

The rising cost of fuel has forced airlines to reduce the free checked baggage allowance for passengers in terms of size, weight, and number. Exceed this and even before you have left, you could find yourself paying a premium for the privilege of bringing items you might not even use! It pays to pack smart.

Once you arrive in Asia, you may be visiting other cities via air or train. There are even more limitations on free checked luggage when traveling within countries or flying regionally via low-cost carriers, like AirAsia. Typically for economy class, you are allowed one piece to a maximum of 20 kg (44 lb) and not exceeding 160cm (63"). On China's new high speed trains, for example, the maximum allowable dimension of your bag is 130 cm (51"). If your luggage cannot fit in the train's overhead rack, there are very few free storage options and no guarantees that it won't be roughly handled.

Avoid surprises when checking in for your flight or train. Know the free checked baggage allowances ahead of time. And if you plan on bringing back souvenirs, be sure to leave enough room for potential purchases.

Comfort

Luggage attendant keeps an eye on travellers' bags at a Chinese train station.Wheeled suitcases are popular because bulky luggage is a hassle, but wheels only work on even ground. In Asia, you may quickly discover that there is a lot of uneven ground. Your bag may as well have no wheels at all! Wheels are also of no help when having to lift your bag into overhead luggage racks or onto security screening conveyor belts, which are found even in some city subways.

Don't underestimate the toll a heavy bag can take. The more frequently you change destinations, the more often you will have to potentially carry your luggage. If you find yourself getting tired from the struggle, you may be less inclined to engage in activities or explore your new environs. Even worse, feelings of frustration may prevent you from enjoying your trip. Irritate your fellow travellers, and it may reinforce negative feelings.

Don't let bulky baggage sabotage what should be the trip of a lifetime. Ideally, bring only that which you can carry comfortably on your back. You can easily test this out ahead of time by packing for your trip and pretending to be a tourist in your own town.

Convenience

As Vernon Howard said, "Our freedom can be measured by the number of things we can walk away from." The less we bring, the easier it is to secure our luggage and explore. It's far more convenient to leave a small bag in your room's closet than needing to bring it to your hotel's front desk to put in storage, assuming they have this and that you won't have to pay for the privilege.

Passengers waiting to board a high-speed train.Traveling light also means you may be able to use a more compact vehicle, allowing you to visit places not accessible by large tour buses, i.e. places not inundated by souvenir sellers, where people will be genuinely happy to see you and not just your money.

With larger countries, such as India, Indonesia, and China, it is common for visitors to want to see many places and travel long distances to do so. Frequent hotel changes mean frequent packing and unpacking. Therefore, the fewer items you bring, the less time you'll waste getting ready to check out. It's better to use that time for a good night's rest and be re-energized for the next day's activities.

Luggage Lite

Once you've experienced these virtues of minimalist packing, you'll never want to go back. In fact, you may even find yourself exploring more creative ways to lug around less!

Fortunately these days, there are many more garments made from light-weight, quick-drying fabrics that make this easier. Good quality toiletries are readily available in the large cities and popular tourist areas if you run out. Many hotels have all the modern amenities, including hair dryers, to save you from having to bring these along. Then there is the temptation of hauling all that electronic gear… Resist!

Pack less, travel well.

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