Jetsetter Series: Confessions of a Heavy Packer

Photo: Kevin McGrath Studios
Photo: Kevin McGrath Studios

By Adam H. Graham

Travel media glorifies the light packer, that illusory golden boy of modern travel who packs his carry-on with nothing but a toothbrush, pair of wrinkle-free khakis, versatile shoes, and a blazer yet adapts equally at Brooklyn dinner-parties, Rajasthan weddings, and fondue stublis in Gstaad. Travel magazines tell us over and over again how to pack like this khaki-clad nether-man, usually with products that grace the pages of their ads—ultra-thin jackets and lightweight titanium alarm clocks. You know the sort.

But as a self-proclaimed heavy packer, I’ve never bought into the myth that traveling lighter is traveling better. Am I such an empty vessel that I’m expected to seamlessly meld into my new surroundings without any trace of who I was before?  Or more important, who I’ll become at my next destination? I don’t need my things to define me, but arriving empty-handed seems pretty insipid to me.

I’m a food and travel writer and in my career, I find it impossible to travel light. There are too many variables. Weather alone can be reason to pack sweaters, coats, rain-gear, an umbrella. Going hiking? Add 10 lbs of boots to your bag. If there’s a formal event, which in my case there often is, a suit and dress shoes are needed too. I don’t do versatile shoes. Because I’m a birder, I always lug around a pair of Nikon binoculars and a bird book. I’m also an avid swimmer, and never leave home without goggles, trunks, and a lightweight towel. Tech-wise I almost always travel with an iPad, iPod, MacBook Pro, and Blackberry but also bring a good old-fashioned paperback for take-offs, landings and when batteries drain.

If all that sounds materialistic and superfluous, the return load is heavier! My bags are always stuffed to the seams with endemic edibles that can’t be found at the local grocery. Bottles of homemade smoked olive oil, Raiatean vanilla beans, cherry blossom salt, Amphora-aged Malvesias, Japanese oaked whisky, Glaswegian tablet, Spruce soda from Quebec, the list goes on. These make great gifts but they usually remain in my own cupboard. The non-edible mementos are just as memorable and more likely to fall into the gift department. I do most of my Christmas shopping while abroad. I buy a foreign children’s book in its native country from every country I visit for my niece Sloane. And then there are my own personal mementos. On my desk sits a smooth black rock I found on the edge of the Black Sea during my first trip abroad in 1988 to the U.S.S.R. I was a high-school student then but still find the rock somehow inspiring. On my bookshelf is a delicate ostrich egg shell from Namibia, an oversized bell-jar from San Miguel de Allende and a netted glass buoy from Ålesund, Norway. These pieces of my trips are the relics of my life and I cherish each one. I could never have squeezed them into a carry-on.

I know traveling heavy isn’t very eco-friendly. But I’m really not much of a consumer in my non-travel life. I don’t own a car, I don’t own gold or other precious metals, nor do I have kids or pets. I recycle, reduce and reuse. So I figure my carbon footprint balances out here.

To many, traveling heavy is a drag. Literally. To me, traveling light sucks the drama out of the journey. So I say, let the pilots and crew wear the khakis. I vote for souvenirs.

Victorinox Travel Tip: Are you a heavy packer like Adam? Find the right bag to stuff the essentials and the extras. If you prefer structure, try the new Spectra32 Extra-Large Travel Case, Avolve 30 Expandable Wheeled Upright or the Werks Traveler 4.0 WT 30 Dual-Caster Expandable Upright. The 360 degree maneuverability of these styles takes the “lug” out of luggage.

Duffel lovers will appreciate the seemingly endless capacity of the Werks Traveler 4.0 WT Wheeled Large Capacity Duffel  and CH-97 2.0 Explorer Maximum Capacity Duffel.

As small items can be lost within large cases, use packing essentials such as the Lifestyle Accessories 3.0 Packing Cube Set to organize outfits and the Lifestyle Accessories 3.0 Slimline Toiletry Kit for overnight necessities.