Your Life in a Bag: How to Pack for a Year Abroad

Don't Take Anymore Then You Can Carry

Maybe denim is a bad idea?

Three days until we leave for our overseas adventure my wife and I are fine-tuning what of our possessions is worthy to be carried on our backs for the next year plus.  Four pairs of boxers or two?  Do I really need this many socks?  I know we said only the essentials, but really, the KitchenAid mixer?  I don’t care if it matches your shoes.

Traveling is a lesson in the art of simplicity.

After all, this is your life in a bag we’re talking about.  Your choice of items is the nitty-gritty of what matters in serving your purposes abroad.  Woe to the one who skimps on preparation.  Thinking ahead, doing your research, and making wise investments are absolutely key in your role as a stranger in a strange land.

Hey honey, does this Deuter make my butt look big?

First Things First

Are you healthy?  Go to the doctor anyway.  And the dentist.  And the optometrist.  And any other friends you have with a ‘Dr.’ in front of their name.  Stock up on medications, contact lenses, and anything else requiring a prescription.  Get yourself in good physical form: you’re going on an adventure.

Now for the paperwork.  Take with you print outs as well as digital copies stored on a password protected flashdrive of the following: marriage certificate, academic transcript, university degree, any professional certifications, driver’s license, passport photos, passport info page, health insurance, bank info, visa info, background check, airline ticket, and any other essential information.  Leave copies of all these with family back home as well.  Best obtain it while you can rather than go through the hassle of proving your identity to foreign governments while overseas.  Trust me.

Show me the Yen.  Money matters.  Before you leave, get your loans and debts in order so you’re not incurring any penalties while gallivanting.  Find a bank geared towards the traveler’s interest, such as Charles Schwab in the U.S. who will refund all ATM fees other banks slap on.  Also, it’s not a bad idea to get a small sum of foreign currency now so you can navigate your way out the airport with fewer annoyances.

Wardrobe, Miss Function?

how to pack clothes

Think light.  Whether you’re carrying a 70 Liter backpack or rolling a generic black suitcase from here to Timbuktu, less is less.  And that is more, I’m told.  Stick it to the airlines and save your back by packing only what you’ll need.  If it says King-size on it, leave it home.  Take small versions of toiletries and buy top ups when you get there.  Heavy fabrics, though tough, weigh you down and take up space, so say your tearful goodbyes to your favorite pair of jeans for a while.  They’ll be there when you get back.

Think versatile.  Especially with clothing.  No matter how cute, if an outfit isn’t multifunctional, it’s not for you.  You need to be able to wear any of your shirts with any of your pants and make it look good.  Otherwise, you are severely limiting yourself.  Same with shoes.  They’ve got to be good for all outfits, all seasons, and all places – work, play, and outdoors.  It’s important to realize that you’ll be living everyday life in this new place so as tempting as polyneoprenegoretexquickdry everything is, you can point out travelers a mile away in that stuff.  Go for smart and comfortable.

Think organized.  I found these Eagle Creek packing folders and cubes at the outdoor store.  Boy, are they fantastic.  Forget having everything strewn about willy-nilly.  These will keep your bag or suitcase neat, keep you on top of where your stuff is, and even keep your shirts folded nicely.  Radiohead endorses ‘everything in its right place’ and I’m inclined to agree.

Tech Savvy Trotter

"Tera Era" :US Technology Adoption on Rise

Utilize advances.  It’s 2014 and there are some benefits for the modern day pilgrim.  No hoverboards yet, but who can argue with iPads, Kindles, Nooks, or whatever tablet brand strikes your fancy?   Not only are there some pretty sweet travel apps, but you now have your home library in the palm of your hand.  You just saved yourself at least, like, 20 lbs of books.  They even make really small laptops if you’re insistent on taking your computer along.

Capturing the moment.  This one is up to you.  We never learned much about the art of photography so we stick to the handy little point and shoot and it serves us just fine.  But some of you professionals out there won’t go to the grocery store without your brand new Nikon D800, 36 Megapixel full frame sensor, slung around your neck.  Who’s to say?  The fruits and veggies may be lit by rays of sunshine.  If you’re willing to carry and protect it, I say go for it.

Don’t blow up your stuff.  Electricity is a funny thing and we tend to take it for granted.  If you didn’t know it already, plugs are different all around the world, so you’ll need an adaptor for where you’re going.  Different countries also run on different voltages – just to make it difficult on everyone – so you may also need a voltage converter.  Check on your electrical appliances to see what voltage they run on and what they can handle.  A good rule of thumb is, if it has a motor or moving parts, such as hairclippers or a blowdryer, you’ll probably need a converter.  If it’s your phone or something that needs an occasional charge, you should be sweet with just an adaptor.

Whatever You Do, Don’t Leave Home Without…

Backpacking Incan Trail - Machu Picchu Peru

Memento.  Not the movie.  Unless that movie is somehow quintessential in reminding you of your family and friends, then sure, take the movie.  But bring a small sentiment or two from home to make you smile and remind you of where you come from, where you are going, and what’s really important.  We brought a few pictures, jewelry, and some bookmarks given to us by family.  I promise the extra ounces will be worth the weight.

Cultural Research.  Know everything you can about where you’re headed and make your purchasing decisions based on cultural appropriateness, climate, and norms.  You don’t need three jackets if you’re headed to the Outback.  Be aware of what your time will look like and pack to suit.

Good Investments.  Don’t go straight for the cheap stuff when you’re making all of these decisions.  As costly as some of the higher quality items are, they will serve you well for your time abroad.  Especially when it comes to your backpack, sleeping bag, and daily outfits, spend the coinage and take your possessions off your worry list.  A PacSafe or padlock is also a good investment in taking extra measures to ward off would-be thieves preying on innocent travelers.

Sense of Adventure.  There are no guarantees.  Sorry to break it to you that way.  Things will go wrong and you might lose or misplace or break something.  But that’s life and there is little sense in letting the failures and falls commandeer the value of the moment.  Chin up.  Grab hold of the story and become a better person in the face of adversity.  Live your adventure unashamedly.

After all, what’s this stuff for anyway if not experiencing those very things?

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