The Art Of Packing: The Ultimate Packing Guide for Any Destination
The wheels have just touched down on the tarmac back in Vancouver, fresh off the press of 3 months’ backpacking. The jet lag is kicking in like a tequila on an empty stomach, and 50 cent beers are a distant memory. A truckload of dirty laundry is calling our names.
We’re more than ready for the next trip, but there is one thing we just can’t get off our minds. Packing. Why?
Packing won’t just change your trip, it will change your life. This blog is a mix of philosophy, facts and straight-up old-fashioned ‘how to’!
So packing for your trip, where to start?
Full Suitcase, but Nothing to Wear?
Have you ever stared at your jam-packed wardrobe and felt like you have nothing to wear?
Well, you wouldn’t be the only one. There is a surprisingly large amount of literature on this phenomenon…trust us, we read it.
The reason? LOTS of choice does not make for an EASY choice. Why else would women only wear 20% of the clothes in their closets?
Let us explain this in a different way. A bar with 100 different beers on tap doesn’t make your selection any easier. Your mind exploding with a million fancy-looking craft beer labels, you’ll probably just stick with your classic choice. The safe option.
Think about packing for your trip in a similar way. It’s all about the classics. The only difference? The classics need to match these factors:
Now, imagine if your closet was your backpack and you had to carry around 80% of the clothes you never wore. Worth it? Probably not. Plus, the more clothes you bring also means the more laundry you have to do…or just the more dirty clothes you’re hauling around.
The Art of Packing
At Kosan, we believe in packing as little as possible for your journey, while still being insanely prepared and not sacrificing anything you need.
Like a well mixed martini, it’s part art, part science, and part discipline.
Fun Fact: Of the some 700 million pieces of luggages the airlines handle each year, 1% is lost and never found. That 1% goes to none other than Scottsboro, Alabama to be sold on unclaimedbaggage.com.
So, without further ado…
The Benefits of Packing Light
- It’s lighter (duh)
- No baggage fees, skip the baggage claim queue
- Less to worry about losing
- Packing light = getting philosophical…
Photo by Ryan Christodoulou on Unsplash
The Philosophy of Packing
Still unconvinced about taking less? If you’re sitting on the fence, try this little trick:
1. Take everything you own
2. Put it in a pile in the center of your living room
3. Be horrified
When it comes to travel, you can take a modified approach:
Take everything you think you need and put it in the center of the room. Then, stare at it for a little while…and a little while longer. Now, it’s time to begin the extraction process. The cleanse.
As Marie Kondo says, other than taking that which you need, the key is “to take only those things that speak to your heart…The best way to choose what to keep (and not take) is to take each item in ones and ask “does this spark joy?””
Still following? Bear with us here.
In addition to joy there is also the question of need; and it is surprisingly less than you think.
How do you start? By taking a just little less than your last trip. Then, you’ll realize much of what you took you really didn’t need to take, and so the next time around you’ll bring one less shirt or dress…After 3-4 trips you’ll streamline your packing list to only the essentials you love to wear when you travel.
You’re not going to get it right the first go around… so let’s get that out of the way. We’re 30 countries in, and have only fully nailed it a few times so far.
Packing light goes beyond just being efficient; it is one of the very reasons we travel. It is a break. It is a taste of a new lifestyle…even if only for a week, a month, or even longer. “The space around us,( the places we are discovering) are for the person we are becoming, not the person we were in the past.”
As many on our team would attest, bringing less liberates us, enabling them to fully embrace the place they’re visiting. Or as Pico Lyer puts it:
“I just wrote a piece on the virtue of having a quest or a question whenever you take a trip. Even if that quest is that a friend’s six-year-old has asked for a Hello Kitty bag when you go to Japan. Suddenly you’re going to parts of Japan you never would have seen otherwise. So that six-year-old is opening a door for you. But a quest also takes you out of your routines. When we travel it’s not so much about leaving our homes but about leaving our habits behind.”
Alright, enough with the philosophy for now. Let’s get into the details:
Planning Your Trip
Make a list of:
- Typical rainfall for the time of year you’re going
- Day & Night temperatures
- Aircon (it’s not a weather source, but you wouldn’t be comfortable sitting in a fridge)
- Number of days
- Any scheduled events / activities that require specific clothing or gear
- Malaria zones
- Cultural norms
- Religious customs and traditional attire
For Any Trip Length: Pack for 6 Days + Extras
That’s right. You really only need about 6 days worth of outfits. You can wash on the 7th day, and generally you will get more than 6 days’ use out of it all.
