It’s In The Bag

Queries aplenty have been spoken to me regarding packing for this 4 month stint on the road. Preparing for winter travel in the states, the tropics of Thailand, cruising the Atlantic and Spring in Europe certainly spurred me to some planning and stressing. Me, oh my, the logistics of it all!

The last couple years of travel have proven to us both that most material belongings in our home are simply that. Things that are collected over time that somehow we convince ourselves define our happiness. Belongings certainly do not equate to necessities. We rarely miss anything when gone on these long stretches (except our people ;-). This trip we were leaving our mountain home the second week of January and not returning until May and I packed for basically three different segments.

San Diego was the first trip. This was packed as a normal quick 4 night/5 day getaway to the sunshine with one shared mid size suitcase and a backpack with laptop. Simple and easy. A couple pairs of jeans each (one of which we wore), skirt for me, shorts for my honey and 7 shirts each to allow changing for dinners/nights out on the town after days of walking. Flip flops, swimsuits, light jacket (which we carried on the flight), shoes on our feet, toiletries and we were good to go.

Next up was the driving trip to the Midwest. For driving, we always carry bottled water, a small bag with coffee making essentials in case they are not in the rooms we book and cooler for fresh foods to minimize calorie intake and dining out expenses. We have a hanging clothes bar for the back seat for shirts/dresses (Hallelujah for folding less items!) and a mid size bag for each of us that holds underthings and jeans/bottoms and we take an extra dressier footwear option just in case as well as sneakers. With it being winter, we both wore light weight boots. Flip flops and swimsuits are always essentials as is trying to book hotels with pools appropriate for the season (indoor or outdoor). Each of us has an overnight bag with pool attire and toiletries and we just grab a shirt(s) and carry that in by hand and toss in whatever else we might need out of our midsize bag (basically our dresser) dependent on number of days stay at the stop into our overnight bag as we exit the vehicle to check in. This has seemed to work efficiently for us for a few years now and cuts down on the bulkiness/workout of both of us taking in a bigger bag. Our vehicle backseat is basically our closet. On the stays with multiple days and laundry facilities I typically spend a morning grabbing the dirty clothes bags and get things clean and dried and repacked into the truck. (This also allows us both some much needed alone time 😉 I always pack a bag with laundry soap and fabric softener sheets I keep under the passenger seat for ease of access and quarters are easily had at the hotel front desk.

The entire time we traveled the U.S. we had the bags for international travel untouched at the bottom of the pile in the backseat to be pulled out when it was time to fly. They contain the limited amounts of necessities (except ample supplies of items you may not easily find out of the US) that need to be the focus to stay within transportation baggage guidelines. The logical first place to start in this packing venture was researching the websites for requirements for each mode of transport we would use during our travels. For this year’s travels that meant, Alaska Airlines (Boise to Reno and LA to Ft Lauderdale), Southwest Airlines (Reno to LAX), China Eastern Airlines (LAX to Bangkok and back), Air Asia (Bangkok to Chiang Mai and back, Chiang Mai to Penang and back), Holland America Cruise Lines (Ft Lauderdale to Citavecchia, Italy), Aegean Airlines (Rome to Athens), RyanAir (Athens to Budapest), Easy Jet (Budapest to Paris) and Wow Air (Paris to San Francisco). This mix of carriers provided a varying amount of stowable carry on, checked baggage and personal items with allowances for different weights also. Frugality is part of what allows us the extent of travel we are partaking in so we opt not to pay baggage fees unless absolutely necessary. Therefore, finding the basic common denominator of all these providers was my first goal. I found that factor to be checked baggage not to exceed 62 linear inches (height + weight + depth (including wheels). That meant the two largest bags we owned, that we purchased last year in Thailand for transporting back all the purchases we made for our retail operations and souvenirs would work. They are hard sided, 4 wheeled roller bags which are super easy to maneuver and their colors make them a can’t miss on the baggage turnstile.

Next up for my calculations was converting kg to pounds or at least getting my head around metric units of measurement. For ease of these calculations, as well as insuring no overages when repacking after each stay I ordered a handy dandy little luggage scale from Amazon to use for peace of mind (stowed in the bag with the laptops). I dread getting to the airport and having to reorganize when checking in, no matter how much cushion time we have, that is a crazy maker for me! In regards to conversions you can easily use a converter on the net but when shopping in a metric using country (most of the world!) it is nice not to worry about service/WiFi to get your answer. A great simple formula I found is to double the kg number, take all but the last digit and add to that doubled number and boom, approximate pounds! (Ex. 65 kg doubled is 130. Add 13. 143 lbs!)

First items to consider for our bags was what I knew we were going to need that I might not be able to come by easily outside the U.S. For starters, getting prescription meds lined out for the entire time (especially when extended past a normal 30 day supply) can take some hoop jumping between your insurance carrier, the pharmacy and your doc so you are not paying out of pocket. Best to give yourself 30 days to insure these logistics all come together. These definitely fall under necessity. As a side note I use a Symbicort inhaler and big pharma Astrozeneca, who produces it are running a “special” where they cover your copay for a full year. It’s as simple as going here and filling out a form. It’s a great savings, free is always good!

