Light Packing Not Just for Iceland. Part 2 of 2

This is a continuation of my previous post in which I list garments and footwear that I’d pack into a commuter backpack or on my person for a short trip, for instance, to Iceland.  Why Iceland?  Well, first, I just went there a few weeks ago and still remember; second, to make a point that it is possible to visit a somewhat cold place comfortably and pack lightly; third, both times I went to Iceland, I flew to Reykjavik with WOW Air, and with them, the ticket price goes up dramatically if you bring anything other than a bag that fits under a chair.

While on the subject, I found WOW Air wonderful in many other ways: inexpensive, offering direct flights between SFO and KEF, on time (my experience), pleasant (my experience).  At the time of writing of this post, they offer ridiculously cheap direct flights to the Reykjavik KEF airport from multiple US cities for travel for select dates May-June or September-October, $69 one way; if you are considering… go.

An affiliate disclosure: WOW Air don’t pay me to advertise.  Of the companies mentioned below, I get referral credits from BetaBrand.

With that out of the way… Here, in Part 2, I am talking about accessories, toiletries, and one app.  In both posts, I am not attempting to cover everything, but rather offer ideas how to keep it light and still comfortable and a little fancy.


A Belt Bag

I use the BetaBrand belt bag the Wholester a lot, not just for travel.

Women’s clothes tend to have insufficient pockets, and crossbody or shoulder purses start bothering my neck and shoulders after a while and induce paranoia about my scoliosis getting worse.  The thought of a fanny pack is esthetically terrifying.

The Wholester looks rather cool for a fanny pack though.  It’s unisex, sort of punk, and quite functional.  There is an outside loop that can be used to hold a small bicycle locks or a hammer (I am only saying “a hammer” because of a picture on the BetaBrand website); a discrete zippered compartment large enough to fit an ebook reader; a spacious middle compartment a size of a proper cargo pant pocket; and one small outside pocket.  It’s sturdy and has nice strong belt loops to which I sometimes attach reusable water bottles or folded shopping bags.  It can be worn as a cross body bag, too.

There are a few design issues I have with the Wholester: first, most of the belt is so wide that it doesn’t double as a functional belt and looks a bit silly if I wear pants with another belt.  The width offers comfort though, and I don’t wear other belts that much anyway.  Another issue, the flap to close the middle compartment is either too short or is positioned too far from the pocket top, so it doesn’t stay closed if there is anything substantial in the compartment.  I would have moved the flap even, if it weren’t attached so well.

At the time of writing of this post, the only color the Wholester is available in is brown.  I I have the original, grey.  BetaBrand had grey and then black available for a while; they might again, if there is enough demand.

Like I’ve said before, I get BetaBrand referral credit if this link works as I assume it does.  This is the selfish reason I am not providing the product link; you can sort of see it on my picture below without any clicking.  The company has an interesting crowdsourcing business model for both sales and design.  Many but not all products are made in the US, although I don’t know if the workers are free.  Some designs they come up with are clever and functional; others don’t fit too well.  The company has a certain sense of humor, so you would be at least vaguely entertained if you click :-).


Photo taken about 3.5 years ago in Big Sur by a fellow hiker.  That’s the Wholester you see on the hip side

Foldable Reusable Shopping Bag

It’s great to have one in a pocket or belt bag, for grocery shopping and such.  I’ve also brought it on day bus tours to store extra layers, snacks, a note book, knitting, you name it.

If I didn’t have several perfectly good reusable shopping bags already, I would have considered an ultralight foldable backpack, for spine symmetry.

A Soft Cotton Scarf

What??  Marine Layer discontinued their Slub Infinity Scarves?!  The only possible explanation is that everybody in the world stocked up on those in sufficient range of colors, and, seeing that the quality soft t-shirt fabric lasts for years, we all are perfectly content with our Slub Infinity Scarf situations.  That’s the case for me anyway.

The scarves I have are generously wide and wrap around the neck 2 or 3 times.  While it sounds like a lot of fabric to carry around, it’s lightweight and multifunctional.

