Friday, September 10, 2010

What (Not) to Pack

To pack or not to pack is not the question.  If you love traveling, you’ll have to try to like (or at least not hate) packing.  From the beginning of your trip till the moment you get back home, organizing your shit and keeping it neat will be your main chore.  The amount of fun on the road will depend on the ease with which you pack, unpack and re-pack your possessions.  Spontaneous trips, gorgeous sites and many new friends can be missed if you don’t have a “system”.  I’m not saying that mine is perfect - if anything it’s anal bordering on ridiculous - but it works really well for me.  Of course, girls will find more useful ideas than guys (with me being a girl and all), but there are some universal points here also.  
This weekend I have performed a “packing test”: I have selected, categorized and photographed everything I’m going to bring with me to Asia, weighed each group of items separately and then once more together inside a fully loaded backpack.
Packing light is my religion.  Addiction to clothing, on the other hand, is my biggest sin. I constantly attempt to reconcile the two by following few simple rules:
1) Select mono-pieces: a flimsy summer dress weighs less than any top & bottom combo.  Plus it’s a ready outfit, which means you’re out of the door twice as fast;
2) Pick 2-3 pairs of lightweight shoes and matching handbags, then build your outfits around them;
3) Try to choose 2-3 color directions: it will make laundry and accessorizing that much easier;
4) 2 bras and 6-8 pairs of panties (preferably half in dark and half in light colors) are sufficient for a trip of any duration;
5) Couple of wide scarves will protect you from sun during the day and add warmth at night, they can also work as a light blanket on a train or as a sarong on the beach;
6) Bus drivers in the tropics love their AC’s - a long-sleeve sweater and a pair of leggings (they’re more compact than “proper” pants) will help you to survive the ride.
Here’s a picture of my chosen clothes split into outfits.  The central image is my travel attire: keen shoes and jeans cut offs are heavier than other items, so I wear them on the plains/trains/buses.  Total weight of all “wearables”: 2.6 kg.

Other Essentials
The above picture illustrates - besides the unquestionable fact that I need to be diagnosed - my makeup&hair set, medical kit, hygiene paraphernalia, electronics and other gadgets, as well as entertainment material, also known as books.
1) Makeup&hair.  I’m the kind of girl who wears full makeup to the supermarket across the street.  And it has to match my outfit.  Carrying expensive, fragile and bulky eye-shadows half way around the planet seemed crazy, so I came up with an alternative: eye pencils in assorted colors are easy to apply, resilient and occupy virtually no space.  (Practical tip: ubiquitous vegetable oil serves as a great eye-makeup remover - one less bottle for you to carry.)
2) Medical kit.  To minimize the volume of your healthcare products, get rid of all the boxes and packages (you can have directions scanned and emailed to yourself).  It also doesn’t hurt to write down the names of active ingredients of your key meds.  (Brand names differ from country to country - imagine explaining yeast infection drug to a non-English speaking pharmacist using gestures!)  
[Content of my medical kit: (top row) pancreatin aids digestion;loperamide is effective against diarrhea; activated carbon in pills treats poisonings; (second row) fosfomycin is a one-time urinary tract infection antibiotic; one pill of fluconazole will make yeast infection go away; condoms can be filled with water and dropped from rooftops on fellow travelers; (third row) validol (mild heart disorders as well as motion sickness) and two painkillers of various strength; (forth row) cough spray and sore throat pills, electronic thermometer, iodine, “golden star” (Vietnamese version of Tiger Balm is useful against headaches and colds as well as mosquito bites - at least so all Soviet kids strongly believe), dicloran (anti-inflammatory and local anesthetic); (fifth row) assorted band-aids; (bottom left corner) Lady Cup - carefree travel on any day of the month!  GIRLS, DO NOT GO WITHOUT IT!  (detailed explanation here:]
3) Miscellaneous.  Couple of padlocks, key-chain LED flashlight, sewing kit, iPod, iPod USB charger, USB power adapter, USB and regular Nokia charger (the said Nokia is not portrayed as I’m taking all my pictures with it - hence the absence of a digital camera), a tiny 4Gb USB storage, prescription- and sunglasses, daily and monthly contact lenses and a case for the latter (I haven’t decided which I’m going to stick to, so I’m taking both for now).
4) Shower kit.  Buy a “hangable”, foldable toiletry bag and you won’t have to balance a dozen of tiny items on the edge of a sink ever again!  Plus it’ll keep your bathroom gear perpetually packed.  (Look out for the ones that already come with airplane-friendly empty bottles or buy those separately.)
5&6) Makeup, medical, toiletry and electronic gear in their respective “homes”.  Combined weight of all of the above: 2.5 kg
7) Reading.  This year “Great Paper Books Vs. Kindle-type Device Debate” surpassed both “Big Sleeping Bag Argument” and “Never-ending Malaria Meds Dispute”.  Somehow I happened to be on the retrograde side of this battle: I stuck to paper books.  Two reasons: firstly, the assholes from Amazon are being exceptionally non-friendly to the users from “developing countries”, and more importantly, over the last year I spent a fortune at Strand with about 20 volumes yet to be read.  I tried to select books that are light and diverse.  Weight: 1.6 kg
So… ta-daaaaaa!  Fully packed and ready to go!  Total weight: 8 kg.  The only thing that will be added is my not-yet-purchased netbook by Asus: 1 kg.  But still - I think I’ve done fairly well for a former overpacker.  Don’t you find?


  1. This is a great list! Thanks - anyway you could do one for men too?

  2. Thank you, VV.

    Sure thing: lose bras, make up, and lady cup; add a razor, few pairs of socks, and many more condoms - and you're good to go! ;)