Welcome back to Eat Travel Dive, to all of our loyal blog followers. With the ever nearing date of mine and Winnie’s departure to travel overseas, I thought now would be a good time to start a blog series related to that woeful task of Packing!
Is this your Family Car on the way to the airport?
Is this you on your last trekking holiday?
I’m not sure I know anybody who actually enjoys this process, but needless to say it is an essential part of any traveller’s itinerary. Boo! I hear you all screaming, but fear not, I am about to try and make life easy for everyone.
But first, to start on a light note I hear there are certain communities of travellers – especially those from Japan and other Asian nations that pack extremely lightly. I wish I was one of those people! They literally carry a small carry-on backpack with the bare essentials in it. Everything else is purchased on arrival and used in that country. These guys usually donate or leave behind those items before moving to the next destination. That’s genius! So to avoid excess baggage, and lengthy waits at the baggage reclaim section of the airport – not to mention hours of packing time, these dudes don’t bother. Bare essentials can easily be bought in each location also, but it’s nice to have something at hand to freshen up on arrival at each destination. Whilst holidaying in Japan I actually observed this and saw these travellers leaving piles of neatly folded, cleaned clothing for whoever needed it next – it's usually budget clothing, but on the move it can be perfect. Now that’s a commitment to the worldwide eco traveller! Good on them for putting money into the local economy and reducing the carbon footprint of their own travelling by going light – plus tickets can be cheaper with some airlines if you don’t check baggage into the aircraft hold - something that inspired me to rethink how I pack. This led me to the following, so read on….
For the rest of us, on a budget needing to take stuff with us I have found a method of packing luggage that works pretty well and is relatively time efficient. The only drawback is that you need to take a little time prior to starting your luggage packing to plan. Planning is the key, and it all starts with a packing list. You can do this however you like, but as a test I started from scratch with Winnie – she who never travels light (our trip to Japan was testament to that!). I’ll run through this the same way I did with Winnie, and try to add helpful tips along the way…
All you need is a block of paper and a pen....and lots of patience!
Step 1 – What Do You Think You Will Pack?
So, take out of your wardrobe/closet all of the items of clothing you think you’ll be taking. My advice is to do this by category to make the results more obvious and you’ll see why later…
If you’re going on a short trip this will likely be a smaller pile (maybe even small enough for carry on?), so I’ll work on the long term multiple season traveller. I hope to cover the summer/winter clothing issue here. A good starting point for the categories is:
- Winter Jackets & Jumpers
- Long Pants
- Tops, Shirts & T-Shirts
- Shorts or Skirts
- Smart Clothing (Dresses or Suits etc)
- Beachwear (bikinis, swimwear, boardies etc)
- Athletic, Hiking Clothing
- Essentials (undies, socks, bras)
Does your closet look like you've been robbed?
Once you have gone and unloaded your closet and it looks like you’ve been robbed (which invariably you will, like Winnie), you’ll need to decide on specifics from each category. You can do this by asking yourself some simple questions:
- “Which items coordinate with other items from other categories – which pieces make up more outfits?”
- “How versatile is this item – what other items can I wear it with?”
- “Will I actually wear this?”
- “Can this be replaced if needed by buying new overseas (like the Japanese dudes)?”
- “Do I really want to take this?”
At this point, I start to write a list of these items. I then put all of the clothes away. I find that getting all of the items out and placing on the bed (or other suitable place), that I see just how many clothes are really there, and how over-packing can be so easily done. Remember that you have a weight allowance (usually around 20kg) and usually a limited space to squeeze it all into. My bag of choice is a backpack, since I can chuck in on my back and evenly distribute the weight (much like my dive gear). It’s also more comfy on long walks to bus stops, trains and hotels – which saves my arms for other things (carrying Winnie’s suitcase whilst in Japan is a prime example!!).
With this list written down, I move on to step 2.
Step 2 – How Will I Pack These Items?
This is a loaded question, it caught my darling Winnie by surprise, clearly by her response – “Err.. I’ll fold them all up and place them in the bag…derr!”
Famous last words from the rookie bag packer! Folding is a fairly fatal mistake, unless you know how to keep the (watch out for the sciency-geeky part) cross-sectional area of the luggage to a minimum by keeping all items from getting too large by folding. To do this you need to understand your luggage and you need to understand how to pack each item. Thankfully, Step 2 is here to guide you through that minefield!
With your first list in hand; you need to create some new categories:
- Items that must be folded or kept flat.
- Items that can be folded and rolled small.
- Items that can be stuffed anywhere.
- Items that can be used for padding (usually in dive gear bags)
So, you whittle the original list down some more. This is done, with the greatest respect to my readers, by removing items that are either too bulky or are duplicates of other items. In all honesty, most travellers can get by with great style and comfort with an amount of clothing to last 5-10 days. I usually pack for 7 days. So, with that in mind, there is only so much clothes you can wear in 7 days. You’re travelling remember. You’re going places to see new things, they’re not seeing you. It’s not a fashion parade every day. That said I understand the need to carry more (if you’re too cool for school, and a trendy chappy) and I also understand that variety is good too. So take from this post what you can. To whittle the list down here does take some courage to step outside of your normal comfort zone, and thankfully in the case of Winnie, she did exactly that…and some more (well done)! Another way to reduce the items is to not include items that don't fit into any of those new categories.
