With a year of travel abroad under my belt, I can finally share some packing advice based on all of my mistakes. It seems so long ago that I eagerly packed three (count them – THREE) bags for a year, including a large purse that ended up being crammed into another bag to also avoid being checked.
And yes, I was that girl at the Air New Zealand kiosk last year. I had to frantically unpack one suitcase, shift items to the other suitcase, and sit on it while zipping it up to avoid the excess baggage fee. I was just far too fortunate that the lady allowed me to do that (and actually advised which stuff to shift over). Bless you, Air New Zealand. I probably would have gotten my head chopped off at the China Airways kiosk.
Also, to this day, I have no idea how they allowed me onto that flight with a [slightly deflated] 65L backpack, purse, AND laptop bag. Bless Air New Zealand times two, but I really hope I never push that limit again.
Whether I’ve had a large backpack or suitcase, I’ve always ended up on the side of a random road, huffing and puffing, cursing myself for not bringing lighter luggage.
The story that takes the cake is my Sisyphus-esque ordeal, when I literally pushed my giant suitcase up one of the steepest hills in Dunedin just to reach a hostel. After that, I vowed I would never take a suitcase anywhere again, especially when there are stairs, cobblestone, and hills everywhere in the world.
Alas. Cue my obsession with minimalist packing, or a minimalist lifestyle, in general. Now, I have a chance to redeem myself and actually go from being a Type-A Overpacker to a Type-B Underpacker. In reality, you’ll always be able to buy things at your destination, and it’s just SO much easier to travel with a lighter load. It’s generally said that you should buy a small bag rather than a big one just because you’ll be less tempted to buy things and overpack that way.
Without giving away too much [too soon], let’s just say that I’m moving to yet another country that places a huge emphasis on presentation. And I mean a lot – basically the far opposite of New Zealand and Australia. Because of that reason alone, it seems silly to think I can actually survive an extended period of time in this country with the absolute minimal amount of items. But guess what? I AM FIERCE AND DETERMINED.
Seriously – if this girl can do it, I most certainly can, too. After all, “The greatest pleasure in life is doing what others say you cannot do.”
Given my situation, I highly doubt anyone would ever consider packing this little (the minimum is two suitcases), but eff it. I’m doing what I know is possible for myself and only myself, and I swear to God that I will NEVER overpack again. This would be the perfect way to ensure that.
So this is my plan: One compact 40L backpack and one cross-body purse, both carry-on items. I’ve done a few trial packing runs already (it’s the obsessively neat Virgo-ness in me), and I think it’ll really work. There’s an exception of one key element, but I’ll get to that when I’m already happily minimal-ized in that country. 😉
These are things to consider when packing for an extended trip:
- DON’T pack a billion undergarments, socks, and shirts. Just don’t. The general rule is packing about a week’s worth for all of these (I usually pack only about 4-5 pairs of socks) and just doing more laundry. No big deal.
- DON’T pack spare cords, flashlights, etc. I never touched any duplicate items, and ended up throwing them away to lighten my load. All smartphones have built-in flashlights anyhow – how spoiled are we?!
- DON’T pack a fully stocked first aid kit (unless you’re accident-prone and are seriously paranoid of falling off every cliff you walk near). At the very least, just pack a few band-aids and ointment to carry with you in case of an emergency, and that’s about it.
- DON’T pack boots. Oh God, please don’t. Hiking boots are understandable if you’re on a huge outdoorsy adventure, but you may have to inevitably wear them to every airport because they’re so darn heavy. I’ve worn flip-flops in the rain just to save on wet shoes that never dry, so where there’s a will, there’s a way.
- DON’T pack toiletries. If you’re an excellent researcher, you’ll realize that you literally do NOT need to pack anything because everything can be bought at your destination. And if you’re really in a rut, just Google a DIY solution or something. Seriously, there’s always a solution.
