Packing for a trip (especially your first one) is one of the many humbling experiences about traveling. How hard could it be to fill a bag with stuff? But as you get going, you realize it requires a lot more consideration than you originally thought.
Here are some general tips to keep in mind as you approach your suitcase. Read further and I’ll give you a step-by-step approach to pack efficiently and avoid unnecessary stress.
The most important and valuable piece of packing advice I can give is:
Pack Light. Your life is so much easier if you don’t have to check bags. You save time, money and the stress of lugging your things around a foreign city or risking your possessions being lost.
The Second Most important piece of packing advice I have:
Don’t get too attached to your belongings and don’t bring expensive/fancy/high-tech stuff with you (with the exception of your laptop and camera). If you want to buy fancy travel clothes from REI, be my guest, but I promise, things will get spilled on, forgotten, or ripped. If you’re not attached, when something inevitably happens to your items, you can let it go, replace it and move on.
Both of these guidelines are aimed at achieving a goal I prioritize in my life no matter where I am; reduce stress and help things go smoothly.
More things to keep in mind as you pack:
- Dress modestly and don’t bring attention to yourself. Blending in always makes me feel safe, like I won’t be targeted for a scam. Avoid packing fancy watches, designer labels or anything that says, “I have enough money to buy a replacement when you steal this.”
- Always bring at least one nice outfit. It’s easy to just think practical, sticking to your swiss-army shorts and chacos, but you never know if you’ll be asked to a nice restaurant or to meet some important people.
- Just bring one personal item and one carry on and you’ll save time, money and energy. When you check bags, you pay extra, you have to wait at baggage claim and lug around your items. By eliminating unnecessary choices from your wardrobe, you can get out the door and into the world faster. Packing light keeps things carefree.
- You can buy pretty much anything you need abroad. Keep this in mind when packing toiletries. The only drug-store items I would carry with you at all times are diarrhea medicine, hand sanitizer and a travel pack of Kleenex.
- You don’t have to buy souvenirs. If you’re set on bringing back trinkets for loved ones, consider sending them back separately (and paying a ton for international shipping) or just buy small items. You might have to leave something behind to make room in your bag. I like sending or saving postcards. They’re inexpensive, pretty, personal and you don’t have to lug them around.
- If you’re traveling to a few places in one expedition, consider going to places with the same climate so the same types of garments will be useful. Otherwise, you’ll either have to buy everything there, or pack twice as much.
- Bring a few plastic bags to store dirty clothes.
- Plan ahead by packing items in your carry-on that will make the flight more comfortable. An inflatable travel pillow, ear plugs and an eye mask don’t take up much space and make such a difference on a long flight. Also, bring socks, a sweater and maybe a light scarf. I usually get chilly when I fly but remarkably, my feet get sweaty. I bring the socks out of consideration for my neighbors.
- Keep toiletries in an easy-access pocket in your carry-on. Traveling for 30 hours in cramped spaces is not exactly a recipe for personal freshness. When you want to freshen up on a layover, you’ll be glad you don’t have to unpack your whole bag in the airport bathroom to find your toothbrush, deodorant, hand sanitizer and chapstick.
- In hot and humid climates, ditch the shorts and tank tops and cover up with breathable fabrics. Dressing modestly has practical benefits:
- If you wear shorts, you’ll stick to seats and surfaces; the same seats that bunches of people have already been sweating on.
- You’ll chafe and your legs will stick together with each step.
- You’ll get more mosquitos bites.
- You’ll be more likely to get sunburnt.
- Bring a few small souvenirs from your hometown; keychains, magnets, etc, to give to the friends you’ll make while traveling. You’ll meet people who help you and enrich your trip and it’s just good practice to have something to offer in return.
- Consider bringing something nice for the flight attendants like chocolates or $5 gift cards to Starbucks. They put up with a lot.
It seems to be human nature to pack too much for trips. It’s also human nature to fill up whatever size container we use to pack. Don’t leave home with the idea of saving room in your suitcase or backpack for souvenirs. You’ll just fill your bag every time.
1) Instead, start with a small bag.
2) Next, lay out what you want to take with you on a large, flat surface, like a bed or the floor. Seeing everything all spread out is a powerful visual and will help you pick out pieces you don’t really need. A basic rule of thumb is pack enough clothes for one week, or eight days so you have something to wear on laundry day. Remember to pack garments you can mix and match, that will go together nicely and to pack at least one outfit for special occasions.
3) Do a round of skimming. Which items you could stand to leave behind? I had to do three rounds of skimming before I got down to what I was taking with me. Make sure each item is either versatile, comfortable, multipurpose or quick drying. It it’s not any of those, leave it.
4) Roll your garments, don’t fold, to save space.
5) Organize your clothes and basic toiletries into groups or categories to make things easy to find.
- Undies and socks
- pants and shorts
- tops, and so on.
6) Put each group into either packing cubes or ziplock bags. Now you have kits. This helps save space but most of all, it saves time and stress. If you’re living out of a backpack or suitcase, chances are, you won’t be unpacking in every place you visit. If you pack in kits, it’s much easier to find the specific items you need. You could take it a step further and buy a different colored packing cube for each category to make finding your items even easier. Blue for pants, pink for undies, or whatever floats your boat.
If you’re packing a backpack, put the heaviest items on the bottom and the lightest on top. Try to keep the majority of the weight right against your back.
In closing, to make sure this post is as helpful as possible, here’s my packing list. It’s a good place to start but you’ll probably need to make some adjustments, like if you’re a man, for example.
Like I said earlier, I bet you didn’t think there were so many details when it came to packing. It may seem like a lot of information but these tricks will make your life so much easier.
Eliminating stress from our lives is so important. There is so much you can’t plan for, so for the things you can plan, keep them stress-free.
If you have any packing tips I didn’t mention, or a travel product you believe is a MUST, please write to me. The number one goal for this site is to provide readers with valuable information and get more people out into the world.
Thank you so much for reading.
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