The last two weeks before March the 13th (our date of departure) were a massive rush for us. For the first week, we were still going to work, completing our 9-5 day jobs and then coming home, getting whatever packing we could get done before meeting with a friend or two for a goodbye dinner and drinks. We were preparing to be out of our apartment by the 6th and then move in with our friends Lee and Sarah, who were kind enough to offer us their spare room for our final week. Our plan was to pack our 2 big luggage bags and a size 6 post office box of jackets and souvenirs that we would most likely ‘need’ once in New Zealand*. We would send those off to our other, very helpful mates who have just moved to Auckland for when we finally make our way there. Then, pack what we would need for our 6 month sabbatical in our backpacks and cart it along with us to Lee and Sarah’s.
We were well prepared with lists of the items we wanted to pack and things we would need for the amount of time we’d be on the road. However, we didn’t anticipate the massive load of gear we had accumulated over the 3 years living in South Korea and having procrastinated for so long; we didn’t realize it would take the whole day to throw/give away the bulk of it.
In our minds, we would be backpacking through about 10 countries, including South Africa, with our big 70l packs on our backs and a smaller day pack in the front. So we didn’t want to over pack and lug a ton of useless items around with us from country to country. In the end, after mock packing, and shifting our things around from pile to pile and room to room we have the following packing tips to help you out when you decide to take your trip around the world:
- Start with a mental packing list. Have a basic idea of the things you want to pack. It doesn’t need to be your compressed list, but just a mental preparation of what you will want with you and where you will put everything. Ensure that you have checked the average weather in all your locations too. You don’t want to freeze your ass off because of poor research and judgment.
- Once you have a mental idea, you can write down an exact list of everything. This is to ensure that you don’t forget anything and it helps you pack light. Remember that airlines, trains, and buses (depending on where you are) have weight and luggage size restrictions. We ran into a couple who were on a flight with a luggage weight limit of 10kg checked luggage each! They ended up throwing away the excess, shoving the majority of their things into their carry-on bags and wearing as many clothing items as possible – walking through the airport like snowmen. So be sure to verify all your airline and transport restrictions ahead of time. Click here for my editable list🦄
- Put the things that you have mentally listed, and you know you can’t live without, aside. By ‘can’t live without’ I mean underwear and socks, or a pair of shorts and a T-shirt or two. Not your black high heels or your Burberry coat that you wear on special occasions (not a joke, people pack the strangest things).
- Now you can start with piles. I like to do this in sections, starting from the bottom-up. In other words, starting from shoes to socks then bottoms all the way up to hats. Make three piles: A nope pile (you haven’t worn these things in a while, they won’t come in handy, and you can buy them on your trip if you absolutely need to). 2. A maybe pile (you like these things, but you won’t die if you don’t have them). 3. A heck yeah pile (self-explanatory, you need these things, you might not survive the full trip without them).
- Go through your ‘maybe pile’ for a second time and re-pile your load into the other two piles. Tedious, but necessary. Keep in mind; less is more.
- Now go ahead and give your ‘nope pile’ away! Do it NOW – before you have any second thoughts and move more and more clothes from your ‘np’ to your ‘yp’. Don’t. You haven’t needed them for ages, quit kidding yourself. Get rid of them.
- Compare your ‘yeah pile’ with your list. If you’ve listed 2 pairs of shorts, and you have 6 in your pile, you need to do some trimming. You will sincerely regret packing so much and end up throwing them out anyway. Decide which ones made you happy and most comfortable. Pick them. Stick to your list.
- Time to pack. It’s an excellent idea to mock pack your bags a few times. Confirm the weight and wear your bag around for a bit. Too heavy? You know what to do. Haha. This also helps you remember where everything is packed. So when you are in a room with 5 other sleeping people and need that extra hair elastic that is sitting at the bottom of your pack – you won’t be scratching around in the dark for hours, cursing yourself for not mock packing, waking up your roomies.
- Pack smart. All the stuff you won’t be using for a while, at the bottom. Things you will use as soon as you land/ get checked in to your hostel at the top. Undies and socks separate. Heaviest things in the middle, this helps balance out your pack, so you don’t fall over.
