If you’ve been following along on Instagram, then you’ll know that a couple of weeks ago I booked my very first extended, solo, one-way ticket to Cambodia(!) I’ll be leaving on June 5th, and I’m having all the thoughts and feelings (excitement! fear. happiness! sheer terror. bravery! did I mention fear?) that I will surely be word vomiting on you between now and then.
One of the first things I wanted to touch on first though, ever the type-A personality that I am, was how to pack for a trip like this. While this is my first solo trip of this kind, I’ve moved abroad three times and have learned a thing or two about packing. I’ll post my final packing list for Cambodia once it’s completed, but for now, here’s an overview on how to approach packing for a 1-month+ trip.
Make a list (like, now).
Man, do I love lists. I’m a lifetime to-do lister, and you may even notice that this blog has quite a few list-style posts. So my first piece of advice is to make a packing list.
The most effective packing lists are ones started well in advance of your departure date. That way you can keep adding (or subtracting) items and lessen the likelihood of forgetting anything important. I like to keep one on my phone and one on my computer, and integrate them periodically (hi, I’m crazy). When it comes time to actually pack for your trip, the process will be a breeze. (Crazy prepared!)
This is just about the silliest advice of all, because you are almost destined to overpack (especially if this is your first rodeo). I have a hilarious memory (less so at the time) of juggling three suitcases and a backpack while switching airports in Seoul en route to a job teaching English in Busan, South Korea. Some woman literally walked up, grabbed one of them, and rolled it all the way to the baggage drop for me. While there’s nothing wrong with relying on the kindness of perfect strangers, I’ve found it much easier to avoid overpacking in the first place.
For me, this means sticking to one large suitcase and one smaller one that can function as a carry-on. The prospect of fitting your entire life into that small of a space can be daunting, even for someone like me who is relatively minimalistic. But it will make traveling much less of a headache, and will force you to really consider what you truly need to bring. It’s not like you have to pack three months’ worth of clothes – you’ll (unfortunately) need to do laundry anyway.
…but do take a few important mementos.
So this is where I immediately contradict myself. Yes, I recommend sticking to the basics: clothing, toiletries, etc. But if you’re going away for awhile (or indefinitely), then you’re going to want to take a few important mementos along for the ride. They don’t have to be big or bulky, but it’s nice to have a couple of comfort items with you when homesickness inevitably crops up.
Some things I never leave home without? Photos of family and friends, for one. Of course you can always look on your phone or Facebook, but there’s something special about having a hard copy to tape on your wall and enjoy. I also travel with quite a few books, probably many more than is practical or recommended. Setting up a little bookshelf when I’m abroad always makes me feel a little more at home.
The last non-essential essential item I’ll be taking with me on this trip is my yoga mat. Weighing it at nearly 10 lb, it certainly seems like the type of item best left behind. But it’s something that has become very special to me, and I can’t imagine not having with me while I travel.
Bottom line? Don’t try to take your entire house with you, but do pack a few things that remind you of home.
Perfect the art of rolling.
When you’re packing for an extended trip, abandon any notions of trying to keep your clothes wrinkle-free. You can deal with ironing and hanging once you arrive. For now, you’re just trying to fit all of your worldly possessions into one suitcase.
Rather than folding your clothes, try rolling them instead. You’ll save a ton of room, and be able to fit way more stuff into your suitcase.
Test pack and weigh your suitcase.
If you’ve found my advice to be over-the-top OCD so far, hang onto your hat. Now that you’ve made your list and determined what you need to pack, you should really test it out. This step is admittedly annoying, but not more annoying than having to pay for oversize luggage at baggage drop. Once you’ve packed your suitcase entirely, hop on the scale while holding it. Subtract your weight from the total weight, and you’ll know if you’re over or not. And try to leave a little extra space, because packing to come home is always more challenging than going away.
And with that, you’re ready to go! I’m sure there are more casual ways to pack for a long trip, but in my experience, being more prepared is usually better. In the next couple of months, I’ll be sharing more of my own packing lists – so you won’t even have to make your own!