Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.

This is my personal blog and a space that I try to make sense of my wandering life. Depending on the day it could be a helpful resource for the country I'm in, or a self-help guide. We'll just have to see ;)

How to pack for __ months (a long time)

A lot of people have asked me, incredulously, “How are you supposed to pack for a whole year?!

I’ve passed the same question along to friends who have more experience…and I’ve often wondered the same. During my “research” (read: chats over beer, sushi and/or some form of chocolate) I discovered one critical factor in determining what and how to pack.
My peace corps friends, for example, lived in the same place and knew they would always have a “home” for their belongings. Their packing was a lot different than friends who had taken urban jobs, and theirs was extremely different than friends who planned on a year or more of wandering.
So, while the wanderers passionately encouraged me to take off with little more than a backpack and the clothes on my back, I knew that wasn’t practical for my situation. I was going to have a room, a house, and needed to be ready for just about any climate and social situation. I would be backpacking, but I was also working in an office. I would be at the beach, but nights on base were said to get to the low 50’s. A backpack wasn’t going to cut it.
Now that I’m here, I realize that there probably was a happy medium. Instead, I maxed out at 2 checked bags, a backpack as my carry on and a large sling purse as my personal item. The wanderers would have been ashamed.
So, while I may have over packed, I remembered a few of my go-to travel tricks. Packing light is difficult sometimes, but packing smart is always possible with a little planning. Here are some of my tips (I’d love to know any you have to continue the list!)
Roll and layer
When I can’t get around packing bulky items like towels (As much as I love the quick dry ones, I can’t live with them for a year. Sometimes you just need a big, fluffy piece of cotton) I lay them across the bottom of my suitcase like a liner. They are the only exception – everything else, even down to the tiniest travel undies gets tightly rolled and layered. I lay the heavy stuff first, the jeans and jackets, then use the smaller stuff to fill the cracks. If you’ve never “rolled” before, you’ll be a convert.
Stuff your shoes 
All those little things are great for filling up the spaces in between, but don’t forget the spaces hidden inside things like boots and tennis shoes. Remember, anywhere air can go, you want your underthings to be too. If the idea of putting things inside smelly hiking boots gets to you, simply put them in a grocery bag before stuffing.

Wrap, then wrap again.
Countless travelers have begun their vacations by opening a lotion/shampoo/sunscreen soaked suitcase. Don’t be one of them. Put plastic wrap over the bottle opening, screw on the top THEN wrap in a plastic grocery bag. That’s two layers of protection and at least if the first one fails, all you have is a soaked grocery bag….not a soaked bag.

The little things.
You know that weird section of miniature toiletries in WalMart? Well, this is when you use them. Make sure they’re refillable and you’ll be weekend-trip ready. Tip: Use the labels from the full size bottles on the small containers.
Bring some (not all) hi-tec stuff
If there is one thing I’ve learned about travel clothes and gear, it’s that all those cool fabrics and shirts made for every possible activity aren’t necessary. Some of my favorite things, despite piles of woolrich, goretex, and wicking fabrics have been – and continue to be – simple fleece pullovers, well-worn tees, and yoga pants. However, a few “techie” things have made it to my list of must haves no matter the trip. Here are a few of them:
– Down/synthetic vest. If I’m packing for the freezing cold, most likely I have a lot of stuff like this already….but the vest can easily be stuffed in a backpack pocket and added for an extra layer of warmth….that doesn’t restrict arm movement in a jacket. If I’m going to be in the jungle, with hot days and cooler nights…this helps when the temperature dips, without having to throw on a big jacket. Quality counts here….really good down is crazy lightweight and gets super warm.
– Rain jacket. I know a lot of people who go ultra-light here and just get the shell…but I prefer one with a liner. My reasoning is simply that I hate the weird damp plastic-to skin feeling. If you can handle it you’ll save on some weight, but no matter what you get – get a good one. They’re expensive abroad, and a ripped rain jacket is, well…no longer a rain jacket.
– Hiking pants. I used to think the only technical pants you could get were huge, parachute whooshy pants (yes, that is a technical term), but then I discovered brands like Colombia making women’s pants that actually fit. While I still wouldn’t wine and dine in them, it beats walking up a mountain in jeans. I layer them with leggings for the cold, and know that even if I get caught in a downpour they’ll be dry in minutes.
Water bottle. I’m a recent convert on this one. I’ll admit, I’ve never made space for a container of any sort, much less a water bottle when I could easily down a bottle of juice and reuse that bottle. But when I discovered Hydro Flask, everything changed. This thing kept ice solid overnight and my coffee piping hot after hours of running around. Plus, it doesn’t sweat and is BPA free. Cool colors help too.
Knife or Multi-tool. Even though the craziest thing I do with my knife is make guacamole on the beach, it’s always good to be prepared. It’s nice to have tools on hand and a lot of them have handy things like mini scissors, screwdrivers and more.

Quick-dry towels. Preferably one in every size. I made the rookie mistake in one early trip, when I was trying to go “ultra light” and just brought a small one. The absorbency wasn’t the problem, but trying to cover myself in the busy hostel bathroom was. Plus, the big ones make awesome yoga mat toppers or impromptu beach towels for laying out. Shop around, I’ve found I like different brands for different things. And make sure to label yours – they seem to get “lost” in hostels where people discover their crazy absorbent super powers.

Headlamp. Don’t forget batteries. This one’s simple….no hands required = more productivity. Just be careful about talking to people and accidentally blinding them when you turn around. They’re also handy as night lights. Wrap one around a milk jug filled with water for some cool ambient lighting or hang it from the top of your tent for late bathroom breaks. 
Flip flops. Easy to pack, waterproof and disposable when necessary. Just don’t walk in them for long distances, or you’ll end up wearing Dr. Scholls earlier than necessary. I bring them for sketchy showers and impromptu beach visits.
Zip-lock bags. The low-tech waterproofing. Light, easy, and you can make guacamole in them by squishing avocado with lemon juice and some salt an pepper inside of one. Just cut the tip off and you can squeeze the guac out onto your chosen vessel (I prefer crusty bread).
Pieces of home. Whatever does it for you – pictures are always good. Buy some adhesive putty if you’ll be in one place for a while to hang them up. A friend told me to bring small candles that smell like holidays. I thought she was crazy until I opened my pumpkin spice candle my first day in the jungle. Some things don’t make sense until you can’t get them somewhere else.
This is a look of relief. 50 lbs on the dot.

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This entry was posted on August 21, 2013 by in Travel Tips & Recipees.
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