The carry-on experiment

I can sum up the results of my wee experiment in one word: FREEDOM!

In the past I’ve been an over-packer, the worry that I’ll find myself abroad without that one essential item I didn’t pack made me bring countless items “just in case”. But here’s the thing: “just in case” never ever happens. What does happen is I end up wearing the same four items until they fall off my back, and I come home with a suitcase full of unworn (and clean!) clothes.

This time I knew I had to pack differently. As I shared in the post before I left, the thought of having to catch eight flights — in other words, having to CHECK my suitcase eight times — left me in a sweat. There was no way I could handle the stress of will-my-suitcase-arrive-with-me eight times. And I speak from experience here, as the very first time I visited the USA my suitcase got lost and arrived four days later. Not much fun.

Plus there was the time saved at each airport. By checking-in online the night before I was able to head straight to the security line, take my laptop and toiletries bag out of my suitcase, whizz through the scanner and get to my gate all in the space of an hour — sometimes less. International flights tend to take a bit longer, but all my domestic flights within the USA were a breeze.

So that’s the travelling part taken care of, I hear you say, but how was living out of a tiny suitcase for 3.5 weeks?

Friends, it was awesome :D

I did cheat a little bit, in that I also had a tote bag with me for my Polaroid films, which inevitably ended up carrying a few extras I picked up along the way. But even that wasn’t an issue at the airports — as long as I put my hangbag inside the tote while going through the various checkpoints, everyone was happy.

Having only a few things with me made leaving hotels a piece of cake (not much with me so not much to leave behind!) and staying with friends was just as easy. In fact, it was great not having to cart around a big suitcase as I travelled Littlest Hobo-style around the country by plane and train.

I picked up a couple of items of clothing on the trip and, of course, ended up wearing those the most; I also left a few pieces in Santa Barbara and Toronto to be sent home (thank you, Lisa and Jamie!) and did laundry in Santa B, Bellingham and Providence, too (thanks, loves!).

But the biggest plus of the entire experiment was how FREE I felt. I had literally no baggage with me. I was just ME, being present in every place I visited. It made me realise how little I need to live contentedly. Walking back into my flat on Sunday I was shocked at how “full” the place felt. Do I really carry all this stuff with me every time I move house? What’s the point? Most of it I haven’t looked at or used since I landed in Bath nearly four years ago (and I don’t even have that many possessions, but after 39 years of living i’ve inevitably gathered a few bits ‘n’ pieces. You know how it is.)

Since I’ve been back I’ve been wearing the same clothes I wore while I was away (washed, obviously ;) I’ve already halved my book collection and have started going through all the drawers and cupboards in the flat, clearing out and boxing up items to go to my local charity shops. This morning I started planning which pieces of furniture I want to let go of. Operation Move To London is in full effect!

So while I’m not turning into a minimalist — my camera collection (already halved) and vintage treasures make that impossible — I definitely want some more of that freedom I felt. I’ve moved house more times than I care to count over the last 20 years and perhaps the fact that I’ve never settled anywhere permanently is a contributing factor to this urge to purge. I know that my next home will not be a permanent one, either, and that makes me want to travel as lightly as possible. Maybe one day I will settle somewhere permanently. In my daydreams I imagine that will be when I find someone I would like to settle with — as a single woman I’m happy to keep moving until I find the right place. A place that truly feels like home.

For now I’m pleased to report that with just a few items of clothing, some toiletries, your laptop, notebook and a Polaroid camera you really can be at home wherever you find yourself. It was truly the most delicious, and timely, revelation.

As a few people have asked, here’s a link to the cabin suitcase I used, a Samsonite B-lite Fresh in raspberry

28 responses
  1. Monica

    Yay for freedom! It was such a thrill chatting with you in NYC. Wishing you the best with the purging and moving and lightness of being:)

  2. Carol Anna McBride, Psychotherapist/Film Instructor/photographer

    Inspiring post… just as I’m about to decide on what to “bring” to my Mexican ‘house’, and what to let go of! Love the idea of travelling light and loving every item. all the best in the next “move”.

  3. Sherry

    Susannah this is so refreshing…that we can live with less and have more…that we have freedom when we don’t overburden ourselves and weigh ourselves down. Truly inspiring!

  4. Angela Vular

    Yes….I here you…..I am in the purging mood and can’t wait to begin. I did a little at the end of May and then had surgery. So as soon as my doctor gives me the go ahead, I will be ready to start again. I love the feeling of downsizing. I do feel a little guilty about getting rid of all the lotions I have accumulated through the years. Yes….I am a body lotion and creme collector! I guess I am trying to find the right one to get rid of all these wrinkles I am also collecting!!

  5. Laura Melohn

    Love hearing about your travels. Your suitcase is so cute what kind is it?

  6. amanda

    Yay for minimalism!
    Loved reading more about your experiment love, you’ve totally inspired me.
    Sean and I just gave notice at our place and I’m currently making throwing, donating and giving away piles. It feels great to get rid of clutter doesn’t it?