A bright colored slub cotton infinity scarf is a great accessory to soften the look if needed.  It offers extra warmth, especially in milder climates.  Wrapped around the neck, it’s comforting in stressful environments, such as airports or airplanes.

The credit for inventing the ingenious final use goes to my friend and regular reader Vita.  Hi, Vita!  The official name of this important invention is “Head Pants”, for which there are reasons not mentioned in this post.

Are you ready?

You don’t need a sleep mask any more.  A soft cotton scarf wrapped around the head keeps the light out without trying to cut your ears or nose off, take your eyes out, or scrunch up your skin.  I already have aging for scrunching up my skin, thank you very much.  The only danger, it’s so nice, I don’t know if I can sleep without my head hugged by a scarf any more, even when it’s pitch dark.

A Towel

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, here, and here, it is likely that there will be some lovely water to get into in Iceland, even if it’s cold out.  Sometimes you’ll be offered a towel, sometimes you won’t be.

I’ve been delighted with a PackTowl personal towel in “body” size for the pools and hot tubs.  It’s light (6.4 oz), wrings almost dry, dries quickly, and packs into a small pouch leaving room for my swimming outfit.  At a risk of looking like a total dork, I could probably hang the pouch on one of the belt bag loops.


About the Containers

All the restrictions for the liquids you can travel with these days gave rise to an entire industry of tiny size products and separately sold empty containers.  This is often helpful, but I wonder…

If you buy tiny toothpaste tubes, shampoo bottles and so on, that creates extra waste.  Next, you won’t always use the entire 2-3 fl. oz container, so you are essentially carrying what you don’t need.  For instance, I find that I maybe use less than 0.5 fl. oz of facial moisturizer per week, day and night combined.  Toothpaste use is about the same.  My hair is short, so it’s about the same for shampoo.

I suspect the reusable containers create waste as well, because many of them are hard to empty and clean, owing to narrow mouths, and many of them are about 2-3 fl. oz, so you end up carrying more volume, get frustrated, and avoid reusing the container much.

I know it’s small, but it does add up.  A smaller transparent toiletry bag makes it the easier to go through airport security.

With this in mind, I’ve been hoarding 0.25-1 fl. oz straight-sided containers from beauty products to reuse for travel.  If I were to buy reusable containers, I would look for the smallest size that’s still big enough, with a wide mouth.

If I feel I need a larger amount of product, or don’t care much about specific brand, I would just buy some upon arrival at my destination.  This may create waste, but it reduces hassle, and, depending on where I stay, I might just leave it for the next guest or host to use.  This is also a nice excuse to check out local grocery stores and pharmacies, which is fun.  Is it fun or is it just me?  I think it’s fun.

A Toothpaste Rant

By the way, why do hotels and guests houses often have guest shampoo, conditioner, and body lotion, but not toothpaste?  Even with my short hair, I am more picky about shampoo than toothpaste, and the toothpaste containers are less likely to be recyclable than shampoo bottles.  Is it just me again?  Can we agree to share toothpaste with and among guests?


The standard stick applicator containers are sadly wasteful.  I use them at home anyway, because I can find the ones that work, don’t have a strong or unpleasant scent, and  have gentle ingredients.  For travel though, it’s not just wasteful, it also takes up space.

Although I haven’t found the best solution yet, there are some jar and bottle deodorants out there.  I used Schmidt’s for a while.  The scents are nice, the list of ingredients pleasant, and the 2 fl. oz jars are straight-sided, so good for reuse.  There used to be  0.5 fl. oz jars, which were even better to hoard for travel and reuse, but I don’t see them any more.  In any case, I seem to be allergic to Schmidt’s.  I’ve been using Weleda deodorant in 1 fl. oz bottles for travel.  The bottles are mostly recyclable.  The smell is nice, but a little too strong.  The bottles are made of glass, so there is a risk of breaking them.

