Chapter 4: Packing

How do you pack for a year abroad in 12 different countries? I’ve read so many articles, listened to webinars, taken good notes and ultimately decided no matter how much good advice you get, no two people have the same needs and priorities over the course of a year. So the real question is “how should I pack for a year of travel?” Over the past three months I’ve made an Amazon list, downloaded a multitude of new apps, made piles of my possessions and gone through a “test pack”. Now, three weeks away from my departure, I’m still not entirely sure what will make the final cut.

The test pack was by far the smartest thing I’ve done so far. I tend to consider myself a light packer and was convinced I could somehow fit everything into two carry-on size bags. I bought a backpack that was the max carry-on size and filled that and my rolling carry-on to bursting. In order to do this I had to rule out at least half of what I’d hoped to pack. I went to bed that night discouraged, feeling like a novice nomad. I woke up the next day and returned the backpack, buying instead the largest checked bag I could find. We’ll see a year from now if I’m able to downsize. Clearly I’m not quite there yet.

As I go back and forth on what I “need” and what I “want” in my suitcases, I keep reminding myself of several things:

1. I shouldn’t pack very little that I’m not willing to part with at some point. As I travel I may want to buy new things and leave extra weight behind. I may want to swap out my wardrobe, buying a new dress and leaving an old one. Will I be able to do that with what I have?

2. Much of what I’ll need can be purchased along the way. What will be most difficult to find in my size, prescription or brand? And which of these things am I willing/able to live without?

3. What frivolous items am I willing to give up space/weight for? I bought a travel candle in my favorite scent so I can have a little touch of home. I packed a tiny flask, because it might come in handy and I haven’t used it yet. Why not?

While I’ve put a lot of consideration into my wardrobe, I’ve spent more time stocking my bag with the items I’ll need to stay healthy on the road. I have a handful of fitness items (resistance bands, a jump rope and core sliders), a few handy cooking essentials (a spice kit, collapsible Tupperware and other fridge storage devices) and other self care basics (my bed of nails, a hot eye compress, a first aid kit and my fuzzy socks). I think cooking at home with local ingredients and getting into a regular workout routine will remind me I’m not just on vacation and create a sense of normalcy throughout the year.

While I’m sure there will be things I miss and others I’ll bring and never use, I don’t think it’s possible to go through this exercise and feel like you’ve nailed it the first time around. My suitcase will likely be filled with very different things six months from now. Who knows? In a year I may be down to just my carry-on. But at the moment I’m prioritizing what I think I need to feel good: my favorite dresses, a year’s supply of beauty products (go ahead and roll your eyes), my hiking gear and the health/fitness items I mentioned above. On top of that I have a portable speaker, headphones, my laptop and a trove of audio books and podcasts. At this point I’m ready to hit the road and stop overthinking it. Expect my next blog post from the plane to Lima!

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