[Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post written by my wife, Mrs. Lite Adventurer. We’ve been married a little less than a year and have been traveling together across the world for over seven years. Since I have no personal experience with packing as a female traveler, with the whole penis thing and all, I asked her to author a post describing her own packing style. Enjoy!]
By request, Mr. Lite asked me to contribute to how I, as an average-sized woman who gets cold easily, pack for our trips using (mostly) the same amount of space he does for our vacations.
First, let me say that I’m still practicing. I’m still finding myself finding shirts that are just “too cute to leave behind”, usually ones that have references to cats on them, stuffed in the bottom of my travel bag that haven’t seen the light of day the whole trip. I did also manage to find a wolf spider in one when we were in Oregon–he must have enjoyed being warm in there! (He now lives by the lighthouse in Heceta Head after being displaced from Crater Lake.)
So, in the spirit of minimalism, let me get right to what you really want to hear about: what is in my bags/on my person and what I leave behind.
For a 10-day trip, I bring three “caches” of stuff with me. A backpack, a medium sized tote, and the clothes on my back. As Mr. Lite can tell you, even rolling luggage can be cumbersome when you’re running through the airport in Santiago trying to make your flight to Easter Island so you don’t lose two days’ worth of time there.
- In my backpack:
- 3-4 pairs of cotton underwear
- 3 quick-dry shirts
- 1 funny shirt (the other one I wear on the plane)
- 3-4 pairs of socks, which includes one pair of plain cotton socks, and the others are a cotton blend for hiking
- Bandana used as a handkerchief if needed
- Small hand sanitizer, in one of those loop things attached on my bag. No security agent at the airport seems to care about this little “extra” liquid.
- Chacos in a plastic bag
- Extra plastic grocery bags and sandwich bags (you’ll thank me later, trust me. I use these for everything from putting my smartphone in when it rains to using the grocery bags for my dirty clothes).
- Camera if I end up bringing one (Mr. Lite usually takes most of the pictures, which I enjoy because he’s a really good photographer, but I am a bit biased of course!)
- 2 regular bras
- 2 sport bras
- 3 pairs of shorts
- 1 dress–I have a polka dot polyester dress which is nice because it doesn’t wrinkle in my bag
- 1-2 sweaters (see above-mentioned cold weather intolerance reference)
- Bar of soap. Don’t waste space in your toiletries bag bringing body wash; just use one of your sandwich bags to keep your soap with you during the trip.
- Band-aids and finger cots. Seriously, finger cots are the best thing since sliced bread, speaking from my experience as a restaurant server.
- Glasses wipes (for my nerdiness)
- Extra pair of glasses (also for my nerdiness, combined with previous klutziness)
- Prescription for glasses (in emergencies, I’ve learned my lesson before)
- 1-2 shaving razors
- Cotton swabs in a plastic bag
- Maybe a bathing suit if we’re going somewhere tropical
- Rubber bands and some office binder clips. These come in handy for everything from closing up chip bags to being used to hang up rogue socks to dry, to winding up your headphones cord. They’re awesome.
- Makeup bag which does not include foundation, so everything else can just be tossed in a different bag and not considered liquid
- Lip stuff with sunscreen
- Disposable cutlery and napkins (useful for occasions like when we eat soup out of boxes on a trail in Easter Island)
- Individually-wrapped bags of tea. I stopped drinking coffee a while back but still enjoy tea in the mornings and on cold nights.
- 4-5 business cards–we often meet folks along the way. The world is full of really great people and sometimes I’m surprised at the useful information we can exchange along the journey of our lives. But if you want to just do your thing and not span the barrier between your work life and your traveling life, you can leave these behind.
- A carry-on tote that I consider my personal item on the plane:
- A small cross-body purse that I cram inside the tote and take out later when needed. Really, with traveling so much, I’ve found it more of a hindrance than anything to try and bring a big ol’ satchel with me to lug around every single day. I bring a small purse for daily use and then just use the tote on the plane.
