On Traveling Lightly

Sam Spurlin
5 min readNov 19, 2021


The non-clothes portion of my packing for a 3 night, 4 day trip to New Orleans.

One of my favorite ways to practice minimalism is in the way I prepare for, pack, and approach travel. There’s a phrase that’s thrown around in this domain that I think captures it well; “traveling lightly.” I had some recent trips where I tried to make that mantra the focus of my experience, but it also got me thinking about where else I’ve noticed myself trying to lean into lightness, in ways other than how much stuff I put into a suitcase:

  • When I wrote the first notes that eventually became this article, I was sitting on my balcony with my laptop in my lap rather than sitting at my big and official desk with my big and official monitor. Several weeks later, as I turn these notes into an actual draft, I’m laying on the couch with that same laptop propped up on my thighs while my feet dangle over the edge. I don’t need to be at my desk to write. I don’t need a 27” monitor to make words appear in front of me. I can just grab my primary computing device, find a relatively comfortable place to write, and just get my fingers moving on the keyboard.
  • As I lay here with my feet dangling over the arm of the couch (please don’t picture the ergonomics of this position) I’ve got music pumping through my aging yet still fully functional AirPods. I’ve got some nice over the ear headphones in my office, but these lighter and simpler headphones are doing the trick. If Emily wasn’t in the room with me and trying to enjoy a podcast while folding laundry, I’d probably just be playing the music over the laptop speakers. Minimally viable sources of entertainment are often just fine.
  • I went for a walk earlier this week without bringing my phone. I had my AirPods and my cellular watch. It allowed me to take a phone call from Emily but not be distracted by anything else. There was no way to give into the temptation to look something up online, respond to a message, or check Slack. It was a time to just let my thoughts meander through my mind without being able to take immediate action on them. I could certainly go lighter (goodbye AirPods and watch), but this felt good.
  • Over the past few months there have been two Apple events where new iPhones, a new iPad mini, a new Watch, and a handful of very impressive new laptops were announced. In the past, when I was first starting to make good money I probably would’ve bought one of each. Need the latest and greatest “for my work”! Now? I’m happy with what I have. Everything I’m using is still relatively new and working really well. I don’t really want the headache of setting up new devices. I’m happy to just keep doing what I’m doing and using what I’m using.
  • I didn’t get onto the iOS or macOS betas this summer. In the past I would’ve hopped on those as soon as they were available in order to see what all the new features were like, regardless of how buggy they were and how much those bugs interfered with the seamless use of my devices. This year I just waited until the full public versions were available and didn’t worry about testing out new features the second they were available.
  • I spent the vast majority of my sabbatical not using an alarm clock to get up in the morning. I just let my body wake up naturally whenever it wants. I haven’t tried to replicate that now that I’m back at work, but I’m interested in seeing if there’s a way I can do that and still accomplish everything that I feel like I need to accomplish.
  • I recently took a 3 night/4 day trip to New Orleans to attend my company’s retreat. Before I finished packing for the trip I took a step back after my first attempt and decided to really push myself to not bring anything that wasn’t absolutely essential. You can see my final packing list here, including the stuff I decided not to take. A few highlights that I think really encapsulate my attempt to travel (almost ridiculously) lightly included: not bringing my big noise cancelling headphones and just using my AirPods instead, not traveling with the smart watch I use for tracking my runs and instead just using my Apple Watch to accomplish that goal, not bringing my Kindle knowing I could read any book I wanted in the Kindle app on my phone, and only bringing two Apple Watch bands (one for working out in and one for casual wear) even though I originally though I’d bring a different one for each day of the retreat. All are pretty silly and inconsequential but the end result was definitely a bag that felt lighter and a mind that felt calmer, especially as I unpacked and re-packed at the beginning and end of the trip.

It’s interesting I mentioned so many tech things. I think my relationship with my gadgets is the newest frontier to my evolving minimalism practice. I don’t own very many clothes or many of the other knick knacks that many folks seem to have, but for the past couple years I’ve always had the latest and greatest gizmos. This was probably as an overcorrection to my teens and early twenties where I couldn’t afford the things I really wanted. After a period of exuberance in my early thirties, I think I’m starting to swing back the other direction.

There’s something freeing about understanding that you need fewer physical items than you thought to feel secure and prepared for whatever might happen. Of course, there’s a balance to be struck between being prepared for contingencies and falling flat on your face because you failed to bring or have something important. In most cases, though, it’s totally safe-to-try to lean further into the “travel lightly” mindset than may feel comfortable. It almost always works out just fine.

There’s probably a version of this article where I take the same concept of “traveling lightly” and answer it only from a non-material point-of-view. Traveling lightly is something that can be done without thinking about personal belongings or physical items at all and instead focusing purely on the mindset and quality of attention it implies. Perhaps next time!

How do you like to “travel lightly” in your daily life? Shoot me an email at sam@samspurlin.com or find me on Twitter and tell me your favorite thing to do (or not do).