- Roll everything! A friend of mine introduced me to the ‘Konmari’ method, which has changed my world. Marie Kondo folds everything so that it is as small as possible, free of wrinkles and fits tightly into small spaces. When you pack it all into your bag, pack it so you can see every piece of clothing, neatly. Click here for the webpage.
- Take plastic bags or packets with you. Or keep the ones you get from buying fruit and veg from the market. These seriously come in handy for storing wet things, bits and bobs or when it comes to dirty clothes or smelly socks.
- Shower slops. I have an old pair of flat, black flip flops. They slide into any little pouch, and I take them with me everywhere. They weigh nothing and save me from itchy feet, and not the good kind. They also dry quickly, and I pop them in a small drawstring bag, so they don’t dirty my clean clothes.
- Don’t overdo the toiletries. They are heavy, can be messy and a waste of space and money. Most places you go, especially in South East Asia provide free shampoo, conditioner and body wash. B&B’s, hotels and some hostels have small travel size bottles you can take. If you need a refill, you can ask at the reception and they will give you a new one. Another cool thing I’ve noticed is that a lot of people dump their toiletries, leave them behind or simply forget to take them, so if you look in the lost and found you can find some seriously decent body washes, shampoos and even lotion to use for your time there. If you simply can’t live without your brand, you can either decant into a travel bottle, which probably won’t last you very long. Or, you can take a look at Lush products. Sean and I went on a bit of splurge after a night out in Seoul and bought a bar shampoo and conditioner and received a body wash complimentary, which weighs nothing and smells super yummy (click here for their online shop).
- Do your laundry in the shower if your accommodation doesn’t offer it, or if it is a bit pricey. Lay it out to dry on your towel on your bed. I put my undies on the heater for about 15 minutes and they were practically dry. Also, I have these awesome ‘Marmot Lobo’s Convertible Pants’ that dry super fast, do yourself a favor.
- Don’t even bother taking those puffy travel pillows with you. We ended up leaving them at our last hostel, they just get dirty, take up space and they aren’t even that comfy to begin with. You could roll up your jacket or a scarf and use that just as well. Do pack ear plugs. People can sometimes be quite noisy without realizing it. Snoring, speaking on the phone and listening to the latest music video for example.
- Water bottles!! Paramount. We decided to buy the ‘Nomader’ brand foldable silicon bottles. They rock because they don’t leak, they fold up into a small bundle that can be squeezed into the side of my daypack if I’m not using it or going through airport security and they have saved us having to buy 40 bottles of water in two weeks and counting. There is always a drinking fountain or filtered water available at the hostels or in the airport or on the train. Fill up and you won’t have to buy water again.
- Ziploc bags. They are awesome for storing your earphones, charging cables, wet undies, toothbrush, medication, you name it.
- A cloud. No, not the white, puffy ones. The one you can upload and save all your valuable personal data to and access from anywhere in the world, except China – you got to have a VPN to access it in China. There are so many storage services that offer free cloud storage, where you can upload copies of your relevant documents; passports, drivers license, I.D, photos, etc. You know, shit happens, bags get nicked and things go missing when you travel. For those looking to back up their travel photos, Amazon Prime has a pretty good deal, unlimited photos for $99 a year. Bear in mind that RAW photos do take a long time to upload to a cloud.
- Finally, travel insurance. Worldnomads.com have a very user-friendly, affordable travel insurance for if the shit, mentioned in number 18 does hit the fan, then at least you are covered. We opted for their explorer plan for the extra security and the fact that they then cover accidents that may occur while practicing a variety of extreme sports. Take a look at their website for the full list of activities that are included. Their basic plan is also great value for money.
To sum it all up, don’t overdo it. If you end up trying to convince yourself why you need to take something along, you probably don’t need it. Think light. Think smart. I hope our few tips help you out when your time comes around. If you have any comments or questions, pop it down below.
*Funny story: 2 luggage bags and 1 big ass box for New Zealand turned into 2 half-filled luggage bags and 5 big ass boxes. Whoops.