I think I might be in the minority of people who don’t hate packing for travel. I get a deep sense of satisfaction from shoving all my clothing and essentials into a tiny rolling suitcase. There’s something amazing about being able to pack your entire life into a couple of bags. Packing for travel is the thing that cements traveling for me. All the work I put into planning and organizing the trip comes to a head when everything is tucked safely into my checked bags and carry-ons.
I’ve been fortunate enough to go on several long-term trips in my young 22-year-life so far and I can tell you that the way I pack for them never changes. I always end up waiting until the last moment, panicking, then getting everything together and feeling proud of myself for my efficiency. You’d think after spending 10 months studying abroad in South Korea, I’d get used to having to cram my life away but alas…
Even if I still have anxiety about packing, I have developed a sort of routine. It works especially well because I know myself. I know I’ll wait until the last minute. I know that I can get everything put into my suitcases without needing a full week of checking and double-checking. But, I also realize that I constantly open my suitcase just to make sure that I have everything, even if I know for a fact that I did pack my winter socks.
When I was packing for Seoul, I had to follow the United Airlines guides and TSA guides because I was flying from good-ol’ Fort Lauderdale Airport in the U.S. of A. That meant that all my liquids either went into a plastic bag in my checked bags or they were below 2.8 fl ounces in my carry-on bag. These guidelines are made specifically for our safety but I have a tendency to catastrophize. The worst-case scenario is always at the front of my mind: “what if the flight has to emergency land in [insert random country] and all I have in my suitcase is all I will have ever?” followed by “What if the TSA agents don’t like the objects in my bag? What if they throw away my toothpaste?”
Luckily I was able to check two complimentary bags for my Seoul trip. This is one of the perks of using Google Flights to search for a flight – they have categories where you can indicate how many free checked bags the flights included. That took a lot of pressure off me in deciding what liquid-based products I could take for my new life as an American student studying abroad.
If you’re not checking a bag – I didn’t when I spent the summer of my second year in college in Stockholm – those TSA guidelines can get you if you’re not careful. I had to check that the little label stating that my contact solution is “2.8 fl oz” at least three times to feel comfortable before getting into the security line. My whole life was in that backpack, so I was always hoping that it got through to my destination with me in one piece.
What Should I Be Packing for Travel?
This is always the key question. I’m sorry to say that I don’t have a catch-all answer. What to pack depends on your trip — how long you’ll be away, what the weather is like, and the type of journey you are embarking on. A summer in Sweden spent working and reconnecting with extended family is completely different from an academic year studying and making new friends in South Korea.
When I was going to Stockholm, I was staying with one of my dad’s childhood friends. This meant that I wouldn’t need to bring any of the usual travel essentials like toothpaste or sheets/pillows. I could also pack lighter because it was summertime, so no heavy coats or scarves. Plus, since the trip was only two and a half months, I could survive with a solid three pairs of pants and a handful of shirts (I had three dresses as well).
Seoul was an entirely different story and thinking about what to pack for travel. I had to pack for 10 months of living abroad in a country where I was still learning the language. There was no family there to meet me nor would I be living in a place where basics were provided for me. I had to plan packing sheets, a blanket, and some bathroom essentials into my checked bags.
Both trips required completely different strategies to get the most out of my luggage space. I had to do a lot of individual research on weather patterns, potential pollution, and things that the countries didn’t readily supply that I took for granted living in the United States.
Some Essentials to Never Forget While Packing for Travel
Even though each trip requires a different packing list, there are a few staples. These are the things that you should always have with, no matter your destination:
First off, your toothbrush and toothpaste. If you thought I was going to say phone charger/adaptor, I see you. There are definitely more important things to me (though that is on the list). I say toothbrush/toothpaste first because I hate having to buy new ones wherever I travel. Not only do I find it a waste of money, but it also wastes plastic.
Second, underwear and socks. I can hear you laughing but they are super easy to forget about while you are packing for travel. Having enough undergarments to survive the travel, plus a little extra, is important. It makes everything slightly more comfortable.
The third staple is, you probably guessed it, chargers and adaptors. We live in a tech-driven society. You need to make sure that your devices are all able to charge and survive in foreign places.
These are just my top three essentials. Of course, there are more but I’d be here all day. Let me know what your staples are!
Don’t Let Having to Pack a Bag Stop You From Travel
Packing marks the beginning of a new journey, and beginnings are always terrifying. Going somewhere new, no matter how small the changes are, will always have you stepping out of your old skin and into a new one. Packing is the affirmation of that: old clothes for a new person.
Damn, if that isn’t nerve-wracking. But, in the end, no matter how much anxiety packing gives me (a lot) I always end up loving the process of packing for travel. I love thinking of where my bag and I are going to end up, and how we’re going to change before we come back.
Remember your toothbrush,