How to Pack for an Extended Vacation

Hello Friends,

We are leaving for China in five weeks. Five. Weeks. It simultaneously feels like five weeks is super far away, and it also feels like we have no time at all. It’s a strange feeling. For the most part, Jordan and I are more than ready to get the heck out of Utah, and go have an amazing adventure.

For those who forgot or didn’t know, Jordan and I are going to be living in Zhongshan, China for four months. We are going with the International Language Program (ILP), a group that teaches English to children. While there, we are going to be managing the other English teachers at our school. For more information regarding our upcoming trip, check our previous blog post.

Since we are so close to leaving, Jordan and I thought it would be a good idea to do a couple of segments about packing tips as well as general travel tips. Today we are addressing packing.

Whenever friends leave for trips, especially long trips, they often ask us how much they should pack. Usually, my answer is something like, “I don’t know.” Each time, people look at me like I’m crazy. “But Madison, you’ve traveled so much. How do you not know how much I should pack?” The answer, my friends, is simple. Each person has unique needs.

For example, Jordan and I both have very different needs while traveling. Jordan usually takes the ultra minimalist approach. He could take one carry on bag to go abroad for a year, and be completely content. And then there’s me- I sometimes go overboard on the packing. I suffer from the “What If” mentality. Luckily, Jordan and I help balance each other out. I remind him that he needs more than just two shirts, and he reminds me that I don’t need a different shirt for each day of the month.

Every person has different things they cannot live without, so if you’re reading this and are thinking, “No. You don’t understand. I need to bring four different swim suits,” then do it. Like I said, we all have our things that we need to be comfortable, and that’s fine (within reason).

So let’s get started on the packing tips. (Let me preface this by saying that I am a very thorough person, and maybe my process is a bit crazy for you. You can alter this to fit your needs)

Making The List

1.     Number of Bags
First and foremost, when you are packing for a trip, no matter the length, you must determine how many bags you are bringing. This changes how much you will pack.
2.     Make the Categories
Start by making clear categories of what you need to bring. These usually consist of:
·      Travel documents
·      Money
·      Technology
·      Clothing
·      Footwear
·      Health/Medicine
·      Hygiene
·      Misc. Comforts
3.     Fill In the Details
Once you have your categories, you can determine the specifics. I personally, like to create sub-categories. For example, under “clothing,” I create sub-categories like “shirts” or “pants.” That way, you know exactly how much of each item you are bringing.
A good trick for filling in the details is to think of your habits. How much shampoo will you use during your vacation time? What about medicine? How much will you need? Retrace your steps. If you’re unsure, consider, when was the last time you bought contact lens solution? Or whatever the item may be. From there, analyze how much you will use during that time.

Now, this is where I am about to get into a personal tangent. Try to bear with me here. When you are traveling somewhere, especially for an extended period, you must consider a few things.

First- Will this country have the item I need? Second- (and this is just as important as the first) Will the country have the same quality of item that I expect/need?
These are both important things to consider.

For example – and here comes my tangent – shampoo and conditioner. Will China have shampoo and conditioner? Yes. Will it fit my needs? Maybe. Am I personally willing to risk it? No.
Now, most people don’t stress about this like I do, but I am incredibly picky with what I put on my hair. This is because my hair is a chemically treated blonde, and is dry and curly. Therefore, many products damage my hair. Not only that, but I know that China has different water, and is a different climate. I don’t want to risk damaging my hair further with an unknown product. It is important to me that I bring the products that I need. I’m willing to fill my suitcase weight with shampoo, if it means that I can baby my hair. This goes back to what I mentioned at the beginning of this post. In order for me to be comfortable abroad, I am going to make sure I have the products that I need. Does this make me vain? Maybe, but I don’t care. Everyone has their thing that they need. Mine is shampoo and conditioner. Okay, tangent over.

Also, as a side note – ladies, you wont find tampons abroad. You’ll be lucky if you find deodorant in some countries.

4.     Get Real With Yourself
Now is the time that you get serious. Go through the list that you have made. What have you forgotten? What do you not need? You will re-analyze this when you actually start packing. Look through your list, and remove at least one unnecessary item from each category. We all have a tendency to pack more than we need. Rather than having that unnecessary item take up space in your bag, get real with yourself, and get rid of it before going.

Packing Day (or as I like to call it: Packing Week)

Now, if you’re only going on a week long vacation, you probably don’t need a full week to pack. But if you’re going abroad for a longer period of time, you should start packing in advance. I wasn’t joking when I said I was ridiculously thorough. Jordan and I have planned for four different packing sessions before we leave. Four. And it’s scheduled on our calendar. I take this seriously.
When I was packing to go to Russia, I put off packing until the night before because I was overwhelmed at the thought of packing for four months. Do you know how I felt when I was trying to pack everything the night before? REALLY OVERWHELMED! I was up until 4 a.m. trying to pack. I was also sobbing uncontrollably because I didn’t know what to pack, and I was tired, and stressed out of my mind. I was a hot mess of problems that day. Needless to say, it was a huge mistake. One I will not be repeating ever again. So that is why I say to pack in advance. You’ll thank yourself later if you do.

