A Place for our Stuff

How Do You Pack for Seven Months?

One of the first questions we’re asked when people find out that we’re traveling for seven months (or all the time, as Chuck likes to put it) is, “How do you pack for that?” Well, it is an ongoing and evolving process.

We travel with a medium sized suitcase for each of us plus our backpacks with our electronic work gadgetry. We also have a smaller duffle bag for toiletries and such. We’ve learned that the four-wheel hard-sided suitcases work best for us, we just have to be careful not to overload them. We used to travel with smaller cases, but we just needed a little more space for our stuff and we can usually carry 20 to 23 kilos on an airplane so it’s cheaper to use up the allowed weight limit than to have extra bags. When flying, we always check the suitcases, but we’ll check or carry on the duffle depending on how the airline charges for bags.

Another thing we’ve learned is that if we are only stopping in a city for a couple of days, we can leave our big bags at the train station or airport luggage lockers and just carry in the duffle bag and our backpacks. We also carry a couple of small tote bags so we can break those out when we need them. Yes, this is how we manage to live for months on end, which means we have to let go of the “need” for more stuff. But such is our love of travel that we can overcome the desire to accumulate stuff.

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What We’ve Carried Around the Last Few Months; The Duffel Has Wheels Too

Now, what to bring? Chuck likes to remind me that there are stores in Europe so I don’t have to pack everything I own. This trip we knew it would be cold. We’ve spent the entire winter in Europe and even went skiing, so we added a few items that we would not have normally packed: ski pants, mittens, long johns, and heavy coats. The problem with packing for winter travel is that everything is bulkier and weighs more so you have to make sacrifices elsewhere. The key here is to be able to pack things you can layer. For example, you can bring lighter weight sweaters that can go over a turtleneck and an undershirt. Also, a scarf or two and a hat go a long way in keeping you warm. It’s also very helpful to bring things that double in use, like Chuck’s sweatshirt that looks nice enough to pass off as a sweater and the shoes you can dress up or down.

Speaking of shoes, if you know me, you know that I love shoes! I break that old ‘two pairs of shoes’ travel rule whenever I can (I’m sure it was a man who came up with that rule anyway). Traveling in winter, of course, means that I need a pair of boots. Plus my tennis shoes, another pair of ankle boots, and my flip-flops (why?—because I always travel with a pair: they double as slippers, shower shoes, pool shoes, pedicure shoes, etc…they came in very handy recently at the thermal baths in Budapest). I admit, though, that I’ll be ready to part with my boots when it gets a little warmer; I’m tired of looking at them and I’m ready for some flats!

Chuck seems content to wear the same shirts and pants over and over until they fall apart or I sneak into his luggage and put them in a bag for the charity shop (that’s what they call stores like Goodwill in England). Until we bought him a new pair of jeans just a couple of weeks ago, he traveled for more than 5 months with the same 3 pairs of pants. I prefer variety so I usually try to stick with a wardrobe that all goes together. That way I can mix and match and I don’t feel like I’m always wearing the same thing. If he hadn’t worn holes in his jeans, Chuck probably wouldn’t have gone shopping for new ones (and in fact, I patched his old jeans and he’s still carrying them around…what an inefficient traveler he is!)

Every time we repack and move on to a new place, we reevaluate our “stuff”. We channel George Carlin when we do this. He used to do the bit about people and “a place for their stuff”. It’s true! Like everyone, we are more comfortable with little bits of our “stuff” around us. But one thing that we’ve learned in our travels is that we just don’t need as much “stuff” anymore. When the penalty for having something is that you have to carry it around with you everywhere you go for the next 7 months, you think a little harder about whether you actually need that thing. And as we go, if something develops holes (usually) or becomes uncomfortable or we just stop wearing it, well that “stuff” gets left behind. Which leaves room for new “stuff”, which means I get to go shopping in an interesting place! Yay!

Chuck likes to say that we’ve downsized our lives, both work and possessions. I think, though, that we’ll both breathe a little sigh of relief when we get home and open up our storage unit, reassured to see all our “other stuff”. I for one will be glad to see Chuck pull out some old favorite (different!) shirts.

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I’ll leave you with our list of unique “must haves” and travel packing hacks. Notice how we evaluate their effect on size and weight and their multi-purposes. Hopefully, this will help you in your future travels!

  • Packing cubes – They’re great for sorting clothing and keeping things easier to find in your suitcase. They also limit what you can take, which helps in the decision process! They weigh practically nothing, and the big ones can double as a day bag. We love and recommend eBags: they’re more expensive, but the zippers are better, they are durable, and they will last.
  • Electronics – including computers, iPads, phones, multi-charger, adaptors, etc. We need these to work, but everything has to fit in our backpacks and often serve multi-purposes. For example we’d love to have paper-white Kindles, but our iPads will suffice. We also switched to Macbooks a couple of years ago because they’re thinner and lighter.
  • Small travel mirror – I can’t tell you how many times there is only 1 mirror in a flat!
  • Blow-up pillow – Hate those flat feather pillows! They give me a crick in the neck! A deflated pillow takes up no space and weighs very little. They’re also nice to take to the beach.
  • Light weight towels – They have come in handy many times.
  • Facecloth/washcloth – These are almost impossible to find in Europe!
  • Flip-flops – You know why!
  • Swimsuit – Even in the winter! We do come across the indoor pools, hot tubs, saunas, and hot springs like in Budapest. They don’t take up too much space or weight (but Chuck has to remind me that I probably don’t need 5 of them!)
  • Hair dryer and straightener – I bought these in Europe so no need to worry about adaptors. And they’re critical items for me.
  • Plastic sealing bags – From gallon to pint size and smaller, these are used for all sorts of things. No weight, no space.
  • Plastic grocery bags – We usually buy one at the local grocery (they now charge almost everywhere for them) and I end up carrying it in my purse. That way I always have one when we stop at the grocery on the way back to the flat.
  • Shower cap – Great when I don’t want to get my hair wet in the shower and I often use it to wrap up the shampoo (or my wet swimsuit) so it doesn’t leak in my bag.
  • Little plastic bottles – For shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, etc. We buy normal bottles and refill along the way.
  • A small roll of black electrical tape – We’ve found it useful for all sorts of things from holding back curtains to covering up that annoying blinking light in your room.
  • Strips of Velcro – Again, great for attaching things together or holding things in place.
  • A little bag of odds and ends including rubber bands or hair ties, sewing kit, clothespins, suction cup hooks with portable clothesline, a few Band-Aids, antibiotic cream, medicines, fingernail polish remover pads, etc. Yes, we have a traveling “junk drawer”, where the things we buy as we need them often wind up.

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