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.


Packing Notes

At Miami InternationalNo matter how hard I try to pack light, I always over pack.  I used my recent 10 day trip to Haiti and Florida as a packing test for a longer trip. 

Below are my “packing reflections.”  I know I’ll be pegged as a geek for having taken the time to write this, but my brothers (and perhaps my sister) will understand.  We’re gear nuts.

Big Items

  • Tent.  This was the first trip I’ve ever used a non free-standing tent.  In layman’s terms, that means you have to use stakes for it to work.  Generally, this hasn’t ben an issue anywhere I’ve ever camped before.  But I’ve never camped on top of  a roof!  I still could have used my tent by replacing the stakes with little sacks filled with rocks, but I would have taken a lot of floor space so opted for a cot indoors. 
  • Backpack.  35 Liters is considered small for a pack, merely weekend sized.  As I’m trying to learn how to travel light, I wanted to see if it would work for this longer trip.  It did.  Small enough I was even able to bring it on the airplane as carry-on and stow it in the overhead compartments.  Very cool.  Two negatives though: 1) It is mostly one large compartment which makes it difficult to get at stuff on the bottom. 2) It looks a little too nice – if I go again I’ll attempt to “age” it.  I hear you can do that with a can of black paint, duct tape, and a sharp knife.
  • Sleeping Bag.  Goose-down filled and rated at 20 degrees, I wondered if it would be too warn for tropical Haiti where temps were soaring to the 90s.  Each night I would start by just laying on top of my sleeping bag sweating.  But by early morning I would get cold and crawl inside.  Each day when I woke I was never too hot, so the sleeping bag worked fine. 
  • Pillow.  This took precious space in my pack, but was an appreciated amenity.  In the future I need to experiment with using a ditty sack stuffed with a jacket or clothes as a pillow.

Personal Items

  • Clothesline string.  I debated bringing it, but glad I did as we used it for a clothesline (imagine that) and also for securing tents on the roof.
  • Clothesline clips.  Wished I’d brought some.  Was able to wash clothes in a bucket one day, but didn’t have a good place to dry them.
  • Multi-tool.  Came in VERY handy.  People used it for all sorts of things throughout the week – it became our team toolbox.  The saw was used to cut dozens of bars of soap in half.  The scissors were used to open small packages.  The knife was used to cut rope, open burlap sacks, etc.
  • Netbook.  Great for writing.  I journaled muchos, something I couldn’t have done with pen and paper. 
  • GPS.  I hesitated bringing this, but glad I did.  For one, it was priceless navigating across Florida.  But it was also good in Haiti too, even though I didn’t use it there for navigating.  What I did was did turn it on one day and left it in my pack as we walked around.  Then back at home I was able to find our ministry locations on Google Earth.
  • Camera. Definitely need a smaller one.  And one that is inconspicuous would be nice too (like flat black).
  • Wallet. Probably didn’t need it, could have just brought cash and credit card held together with a paper clip.
  • Rag.  Forgot to bring one, really missed it.
  • Water Bottles.  I started with three.  A 1 Liter wide-bottle nalgene, a 0.5 Liter Nalgene, and a $5 tall metal one from Target.  I lost my small Nalgene in an airport/airplane.  Luckily, the two larger bottles were clipped to my packs so kept those.  However, I found that for this type of trip two bottles are overkill, one was plenty.  My tall bottle fits in my packs better, so think I’ll just leave the Nalgene home next time, heart-rending though that be.
  • Bible.  Ok, don’t think less of me, but in my zeal to save weight I just brought a New Testament instead of the entire Bible.  It wasn’t long before I was kicking myself for that decision, though it actually did work out fine.  I spoke briefly in two different churches on my trip, using just my New Testament.  Did reference I had e-sword on my netbook.


  • 3 Pairs of Clothes.  This worked fine for 10 days.
  • 2 Pairs of shoes.  Yep, perfect, not too many, not too few.  I wore them both equally.  Leather loafers were great for travelling, looking nicer at church, and even walking the streets when I was wearing jeans.  And the trail running shoes worked for everything else (even swimming in the Atlantic).
  • Cold weather clothes.  Who would think I’d need a long sleeve shirt, a fleece jacket, or cotton gloves while visiting Florida and the Caribbean?  Well, I wore my fleece jacket through all the travelling which was much needed as airports and airplanes are kept cold.  Then, one day at the end of my trip in the Keys I got up for an early morning walk and it was very chilly.  I wore pretty much all my cold stuff, even my cotton gloves.

