If you would have told my 20 year-old self that all I’d be able to take on a 2 month vacation was only what I could fit in a measly backpack, I would have laughed in your face and said, “Yeah right.”
You see, I was the type of girl that would pack a full-size suitcase for a weekend trip (gotta make sure you have all the necessities and all the extras). You never know when you may need those 4 inch high heels or that fuzzy hoodie cut from the same cloth as the little kid’s stuffed bear you babysit for. Well, you don’t babysit the bear; I’m talking about the kid obviously.
Let’s get back to the unnecessary items we pack shall we? Yeah it makes even less sense to pack ridiculous things like that hoodie, especially when you’re jetting off to the tropical climate of Orlando, Florida with 3 of your other girlfriends of whom, wouldn’t you know, wear the exact same size as you do.
Looking back at myself I realize how ridiculous I was, especially since I spent most of our mini vacation in a bathing suit and a sundress. Never mind that I had to lug my 50+ pound suitcase everywhere. Shame.
With a scan of my passport, everything changed.
Well, maybe a little bit before then when we found out the only luggage we were allowed to bring on the plane bound for Korea was 2 checked (each), a carry on, and a personal item. My brain was working overtime as it tried to figure out how I was going to load my overflowing closet of clothes (thank you AE for providing me with amazing discounts, ehem, employment for 5 years), beauty products, and comfort items in only four bags.
After carefully (and unwillingly) going through everything that belonged to me, I narrowed it down to about 6 bags full. That’s where Derik came in. He (brutally) told me the practical and the impractical and I was able to make yet another cut to get it down to my allowed limit.
Little did I know that that this packing experience would be the gateway to how I would be packing for the rest of my expat life (yeah, all two years of it).
After taking our first vacation to Bali, we quickly realized that hauling around a couple industrial sized military packs was a little overboard, especially since walking around for blocks looking for a hotel is kind of the ‘norm’. After a back-breaking trip, I couldn’t be more eager to ditch some of my stuff and go a bit lighter the next time around. Cue the shiny new 50L backpacks.
We’ve been traveling light ever since, only loading those TWO backpacks and bringing a small carry-on. My carry-on is usually my camera, and Derik takes a small bag to store our passports, ipad, iphones, and chargers in. I could safely say we had packing down pretty good.
Then our two month trip showed up faster than I ever thought it would. The challenge? Pack for two months, with appropriate apparel for the cold winds of Seoul, tropical Hawaii, and southern Asia. This is when the questions came in to play: Will we be hiking? Will we be going to any formal locations? What is culturally acceptable? What is the temperature going to be?
I felt the panic approach as I realized I had WAY too much in my pile to bring along than would fit in my nifty backpack. That’s when the sacrifices had to happen. How about only one pair of sandals instead of three? I don’t really need my hair dryer now do I? A good 70% of hotels have them already, and the other 30%? I can suck it up. Straightener? Yeah that can go. I can use my curling iron to somewhat straighten my hair. Sigh. Makeup? Lets only take bare minimums: foundation, concealer, one eyeliner, two tubes of mascara, 2 trio packs of eyeshadow. That’s it. And what about skin care? A travel friendly trial set.
After sacrificing a few more of my comforts for the sake of travel, I had Derik go through and let me know if I got everything I needed, or still had too much. To my surprise, I passed his inspection with flying colors (for the first time), and it all fit neatly in the bag
Now, looking back on what I brought, I now realize I could have minimized what I had packed even more. We sent a box back from Hawaii with a few clothing items and local souvenirs, and followed suit a month later in Thailand. The thing about traveling and living out of a backpack for two months is that changes your mind about packing. It’s not about how much you can cram into your pack, but more like: “How light can I make this?”
I seriously can’t believe my 25 year-old self has come so far with being travel savvy in a short 5 years. I couldn’t even imagine packing as much as I used to, and now I’m all about being as economical and practical as I can.
A few of you lovely readers have asked me to go into detail with what I packed for this trip, so here you go! The first number (the strikethrough) is what I initially brought, and the second number is what I ended up with at the end of the trip. As I said a paragraph or two back, we sent two boxes back to Korea during our vacation.
3 Dresses (including beach cover-ups) 2 Dresses
2 Skirts 0 Skirts
-1 pair of running shorts
-2 bathing suits
-1 long sleeved button down
5 tee-shirts 3 tee-shirts
2 pairs of pants 1 pair of pants
5 tank tops 3 tank tops
-2 pairs of shorts
1 pair of tennis shoes(not pictured) 0 pairs of tennis shoes
-1 pair of flip flops (not pictured)
-A ridiculous amount of underwear. You never know when you’ll get to do laundry next. (not pictured)
-1 bottle of foundation
-2 tubes of mascara
-1 blush palette
-2 eyeshadow palettes
-1 eyeliner pen
-1 chapstick tube
-1 stick of deodorant (full size)
-1 fine-toothed comb
-1 round brush
-A curling iron (universal wattage with American plug…hey I didn’t bring my blow dryer, so I have to have SOMETHING for my hair right?!)
-Enough feminine products to last two months
-3 travel-sized toothpastes (with a toothbrush of course)
-1 bottle of face wash (travel-size)
-1 tube of face lotion (50ml)
-Canon 5D Mark ii Camera
-50mm f1.4 lens
-GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition
-2 GoPro Batteries
-GoPro stick mount (not sure of the real name?)
-External hard-drive (1TB)
-Macbook Air Laptop
-Portable USB battery charger
Is there anything I wish I would have brought but didn’t? Actually no. Practicality-wise, I don’t think I would have had the room for it if I did have anything else! There was never a single time on our trip that I wish I had something I didn’t pack. Well, maybe a washcloth. Anyone traveling around in Asia for an extended amount of time knows that washcloths are few and far between.
What wasn’t necessary to bring that I went ahead and brought? My Macbook. I am glad however that we had it. We were able to book flights, plan our days, and waste time on TripAdvisor easier than it would have been to use our teenie tiny phone screens! Also wasn’t completely necessary to bring my curling iron. The girlish vanity side of myself really needed it though. It was a lifesaver during some of those humid and hot days!
Packing light is always a challenge. I used to try to ‘play the system’ and get away with packing more than I need to. Now? It’s all about necessity and a little fun!
What are your favorite ‘packing light’ tips? What are the items you always have to bring?