The Whole Pack-age

When traveling, you sometimes go through many different climates, especially when you travel from Northern to Southern hemisphere in a short period. So how do you pack for this? I mean, you get to Europe in the summer time, then you go south and VOILA, it is winter in South Africa. A month later you are hiking in the snowy peaks of the Himalayas. Different countries in the same region have completely different temperatures too. Sometimes it’s as if you go from Massachusetts in the winter to Florida in the summer, all in one week (or day sometimes!) This is especially hard when you are going to be on the road for a long period of time.

I am a light packer. I have learned this the hard way. On my first trip abroad, when I went to France for the summer (to do a work exchange), I had no idea what to pack. I didn’t know if the job I would have would require dressing up; I had no idea if the Frenchies would look at me funny if I wore my favorite pair of track pants; I wasn’t sure if they were more formal than us; I didn’t know if the apartment I was subletting would have an alarm clock; I didn’t know if they would have books in English!

So I brought everything.  I brought two, not one but TWO suitcases. Big ones. Back in the day, when I went to France, I was not blessed with a rolling suitcase. One had a little tiny strap, like you would have on a clutch handbag, and four tiny wheels. You wheeled it sideways (on the long side) and to do so you had to hunch way over and slouch backwards, causing you to be old before your time. Often, it would tip over, causing your whole production to come to a stop. My other suitcase did not even have the luxury of wheels, tiny or otherwise. I had to carry it. Have you ever seen Spaceballs? That is what I looked like; I had my industrial strength hair dryer, and I COULD have lived without it.

Now I am smarter. I have realized a few things which make life much, much easier.

- You are not going to the moon. They may not have Target, but you can probably find a store, even in the Heart of Darkness, that sells shampoo. Buy it on the road once you figure out how much you will need.

- Layers, layers, layers! A few tank tops, a couple of long sleeves and one heavier sweater will get you very far.

- Also black is always a good idea. If you have a black long sleeve and black pants, you can go from beach to restaurant in a snap. I have the most awesome pair of black dress pants that I got at Express that kind of look like Yoga pants. They can be used for running or for going clubbing (not that I do that!)

- A thin rainproof jacket (I got one at REI for about 40 dollars) that can fit into a really small package when you are not using it is a key ingredient to your featherweight pack.

- A sarong can be used as a towel, or a beach cover up, or a head wrap, or a skirt.

- Zip-off pants, although not attractive, are great for hiking or other activities, are lightweight so you can wash them in the sink and hang them to dry for the next day and they also double as an extra pair of shorts (or your only pair). Get these in black and you may have just killed two birds with one stone. A word to the wise, the more pockets the better. If you can avoid carrying a purse and instead stuff your pockets with your camera and wallet, you have one less thing to worry about.

- Unless you are doing some REALLY serious hiking, running shoes work for almost everything.

Do you have any travel packing tips? Are you a two suitcases kind of person or a throw a backpack on and go kind of person?


  1. Ugh, I had one of those dreadfull 'pull the long way' suitcases, too! I was so happy to get rid of that dang suitcase. Worst design ever!

    I have gotten to be a much better packer. I've gotten better at being able to just carry on when traveling w/in the US. I did take one big suitcase to Paris and then a backpack for the plane.

    I also layer and bring lots of black. and I make sure to put everything that is liquid in a baggie or plastic bag or something because once, a lotion bottle opened up on a flight - and that was SUCH a mess.

  2. I am about to steal some of your tips because we're going to Boston soon during a transitional season and we're loath to check bags.

  3. This is a great post! I am a horrible packer and never have the right clothes with me...hopefully this will help the next time I am traveling :)

  4. Ha! I'm absolutely a 1-bag dude, the smaller the better: ex oficio underwear (2), sarong (great pillow after putting your clothes inside), patagonia thin sweater, cargo pants, swimsuit, silk-like shirt, a couple of t-shirts (usually one bought in the place, somthing that locals wear... for a reason!), keen multipurpose shoes (sandals+hiking) and that's it. Maybe an extra shirt and a couple of pairs of socks.... I forgot my only 'thing'": pajamas! And the camera, of course.

  5. I used to travel with a single suitcase, but both times I went to Europe I carried a backpack. Three weeks in a carry on sized backpack is totally doable!


Thanks for commenting! Any suggestions, tips or praise you have is always welcome!