Traveling Light

Posted on March 1st, 2012 by

“Did anyone see someone leave here last night after going under my bed?”

It was about 6 a.m., a time I consider exclusively reserved for being asleep, except in extreme cases such as urgent surgery and inflexible plane rides.  I had no intention of changing this tradition for an angry British voice in the early morning.  I rolled over and went back to sleep.  I think the voice did too, because I was able to stay asleep for a while.

“Did anyone see somebody leave here last night?”

My this-social-situation-demands-a-much-lower-voice red light was flashing violently in my head as people started waking up across the hostel bedroom.  Did this British voice not understand that there were 15 other people sleeping in here?  This time it was around 8 in the morning, and I decided to slide down from my top bunk to whisper at an angry British man whom I found attached to the voice.

“What’s going on?”  I said quietly.  He ignored my volume, and continued at the same level.

“Someone took my computer, I left it under my bed, and it’s not here this morning.”  He followed by insisting he be allowed to look through everyone’s things for his missing computer.

Thus began the last day of my winter break, in a hostel in Barcelona Spain.  I have never spent so much time in hostels or traveled so lightly as during this break.  Inside my backpack was everything I needed for 9 days in France and Spain.

I had only about 4 outfits, one pair of shoes, and no towel.  To dry off, I used the shirt I wore to bed.  I also couldn’t bring my mousse on the plane, so I brought a tiny bottle of hair spray which I somehow used to make my hair look passable.  Actually, if my hair was weird during the trip it was probably more so because of the lotion I used as conditioner, face lotion, and body lotion.  In addition, I only brought 4 pairs of socks, and simply washed them in the sink when needed.

I did splurge a little and bring a sleeping bag and inflatable pillow so I wouldn’t have to sleep in hostel sheets.  However, it is a youth sleeping bag that takes up very little room (and offers little when it comes time to sleep in it).

On that last morning, all of my things were safely locked up in my hostel in Barcelona, which had the best lockers I’ve seen in a hostel.  It was these lockers that the owner of the angry British voice had failed to use.  And, in a very sad kind of way, he is emblematic of what it means to travel light and thrifty:  if you have a bad experience, it’s usually because of your expectations or preparation.

When reading reviews on hostel websites, it’s always easy to pick out the ones who have never traveled before.  The point of a hostel is to give up some niceties so you can travel lighter and cheaper.  In our Paris hostel, we had no ventilation in the bathroom, which therefore stunk rather badly of mold.  Also, there was no place to put our things but on the floor in the Paris hostel.  Neither hostel had very reliable water pressure or heat, and in Barcelona I was woken up by the morning theatrics of someone who failed to use his very nice, very simple locker.

However, it’s hard to complain when you get a bed, a locker, and breakfast for 14 Euros a night.  In Paris it was a little more, at around 30.  But, each came with a breakfast, and were safe and secure if you knew what you were doing.  Traveling light (I mean this in a thrifty sense as well) means forgoing some niceties.  Sometimes, it means scrounging for food.  Maybe you won’t shower every day.  If you have valuables, lock them up, or leave them behind.

But if you’re careful, prepared, and smart about traveling light, it gives you the freedom to see and do so much, and encounter new things that (at least as a student) you wouldn’t be able to afford to do otherwise.  In Barcelona, I met a Spaniard named Jesus who didn’t speak English or French very well, but we managed to exchange and converse all the same.  If I hadn’t decided on a rough excursion, that never would have happened.



  1. Molly English says:

    Very nicely written! Made me laugh a couple of times, and honestly, I totally imagined you waking up as you described.

  2. Eric Halvorson says:

    If anyone would like to see my pictures, they can be found here (and more will be uploaded later) :

  3. Eric Halvorson says:

    Thanks Molly, glad you enjoyed it :-)

  4. Ian Shay says:

    Travelling light is kind of fun. 2 pairs of pants or shorts last forever. Markets in Peru and Bolivia are usually a great place either to get the cheapest restaurant food you’ve found in your life, or to make your own lunch of bread, avocado, fruit, perhaps some cheese. Laundry can wait, showers can wait. Buses are a chance to see landscapes and avoid airfare. Enjoy your travels, Eric!