Items I didn’t use:

  • Mp3 Player.  Did use the headphones for my laptop.
  • Thermometer.  Kept forgetting to check it.
  • Padlock. 
  • First aid kit.
  • Rain jacket.
  • Kitchen stuff.

If I travel to a developing country again, I would make more efforts to be less flashy.  I.e. making my stuff look more used/worn and removing some name brand tags.  Looking wealthy toting expensive stuff seemed to be "rubbing it in" to people.

For instance, my bright new red water bottle stood out like a sore thumb.  I remember once holding a kid who was drinking water out of a reused cough syrup bottle.  And other kids would drink out of small plastic bags after cutting a hole in one corner.  So my water bottle was quite an attention grabber. 

Our group leader used a Gatorade bottle the whole time which I thought was a good idea.  I remember he lost it once and was hunting all over the house looking for it, asking us if anyone had seen his water bottle, which was kind of funny because it was just an old ratty-looking Gatorade bottle we would normally toss in the trash after one use.

Another thought about stuff:  There are people in Haiti who have basically nothing.  We visited this orphanage three times where the kids fell into that camp.  You might think I’d be tempted – in light of their need – to give the shirt off my back or my shoes or something, but I wasn’t so much.  I did want to help them, badly, but not give them random things I was wearing for two reasons: 1) They probably wouldn’t have fit, and 2) I didn’t have enough to give every kid.  If I just gave only one kid something, a fight would likely start.  In fact, in a similar circumstance I saw a fight nearly start at the airport after an American tipped a local "helper." 

The third time I visited the orphanage, I didn’t bring anything.  No hat.  No water bottle (even though it was really hot).  No backpack.  Not even anything in my pockets, as that made the kids pretty curious, and I really didn’t want to give away my wallet.

We did give the kids bracelets, stickers, coloring books and crayons, etc and wished we’d brought more stuff in bulk like that to give.  Oh, for 100 pairs of shoes. 

Ok, that’s the wrap-up! 

Money the Meaning of Life?

Truth is Truth wherever it’s found, I believe.

Jesus said a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. And He said it is more blessed to give than to receive.

Self proclaimed minimalist, traveler, thinker, and humanist Colin Wright has come to a similar conclusion even though as near as I can tell he doesn’t follow Jesus in the least  (far from it!) He writes:

"…minimalism shows us that … we are happy without unnecessary excess, without cars and boats and mansions and clothes and all the things of this world. Not that the things of this world are wrong or evil, it’s just that they are not the point of our lives. The point of our lives is much more complex.

The real meaning of our lives is to contribute to other people in meaningful ways, to contribute beyond ourselves." (quote)

Everything Jesus spoke was true, I believe. So to me it’s not surprising when I hear elements of His truth espoused elsewhere. I say “elements” because I don’t think the primary meaning of our lives is to contribute to others in meaningful ways (maybe that’s secondary). Our primary meaning is being in right relationship with God, I believe.

Having said that, I DO think someone looking at a follower of Jesus from the outside should observe – as a primary characteristic – him or her contributing to others in meaningful ways. Like Jesus said, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Issues surrounding money are enormous. Their ramifications tenuously affect every corner of our souls and lives. For instance, the #1 reason given as cause for divorces is financial conflict, I’ve heard.

The question arises, "How much do we really need – how much is enough?" The joking answer is, "Just a little more." Why is it we always crave more? Satan tried exploiting this known weakness when tempting Jesus:

"Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” (Matthew 4:8-10)

Some of this thinking has been spurred by a real situation in my own life.  Here’s a hypothetical question, “If you had an opportunity to immediately double your income but it was through moving into a ‘gray’ area, would you be tempted?”  My comment is: gold fever comes easier than you might think in situations like this.

Jesus said the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. In my experience, the difference between wanting enough money and loving money is a fine line.

But like Colin Wright said, the point of our lives is not in owning things of this world. Or, to again quote Jesus, "A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."

