How One Woman Traveled to 91 Countries With Only a Carry-on
Photographer Jill Paider specializes in visual storytelling. By the end of this year, she will have published 15 books, including her latest, “Carry-On Only: Confessions from 100 Countries.”
Paider describes the book as “a memoir of travel, photography and 13 books in the making,” referring to her stunning work depicting interior design, modern architects, famous residences and resorts, and contemporary cuisine. She has traveled the world to capture the images she presents in her books and exhibitions, notably with only carry-on luggage — hence the title of her new book.
After publishing your previous design-related books, what inspired you to write “Carry-On Only”?
It is quite different from my high-end fine art books which are photo and visually based. After traveling for the last decade and a half, I had lots of travel footage and stories. The inspiration, first and foremost, was to jog my memory and recall my travels and also to inspire others who love to travel.
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Places change so much over time. For example, in China, entire neighborhoods are gone and there are new ones to visit that weren’t there before. It seemed important in our rapidly changing world to document those places in something more permanent than Instagram or social media.
You’ve been to at least 100 countries, and I understand that you actually traveled to 91 of them with only carry-on. Why did you find it so important to pack light?
Yes, that’s accurate as far as my travels. I do take a roll-aboard and an underseat bag, all packed to the gills. It’s important, especially when traveling alone — which I often am — to have the ability to carry your own things. In certain countries, you’re in a small car, or even on the back of a motorcycle, so traveling light is critical.
You mentioned your roll-aboard. Which one do you use?
My favorite brand is Calpak. The one I use is a hardshell, with expansion on the side, carry-on size. I’ve had one for five or six years of being on the road every day, and it wears like steel — the wheels, handle, and all. It’s the most durable I’ve found.
How about your tote bag or carry-on personal item?
It’s a Samsonite underseat bag.
How do you narrow down what you’re packing as you prepare for a trip?
I start with a master checklist that I print out every time to be sure I have all the basics — vitamins, medications, toiletries, adaptors, chargers, etc. Then I think about what I’ll need based on climate, temperature, functions I’ll attend, and what I’ll be doing. Like most of us, I lay things out and then eliminate some as I go.
I usually focus on bringing nicer outerwear, like a good jacket, because that’s what people see. Then I’ll add layers — tee shirts, tank tops, and shirts — that are lower density to pack.
Roll or fold?
I roll everything. I do it the night before so that all the air is out and I can squeeze the clothes into the bag. They are a bit more compact that way.
How many pairs of shoes do you typically take along on your trips?
Figuring out shoes is important since they take up the most space. Finding the perfect all-purpose shoe is key. I have Born boots that I wear a lot if I’m in a colder climate. I like the boots — unless I’m in hot weather —because you can walk in them all day and then wear them with a dress or leggings if you’re going out to dinner, and it’s still acceptable. Clarks makes some comfortable shoes as well.
What is the one item you always pack no matter what?
I always pack scarves; they’re great accessories to have. They perk up an outfit and they’re good for warmth. And I always pack a hat.
How do you stay organized while you’re traveling to several places on a trip?
I like to unpack in each place so I can see exactly what I have. I separate the clean clothes from those that need to be laundered. It’s easier in the morning to get dressed when everything is organized.
What is the most challenging trip you have packed for?
The most challenging in terms of packing was an around-the-world trip I took in 2011-2012. I started in Istanbul and went through the Middle East, Southeast Asia, China, Japan, and back to Los Angeles. The weather changes made it difficult; some places were hot, some cold. But I still made it work.
Fortunately, now there are so many packable down jackets that are still warm and don’t take up very much space.
As a photographer, do you have a recommendation for the best camera for travelers?
The best camera is the camera that you’ll use the most, which for many people will be their phone. Most new smartphones are comparable to a point and shoot camera in terms of resolution and features. For someone who wants to step up to a DSLR, I recommend the Canon Rebel, the entry level DSLR in Canon’s line.
What is your most cherished souvenir from one of your trips?
I’m not a huge shopper, and I keep my carry-on space in mind, but when I do shop, it’s usually for jewelry or small items. One of my favorite purchases was a spectacular emerald necklace and earring set I bought in India for my sister. For me, the photos and journaling are my main takeaways from my trips.
I also love buying local foodstuffs. I often take cooking classes wherever I can to learn about the local cuisine, so that leads to some of my purchases as well.
What is your advice for over-packers?
Less is more. You’ll make it easier on yourself if you edit before you travel. It will be simpler logistically getting through airports and hotels. Have outfits planned so that you’re not debating what to wear each morning as you dress. Embrace laundering as you go or use laundry service at your hotel. Edit your shoes, focusing on comfort. Don’t bring any shoes you can’t walk in comfortably.