This weekend, Matt and I are up at the family cabin celebrating the 4th of July. Last night, I went to my first fish fry and my dad became our pyrotechnician, putting on a massive fireworks display. The neighbors passed around a bottle of Arbor Mist that the college kids had brought along, and we all watched the sky as bomb after bomb glowed red and purple and gold on upturned faces.

Here at the cabin, we’re sleeping in and staying up late, and drinking way more beer and white wine than we should. It’s a different world up here, four hours north of Minneapolis. Days unfold themselves like long yawns, slowly stretching themselves into wakefulness, and 2:00 feels just as sleepy as 9:00. It’s all birdcalls and faraway motors, sun-dappled waves and green shorelines. There’s no work email to check, no lipstick to apply, and no obligation to do a single thing that doesn’t appeal to you. It’s cabin life.

Being up here is like living in a different world, so I wonder how can we be going somewhere even farther removed in just two short weeks. Because, yes, surprise!, we leave two weeks from tomorrow.

It occurred to both Matt and me while we were packing for the cabin that we packed a lot of the same items we’ll be packing for the trip: lightweight clothes that layer easily and don’t keep smells or wrinkles.

While we obviously brought fewer items to the cabin for a long weekend than we’ll bring for a four-month extravaganza, it’s actually not that much less. We both brought the same bags we’ll bring for our trip, but just put fewer items inside. See, for the trip (as for the cabin), we’re only bringing one carry-on each.


It may seem like a ridiculously small amount of luggage for four months, but here’s the thing: Matt and I desperately want to be mobile. Europe is full of winding stairs and broken elevators, and we don’t want to be hindered by what we’re carrying. Bringing extra stuff is a commitment. You’re saying that the items you’re bringing are valuable and necessary because why else would you commit to carrying them with you to each place you visit? Each time we think about adding something to our packs, we ask ourselves, “What function does this serve? Is something else already doing this, and is it doing it smaller/lighter/more elegantly?” There’s a reason we’re bringing iPad minis instead of laptops.

(Can you imagine if we were this efficient in our daily lives? I’m not saying I want to get rid of my shoe collection, but I would absolutely be on time to work every single day if I only had two pairs to choose from.)

Let’s also admit that Matt and I are on a strict budget. He and I are not, I remind you, independently wealthy. We’ve been saving money for the past few years just so we can do this trip—and no checked luggage means no baggage fees on airlines. It also means we don’t have to stay near the train station because our bags are too heavy to lug to the far side of town. It means that we don’t have to spend money on cabs because I’ve been carrying my suitcase for two hours while our hotel room is being cleaned and ohmygodmyarmisgoingtobreak. Lighter travel = cheaper travel.

And while this is anecdotal support, I think it’s worth mentioning: I’ve never heard a single person say they wish they had packed MORE stuff for a trip. Usually it’s, “I brought three skirts I never wore” or “I thought I was going to need high heels/a fedora/scuba gear, but, um, I didn’t.”

It seems to me that, if we’ve done this right, our trip will be like cabin life—beautiful, unhurried, uncomplicated. Our days will begin when they begin and end when they end, and we’ll wander from town to town with upturned faces and starlight in our hair. And we’ll do it faster and easier if we’re not dragging heavy suitcases behind us.

Cabin Living as a Packing Philosophy