- Pack of tissues. This comes in handy in bathroom situations that don’t have TP. We all know what I’m talking about.
- Wallet, pared down before I go without all the extra receipts and junk that usually find their way into it.
- ID and/or Passport
- Cheap but comfortable in-ear headphones
- Cellphone–even if you go out of the country and don’t have the appropriate SIM card to use, you may want to buy one, or you can at least use your phone for the camera, music, movies, wifi access, literature reading, etc. Don’t worry about bringing anything larger with you; see point below under “What I Don’t Bring.” Also remember to back this up on your computer at home before you leave just in case something happens to it while you’re traveling.
- Small Journal with a couple of sheets of extra paper folded in for emergency notes
- Snacks–I get hangry pretty easily (as Mr. Lite can testify) [Editor’s Note: Yup.], so I make sure that I bring at least a pack of nuts and some raisins for the trip. I also found out that if you cut up a bunch of raw peppers and carrots, they have no issues going through security, which is a win for battling with finding vegetables at the airport food court! “Self-contained” fruit, such as a banana or apple or orange, is also ok to go through security. Just make sure to eat any fresh fruit before arriving in another county if you’re traveling abroad.
- My bag of toiletries, which I keep in my tote for easy access and less chance of exploding while inside my backpack midflight:
- 3 oz. travel bottle of conditioner
- Travel size toothpaste
- 3 oz. travel size sunscreen
- 3 oz. travel size bottle of Woolite (per Mr. Lite’s washing instructions)
- Eye drops
- 3 oz. travel size bottle of face moisturizer
- Any other creams, liquids, etc. put into a small container or even a contact lens case
- Note: the 3 oz. bottles are bought at a store and I refill them. I don’t go out and buy the travel-sized bottles exclusively unless I’m trying to determine if I like the smell of the conditioner or something like toothpaste which you’re kind of stuck with. Buying the marketed travel-sized bottles is just a waste of money and plastic. You may need to experiment with different travel bottles though to figure out which ones don’t leak or explode. The ones from a dollar store tend to be garbage in my opinion. Spend a little more on the nicer ones, and you can keep using them for years.
- Travel hairbrush
- Stomach medication. You’ll thank me later, promise.
- Travel-size packet of baby wipes. See “Stomach medication” above for explanation if needed.
- Toothbrush in travel container. I keep this outside of my toiletries bag, it’s not a liquid so you don’t need it to take up any extra space.
- Stick deodorant, put in a plastic bag and kept outside of my toiletries bag as well
- Phone charger. I have to make a note to specifically bring this, I’m always wanting to leave it behind!
- Small jewelry case to ensure safe transport of my quirky earrings
- Cotton swabs for my ears–I have a personal dislike of water in my ears after a shower.
- Just a couple of individual hand wipes for the times where hand sanitizer + tissues just doesn’t cut the mustard in my purse.
- Shout wipes. I don’t usually like to “product place” things, but I’ve found that the Tide pen thing smells gross after a while. You’ll want something just in case you spill a whole bottle of ketchup on your person.
- EARPLUGS (as I yell at you in all caps to get the point across)
- On my person going through security at the airport:
- Long sleeve shirt
- Short sleeve shirt underneath
- Pair of underwear
- Pair of jeans
- Hiking Shoes
- Jacket/Jumper/Coat/Impermeable (depending on the weather and what slang you prefer)
- Compression hiking socks
As you can guess, wearing this many clothes cuts down extensively on backpack innards used. It only takes me a couple of extra minutes to get through security, as I’ve learned to take off any shoes, jackets, etc. way before I get to the x-ray machine. I do my own thing after getting through security and meet Mr. Lite across the hall when I get my layers back on successfully. Plus, I usually end up using most of my layers on the plane anyway since I get so cold.
Note that I don’t bring the following:
- Hair dryer, hair straightener, curling iron, etc. We are outside a lot, and weather is unpredictable with my hair, so I just make the most out of what I have on my head, be it tying it back, pushing it back with a headband, or making do with the hair dryer that I can usually find in hotel rooms. Remember, the more “prep” stuff you bring with you, the more time you take away from enjoying your vacation. Most of the time I do my hair in tropic locations, it looks flat or frizzy by the end of the day anyway, so why waste time?
