Packing for a weekend trip, or even a week long trip, is one thing. Packing for when you’ll be out of the country for a month is a completely different concept.
I travel the world and am gone for three weeks with just one small bag. This one:
Yes, I’m perfectly happy and 100% prepared for anything with this one tiny bag, and nothing else, for a three-week trip.
If I’m gone for four weeks or longer, I sometimes have to add one more small bag. This one:
That’s it. I’ve been gone a month (or longer) with just those two bags. Here’s how I do it.
Shifts in Mindset
First you need a shift in mindset. Here are the mindsets you should adopt:
1. “I never check any bags on any flight. All my bags are always carry-on. That way there are no delays getting off flights and there’s never the possibility of losing a bag.”
Checking bags every time you travel is a nightmare. If you want to be mobile and efficient and have peace of mind, you need to learn to pack small enough where you never need to check a thing. I’m sure you’ve heard of some checked-bag horror stories; here’s mine from before I learned this concept.
On the very first international trip I ever took, I was the typical traveler and checked a giant bag with all of my clothes. (This was in addition to two other giant bags of course.)
On my return flight, I had a layover in San Francisco airport before my final flight back to my home in Portland.
In a half-asleep, zombie-like state from the 15 hour flight (where I didn’t sleep) and the massive time zone change, I stood like a rotting corpse at baggage claim, waiting for my big fat bag to come out of the conveyor belt. I waited 5 minutes. Nothing. 10 minutes. Nothing. 15 minutes. Nothing. WTF?
Longer and longer I waited. Then I checked my watch. I had to catch my next flight in an hour. I figured I had plenty of time.
Longer. And longer. Still nothing.
50 minutes later my bag finally came out of the fucking machine. Furious as I was tired, I grabbed the bag and ran, yes ran, half-asleep, through an airport I didn’t know well, looking for my next flight.
I barely made it onto my connecting flight. I was the last guy to board the plane. I was lucky.
I vowed then and there, never again. If the airports and airlines are this incompetent, I can’t depend on them to get my bags to me in an efficient manner so I can have a smooth, international travel experience. Plus, when you travel internationally, often you get your big, stupid checked bags opened twice by security and/or immigration. No thanks.
Don’t check bags.
2. “I’m going to have to wash my own clothes about once a week while I’m gone. This way I don’t have to pack one outfit for every day I’m travelling.”
If you’re gone for a month, are you seriously going to back 30 pairs of socks, 30 pairs of underwear, 10 shirts, 10 pairs of pants, etc? Of course not. That would be insane. (Yet I know people who do this, or at least try it!)
This means you’re going to have to learn how to wash and dry your clothing on the go. On most 3+ week trips I pack 5 pairs of socks/underwear, one or zero pairs of pants (remember, I’m already wearing one when I board the plane), and four shirts at the most.
I use those travel detergent packets to wash my own clothes about once every 5 or 6 days during my trip. If I don’t have access to a washer and dryer (and usually I don’t), I just use my bathroom sink. You plug it, fill it with hot water, put the detergent in, agitate your clothes in there, soak ‘em for a while, then rinse with cold water.
To dry them, you rinse them out as best you can, then roll them up tight in a dry towel, then hang them up using a bungee travel clothesline (that I always pack and takes essentially zero space). Within 24 hours at the most, they’ll be dry and clean.
If this is too much of a hassle and you are traveling to a locale where clothes are cheap, another option is to just throw away your socks and underwear after wearing them and buy new ones. In Singapore recently I bought six pairs of socks for less than $4 US. Underwear was even less. So I just threw my socks and underwear away and wore new ones. All I had to wash was my shirts and pants, which is much faster (and they don’t need to be washed nearly as often, unless you’re really getting dirty or sweaty).
I can’t tell you exactly what to pack, since everyone is different, but below is the list of stuff I pack whenever I’m away internationally for three weeks or longer.
5 pairs of socks
3 T shirts
Flossers – 2 per day gone
Earplugs (1 pair per 5 days gone)
Cell phone charger
Eye covering (for sleeping)
Mini power strip (matched to the plug type for the country I’m going to; I have a wide array)
Vitamins – 1 set per day gone
TRT Stuff (vials, syringes, and alcohol swabs, based on how long I’m gone)
Sunglasses inside a clean cloth
Small bungee tie
Electric clipper shaver with charger
1 razor per two weeks gone
Fingernail clipper (careful with this one, some countries don’t like those)
Condoms (just in case; usually don’t need them)
Laundry travel detergent packets, 1 for every 5 days gone
Electrical plug adapters
Tiny collapsible duffel bag
Laptop (completely cleaned and backed up before I leave, and with some digital movies copied to the hard drive)
2 AA batteries and 2 AAA batteries
2 extra laptop batteries
Cell phone headset
Phone USB cable for tethering cell phone
Book (just one)
Boarding pass (often in my phone instead of a ticket)
Hotel info (often in my phone)
Ipod with charger cable
Liquids (all in one large clear ziplock bag, all under 2.5 ounces each)
Sunblock (the hardcore kind, waterproof, 70+ SPF)
Shaving Gel (careful with this one, some countries don’t like aerosol cans, even tiny ones)
Sometimes items – I don’t always pack these below items but sometimes I do, depending on what I’m doing when I travel.
Suit (jacket, slacks, and 1 tie)
1 business shirt
1 pair of shorts
Portable mini-VGA projector with cables