Our version of wealth is defined in terms of how much we MAKE. But God’s version of wealth is defined in terms of how much we GIVE.

Saving Hundreds of Dollars

There are two ways I know to increase the amount of money I have lying around:
Pile o' Cash
1) Make more
2) Spend less

I’ve been experimenting with option two.  It could be argued this has lowered my quality of living, but I would disagree.  Regardless, cutting back on recurring expenses has yielded surprising savings for me; my monthly outgoing today is significantly less than it was a year ago.  Here’s what I did:

1) Moved into a cheaper apartment.  My satisfaction at the new apartment is comparable if not higher than my satisfaction at the old.  I did give up some luxuries: a 1-car garage, soundproof walls, a low crime area, and convenient parking.  However, I gained better access to work and the highway, more open and friendly neighbors, and a little more excitement.

Old Apartment: $710
New Apartment: $415
Savings per Month: $295

2) Changed to a less expensive cell phone plan.  I moved from T-Mobile to Cricket.  My new plan has unlimited talk and text nationwide.  The catches are that my coverage is less comprehensive and I have no voice mail or call waiting.  At first I wondered if these would be a big deal, but they haven’t been an issue. 

As far as coverage, it’s really quite good and I even had signal in the back boonies of Oklahoma where I went camping several weekends ago.  Regarding call waiting, if anyone gets a busy signal they can text instead as I do receive texts while talking.  And regarding voicemail, my phone is always on so that’s no bigee either.

Old Cell Phone Monthly Plan: $70
New Cell Phone Monthly Plan: $42
Savings per Month: $28

3) Sold my boat. (see previous post) My 22′ sailboat required maintenance, time, and money.  I love sailing, but this boat was more than I could handle alone.  Liquidating the boat was liberating and netted $2,000. (see ad)

Monthly Storage Savings: $30
Monthly Insurance Savings: $10

These three changes alone are saving me $363 per month! That’s a lot of money: Equivalent to 150 meals at Taco Bell, an Asus Netbook, even a nice shotgun… or on a more charitable note, it could buy 726 New Testaments through Gospel for Asia or 18 new sets of clothes for children through Samaritan’s Purse.

$363 per month works out to over $4,000 per year which Gospel for Asia claims would pay to support 10 full-time indigenous missionaries for a year!

Even the amount I’m saving on my cell phone alone would sponsor 1 orphan’s basic needs of food, clothing, and education (see here for great info on sponsoring a specific child, or here or here for simple donation options)

It’s incredible I could save so much by merely trimming a little fat in my life. And there’s much more fat I could trim too, especially in the areas of food and transportation. But where the rubber meets the road is, “How will I spend this extra cash?” To be honest, so far I haven’t done anything… it’s just collecting in the bank.

  • For more on this, check out Jeff Goins article If Someone Gave You $7, How Would You Spend It?
  • Or for more practical info on saving money, check out 15 Ways to Cut Monthly Expenses

  • 10 Ways to Make More Time

    clock A shortage of time has become a problem for me in attempting to maintain all the relationships and responsibilities in my life.  I imagine you face the same problem!  In order to create more space, here are 10 things I’ve tried, more or less successfully:

    1. Watch very few movies and TV shows
          e.g. around ten so far in 2010 (~ once per month)
    2. Cancel internet at my apartment
    3. Eat easy-to-prepare meals
          e.g. Like Taco Bell every day
          e.g. or make meals in advance and freeze them
    4. Become a school teacher to get summers off (among other reasons!)
    5. Cut down on driving time by:
          e.g. Moving closer to work
          e.g. Changing churches to one closeby (many advantages)
          e.g. Staying on the same side of town as family
    6. Eliminate most hobbies (I had too many)
    7. Live in an apartment versus house. Time advantages include:
          e.g. No maintenance
          e.g. No home improvement projects
          e.g. No lawn mowing
    8. Wake up earlier
    9. Consolidate activities
          e.g. Invite people with me out to lunch (Taco Bell)
          e.g. Listen to messages at work
          e.g. Go jogging for entertainment
    10. Reduce standard of living to where I would be OK on a part-time income

    I’m really not as radical as this list might imply. But what other ideas do you have?  What do you find works for making more time?