Packing Light for International Travel

shutterstock_263805065While planning your adventure it can tempting to include all of the comforts of home in your travel list. This is only natural, as the fear of the unknown causes an almost pathological need to create mountains of gear to meet every possible situation and perceived need. When looking upon your vast stores you will find comfort in your preparedness. “Surely nothing will happen that I cannot overcome,” you will think to yourself. Unfortunately every item brought along is another item to keep track of and physically pack along every step of your journey.

By mid-trek you will be eyeing that monstrous stack of gear with trepidation and unease. By the time your journey has reached its end the borderline hate you feel for that gargantuan stack of inanimate objects will be almost personal in nature. “Why did I bring a kitchen sink if there weren’t dishes to do?” you may find yourself shouting at said household item.

The physical and emotional toll excess baggage can take on your travel experience will vary based on how many “extras” have been brought along, but you can guarantee that its worth some planning ahead of time to save on those headaches.

Needs vs. Wants

Before optimizing your travel gear, first you need to simplify it! At home you can take a lot for granted. You can store most of what you want with little concern as to when you will need it. Unfortunately travel is not as user friendly, as each item must be accounted for, stored, carried, and easily accessible. The hassles begin to outweigh the positives pretty quickly.

To begin shrinking down that luggage you need to approach the situation with a mindset focusing on “Needs” versus “Wants”. This will vary from person to person, but you can expect to have the following “needs”.

  • A minimum clothing count
  • Important medication
  • A small reading book
  • A travel journal
  • Cash
  • Travel documents

It’s a bit generic right now, but we will cover some of those in better detail in a while. Wants aren’t so simple to list, instead you will be best served by looking at them from a usage standpoint. “Is this something that I use daily right now? Will I be using it often during my travels?” Many items will fail this simple internal test. We have a tendency to create exaggerated scenarios in our minds to justify packing, but most trips really boil down to the items I listed up above.

Now, for your minimum clothing count I truly do mean a minimum. A common way to pack for three or four day trips is to just factor in “1 outfit per day, +1 extra”. This is good sense if you are visiting family or a common vacation destination, but when hitting more exotic locales you might be much better served by doing some laundry during the trip. Lighter items like underwear and socks are good candidates for duplication, but larger items such as pants or dresses are bulky, heavy, and will take up valuable space for souvenirs. Larger items such as pants and sweaters can often be worn again or repurposed throughout your trip. Pack clothing items that can be mix and matched instead of outfits and your “necessary” clothing items will shrink before your eyes!

Which medications to bring is almost a large enough topic for its own blog entry and really depends on your destination, but for our purposes I am referring to prescription medication! These things must be prioritized and kept track of at all times! Keep them tucked away safe, and within reach in your carry-on baggage.

As for your choice in reading material, I clarify “reading book” up above with “small” because some travelers will bring “one or two books max” per trip, but insist on bringing 1,000 page tomes that weigh almost five pounds each! While a little downtime is to be expected, you will most likely not have the time to focus on such a daunting read. Not only that, but such large books are for escapism, something you should have little need of since you are already on an adventure! Save yourself some packing space, and keep the books small or bring your whole library in a tiny e-reader.

Also, don’t forget cash. ATM fees (if accessible) as well as conversion rates overseas can be rough. Keeping cash on hand gives you flexibility during your journey, and takes a lot of the stress out of the experience by smoothing interaction with locals, and also granting you some reassurance that you are not completely without means in your new “home away from home.”

Lastly don’t forget your travel documents including things like your tickets, reservation information, passports/visas. Keep these documents somewhere easily accessible and secure. These are obviously the biggest necessity for traveling and should be treated with great care.

Ultimately, choosing which gear you find essential can be a daunting task, and every trip will be different, but you will find that a little forethought and planning will go a long way in making your adventure a pleasant experience, maximizing the fun and minimizing the hassle.


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