- DON’T pack a bunch of office supplies (post-its, stationery, pens). I’m pretty sure that all of my Sharpies, markers, and pens contributed to at least one or two pounds of unnecessary weight.
- DON’T pack dressy clothes fit for the club if that’s not the intention of your travels. Chances are, most places allow you to dress casually anyway if you’re out for a night in the town.
- DON’T pack lots of valuables. While there are certain essentials (tablet, phone, etc.) that you obviously cannot not pack, try to pack those in your carry-on in a secure spot. I’ve made a pact to myself to only pack clothes and items I secretly don’t mind losing from hereon out.
- But… DO pack at least one thing that has sentimental value to you. I took several… and wore/cuddled/displayed them every day. 😉
- DON’T pack books. Especially not guidebooks, unless you think you’ll have a heart attack without it. Lonely Planet distributes excellent e-books, and it’s so much easier to read something on a device you’re already using.
- DO pack a lightweight, quick-drying towel. I still can’t believe I packed a regular-sized towel last year… and then bought an oversized “travel” towel in New Zealand. Like that really fixed my issue. I ended up just using a small hand towel afterward, and I’m more than used to it now.
- DO use packing cubes to separate and compartmentalize your things. Roll, fold, or bundle clothes – just don’t stuff everything in because that’s not a pretty sight (although I have seen it done many times before).
- DO pack 1-2 pairs of pants. Most travelers always wear jeans, but I actually just pack two pairs of leggings – because, really, can you get any lighter than that? Also, I hate jeans. I’ve been anti-jeans ever since my college days, and I’ve been perfectly fine surviving cold weather with just leggings.
- DO pack an external battery charger. It’ll save your life on the road when you can’t find an outlet on the Cliffs of Mohr. The Anker Astro E3 model is a Godsend, and they have newer models that are also a lot smaller (but just hold less battery charge).
- DO make copies of all of your travel documents before you leave. Print them out, place a few copies in different areas of your luggage just in case (especially if your check-in bag gets lost), and e-mail PDF versions to yourself and your family. Better to be safe than sorry.
- DO pack one winter coat and one light sweater/jacket. Two is all you need, but it’s better to have one of each than only one meant for only one type of season. If your winter coat can double as a rain jacket (Goretex!), that’s a winner.
- DO think about all four seasons when packing. Even if you think you’re visiting a country in the summer, you also can’t predict where you might end up traveling to on a whim. Unless you’re okay with freezing your ears off in your summer ware, do yourself a favor and pack appropriately for all seasons.
- DO research cheapest SIM card plans before leaving. In most countries, you can just pick one up with a pre-set data plan. I’ve heard plenty of horror stories about international roaming, so save yourself money and the headache with SIM cards.
- DO lay out everything you want to pack, trial pack it, unpack it, lay it all out again, and take half of your load. This was my hugest downfall, as I stupidly packed a month in advance and basically left my packed suitcases sitting there. The ratio of the amount of things I actually used versus what I packed is quite depressing.
- DO leave a little space in your bag for souvenirs or anything else you might pick up along the way.
- DO plan out your clothing choices based on the color palette. Stay away from patterns (I didn’t and regretted that) and try to stick with earth tones that can be mixed and matched easily. I went from being incredibly
- DO throw out things to lighten your load, especially if you have multiple destinations. I’ve sent clothes home via sea mail (a relatively cheap option that usually gets your parcel home in a couple months) and also donated some along the way.
Once you start traveling for an extended period of time and toss out your first batch of stuff, it may turn into an obsession (at least for me). Even up to your departure gate, you should be thinking, “What can I take out?” rather than, “What did I forget to pack?” And the minute you realize that you don’t absolutely-death-defyingly need 99% of the things in your bag anyway is the minute you’ve adapted to a minimalistic lifestyle.
I expect to successfully have my minimalist luggage down pat with photos to prove it. Until then, I challenge you to start going minimal and appreciate the beauty of the phrase, “less is more.”