December 7, 2006

Traveling Light: A good idea gets better

Here's an old travel tip made newly useful by the increase in lost airline luggage, due to the increase in checked luggage, due to the reduced-liquid-in-carry-on rule: travel light. Easier said than done maybe, but think about the last time you flew. Did you wear all of the clothes you took with you? A lot of people will admit that they did not. Next time, take two items out just before you leave. I bet you won't miss them. Repeat each trip until you are down to the bare essentials.

And what about the essentials? Could you have packed fewer items if you had a chance to wash your clothes during the trip? Well you do. Here's what I do when traveling on business in North America, i.e. staying in hotels at night and wearing a shirt and tie during the day. I take just two shirts and wash one every night in the sink in the hotel bathroom. Tepid water and a touch of hotel hand soap. Then I wring them out in a hotel towel (I will post some pictures if this is hard to visualize). Then I hang the towel and the shirt to dry, smoothing out the main wrinkles in the shirt and putting it on a hotel coat hanger in the bathroom (for hotel hanger's that don't have proper hooks just hang the shirt on the rack or use a twist tie--I carry several with me, plus a few rubber bands and binder clips--more on those later).

The typical American hotel is so dry that the shirt is bound to be ready by morning, plus the shirt and towel will have eased, slightly, the humidity in the room, which is good for you. Use the hotel iron to remove any remaining wrinkles (I've noticed a lot of budget hotel chains are now providing irons). To make life easier, chose a good no-wrinkle shirt to start with. I find JCPenney Stafford shirts work great and look great after dozens of washings, but still have the feel of 100% cotton.

Wash-as-you-go helps reduce the amount of stuff you carry on with you, and the impact of misplaced bags. Since I travel in a good shirt, lost luggage won't stop me looking good the next day. I became a believer in this strategy about 20 years ago when I took a day trip down from the home office in San Francisco to a client site in LA for 8 hours of consulting that stretched into two days. The client was delighted that I could stay the extra day and didn't even notice that I had not brought a change of clothes with me. I just washed the essentials overnight.
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