The “extra” is for specials events, activities or the plane. In other words anything you need a specific outfit or shirt for.
BIT – Buy it There
Thinking about whether you need to take something or not? Leave it at home, and if you really need it, Buy It There.
Why? It’s often cheaper and more readily available. Need gear for monsoon season? Chances are, the locals do too, and they aren’t going to be paying whatever it costs in your country.
Also, give yourself a chance to self-discover- by purchasing local clothes and bracelets, ethnic clothes and other such items, you can explore other side of your true spirit and personality. Plus, this also supports local artisans.
Oh ya, shit just got real.
Ensure any item can be worn with everything you have. 2 colors is best, plus a pop color (you’re allowed a few outlier cheat items).
We won’t pick your scheme but just remember: black and grey are always good, and same with neutrals.
Power sockets aren’t the same or as reliable as back home. So bring that adapter and cords, but don’t solely depend on power.
Get a Field Notes, Moleskin, or just a plain old sheet of legal paper.
Why? Travel is bound to get your mental juices flowing- you’ll want to have some old-fashioned writing stuff for those big ol’ ideas you have.
Oh, and at least one REAL book. Kindles, phones and iPads run out of juice at the most inconvenient times…
Additional tip: bring a small flashlight, maps and guide book – in other words don’t rely on your phone for everything.
If you need it for work, bring it. If not, it stays at home. It’s one more thing to be stolen, it’s heavy, and it’s a distraction. You didn’t come halfway across the world to clean up your junk mail.
Carry-on Weight & Size
Remember: your carry-on must be both SMALL and LIGHT enough to be approved.
Weight requirements vary from airline to airline, and some will make you put it on the scales. But generally, go for 15-22lb (7kg-10kgs). Weigh it well before you get to the airport.
Size also varies, but typically: 22 “ long x 14 “ wide x 9 “ deep.
Religious Customs & Conservative Cultures
This is a big one.
Not only can wearing the wrong outfit deny you entrance to historic monuments or religious sites, but it can just plain be offensive. You don’t want to land yourself in hot water.
You see, travel is a two-way street. We are not just observing the cultures we visit- we are also observed by those we visit. Part of the process of tolerance and acceptance comes from understanding our mutual differences.
When we travel to a new place, even our clothes can embody these differences. This can be enlightening and fascinating to locals, who may never have met someone from your country.
Think of visiting a country just like visiting someone’s home….when you’re in their home you also need to respect their rules.
As the expression goes “there is more than one way to skin a cat”, and there is also more than one way to pack a bag.
Your options include:
- The Cube
- The Fold
- The Stuff
- The Roll
- The Bundle…
Our preference? The Cube. It keeps everything organized, and allows you to pack (and unpack) in a hurry.
Scarf – The White Knight of Packing for Travel
The mightiest rag in your arsenal. Uses include:
– Blanket on plane
– Blanket on bed
– Seat Cover (cold or hot leather).
– Picnic blanket (occasionally)
– Fashion accessory
– Cover shoulder
– Cover accidental cleavage.
The list goes on, and on, and on…
Next up? The Sweater
It’s a must-have, wherever you’re headed. Even if you’re going to Thailand, you’ll freeze your butt off on the flight there. Aircon can turn the tropics into a fridge.
Don’t bring half of Radioshack if you don’t have to.
That said, channel your inner boy scout/girl scout, and bring:
– A cool little flashlight
– Universal adapters
– Charging cords (+ 1 extra),
– Grid It® (a godsend to keep cords in order)
– Camera, naturally
– Back-up data stick (not carried on body) is a solid idea
The rest completely depends on your needs. Gear is expensive. The more of it you have, the more you have to worry about.
Earplugs, eye mask, gravol, bug spray wipes (so easy to use, non-messy and no 100ml issues), pen, another pen, sunglasses, sanitizer, melatonin, storage lock, TSA lock for your bag, micro fiber towel, advil (or your choice) and make sure it’s all small. No big bottles hidden in your medicine cabinet now.
