living tiny, travel

Traveling Light: Downsizing for the Road

I’ll be the first to admit it: I seriously overpacked for my trip to Baja last winter.

Anyone who’s ever taken an extended vacation to an unfamiliar (or even familiar!) place will totally understand this: “Oh, just one more pair of jeans. Oh, and that X, and that Y, and maybe both of those Zs….”

That was me, packing for Baja. Though I’d been living full time in the Avion and making doing extended trips of three to four weeks at a time, I was always close enough to home base to switch things out between trips. But, four months on the road and out of the country felt daunting. And since I would be spending months living beach-side with few distractions, I had high expectations of both productivity and creativity.

With multiple writing projects in the works, I packed a hefty selection of research and background material on the Hollywood blacklist and Cold War America for my novel-in-perpetual-progress, half a dozen books on Mexico, travel books and memoirs, at least a dozen novels, as well as books on writing, poetry, memoir, ecology, spirituality, tiny house living. Just in case.

Total number of books: 140. Yes, one hundred and forty. And this was in addition to the hundreds of e-books loaded onto my Kindle, mind you.

I also imagined time for making art, and envisioned a pleine air encaustic studio just outside the Avion, running an extension cord out to power up the deep fryer to melt my wax and resin. So my art stash included a folding table, jumbo bags of wax and resin, oil paints and pastel crayons, all sorts of mark-making tools and materials. All my book-making materials including a small supply of speciality papers. And more.

As it turned out, I never touched a paintbrush and only cracked maybe 10% of the books. To add insult to injury, the weight of all those books combined with the vibration of road travel completely destroyed the aluminum shelving unit holding the books. By the time I got home, the metal joints at each corner had cracked and the whole unit had collapsed from the weight of all those words.

And so, in prepping for this next trip across the U.S., “traveling light” became my packing mantra.

I started by pulling everything out of the cabover. I looked closely at each box, each item. I did not follow the advice of Marie Kondo (The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing) and many other downsizing gurus. Rather than asking if an item gave me joy (the core of the Kondo method), I asked, “Will I use it on the road? How often? Every day? Once a week? Once a month?”

Utility rather than joy proved to be a powerful ally in reconfiguring space and stuff for this kind of cross-country trip.

Though I get a lot of joy out of making art, I recognized that if I didn’t crack those boxes of art supplies in the six weeks I was parked on the beach in Los Barriles, there was no way I was going to do anything on a road trip that involved driving to a new site at least once or twice a week. So, goodbye art supplies.

And goodbye incredibly overstocked traveling library! In the end, I culled those 140 books  down to 55. I now have one row of books shelved in the cabinet over the refrigerator and I created another small shelf space beneath the counter next to the couch-bed.

And I turned the cabover from a storage space into a reading nook/second bedroom. the space is too small for most regular mattress options, but for $20 I picked up an extra-thick Oak and Reed exercise mat at Target that fits perfectly and provides decent cushioning (unless you have “princess and the pea” mattress needs).

When I first got the Avion, the idea of a separate sleep zone for guests seemed like an extravagant waste of space. But I changed my mind after sharing the downstairs bed with Fiona and my BFF Julie, who traveled with me for ten joy-filled days and uncomfortable nights in San Felipe in March. I still use the cabover to store stuff: my swimming bag, with kick board, goggles, suit, mini-shower supplies; the dirty laundry bag; my printer, and I must confess, a very small bag of textile crafts (soft, self-contained, relatively weightless, so please cut me some slack!). But if the cabover is needed for a sleepover, all that can be easily shifted to the front seat of the truck for the night.

So, who’s up for a slumber party?


*Originally published April 27, 2018 @

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