10 Packing Tips for Travelling to Faraway Places

Two PacksPacking is a fine art.  Especially when you try bringing everything (like I do).  At the end of this post I’ve made a list of 10 packing tips I came up with.

My Travelling Experiences

When I quit my job in June I had in mind to travel for a year.  Initially I was going to travel with the World Race, a marathon missions trip to 11 different countries.  However, the craziest thing happened and that fell through.  I believe God was closing that door in my life, but maybe it was all just happen-stance.

Regardless, since June I’ve been on 3 trips.  Worked at a Bible camp in Missouri for 5 weeks, worked in Haiti and the DR for 6 weeks, and took a Western America road trip to visit family for 3 weeks. 

Right now I’m packing for an extended trip to Israel (3 months).  I’ll be volunteering on a Kibbutz but have no idea which one or what I’ll be doing.

On Packing Too Much Stuff

On each trip I’ve packed too much stuff.  And at the same time left out important items.  In the DR for instance there was hardly a day went by I wasn’t raving mad at myself for having not brought my Gerber multi-tool.  Never again.

Clothes are a primary culprit for over packing.  Here back home we’re used to having a dresser AND a closet full of clothes (not to mention all the ones on the floor).  It’s no big deal to own 6 pairs of jeans, 30 tee-shirts, 5 jackets and 15 pairs of socks.  But when you try getting everything packed into a backpack, something has to go.

I remember as a little kid packing most the clothes I owned on vacations because I felt sorry for the clothes left behind and didn’t want any of them to feel neglected or unnecessary.  Were those projections normal?  Probably not… regardless, I’ve learned to be more ruthless since then.

My “10 Tips” List:

  1. Bring the bare minimum and then bring less.  You’ll still have too much.
  2. Get everything to fit into one large backpack and one small daypack.  Backpacks make transporting your stuff much easier than suitcases.  I wear one on my back and one on my front.  A small daypack is sooo versatile: it works great for day trips, plus is convenient as a carryon bag for airplanes.
  3. Forget travel-sized toiletries, get a large toiletry bag that fits full-sized items (like toothpaste, shaving cream, etc) and use it at home so you can get used to living like that.  Then when you go on a trip just grab your bag and it’s like you’re at home! (my brother Luke always says, “Home is where your toothbrush is.”)
  4. Organize your stuff into bags.  I especially appreciated this system one night recently when setting up my tent up in a drizzle.  The tent was at the bottom of my backpack (of course) so everything had to come out on the wet ground.  Fortunately, since everything was organized into several large bags I just had to pull a few things out (versus 100 small items).
  5. Split your clothes into “Nicks Patented 4 Bag System”.  The first bag will be a mesh laundry one.  This one will of course will be empty when you leave, except for some laundry powder for emergency hand-washing.  The second bag is a small one for socks/underwear, I use a nylon ditty bag for that.  The third and fourth bags are medium-sized plastic bags (trash bags are fine, just mark them to make them easily identifiable) that hold pants/shorts and shirts, respectively.  I use plastic for these because 1) it keeps them dry and 2) these clothes are (presumably) clean so don’t need to breathe.  This system will simplify your life, or money back guaranteed.
  6. Don’t bring (much) cotton.  Especially base layers.  Cotton base layers need to be washed daily or they get stinky from sweat.  Synthetic base layers (that don’t absorb moisture) can be worn many days without becoming stinky.  The exception is cotton tee-shirts.  Having a few of those never hurts.
  7. Leave the blue jeans behind.  Or just bring one pair.  This is a difficult one for me ‘cus I love blue jeans, but they are heavy, bulky, take forever to dry when wet, and uber difficult to hand-wash.  I usually still bring one pair.  In the DR I met a fellow traveller who had been volunteering for several months and all his stuff fit into ONE largish school bag.  Needless to say I was impressed.  Yet even he had one pair of blue jeans, but the ironic thing was he’d never worn them (so even he packed too much).  I’ve found convertible nylon pants (ones that zip off at the knees to become shorts) the best compromise.  My pair of Khaki ones double for church slacks too.  I’ve tried different brands and like Columbia the best.  North Face are more comfortable but too baggy.
  8. Back to toiletries, here are some tips I’ve found to help reduce size and weight on a few items.  Hair gel is one of them.  Option A would be to dispense with niceties like hair gel, but I like using it.  Regular hair gel weighs a lot (it’s mostly water) and only lasts me a few weeks.  In contrast, I’ve found a small tin of Crew gel paste to work better and the 3 ounce quantity it comes in lasts me nearly 3 months!  Amazing.  Here’s another: full sized cans of shaving cream are bulky and for their size don’t last that long, but a 5 ounce squeeze tube of Neutrogena shave cream can last me about 3 months.  (speaking of shaving cream, I’ve seen secret compartment shaving cream safes used to hide valuables – you can buy one for about $20 here)
  9. This tip mainly applies to 3rd world countries: Use a Gatorade bottle for your water bottle.  This has several advantages: 1) it’s not a big deal if you lose it and 2) people won’t be asking you for it all the time (when I used my “nice” $5 Target water bottle I was asked many times if I would please give it).  In Haiti it can get to where you want to have exactly NOTHING on you when you go out (not even a water bottle) because it gets old having people ask for your stuff.
  10. Bring flip-flops.  Honest, I used to never realize how versatile these things were, but after seeing kids play soccer in them, men mixing concrete in them, and people going to church in them I’m now a believer.  Granted, they’re not ideal for anything (other than lounging around), but at the same time they’re better than going barefoot and can work for anything.  They’re super lightweight and take up hardly any space in a pack and also eliminates having to wear (and wash) socks.


2 thoughts on “10 Packing Tips for Travelling to Faraway Places”

  1. Confession: I had no idea what a kibbutz was, so I Googled it.
    I laughed out loud when I read that “A member of a kibbutz is called a kibbutznik”. Get it? You are going to be a Kibbutz-Nick. LOL
    It’s dumb, yes, but this made/makes me laugh-out-loud. 😀
    What can I say… I’m easily amused. 🙂

  2. Yeah, what’s even wierder is the “kibbutznik’s” seem to have a hard time with the word “nick.” They ask me my name and I have to say “nick” about three times and even sometimes spell it. Of course they can can say it fine once they figure it out, but I my accent must be throwing them off.

    One of the girls told me that of all the volunteers, my accent is the one that really stands out as different (and here I thought I didn’t HAVE an accent – from my perspective I’m the only one who talks normal).

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