Dr. Bronner’s Soap

Here we have an example of me realizing that I needed a larger amount of … something multifunctional.

When you go to an Icelandic pool or hot tub, there is a strong expectation that the visitors would wash themselves thoroughly before entering.  I mean, this should be the expectation in any pool, but sometimes you may be thinking, oh, I just took a shower at home, or I didn’t bring my soap and there is so much chlorine, who cares…

In Iceland, the ticket person would instruct you sternly about proper showering, if they hear you are not local.  Then there are large posters in the changing rooms and showers making it clear that you need to take everything off to shower and showing exactly what body areas definitely need to be washed with soap.  (Sorry, wasn’t allowed to take a picture due to all the naked people around).  Then there are tons of showers and soap, and everybody is actually showering as supposed to.

Which is great, except in the swimming pool I went to a lot, I didn’t care much for that soap going on my head (one of the areas that soap goes on, according to the posters).  Even worse, once, the soap dispenser next to my shower was broken, and I ended up awkwardly sneaking handfuls of soap from my neighbors’ showers (it was open floor, no divisions).


A pigeon washing itself in a sink in San Francisco.  I do not recommend sharing sinks with pigeons

You know how Dr. Bronner’s soap has all those slogans and claims on it?  I had used it as body wash before.  Turns out, it’s indeed not bad as shampoo for short hair, for a short period of time anyway, and it’s pretty good for washing stuff in the sink.  I purchased a 2 fl. oz bottle of the Baby Unscented Castile soap on a fun excursion to a health food store on Laugavegur, carried it with me to the pool, used up most of it, and would do that again.

Neti Pot and Salt

Whether or not you use the neti pot regularly, it’s a great idea to use when traveling, especially after air travel: the nasal passages get dry, and who knows what bugs are circulating in your sealed flying tin can.  It’s nice to wash up after you escape.


Neti salt in a plastic bin getting a free pass from the TSA

Salt and ceramic neti pots are pretty heavy though, and you don’t need the whole jar of salt for a short trip anyway.

However, if you pour a small amount of salt into an unmarked wide mouth container, it might get drug tested at the airport.  Who could have thought that white powder in an unmarked container would be suspicious?!  White powder in a larger original container that has “Neti salt” printed on it also gets drug tested.  Guess how I know those things.  Actually, there is a way to avoid the original container being drug tested: put it straight into the TSA plastic bin where the shoes and toiletries go to have it ignored completely.

Then one day I reached for a hat at the bottom of my backpack, and with the hat, my ceramic neti pot flew out, fell on a concrete floor and broke.  This is why they sell plastic neti pots for travel.

This emergency required a fun excursion to the health food store on Laugavegur, where the only available choice was a plastic pot kit from XLEAR.  It came with individually packed salt mix portions.  It’s a lot of non-recyclable packaging, but I’m going to stick to this product for travel for now: no need to keep track of a measuring spoon, fewer problems with airport security, easy to pack the exact amount needed.


Open Street Map

I highly recommend downloading Open Street Map (Osm) App with local area maps on your phone, especially for international travel or for going to areas with poor cell signal.  The maps take some getting used to and you may need to download them over decent wi-fi connection; once you do though, they are reliable, behave consistently, and do not seem to require wi-fi or cell coverage: I used them in airplane mode with wi-fi turned off.  You need to have GPS location tracking on to see where you are on the map.

Click through the pictures and their captions below for one example of OSM reliability.



The Rest of It

This was not a comprehensive list of what I ever pack even into that small backpack.  Cords and adapters to charge the phone?  A toothbrush?  Obviously.  An ebook reader?  An actual physical book?  A notebook?   Sure!  A pair of sandals or tango shoes?  Sometimes there is a need for that.

It’s definitely not a list of what you should pack.

What I did was to share a few ideas on how to make packing lighter and leave more space for joy and what really matters!


The featured photo is taken by the author in Sayulita, Nayarit, Mexico.  This is an alternative approach to enjoying your luggage

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