Cave explorer and Lady Light Traveller?
When I stumbled across Cindy's website, Lady Light Travel, I could have hugged her: suddenly here was a woman writing exactly what I was thinking. This is what she says:
“Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” This is the whine of Henry Higgins, as well as many travel sites. If only women would dress like men, bring less shoes, and abandon their makeup. Then they could travel lightly! Well, women are not men. We want our shoes, and yes, it is possible to travel lightly with makeup. Lady Light Travel wants women to know that they can travel with a single carry on bag and still keep their femininity.
Yes! We can be practical and feminine - and still travel light. I had to find out more. Cindy kindly agreed to this interview:
Q: I love that you're such a strong supporter of light travel. How do other women travelers respond to this principle?
A: I’ve seen reactions all over the spectrum. Some women claim it is “impossible” to travel lightly even after seeing me do it. Some are openly hostile, claiming that I’m too obsessed with light travel and it’s not something “regular” people do. Others desperately want to learn one-bag travel. Still others are experienced travelers with their own excellent advice. Overall, most women get excited when they learn that travel with a carry on is achievable. I think a lot of them see that light travel gives them freedom and is empowering.
Q: What do you mean by travelling lightly? Is that carry on only? And if so, how much does your bag weigh? I think in the States your carry on weight restrictions are not as stringent as our Australian ones: we can only carry on 7 kgs.
A: I definitely think that it is carry on only! Several airlines have strict weight limits, as you have already mentioned. Many low budget US airlines have size limits – you have to pay extra for anything larger than a single personal item that fits under your seat. True freedom comes when you can meet both weight and size limits. You’ll never have to worry about your luggage.
My own bags weigh different weights depending on the trip. For most trips I now take just a personal item that is under the 7 kg limit. The challenge becomes more difficult when I’m doing adventure travel. I need additional gear such as day packs, binoculars, hiking boots, helmets, and full rain gear. My most challenging trip so far was when I spent 5-1/2 weeks in South America. I was mountaineering, trekking in the jungle, and going on an ocean cruise. I managed to fit all of my gear into a single carry on, but I had a 7 kg weight limit. When weigh in time came, I pulled my day pack out of my luggage and used it as a personal item. I filled the day pack with my heavy gear, leaving the carry on with the lighter items. The airlines only weighed the carry on so I made the weight limit. I’d have been in big trouble if they had weighed both bags!
Q: I see you advise to plan and pack a 'capsule wardrobe'. What does that mean in practice?
A: My goal is to get the maximum number of outfits with the minimum amount of clothing. In practice it usually means 2-3 bottoms, 2-4 tops, and third layer such as a cardigan or jacket. More specifically, my capsule almost always contains:
- A skirt or a dress
- One pair of quick dry pants, preferably ones that convert into capris
- A dressy top
- A quick dry long sleeve shirt, preferably with button tab sleeves
- A pair of walking shoes with good treads
These items are a part of my capsule wardrobe core. The good capsule wardrobe combines any bottom with any top. A superior wardrobe also combines several tops, such as a singlet worn with a long sleeve shirt or a button down shirt layered under a tee shirt. Each piece may be worn separately or combined with others. There’s a bit of planning involved up front but a huge payoff during the trip because you are prepared for any event.
Q: There is a whole section in your website devoted to packing lists! Can you tell us a little more about those?
A: Many of my packing lists are destination or activity specific. I think of them as a starting point for people that are planning their own list. Most of the lists have trip specific items. For example, I’ll list a suit jacket for a business trip or a modest skirt for a missions trip. Packing lists are really idea lists.
Q: You mention in your blog that 'women [want] to know that they can travel with a single carry on bag and still keep their femininity'. Can you elaborate on that?
A: I’ve seen a lot of travel advice that ignores the fact that women dress differently than men. Male-specific solutions don’t work for most women. For example:
- Suggestions to bring only one set of shoes. Most women like to wear dresses which means we have to bring at least two pairs of shoes – one pair for hiking and one pair that goes with the dress.
