Pack Light (Scotland Trip #1)

Posted by Jason McIntire | Jun 25, 2016

As some readers may be aware, I recently returned from my first overseas trip, a one-week visit to Scotland with my mom. This was also my first time flying. I learned a lot about travel in those few short days, and thought I would share some of my newbie experiences here - for my own future reference as well as for the entertainment of the extremely bored. Don't expect touristy stuff, though, because we did almost none of that on what was mostly a personal visiting trip. Don't expect lots of pictures either, for the same reason.

I started out intending to write one big post about the trip, but the more I worked on it, the more it seemed like a short series would work better. So, for anyone curious enough to follow along, here's the first installment of my "Scotland Trip" series: Pack Light.

How to destroy a perfectly good suitcase

In the weeks leading up to this trip, I debated many things with myself - none more vigorously than the question of whether or not to bring my laptop computer. I ultimately left it behind, mostly because of all the accessories I'd have needed to get any meaningful work done. There's my ergo keyboard, my RollerMouse... you get the idea. Also, I really lacked room in my carry-on bag for the laptop, and putting a computer in a checked bag is a major no-no (it would get smashed in short order). And when I discovered my laptop battery was a non-charging doorstop, that was kind of the last straw; home stayed the laptop, and I devised a little system to use my phone like a tiny computer - see below. This worked really well for messaging and email, both in flight and while at the cottage.

Imagine my phone clipped to the photo tripod. I'll leave you to figure out why I couldn't include it in the picture.

Then there was my camera, a Pentax SLR which is showing its age but still takes better pictures than my phone - if I have time to fiddle with the settings, that is, and if I'm someplace where I can actually carry a two-pound camera, or at least grab it from the car. The more I thought about those last two requirements, the less it seemed like a good idea to bring the camera. The last straw was - once again - my lack of room in the carry-on bag.

On clothes, I kind of splurged. In fact, I splurged on everything going in my checked bag, because I had a really big bag - a sort of rolling Aladdin's Cave that would pretty much hold half my life. So in went two sweaters (Scotland can turn cold very quickly), three dress shirts, a fleece jacket, my super-cozy blue bomber jacket, and even my favorite pillow from right off my bed.

As a result, my suitcase was so heavy that the wheels broke. Seriously, they broke - right as soon as I got the thing out of the car in Springfield. So, all that "free" space wasn't so free after all. It meant more stuff I had to lug around. On broken wheels.

And you know what? I didn't really need most of that extra stuff I brought. I never wore the sweaters at all; I did wear some of the extra clothes once, but mostly just because I had them and could. And while the pillow was nice to have, I found that the ones at the cottage would have worked just as well.

But what of the stuff I didn't bring? Never missed it. Not even once. I had neither time nor space to set up my computer. My phone camera - being the one always on me - helped me get more and better pictures than the fancy SLR would have done.

On reading material, an important takeaway: I have a personal resolution never to carry print books (apart from my Bible) on a trip again. Doing so is just silly when I can put dozens of interesting titles on a device considerably smaller than a single paperback volume. I toted two physical books in my checked bag this trip (thank You Lord for wisdom not to stuff them in my carry-on!) and never so much as cracked either one. I used my trusty Kindle, by contrast, to read two complete books and start on another - and I never even had to charge the insanely-long-living battery.

Pack the important stuff two by two

My handy Duracell pack serves as a backup battery for anything that can plug into USB, such as a phone, tablet, or Kindle device.

It's important to leave behind the stuff you don't need - but obviously, it's just as important to bring along the things you do, and to make sure you have spares of the real essentials. Some of the things I found sufficiently useful (and compact) to take by twos:

  • Communications gadgets. Since I don't have an extra phone to carry, I brought along a small, cheap tablet. While my phone never stopped working or ran out of batteries during the trip, the tablet had a better speaker phone and proved useful as a Skype pod. It also could have served as a backup for my Kindle, if needed, using the Android app. (And it just this instant occurred to me that I could have taken the in-use phone picture with the tablet, which was right there in my carry-on bag. Duh!)
  • Cables and chargers. One of my USB cables proved itself dodgy over the week, making me glad I brought a second, more reliable one. I wished I had also brought two wall chargers (or even three), as my thirsty batteries were always competing for charge time.
  • External batteries. If you're going on a long plane trip, it's a no-brainer to bring one of these babies along. Even if you don't use it, you'll get a great feeling of security knowing that your phone battery's "empty" icon is no longer the final word. And when you bring one extra battery, it's generally a good idea to bring two. Even if you don't get into the second one yourself, a neighbor or traveling companion might decide they want that feeling of security too.
  • Earbuds. Ditto the above on sharing, but also consider that earbuds could be the only thing standing between you and mind-numbing hours of boredom. Do you really want to risk losing that? I thought not. Better bring three.

If you're interested enough (or bored enough) to have read this far, stay tuned for more "Scotland Trip Lessons" next week!

Comments (2)

  1. Allison Tebo:
    Feb 16, 2017 at 10:09 PM

    You know you're a good writer if you can make a post about packing so entertaining! 'thumbs up'

  2. Jason McIntire:
    Feb 17, 2017 at 03:56 PM

    Thanks for the encouragement, Alli!


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