Experience has taught me that sunscreen is always important, it’s no fun to sport or care for a burn when taking in the sights or lounging by the pool or on the beach. One of our policies for travel is if we forget something or if it adds unnecessary weight just buy it on arrival. It would seem to make sunscreen fall into this category as a no brainer in the tropics yet on our first trip to Thailand I never dreamed not allowing this item in my packing would be an issue. I learned the hard way. Sunscreen is not only difficult to come by but spendy (even with the great exchange rate) and it all contains whitener! (Thai people pride themselves on having as pale of skin as possible and will use chemicals to achieve that.) This does not help one garner a deep, dark tan which is part of my goal with travel to warmer climates, so plenty of sunscreen was a necessity no matter how badly I would have rather saved the kg for some extra clothes. Also a necessity, not purchased at friendly price points in Thailand, is mosquito spray (especially Deet free) which we faithfully spray on daily after showering to insure we are not battling the itch of bites. Toiletries can be deemed a necessity if you are subject to allergies as well because there is no assurance your favorite brands will be easily had once outside the US. I minimize these items as much as possible to reduce weight and try out new products native to the countries we visit. It creates some fun variety and I expect on this trip will fill my need to shop since I won’t have any weight allowance for souvenir purchases. We always carry a wine opener, a sewing kit with a couple extra safety pins, a small pair of scissors, finger nail clippers, wrapped toothpicks, small notebook, a pen each, our electronics chargers/power cords and an international electrical adapter power bar with surge protector (to protect our laptops especially) that we ordered from Amazon. In my sling bag, I also carry my camera bag and we both have our wireless noise canceling headphones so we can “escape” from the sounds around us or each other. 😉 A music loving necessity is our wireless speaker to add to the pure enjoyment of life. 😉 Passport and a copy as well as International Driving Permit (purchased at your local AAA office) would fall here under necessities too.

The biggest secret to packing light is allowing for laundry in the budget. Whether booking rooms/hotels with self laundry facilities, doing some items by hand or dropping off to pay by the kg/lb this of course must be the plan. Therefore, I basically packed for 10 days in each “season” and planned for laundry once a week. One side of the suitcase became our “summer” closet and the other our cruise/spring closet with some crossover for shoes and underthings (I pack undies and socks into shoes or crevices between larger items.) I did 3 “bottoms” (jeans/shorts) for each season. I fold these into thirds and really flatten them out with my hands to conserve space. (Note: 1 bottom that extends below the knee and 1 shirt to cover shoulders is mandatory for wat/temple visits in Thailand.) 10 shirts per season which for me (tank tops for tropics) also allowed for things to be layered for the cooler climate on board the ship and possibly in the Euro cities. I fold these in half three times for conservation of space. My man is a button down/collared shirt wearer and I carefully button and fold all these after pressing to reduce suitcase wrinkling. (10 short sleeve for tropics and 10 long sleeve for cruise/Euro) I use an extra lightweight backpack for protecting clothing from liquids and dirty soles of shoes in each of our bags and they in turn allow for lightweight day trip toting of items once we arrive in a location. Dress shoes and 3 items of evening wear for each season (rolled for less wrinkling) with jewelry and scarves to change up the looks as well as 3 bikinis for maximizing sun exposure and a one piece suit for exercise style swimming completed my wardrobe. Oh yes and for outerwear I took a light sweater and a pair of gloves and hat and we both have a waterproof spring weight jacket and my honey has a ball cap. He also has one suit jacket which I left on the hanger and in the plastic from the dry cleaners and simply folded in half and placed on the bottom of the cooler weather side of his suitcase. He also has a couple swim trunks, I have a nightie and one workout gear outfit. (As you can tell from this list I cheated a bit and took slightly more than him. :-/ I just chock that up to the advantage of not being 6’5″ and 200+lbs which allows for more suitcase space and less per item weight. hahahahaha)

Many items I packed for Thailand are items that are “on their last leg” or I’ve more than gotten my good out of. My research taught me that once we are off the cruise (where we have the most liberty for luggage allowance) I will plan to donate a few items to the needy to lighten our load to meet those reduced baggage limits for the European flights. By this time we will also have depleted the sunscreen and mosquito spray subtracting some weight from our bags.

An important thing to note is that we both have an extensive wardrobe which allowed that I could easily pack all these bags before we left our mountain home. There was no moving items between bags necessary. Remember, it is very rare for a rented room to not have iron, shampoo, conditioner, lotion and blow dryer and many times if they are not present in the room they can be had simply for the asking and if you forget something you really need it makes for a great adventure to locate it or something similar in this new city or country you are discovering! The other crucial item for me is to not get aggravated with the lack of variety in wardrobe this 10 day packing method allows me. As my hubby said to me “you’re never going to see these people again anyway”…yes but…#dresstoimpress

I hope some of these pointers will come in handy for you as you plan your extended travel periods!

The basics for two weeks travel (or extended with laundry allowance):

  1. 10-14 panties/underwear

  2. 6-8 bras/undershirts

  3. 6-8 socks (14 for cold destinations)

  4. 2 swimsuits

  5. 3-4 bottoms (shorts or jeans/pants dependent on season)

  6. 10-14 tops

  7. 2 dresses/evening-formal wear

  8. Athletic/walking shoes; dressier shoes/flip flops

  9. Light sweater/jacket (heavy if winter climate to be worn/carried not packed)

  10. Electronics/chargers/adapters/notepad and pen

  11. Toiletries/Rx/sunscreen/bug spray

  12. Passport/copy/IDP

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