- Suggestions to save weight by leaving the makeup and hair products at home. This works if you are young and beautiful. The rest of us want to bring along our toiletries and styling products.
- Suggestions to bring long underwear bottoms for cold weather, ignoring the fact that it won’t work with a dress.
- What about bras? Jewelry? Style? Most of this information gets ignored on male dominated sites.
In short, traveling as a female brings its own challenges. Several of my articles deal with these differences.
Q: I like that you've travelled in winter as well as summer with light luggage. What is your advice for winter packing?
A: Winter travel with just a personal item was a huge goal for me. I was thrilled when I achieved it. The key to success is thin, light weight layers. Different layers combine for different temperatures. Wear a single layer when it is warm and add in more layers as the temperature drops. Each layer traps air next to your body, creating an insulation zone.
In addition to your regular clothes, you need to bring two types of layers – under-layers and over-layers.
Under-layers: I always bring a light weight silk long underwear top that I wear under my street clothes. I also bring leggings that work under a pair of pants or a dress. In deep winter I will add in a T-zip base layer and an additional pair of long john bottoms. I can wear one or both layers under my clothes.
Over-layers: I try to bring a cardigan that looks great with my street clothes. I also bring a puff jacket, as it is very light and packs down small. I recommend synthetic fill such as Prima-Loft. It works even when wet. Waterproof down is outrageously expensive and requires dry cleaning. Synthetics can be thrown into the wash along with the rest of your clothing.
It’s also important pack clothing that keeps you dry. Once you are wet your layers compress and no longer trap the air. This means good waterproof shoes and a good waterproof outer layer. I usually bring waterproof boots with a good tread. I always bring an unlined waterproof raincoat. The lack of lining means that the coat is light and packable. It also allows me to wear the coat over other layers, such as a puff jacket.
In short, bringing a few additional items transforms a summer wardrobe into a winter wardrobe. There is no need to bring two different wardrobes based on the season.
Q: I like your fashion boards. How useful are these for your readers?
A: I’ve received positive feedback on the fashion boards. Readers may not have access to the exact same clothing items on the boards, but they have an idea of the types of clothing I am bringing on my trips. A picture is worth a thousand words and the boards give clear examples.
Q: What's next on the Lady Light Travel agenda? Will it be more tutorials?
A: I have at least one tutorial in mind. This coming year will be a focus on ultra-light travel. As the years have passed, I’ve found myself traveling with lighter and smaller bags. It was a gradual process with several stages. I want to show my readers the steps that I had to take to lighten up. I want to write about the techniques needed to achieve personal item travel. Even if you don’t get your own bag down to personal item size, you’ll still be traveling lighter than before.
Q: Your website is an excellent source of relevant information. What draws you to this research? What is your personal background?
A: I’ve always loved to tinker and am an Electronics Engineer by training. I have years of experience doing Systems engineering and System of Systems engineering in the Aerospace industry. We always focused on making things smaller and lighter! One bag travel is a similar system where you have multiple conflicting requirements – for example, traveling stylishly while trying to keep your luggage light. My job skills directly translated into optimizing my packing.
I also am a cave explorer. I learned how to carry my essential gear in a teeny tiny pack. I had to choose items that were dual use so I could keep my cave pack small and light. This was extremely important when I had to backpack all of my caving and climbing gear up into the mountains. The knowledge gained from those experiences transferred easily when I needed to pack smaller and lighter bags for travel.
My website gives me an outlet to tinker and teach – two things I love to do.
Q: What is your essential advice for light travelers?
A: I’ve always stood by my five key principles of light travel:
- Pack a capsule wardrobe
- Layer clothing for temperature control instead of taking additional big bulky items
- Do laundry on the road so you can take less clothing
- Decant your toiletries into the smallest amount possible
- Choose electronics that are powered by USB – they are smaller and lighter than other electronics.
Cindy blogs about her experiences at Lady Light Travel.