The 5 W’s of Packing
Packing has always been one of my most least favorite things simply because it’s hard to simplify my life down to the contents of a single bag (or maybe a carry-on.) Obviously what you decide to bring will depend on a few factors: Where are you going? When are you going? How long? Why? And possibly with who?
Where are you going?
What will the climate be like? Hot? Cold? Humid? Rainy? What is the culture? Will you have to follow certain customs? Will you be moving around a lot or staying stationary?
When are you going?
What season will it be? Do you have to prepare for changes in weather? How long before you can wash clothes? Will you be away through multiple seasons or weather changes?
Why are you going?
Is the purpose adventure and rugged, for cultural travel (going to churches, and synagogues, museums, etc.) or to lay on a beach all day?
Who are you traveling with?
Will they have things that you don’t need to bring? Do you have things they will need?
Now that I’ve got you’re mind thinking, take everything you think you will need and cut that in half. Now cut that in half again. Now we are getting down to what you really need. As a back-packer, it was always funny to meet up with someone traveling on a short vacation who had three times as much stuff as I did. Considering that many airlines charge luggage fees now, as well as charge for extra weight, and the fact that you will have to carry that luggage around everywhere you go, the lighter you can keep things the better, especially if you plan on moving around a lot. If your intention is to stay put in one place for the duration of your trip, then of course you can afford to bring a few more luxuries, but still, keep it simple!
Keeping the luggage light
Just in case you’re planning on the nomadic route, there are a few things you can do to keep the weight off your back and to be a smart packer. First, consider minimizing the technologies that you bring.. If you have internet capabilities on your phone, check to see if this service will be available where you are traveling (and see about unlocking your phone if you are going to be abroad.) If it’s a short trip, most hotels and hostels have internet and computers, and there are also internet cafes in places where you would least expect them.
If you must bring a laptop, consider the thin, light weight smaller versions with basic functions on them. I traveled with a 14 inch laptop because I wanted to be able to watch movies and write, but technologies have evolved since then, and many movies can be downloaded straight to an iPAD. (Same with music.) If you get tired of your own music, check and see what’s lying around the hostels, (there may be old CD’s laying around or music downloaded onto public computers) or exchange tunes with a fellow traveler. If you are an avid reader, leave the books at home and consider purchasing a kindle or Nook (which is much more lightweight and can now even upload movies, games, and other apps on the newer versions.) It can be great not only for reading material on long train and bus rides, but also for language books you might want to have if you are going to multiple countries (my dad downloaded several to his kindle before meeting me in Europe.)
Minimize and consolidate as much as possible and choose the technology that will be multi-functional. Don’t forget if you are traveling abroad, you will need an international adaptor (I like the all in one multi-country adaptors the best as it’s only one thing to remember to carry and take with you.)
Clothing– Layering clothing is always a better way to stay warm (which makes you prepared whether it’s hot or cold.) Have a good light weight rain parka if you intend to be out in the elements to keep you dry and a fleece which is much lighter and dries faster than a sweatshirt or hoody. Leggings and tights are lightweight and can be worn under shorts and skirts if you have them. Guys, you can even wear leggings, or at the very least bring a pair of thermals. I have even doubled up and worn to pairs of leggings which was lighter to pack, and kept me warmer than a pair of jeans (which are heavy and take a long time to dry when they are wet.) Don’t feel like you have to pack a pair of socks or underwear for everyday. (If I was ever running out of a clean pair, I would bring them into the shower with me, unless I was staying in a place that offered quick laundry services.) Shoes can be quite heavy so consider a good pair of walking (or hiking shoes) and something that would be appropriate to go out at night. For girls, I liked the ballerina flats which were comfortable to walk around in during the day (unless I was doing extensive hiking,) yet were stylish enough to wear out somewhere at night. Read my article for other tips on feeling sexy on the road.
Also, consider the actual bag you will be bringing. The lighter weight the better, although if I had to choose I would opt for a slightly heavier back that opens from the side rather than top loading. (It’s easier to get into your bag to find and organize things. ) I have found I can keep clothing much less wrinkled if I lay it flat and stack it (as opposed to the rolling method many people use with top-loading bags.) I try to plan ahead about what I will wear, and keep what I will use more frequently, (or the next thing I plan to wear) towards the top. Shoes go nicely at the bottom of the bag to keep everything clean (and if you have a separate compartment for these even better.) A plastic garbage bag is great to separate the dirty and clean clothes, and always air-dry anything before packing it away to prevent it from smelling up the rest of your clothes.
Here are a few more essentials you may want to bring with you:
First Aid Kit– Depending on the style of traveling you are doing (whether you are out in the country or jungle or you are in a suburban city) will depend on how extensive you want to make this, but at the minimum have some bandages of different sizes, some first aid-antiseptic ointment, moleskin (especially if you will be doing alot of walking) and some pain reliever medication (especially if you plan to do alot of heavy partying.) I found a small bottle of insect repellent helpful, and a small tin of Tigers Balm (which worked great for multi-purposes such as relieving headaches, itchy mosquito bites, and even helping to clear sinuses.)
Sewing Kit- Even if you don’t know how to sew, at the minimum carry a small kit with a few sewing needles (which can double with your first aid kit if you ever have to remove any splinters) some thread, a safety pin and a spare button or two. You never know when your last pair of clean pants will split in the rear and when you will have to perform “surgury.” There are enough people that can help you out as long as you come prepared.
Copies of Important Documents Make sure you have photo copies of important documents such as your passport, visas, vaccinations and shots and have this in a safe place in your carry-on. It’s also helpful to have your travel itinerary printed out (if you have one) for ease in dealing with passport and immigration control. You will want to have all of this backed up electronically in a secure pdf file as well or leave copies with someone trusted back home.
Toiletries Girls, consider picking up samples of make-up and perfume at the counters before you leave, as well as stock up on trial size shampoos and conditioners that come in the pouches (they are flat and light weight and easier to carry.) Guys, you can ask for small samples of cologne to keep you smelling pretty as well. Consider whether your bag is going to be checked through luggage or not to determine if you should bring other trial size toiletries or not, (these are always nice to have in your carry-on to freshen up after a long day of traveling.)
For additional tips on packing, check out The Smart Traveler’s Passport, which gives almost 400 tips compiled by Budget Travel magazine, including 13 uses for ziploc bags! Also, since everyone’s actual packing list is going to vary depending on the “5w’s” we mentioned earlier, check out the universal packing list, which is a free feature online that will allow you to customize a packing list based on where you’re going, the activities you plan to do and other variables.