Expat’s Guide to Packing Light

Packing Light

We know you’ve seen the guy at the airport terminal cramming his extra books, socks, and a bottle of tequila into the garbage can. It’s a sad sight. Don’t be that guy (or girl)!

In this edition of “Expat’s Guide to…” we are going to talk about our proven techniques for packing light. Packing light not only saves you time at the airport, it leaves extra room for treasures to bring home from your trip. And, your lower back will thank us.

Carry on or check?

There’s a lot of debate on other travel blogs about this. But, we like this take on it over at Life Hacker: “Checking your luggage is like gambling with your belongings. Something could break, get stolen, lost, and so on…”

There are advantages and disadvantages to both ways. These main arguments for carrying on stand out for us:

  • Your stuff is always safely within reach. Airports like Johannesburg are notorious for theft and nothing is considered safe when checked.
  • You don’t have to wait at baggage claim. There’s nothing we hate more than waiting in line as people aggressively jockey and shove each other for front row at the luggage carousel.
  • A smaller bag = less stuff to lug around. Bonus!

Whether you prefer a roller bag, duffel, or backpack, carrying on can work for any type of luggage.

Your New Best Friend: Packing Cubes

Packing cubes are amazing. It sounds a bit dorky, we know. But, packing cubes allow you to group your things together and maximize your luggage space.

Some people swear by space saver bags (the ones that you attach to a vacuum). The downside to using space savers is that while you’re on the road, you have to continually re-compress your items. Space savers also make your pack very heavy.

There are a lot of different types of packing cubes and stuff sacks out there. John likes Outdoor Research stuff sacks. He puts shirts in one sack and pants in another.

I like Eagle Creek packing cubes (I have these ones), because the zippers are sturdy and the mesh material allows me to see what’s inside. If you’ve never used them, Travel Fashion Girl has a nifty video on how to use packing cubes.

Pack the Right Clothes, But Not Too Many.

This is, of course, easier if you’re going somewhere warm. But, with some creative planning and layering tactics, you can still pack light no matter your destination. Just keep in mind that you have to carry around every item that you put into your bag. So, is the extra shirt or pair of pants worth it?

We are big fans of ExOfficio clothing. Although sometimes pricey, ExOfficio stuff is specifically made for traveling. Many of their clothes are made of quick-dry and wrinkle free fabrics, which is great for stuffing into your suitcase or backpack.

The other great thing about clothes is that you can wash them! Yes, it’s true. Depending on how long your trip is, you will need to do laundry at least once. Bring a small packet of travel laundry soap, throw a few things in the sink, and voila! a whole new set of clean clothes.

Thoughts on Electronics

If you are traveling for fun, rather than business, and the trip is relatively short, we recommend leaving your laptop at home. But, we understand the need to stay in touch while on the road. Our solution: bring an unlocked smartphone and/or WiFi enabled tablet. A phone or tablet is much smaller and less conspicuous than a laptop.

In terms of music, instead of bringing an iPod, why not transfer some music to your smartphone. This reduces one more electronic item that you need to bring. Win!

Travel Toiletries Are Small For a Reason

They’re small because you don’t need much more than that. Plus, retailers like Target and Bed, Bath and Beyond offer a wide selection of travel-sized items. From Burt’s Bees to Dove and Old Spice, you can probably find a mini version of something you already use. Unless you are in need of a specialty item, ditch your regular sized toiletries and just bring the small stuff.

While you’re on the road, why not pick up some local soap or shampoo? I’m always fascinated at the different brands and types of toiletries in other places. It’s all part of experiencing a new culture. Although, we do regret buying salty toothpaste in Thailand…

E-Reader: A Library in Your Pocket

Many people have a love/hate relationship with e-readers. I resisted buying one until recently. Although in our opinion, not the best medium for guidebooks, an e-reader will save sooooo much space in your luggage. Lightweight and relatively inexpensive, an e-reader can store thousands of books. Perfect for a long train journey or relaxing at your hotel.

We have an Amazon Kindle. Since we shop a lot on Amazon, it makes buying new books super easy. We download a few new books on our laptop and then transfer them to our kindle before we leave on a big trip.

Make a List (and check it twice)

We really like lists. Maybe you’re not a list person, but when it comes to packing, making a list becomes very important. A list allows you to plan and visualize what you need and don’t need.

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