Step 3 – What Can Be Replaced or Purchased Whilst I Travel?
This step can be hard especially if on a budget, but possible. Things that are relatively inexpensive or you might buy anyway whilst overseas – in my case Undies, T-Shirts and Boardies. Try to reduce the number of items you have on your list that you feel comfortable replacing overseas. If nothing else, you get to revitalise your wardrobe whilst you travel, and trust me there’s good shopping to be had overseas so it’s worth considering. Plus you’ll blend in with local populations and look less like a traveller and more like a local (which is often a safer way to travel). In most cases, you’ll find these items fun to replace – it’s an excuse to drag us around the shopping malls and outlets all over the world.
“..You said, if I packed less we could go shopping when we got here…”
“..You said, if I packed less we could go shopping when we got here…”
The final items to be added to your packing list will be footwear, wash gear and towels. It is my advice only, but get some microfiber towels. They dry fast, pack small and don’t get smelly as quickly as regular towels. They stick to my skin, but I think that’s just me! With regard to smellies and wash gear: travel light. There isn’t a location that you’ll fly into that you can’t purchase these items, and local brands are always cheap! So, carry just enough to tide you over until you are settled in. Small bottles of perfume/aftershave will mean you can replace them sooner and have a different scent more regularly. I don’t advise carrying lots of bottles of smellies since there’s a greater risk of them smashing in transit, plus glass weighs so think before you pack those designer smellies!
Footwear is an interesting one. Boots, Hiking Boots and Smart Shoes/Heels? Well, you need to think about where you’re going and what clothes you’ve decided upon before you think shoes. If you’ve gotten this far into my post, I assume you’ve done that. Thongs (flip-flops) can be bought anywhere on earth, so one pair or none is ok. Designer heels may get stolen in hotels or hostels so try to avoid bringing those. I do however recommend a comfy pair of joggers or hiking shoes that you can wear on long walks or those days when you can’t wear your beloved thongs. Boots and Hiking boots should be worn on the long haul parts to minimise the weight, so have a lightweight shoe you can change into also. A couple of pairs in total (you only have 2 feet) is sufficient, and they usually pack well in the bottom compartment of your backpack with your sleeping bag if you need to take one. Things like compression sacs are usually best packed into the same compartment, leaving space in the main compartment for the clothes you have on your final list.
If you’re taking hair straighteners or hair style equipment, consider travel sized versions to minimise weight and space losses. I have a shaved head so it’s not really an issue I think too hard about!
Step 4 – Practice Pack…
Practice packing the items how you would usually pack them. If you can’t fit all the items into your backpack at the practice pack stage (or if you still exceed the weight allowance-check the allowance of your airline because they all differ slightly), go back through your list and follow the same process until you remove the remaining non-essential items.
Keep trying to reduce the items. I can pretty much guarantee you don’t need them all. I can also guarantee that you can buy anything that you did need after removing it, whilst you travel so panic less, and get crazy!
Once you get to the point where you have reduced the items, and you’re as happy as you can be with what’s left. Write your list down and stick to it when it comes to the final packing day.
Next to make you pack less bulging and to help reduce the bulk and girth of your backpack, read my next post in the series (Part 2 – Backpacks).
A Few "GAFFA" Tips…
One final comment about all this, try to be hard on yourself at this stage. Most of us are notorious over-packers, and this can really become a problem when you get to the airport. When I left London, in 2007, I was one of those over-packers…to my detriment. I was forced to empty and repack at the airport, and I needed to reweigh and check multiple times. I ended up throwing stuff away at the airport and wearing all of my clothes just about (that I didn’t want to / couldn’t bear chucking away)… This just adds to your stress levels, and leads to you sweating and huffing and puffing. That feeling is not pleasant, which lead me to this solution. Trust me, if you travel light you’ll be calmer, more relaxed and you’ll have a much more pleasant experience at the airport.
Another tip: When packing towels, try to pack smaller towels, microfiber towels or go without. You can buy towels really cheaply at the other end, and most hotels and accommodation provide them…so ask yourself is it worth taking a towel? If not, then you’ll likely reduce your bag weight by 200-500g and if its more than one towel – you can do the maths!
Oh and a tip for undies and socks - Wear One, Wash One, Air One, Spare One is the best technique for not over-packing on these items. You can only wear so many pairs of undies!!! You pack 4 items. You wear item 1 and wash it on day 1. Wear item 2 and wash it on day 2. During Day 2 item 1 is airing/drying... The cycle continues... If you get caught short (it happened to me in Egypt) you've got a fresh clean spare (no matter what day it is). Washing your undies is simple (in the shower with your shower gel/soap or with laundry soap), plus it saves time and water. Wherever you stay you can dry your undies (either on the parcel shelf of the car, on the "guy" ropes of your tent or on the clothes airer in the holiday apartment) , so the air stage can always be done....you can even tie them to your backpack if trekking....
My final tip when deriving your packing list is to practice your haggling and barter skills. Negotiate with yourself regarding which items you take out, and compensate with others if possible! You may find yourself repeating the process a couple times, but you’ll end up happy you got what you wanted on the list. Deciding on which items are more important than others, using a hierarchy system will really highlight how badly you over-pack (especially if everything gets classified as important!!). Be tough, be cruel to be kind and save yourself from stress and worry about having too much weight when you get to check in.
Well Done! You have created your packing list.