Bug Net and Travel Sheets
Because sometimes, there will be blood…on the sheets (true story), and other times the windows don’t seal. The Dalai Lama knows the truth of this: ““If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”
Durable & Functional Clothing and Carry
Okay admittedly this is a bit of a shameless plug. But hey we got in the business of travel gear because we wanted to help travelers prepare for their journey. So we’ll keep it short it and sweet. Bring stuff that can handle any place you go. Period! And ensure that your backpack fits and functions and won’t kill your back because you literally have to carry it everywhere. Dirt Roads, in and out tuk tuks, cobbled streets. Water Taxies. You get the idea. Okay we’ll get off the soap about our own stuff!
Talk to your travel doctor- ours always gives us some we never use. That said, we assume that the day we don’t bring them is the day we will need them!
Sidenote: Probiotics and Imodium can be nice.
What People Forget the Most (according to Amazon)
Here are the most common travel items forgotten (and then ordered on Amazon, to their glee):
- Phone Charger (guilty)
- Camera Charger (also guilty)
- Toothpaste (still guilty)
- Swimsuit (God bless local markets and gift shops)
What We Bring
Warm Weather (Option for cool nights)
Underlayer – LAYER 1
- 1 Packing Cube
- 4 Pairs of Underwear – No-Stink / Quick Dry
- 4 Pairs of Socks – No-show or Hiking
- 1 Pair Swim / Gym Shorts
- 2 Tank Tops
- 1 Polo T-Shirt
- 1 Long Sleeve Shirt (can be thermal)
- 1 T-Shirt – Performance
Clothing – LAYER 2
- 1 Long Sleeve – Layering / Sun Protection / Cooling / Breathable
- 1 Long Sleeve – Henley Layering / Sun Protection
- 2 Short Sleeve – Button-Down
- 1-2 Pairs Travel Trousers
- 1 Pair Casual Shorts
- 1 Lightweight Sweater
- 2-3 T-Shirts
Outer Layer – LAYER 3
- 1 Lightweight Windbreaker or Poncho
- 1 Down Vest (optional)
- 1 Travel Blazer (optional)
- 1 Scarf
- 1 Beanie/Toque
- 1 Pair of Beach Flip Flops
- 1 Pair of Boots
- 1 Pair of Running / Casual Shoes
Underlayer – LAYER 1
- 6 Pairs of Underwear
- 2 Bras
- 1 Sports Bra
- 1 Swimsuit
- 3 Pairs of Socks
- 1 Pair of Leggings
Clothing – LAYER 2
- 3 T-Shirts / Short Sleeve Tops
- 3 Tank Tops / Sleeveless Tops
- 1-2 Long Sleeve Shirts (include 1 Thermal)
- 1 Lightweight Sweater
- 1 Cardigan or Blazer
- 1 Button-down Shirt
- 1 Sweater
- 1 Skirt
- 2 Dresses
- 2 Shorts
- 2 Trousers / Pants
Outer Layer – LAYER 3
- 1 Rain Jacket / Windbreaker
- 1 Scarf
- 1 Bandana
- 1 Down Vest (Optional)
- 1 Pair Flip Flops
- 1 Pair Running Shoes
- 1 Pair Loafers/ Boots
- 1 Pair Wedges/Espadrilles/Flats
- Laptop or Ipad (or both)
- Guide Book
- Grid-It Organizer for Cords
- Iphone Case (waterproof option)
- Mini WaterProof Bag (just in case)
- Universal adapter and charger (includes USB)
- Neck Pillow
- Passport holder
- Money Belt (actual Belt) or Bra Clip
Believe it or not, ALL of this fits in a carry-on-sized 35L bag.
In saying all of this…
Bring everything you want, if that’s what makes you happy.
We’ve seen plenty of travelers with framed photographs of loved ones, their favorite pillows, widgets, gadgets, stuffies, and more. So we’ll say it again, bring what makes you happy.
We don’t believe the experience of a place is subject to what’s in your suitcase. If it truly does make you happy and you have no worries, fears or struggles carrying those items around, just bring it.
Never underestimate the power of packing. Before you have even begun on your journey it can alter your trajectory and shape your experience. Will you be open? Prepared? Willing? Will you take on the lessons that are thrown at you?
No word of a lie on every extended trip we’ve gone on (in which we’ve overpacked) we’ve always either given extra clothes away or sent them home to lighten the load and make way for the new…
Packing right gives you every reason to open your mind before you’ve even opened your bag.