Travel tips

The Significance of Packing Lightly

packing flat lay

STIL/Via Unsplash

During my spring break tour one evening, my group and I were returning to our hotel by the London Underground (or tube). At one station, we were faced with a “dead” escalator. Some of my students claimed we had to climb over 100 stairs to get to the top. As my group made the arduous climb, I told them I now knew how sacrificial victims of the Aztecs must have felt as they climbed up the steps of a pyramid before they were ritually killed by having their hearts cut out. I have to admit my own heart was ready to be cut out. There was very little talking and a great deal of heavy breathing by everyone after we reached the top. It was a rough climb for all ages, except for maybe the Eagle Scouts in my group. At least we were not carrying our luggage. Walking up and down stairs (and maybe escalators) is a fact of travel in London and in other major cities with public transport systems. You just need to be prepared to do it.

Since many of you are preparing for your summer tours with your students, you might want to cover the related topics of packing lightly and walking heavily at one of your pre-departure meetings. I tell my students that no one ever returns home from a tour saying they wished they had packed more stuff and I also tell them that we will be doing lots of walking on the tour. If you pack lightly and you are physically prepared for all of the walking you will be doing, then your tour will be a breeze. Not all of your hotels will have elevators and every tour itinerary includes walking tours. When in doubt about your ability to do both, then you should pack your bag before you depart and walk around your neighborhood or park with it. You should also try to climb several flights of stairs with your bag. You may have to lighten your load before you depart.

Be sure your students pack the right stuff and encourage them to get prepared for all of the walking they are sure to do on tour. If you have adult tour participants, they need to know how fast-paced the tour will be and how much walking will be involved. All of the walking starts at the airports. You have to walk to your gates and up and down the stairs to board some flights. The moving walkways are handy, but sometimes they are out of commission. You will also need some upper-body strength to lift your carry-on bag into the overhead compartments on the planes. Travel is certainly not for the weak.

With the exception of our hotel in Edinburgh, all of the other ones were modern with elevators (or lifts). On an EF tour, just be prepared to carry your luggage up several flights of stairs just in case you are in an older, but quaint hotel. After our arrival, we had to carry our luggage from London Heathrow Airport to the Underground station in order to travel to our hotel. After we exited the tube station, we walked some distance and crossed a couple of busy streets in order to reach the hotel. When you pack lightly, any kind of walk with your luggage is just “a walk in the park.” You don’t have to worry about wrestling with your luggage on public transportation. If you are going to be using a high-speed train or overnight ferry on your tour, you might want to suggest to your students and other tour participants to use smaller and lighter suitcases. When you have a full motor coach of travelers, packing lightly means that there will be enough luggage space for everyone on the bus.

We managed to have our spring break tour free of any problems concerning luggage. For a large group, you can help the baggage handlers out by tying a piece of brightly colored surveyors flagging tape on each piece of luggage. At the Newark airport, I watched some guys herding our luggage for re-checking by looking at our plastic non-adhesive tape tied on all the bags. Before your return flights home, you should make sure that everyone tears off their old airport destination labels. I don’t know why some people just leave them on their bags, but I think that just increases the possibility of delayed or lost luggage. There’s no need to make anybody’s job harder. Remind everyone to have their names and addresses inside and outside the luggage. On my first EF tour, one of my students picked up the wrong suitcase at baggage claim. He discovered his error after we arrived at our London hotel. We contacted the bag’s owner and arranged to exchange suitcases at his hotel. In a sea of black suitcases, it’s a good idea to make yours a bit more distinctive in some way.

There is no way to separate walking from traveling and why would you want to? Walking around a new place is the best way to make your travel discoveries. Walking is also one of the best forms of exercise around. At home, I walk four miles a day at least five days a week at my local park before I go to school. As the group leader, you need to practice what you preach. On our way to Edinburgh from Leeds, we stopped at Hadrian’s Wall at the Housesteads Fort site. Even though it had snowed the previous day, our tour director, Tony McGrath, took a group of volunteer students and adults for a nearly 3-mile hike along the wall. The weather had cleared and it was beautiful, but extremely cold. We actually left Leeds in a blizzard that morning.

Before our hike, it was a good thing we made a brief stop for lunch at a border town called Hexham in Northumberland, England. I ran into many of my students at a local store that sold outdoor clothing and equipment. They were taking advantage of the 80% off everything sale. Since some of my students did not pay much attention to my packing list, they found themselves ill-prepared for the changeable weather in the United Kingdom. One student packed only a light wind breaker and several short-sleeved t-shirts. He ended up buying a jacket for 18 pounds that originally cost 120 pounds. I purchased a black fur hat with flaps called an ushanka at this incredible sale. We were all warmly dressed for that hike.

You can still pack everything you need for any tour, only lightly. I used a carry-on sized bag for all of my clothing for our 11-day tour. What did I pack? 2 pairs of pants, 1 fleece vest, 1 fleece jacket, 4 long-sleeved turtlenecks, 1 long-sleeved shirt, 2 T-shirts, pajamas, underwear, socks, scarves, gloves, travel-sized umbrella, all-weather jacket, and my walking shoes. I used a huge leather tote bag/purse for all of my electronics, toiletries, and other travel essentials. I’m still amazed at the amount of stuff people end up packing for a tour. One of my students, Nathan Johnson, won the $20 I award to the student with the lightest bag. He was suitably dressed and presentable for the entire length of the tour. He even had room for all of his shopping, mainly hats from what I could tell. Every time I saw him after a stop, I saw him wearing a different hat.

If you plan to “shop until you drop,” I guess you do need to bring a suitcase large enough to smuggle an extra family member or friend. One of my adult tour participants on my spring break tour had to buy an extra suitcase for all of her overseas purchases. I went through the security check in Edinburgh with her and she was stopped for a special search because she packed a snow globe in her carry-on bag. When the security agent picked up her snow globe and saw that it had “London” on it, he rolled his eyes, but let her go through with it after making some good-natured remarks about her shopping tastes. I reminded her that she would have to take the snow globe out of her carry-on bag and re-pack it in her check-in bag after we cleared customs in Newark. Unfortunately, she did not have any extra room in that bag, so she decided to take her chances going through security again. It did not surprise me that she was forced to throw her snow globe away before she could go to our gate for the final flight home.

You can feel confident and prepared before traveling abroad with your students by making sure two topics are covered in detail: packing and walking. If you can walk easily and quickly with what you’ve packed, then you’re all set to travel.

Readers, how do you pack lightly? How do you prepare yourself and your group for all of the walking you will be doing on a tour?




Gail I.

Gail is a former longtime EF Group Leader, who was also a frequent mentor to new group leaders and a regular presenter on EF’s Free International Training Tours.

Hundreds of destinations.
Endless possibilities.

Contact us Browse tours