How To Pack Lean

May 28, 2019
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This post is written by Kelvin Ewald, the Founder of Colborne Bag Co., the first lunch bag to bring together fashion and function. We caught up with him to learn how he maintains his impeccable style while on the road.

While travelling between Toronto to Austin for 7 months I had the chance to test and refine Packing Lean while looking sharp – and I’ve been pushing it further ever since. For me, function and style are an exciting and essential intersection. I strive to merge the two in many parts of my life, including my upcoming Kickstarter launch for the first fashionable and functional lunch bag, The Colborne Bag:

  • Travelling to Austin for up to 2 weeks at a time: 1 carry-on, 1 briefcase and sported a suit every day at work.
  • 10 days on business in London and Luxembourg: 1 carry-on, 1 briefcase.
  • Then in October I paid less than $300 for a round-trip to Europe (and Brooklyn) using a combination of an incredible error fare and strategies from Yore Oyster’s post on how to get cheap flights to Europe. When my friend and I met up in Brooklyn to fly to Milan to begin the trip, I had 1 Herschel Little America backpack (19″x11″x7″) and the clothes on my back. He had only one bag more, for a 6-month trip!

One backpack isn’t much, so you wouldn’t think you’d receive compliments for being the best dressed backpacker other travelers had ever encountered – but the themes I’m about to explain mean you don’t have to compromise your style when packing lean.

Have the Right Bags

“Carry-on” is a magical word. It means saving on fees, limiting hand-offs during which your bag can be lost or damaged, and eliminating physical and mental baggage.A hard-shell PVC bag carry-on (20″ x 14″ x 9″ is a typical restriction) is essential. A hard shell means your stuff is safe from impact, moisture, rain, etc.For work, I bring a briefcase and slide the handles over my luggage bag while walking through the airport. A briefcase carries your essentials like a laptop, tablet or mini umbrella. In the air, mine is under the seat in front of me so all my music, books, and work are within reach for the whole flight. On the ground, it is my day bag.One more thing – department stores often discount luggage by up to 80%. Don’t buy luggage if it isn’t on sale.

A few of Kelvin’s essentials: Kindle e-reader, American Express Gold Rewards Card, and NEXUS Card

Eliminate What You Don’t Need

Wherever you’re going, they have what you need! Why pack toothpaste? I never bring liquids over 1 oz. because they will require me to open my bag at security. Any hotel will give you toothpaste, or you can buy some at a corner store.If you’re light on clothes (you will be now) and staying somewhere for a while, you’ll need laundry. Find a dry cleaners near your hotel or wash your clothes at the hostel. You don’t need 10 t-shirts for your trip, you need 2 or 3. I have friends living abroad that frequent a laundry service for a dollar or two per week.If you settle somewhere for a while, or return to the same place, make yourself at home. In Austin I had a locker in the office with toiletries, American cash, and my gym shoes – eliminating all those items from my subsequent trips. I hired a cook to make me healthy organic meals from scratch for lunch and dinner, for less than I would spend eating out each day. Didn’t pack for the cold? See something you really want? Buy it and donate it to charity at the end of your trip or bring it home. This is how I discovered the most essential item to a versatile travel wardrobe: the vest.

Forget packing the entire wardrobe. Pack for versatility instead.

Pack For Versatility

How do you dress a la mode for a night out in Paris’ Le Marais while only having a backpack waiting back at your hostel? Versatility. Focus on items that have low space requirements but high versatility.Here are some of my packing essentials:

Down Filled Vest (1)
Excellent layer with impressive thermal properties. Wear it under a suit jacket or coat, or over a shirt to transition easily from Toronto in February to a night out in L.A.

Oxford Shirt, Blue (1)
When a good dinner or event in London calls for it, pairs well with a tie and jacket, but looks just as at home with the sleeves rolled up on a beach in Barcelona.

Tie, esp. Knit Black (1+)
Even if you’re travelling for fun, a tie is turns up a casual outfit, has a low space requirement, and I swear commands better customer service.

Mini Umbrella (1)
Low space requirement, but high value – just don’t get a cheapie, spend $30+

Swims Galoshes (1 Pair)
Protects your dress shoes (if you need them) from rain to light snow and an excellent way to transition between warm and cold climates. Also a surprisingly good conversation starter.

Kindle E-Reader (1)
Takes up less space than paperbacks, and if you finish your book, download a new one on the fly.

Tide to-go Pen (1)
When you pack light caring for your few items is essential. This pen also has a minimal space requirement.

The Question of “Where?”

A typical mental barrier to packing light is wondering where your bulkier items will go while in-transit.

Wear your suit on the plane for short haul trips. For long haul trips wear jeans and the suit jacket and roll your suit pants in your luggage. Either way, always put your suit jacket neatly folded above your perfectly sized carry-on bag in the over-head. Likewise with an overcoat.

If you can, get on the plane earlier than other passengers, this gives you the space you need to ensure your suit isn’t getting wrinkled by other bags, and that you don’t lose your leg room to your carry-on bag.

This post was written by Kelvin Ewald, the Founder of Colborne Bag Co., the first lunch bag to bring together fashion and function. Check out his current product line here.