- Full bottles of hair product. There’s no way I’m going through an entire bottle of conditioner in 10 days, plus I’m not willing to sacrifice my backpack to have to check it and maybe missing a connecting flight. Nor have I ever found myself in an area where I couldn’t at least buy some once I got to my destination.
- Full bottles of anything else. Again, even when we went to Easter Island, there were grocery stores and convenience stores. Rest assured you can find what you need, or even better, you can do without for a short amount of time.
- Extensive amount of makeup. We are outside a lot and do some hiking, so I wouldn’t want to miss out on anything because I’m having to continuously wipe sweaty makeup out of my eyeballs.
- Really, full-size anything: bags of snacks, bottles of products, flasks full of booze [Editor’s Note: I’ve made this mistake way too many times.], endless supplies of stuff that I could easily find either in the airport or somewhere during our trip.
- No shampoo–I know what you’re thinking, but you’re a chick who needs to wash her hair! I do wash my hair, but I just use the hotel shampoo. It’s not fancy or smells like an ocean wave with hibiscus blossom notes, but hey, it gets the job done for 10 days and saves space in my bag.
- Large books–either take pictures of the pages you plan to read, plan to only bring small books, or (begrudgingly in my case, speaking from former library work) download it to your phone. Note that I said phone, not Kindle, or tablet, or Heaven forbid, a laptop! See more in next bullet point.
- Laptop–it just creates too many issues while traveling, and I’m on vacation!
- Aerosol cans of any kind
- More than two pairs of shoes–I find that one pair of hiking shoes and one pair of Chacos is sufficient. Believe me, if I wear my polka-dot dress with my Chacos, the only person who is going to care is me, or honestly, with all due respect to our other dear humans, I probably won’t ever see them again in our lifetimes anyway, so why should it matter if they care?
All this nonsense just weighs your bags down more, is excessive and unnecessary, and can lead to back problems carrying that stuff on your back like a pack mule over time. Leave it at home.
With this said, look above at all the things I do bring. It’s a lot. As I stated before, I still usually find myself not wearing at least one item of clothing (good news for the spiders, I guess). The essence of this practice, though, is the word itself–practice. I was a pretty light packer when Mr. Lite came along, and I’ve been practicing with his help and research ever since. So don’t worry if you aren’t getting it “perfectly” the first time; it will never be perfect. I’m still bringing way too many cold-weather clothes and find myself in unseasonably warm weather, for example.
I need a lot of prep time, I’ve also found, to make sure that I have everything I need and/or want to bring. I make a list and start gradually packing things over time, so I a) don’t overwhelm myself and end up bringing too much stuff on impulse, and b) give myself a reason to start thinking about the awesomeness that’s bound to ensue on vacation once we get there.
I usually pack my stuff about a week beforehand, that way I can go to work, be present and get done what I need to do, and leave my work at work confidently (most of the time, anyway) when I peace out to go far, far away.
Another note for everyone: don’t bring ANYTHING with you that will make you ugly-cry if you lose it or if it gets destroyed. We go to many places–tropical, temperate, and somewhat cold environments. There’s bound to be some beautiful bird who inadvertently craps on your shoulder as it flies overhead (been there), a cabin-pressurized bottle of hand lotion that explodes on the plane (yep, there, too), or any manner of other shenanigans that can befall your textiles. Then when said bird and lotion bottle do step in your way, you can take it in good stride and still enjoy your trip. If you find yourself with too many clothes at the end of your trip, you can leave them behind.
In essence, back up your phone before you go, leave the expensive ear buds at home, and allow yourself to be present for the amazing time you’ll be having experiencing life and connecting with the world, not trying to keep track of all the stuff you’ll be bringing with you.
[Editor’s Note: A special thanks to Mrs. Lite for taking the time to write up this article!]