  7. Samie Kira

    This is so nice to read! I’m about to leave on vacation, and was considering taking a backpack and large purse…I just didn’t want to deal with so much STUFF, and I have connections, and don’t want to check anything….so thank you! I look forward to freedom!

  8. Missie Sue

    I love the feeling of freedom that comes from paring down. It makes me more aware of how many times I settle for something that is “good enough,” only to be dissatisfied with it and have it take up space on a shelf or in a corner. Now I am much more intentional about what I buy or acquire. If it’s not something both useful and beautiful, something that makes my heart really sing, I let it go.

  9. Roxanne Galpin


  10. Kath

    I was reading this post aloud to Barry after an evening at Stratford on Avon in Ontario after seeing dome fabulius theatre with Christopher Plummer and he informs me that Russians during communist times people would carry an empty string bag “just in case” so that when they saw a line they could join andale a purchase of something they lacked. Interesting how we fill bags
    Just in Case. When people who were wanting had empty bags just in case. And that my love is what our car trips are like! Glad you’re home safe and halving things as opposed to having things. XoK

  11. Kath

    Good lord. Typing on an iPhone is awful but you get my drift!

  12. Melbpart3

    I loved this post. I am thinking of a going on a long trip next Spring. I love your packing ideas. What kind of suitcase do you have? Did it hold up? It looks really cute!

  13. Danielle Dowling

    Welcome home mama! You sound so happy.
    Loved our time together. Xo

  14. Karen C

    I had a similar realization the night I stay at a hotel in Vancouver after your book signing. I tend to think that I like having a lot of “stuff” around me to make a place feel like home, but looking around the hotel, I realized that part of what made it feel so comfortable was the lack of all that clutter. There was just me and my backpack and I felt completely at home and free. I’m slowly making progress on changing my space at home, and it feels awesome.

  15. sas

    totally inspired to do the same when we do our epic three-countries-for-crimble adventure :)

  16. Ella

    Really inspiring! I love the idea of travelling light. Love your red suitcase, what make is it?

  17. La plume et la page

    An inspiring post. Purge is sometimes necessary. Too much clothes, too much things… And we don’t feel really free!

  18. mary

    When I did an extended 6 week trip to Australia some years ago I bought rather a lot of books which in my last few days I either mailed directly to friends as presents or back home. All via sea mail which is cheaper.

  19. Anita

    A few years ago my husband and two children took a vacation to the East. I like you decided that I was not going to chase down four suitcases, so I made everyone choose three outfits that would fit in their own carry on backpack. Best-decision-ever. Traveling light makes traveling lots more enjoyable and who cares if you where the same outfit twice. Right?

  20. Ashley

    Thank you so much for sharing this! My husband and I are going to Rome for 2 weeks in October, and I got to say, I think I might try this experiment for myself then! We just recently moved (4 months ago) and even though we thought we really purged as much as we could before the move, I still feel like there is so much stuff in our place. It’s a constant battle. Thanks for sharing your experiences with it. :D

  21. Kathryn

    great post, Susannah! thanks. makes me daydream about packing to travel but also about how many bits and pieces I probably have, it can be hard to let go of stuff, though. :)

  22. Celia

    hmmmmm……i’m in the process of making a packing list for Squam…..i always over pack….but going somewhere that i’ve never been makes it even worse….is it possible to just take a carry on to Squam????

  23. Catherine

    Did you have a chance to do laundry en route? When we travelled round the UK staying at a different B & B every night, it was well over a week before I had the chance to wash anything, so I did need plenty of T-shirts and undies. I actually feel freer if I can check my bag and take only a tiny handbag on the plane rather than a large cabin bag (and yours is too big for some domestic flights within NZ although it seems to just fit the international limits, I just checked).
    I do agree about travelling light though, sometimes we think we need much more than we really do.

  24. michelle gd

    you’re the second person now who has recently experimented like this. it is inspiring!
    {though i question my being able to see it through!}

  25. Lucy Miller Robinson

    Yes. I become a quasi-minimalist a few years ago. It’s not easy, and it requires the constant need to *purge* so to speak (especially as the daughter of a woman who LOVES to thrift, and is always bringing me random stuff, which I love but sometimes I have to turn around and give the stuff back to the Goodwill). I feel so much freer with less stuff around my house. That being said, I was very disappointed when I moved from my townhouse by all of the stuff we had to pack up, but when we unpacked, in a house more than twice as big, it seems like so much less, and now we have more room to just BE. I’m still looking for a minimalist life and hoping to ‘figure it out’ little by little.

  26. L.McG.-E.

    What a wonderful way to travel. So glad you had a great time.

  27. Jorina

    Love the vintage furniture!

    I always try to travel light, it’s so much better in the end really. I just make sure I have all the basics covered, like what if it suddenly turns out colder etc.

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