1.     Pack in Advance
You don’t have to schedule out four days of packing, but you should start packing at least a few days before leaving for a long trip. By starting early, you can make sure you have everything on your list. It also helps when you inevitably realize that you have over packed.
Let’s say that you start packing, and realize that you didn’t buy any toothpaste. And you’re allergic to other kinds of toothpaste (it’s a real thing, Jordan suffers from this). If you start packing at 10 p.m. the night before, you might not be able to get your toothpaste. However, if you started packing a couple days before, you can get it all handled without any stress.
2.     Re-Assess
So you have finished putting everything in your bags, and you’re feeling pretty good. But you realize that you have no room for souvenirs, and your bag is really close to the weight limit. Now is when you re-assess your bag. Do you really need to bring four coats? If you’re going to Russia, maybe. If you’re going to southern China, probably not. Get serious with yourself, and make some hard decisions.
3.     Weigh Your Bags
I don’t know how much I can emphasize this. Weigh your bags, people. More importantly, weigh your bags BEFORE you go to the airport. Every airline has a weight restriction. Usually 50 pounds. If it weighs more than that, you can look forward to paying a crazy fee. You don’t want to be that person who is taking things out of your suitcase while you’re checking your bags. Additionally, don’t pack to the maximum weight. Leave 3-5 pounds for weight variation. Not all scales are created equal, and your luggage scale may not be as accurate as the airport’s.
4.     Finish Packing
Now, this is more for those who took my advice and packed early. There are some things you probably didn’t pack days in advance because you need those items. Pack those things the night before. These are things like your laptop, your chargers, your wallet, passport, camera, etc. Just make sure you have all of the corresponding cords packed for your electronics.

General Packing Tips

            You thought I was done? Think again. These are a few general tips that Jordan and I have for packing.
1.     Pack your valuables in your carry on bag.
Bags get lost. And you don’t want your laptop or camera to go missing. Not only that, but we’ve all seen how “gentle” TSA is with our bags. My hard case luggage has a dent in it from how hard my suitcase was thrown into the plane. No joke. Don’t risk damaging or losing your valuables.
Imagine what would have happened to my camera or computer when my bag was thrown this hard - especially in soft luggage

In your carryon – carry at least a couple days worth of clothes. When we arrived in Russia, Jordan and I both lost our bags and we were wearing the same set of clothing for a week. Additionally bring any other necessary toiletries, medicines, or other important items (In small enough increments that you can bring it on the plane). I can say from personal experience that it would have been VERY nice to have a change of clothes that first week (Instead of just the suitcase full of teaching supplies).

Also, make sure you can quickly and easily access any of those toiletries with liquid that you put in your carryon. Put it in a plastic bag. Follow the rules of the nice TSA people. If you're unsure of what the rules are for liquids, check here.

2.     Use RFID blocking gear.
You can easily protect your credit card and passport information by getting an RFID wallet and RFID passport case. Trust us. The last thing you want is to have your credit card information stolen while you are abroad. It can happen incredibly fast, and without warning. When it happens, your bank WILL shut down your card, leaving you without money. Do you know how difficult it is to send a new debit card overseas? It could take weeks, and there is no guarantee that it will arrive. Protect yourself before it happens. 
3.     Money Belts
Raise your hand if you’ve been told to use a money belt while traveling, and you haven’t. *Madison raises her hand, ashamed* I know we have all been told to use a money belt of some sort while traveling, and I also know that most people don’t actually use them. I own a money belt. I have brought it with me before, but have never used it. I do know the merit of it though, and that is why I am going to have Jordan carry one… Also, I found something that will work for me. The problem I have had in the past, and I think this is a problem for most women, is that money belts don’t work with our clothing. My solution this time is to use one of these FlipBelts. It is an elastic bellyband that has discrete pockets on the lining. It works perfectly with leggings and fits nicely with the rest of my tighter-fitting clothing.

Regardless of if you end up using a money belt or not, keep your valuables close. Don’t leave yourself vulnerable to pickpockets.
4.     Utilize SpaceBags and Packing Cubes
Some people swear by SpaceBags. Some use only Packing Cubes. Personally, we like to use a combination of both. Those roll-up space bags are helpful for bulky items like jackets and coats, and they’re easy to use. Packing Cubes are great for separating different items in your bag.
5.     Look online for packing ideas
The Internet has so much wisdom about how to pack more efficiently, as well as itemizing what you should pack. Utilize that knowledge and put it to use.
6.     Consider your backpack
When I went to Russia, I splurged and bought this massive Osprey backpack. While it was very comfortable to wear, it was impossible to pack. There was a back brace in the bag that made it so the bag wouldn’t bend. Therefore, that beast did not want to fit under the seat of the airplane. It’s a great backpack, but not one I would use for general traveling.
What I’m saying here is this: find a bag that is large enough to fit your laptop, and a few days worth of clothes, but is small enough and flexible enough to store under the seat of an airplane. And also is easier to carry around.
7.     Consider bringing a small drawstring bag or travel purse too
The bigger backpack is perfect for hauling your clothes and things. You take it with you on the plane or train, and then leave it in the hostel so you can go on your adventure. In this scenario, man or woman, you need a small bag to carry your belongings. Even if your belongings consist only of your wallet and water bottle, you need a bag if you want to be hands free. Also, if you buy any souvenirs, you will have to carry it around if you don’t have a bag.
I recommend a drawstring bag, or a versatile travel purse. If you want something super versatile, you can buy this cool bag from REI (I think there is something similar at WalMart too). But it is a drawstring backpack that folds into a tiny bag. It’s pretty neat.

These are the day bags we are bringing. 

This cross-body bag is big enough to fit my DSLR camera, as well as my other personal items
Here's a link to the purse, if you are interested. There are lots of similar varieties on Amazon.

Was that enough information? As I’m finishing this post, I realize that a lot of this may sound like common sense. However, you might be surprised by how many of these common mistakes we have made, and how many of them our friends and family have made. We’ve all done it. Now, you can be a little wiser when packing for your own extended vacation. Hopefully this helped. What are some of your packing tips and tricks? I would love to know.


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