Friday, February 25, 2011

What's In My Suitcase?

We have received many emails asking how in the world we packed for six months of traveling. It wasn’t easy. This was my first time traveling for such an extended period of time, so I can’t say I’m an expert, but I thought it would be fun to share my experience. And forewarning-- this post is intended for girls (from one girl to another). Boys just don't have these issues.

Before the wedding, the last thing I wanted to think about was packing a suitcase for six months abroad. It would have been wise to pack far before the wedding and alleviate some stress. Rather, I saved it for the night before we left (which was 3 days after the wedding). I dread packing for trips like I dread the day after Christmas. More, actually (and unpacking is not better). But this was no weekend trip. This was a half a year, several seasons, too many countries. I needed to pack for active days of hiking and biking, as well as for hot dates with my studly new husband in swanky city restaurants. I needed to pack for winter and I needed to pack for summer. And if I packed anything more than one medium suitcase, I wouldn’t hear the end of it from my minimalist, backpacker man.

I carefully considered what items I could sacrifice. I decided I could get by without a purse, without boots, and without a hair straightener. These were all bulky or heavy things that I could do without. I didn’t even think about leaving behind my laptop, iPhone, and a couple of books. Sure they were heavy, but I would give up some space to bring the things that would keep me sane.

Less Bulky//
I packed a little bit of everything—shirts, sweaters, shorts, pants, dresses, skirts. But I think the trick lies in packing less of some items and more of others. I only packed one light jacket because coats are so bulky, but I packed several light sweaters and cardigans because I could layer them under the jacket in cold weather and wear them alone over shirts and dresses in moderate weather. I packed only one pair of jeans and one pair of black pants because pants take up so much room in a suitcase, and honestly I could wear the same pair of jeans for a week with different tops and nobody would notice. I packed a lot of dresses because they’re so light and easy to pack a bunch without taking up much room at all. They also work in warm and cool weather if you have tights/leggings and a sweater to throw on top. Not to mention dresses are just fab.

I tried to pack items that could be dressed up or dressed down depending on the occasion. For example, a good thing to have is a top that will go well with a skirt and jewelry to go out on a date, but can also be worn with shorts and flipflops to the beach. I avoided taking anything that could only be casual (think a sporty Nike top) or that could only be dressy (think sequined, silky top). I took quite a few pairs of shoes, but made sure each pair could be worn with jeans and a dress (excluding my sneakers, which I wouldn't wear with a dress).

Don’t pack things that don’t match with a lot of pieces in your wardrobe. Yes, that means leaving your abstract 80s shirt and fuchsia heels at home. I packed a lot of neutral colors like black, brown, tan, and white for versatility. This will help you create the greatest amount of different outfits with your limited wardrobe for an extended time. Neutral shoes, neutral tops, neutral belts, neutral accessories. 

Accessories—don’t feel like you have to leave them at home because they’re extra baggage. They really help you jazz up an outfit that you feel like you’ve worn a dozen times too many in the last month. Just pack the thin chain necklace, not the chunky beads bigger than gumballs.

Extra Bags//
In addition to our suitcases, we each brought a messenger bag for our laptops. We also packed a small backpack so we could take it on day trips. Here I am going on about how I packed, but actually, Yuriy was the one with the small suitcase and I was the one with the medium suitcase. His packing job was incredibly impressive! However, we picked up some extra things once we got to Southeast Asia because we couldn't resist the cheap prices, so Yuriy had to upgrade to a bigger suitcase (same size as mine). We also added one more backpack because our suitcases were too heavy for flying (darn 20kg limit for checked bags). Now we each have one suitcase, one messenger bag, and one backpack. Not an easy load when there's a lot of walking involved (but it could have been worse). 
This is what our luggage currently looks like with our upgrades.

What's In My Suitcase* : 

7 shirts (6 short-sleeve, 1 long-sleeve)
6 tanks
3 white camisoles
1 jumpsuit
6 dresses
2 skirts
4 shorts
2 pants (1 jeans, 1 black)
5 sweaters/cardigans
1 jacket
3 nightgowns
2 jammies
1 light cotton robe
1 towel
2 swimsuits (bikini, one-piece)
8 panties
4 bras (white, nude, black, strapless)
3 socks
3 belts (1 for pants, 2 for waist)
1 scarf
1 pair of tights
1 pair of leggings
6 pairs of shoes (2 sandals,1 flipflops, 1 oxfords, 1 Toms, 1 sneakers)
1 curling iron
1 bag chock full of toiletries
1 accessory box (jewelry, headbands, etc)
1 mini leather backpack

* As already mentioned, I did some shopping in Thailand and added quite a bit to the list above to take home.

What’s In My Messenger Bag:

eye mask/ear plugs
cross-stitching supplies (hoop, thread, needles, scissors)
a growing postcard collection
random maps, tickets, and such

[Items in photo below were not included in my list.]
I mentioned before that I didn't bring a purse, but I did bring a mini leather backpack instead. Best decision I ever made. It was the perfect size for a small camera, phone, money, notepad, and pen when going out daily. It's small and flat so I can easily slip it into my suitcase, unlike a purse which doesn't really flatten. A backpack is also much more comfortable to wear for a long day of walking rather than carrying a purse, not to mention my hands are always full with a camera. This little backpack was a $6 thrift store find!
Must always beware when your husband is a photographer. 

Mistakes I made/things I learned:

-- We weren’t expecting to run into real winter weather, but when we decided to detour to Vienna, Budapest, and Ukraine in December, we were very much unprepared for snow. We had no choice but to go shopping for boots, hats, scarves, gloves, and winter socks. But I would rather do this than carry all that winter gear around “just in case” and then the weather never gets cold.

-- I packed one dress that I always felt was too fancy (and no shoes dressy enough to go with it) so I never even wore it! Pointless baggage.

-- I brought a hairdryer but found that it didn’t work anywhere because it was too much voltage to go through a foreign adapter. Instead of carrying the brick around for six months, I chucked it (it was really old anyway). I relied on hotel hairdryers or air-drying my hair (most commonly). Next time I won’t bother bringing one. If your hotel room doesn't have a hairdryer, ask at the counter--they sometimes have one to borrow.

-- Don’t pack your favorite earrings because you’ll probably lose one by the end of the trip with all that packing and repacking. I did.

-- Even if you pack the biggest bottle of your favorite makeup/lotion/shampoo, it will run out and you will have to accept an alternative until you get home

-- Don’t bring anything that wrinkles really easily. I brought one sweater that I rarely wore because every time I took it out of the suitcase, it looked like it had been chewed up and spit out.

-- Bring lots of underwear! I ended up washing mine by hand several times when laundry wasn’t available. 

-- Bring a watch. I never wear a watch back home because I always have a cell phone on me for the time. When traveling though, I am usually without my cell phone, and so often need the time for buses, trains, and closing times. I was so thankful Yuriy always wears a watch.

-- Toms are magical travel shoes. Super comfy for walking and they go with everything (dresses & pants)!

-- Try to pack some waterproof shoes. Everything I had sucked for rain (especially Toms). 

-- Having a roll of toilet paper is not a bad idea, especially in Asia.

As soon as we got to Vienna and saw all the snow, I went frantically hunting for boots. Yuriy tried to tough it out, but gave in as well a few days later. SO glad we did because they came in even more handy in Ukraine where we often trudged through unshoveled snow (though they're now buried at the bottom of our suitcases).
I still can't believe we pulled it off in such different seasons with just one suitcase each!

I hope something in this post helped you in some way... or just satisfied your crazy curiosity. Are any of you going on an extended trip in the near future? Did I leave anything out?

* Julia