How To Pack Like a Pro

First off, I made it safely to Chengdu. I’m settled into my (tiny) apartment, and am currently trying to work off some serious jet lag. Alright… moving swiftly along.

I’ll admit, trying to figure out how to stuff an entire year of my life down into 1 backpack, 1 carryon, and 1 checked bag was a little daunting… especially when I need to prepare for an office setting, tropic (or near-tropic) travel, school, and winter. I spent a significant amount of time cruising the internet, hoping to find some tips and tricks. Unfortunately, I’m not going to spend hundreds of dollars on quick-dry towels or zip off pants, so I found a lot of the packing for a trek lists less than helpful.

So, below are my tips and tricks, if you want to pack for a year abroad, without looking like a ragged backpacker.

1). Know your luggage. An international carryon must be under 21 inches. A checked bag must weigh less than 50 pounds. No exceptions. You don’t want to be that guy in the airport, and you definitely don’t want to pay those fees.

(I packed a 25 inch Travelpro Walkabout 2, the coordinating rolling tote which is the next size down from 21″ , and my trusty Timbuk2 messenger bag)

2) Narrow down your shoe choices. Shoes are big and clunky. Wear your bulkiest pair on the airplane, and pack the others. This year, I have walking shoes, athletic shoes, ballet flats, and sandals.

3) Lay out all of the clothes you think you need on your bed. Now put half back. It will not kill you to leave behind that one shirt that looks awesome, but is slightly uncomfortable. Space is limited, and you will already be pretty uncomfortable because you are abroad.

4) Pack multi-purpose clothes. Can you wear that tank top to the office, classroom, or while traveling around? Does it coordinate with at least two different items? Is it wrinkle resistant? Does it dry relatively quickly? Pack it!

5) Roll your clothes. All of the travel sites say it, and it does seriously work.Your clothes will take up less room, and will have less wrinkles.

6) Do not pack anything so expensive or sentimental that you would be distraught if you lost it. Things will wander off, get stolen, or be left behind to make room for new things, so give yourself as much flexibility as possible.

7) Pack a few pieces of relatively basic jewelry. I love wearing necklaces and earrings, but I don’t want to try and keep track of my entire collection while abroad. I decided on a couple sets of coordinating gold earrings, a gold necklace, blue necklace, and a Chinese butterfly necklace I was gifted last year.

8) Leave behind large bottles. Shampoo, conditioner, hairspray, and many other things are more than likely available where ever you are going. They are bulky, must be checked, and could potentially leak all over your other things. That being said, I recommend bringing things like bug spray or sunscreen, simply because the US versions seem to work better.

9) Ditto for blow dryers or straighteners. They won’t even work in China anyway because the outlets use a different voltage.

10) Pack all of your electronics and chargers in your carryon. I included my laptop, tablet, camera, Ipod, and respective chargers and cords in my backpack. They are much easier to keep track of there, and are less likely to be smashed.

11) E-readers or tablets are awesome! Having a small, lightweight collection of books, podcasts, music, and access to internet on a 11 hour flight, or during your 8 hour layover is absolutely invaluable. I wished I had this last year, and I’m loving having it this year.

12) Pack at least one change of clothes in your carryon. My checked luggage was left behind in Beijing… but luckily I have a good portion of my business clothes in my little carryon bag. After a long day of traveling, it is nice to know that you have clean underwear and pants for tomorrow.

13) Pack a really nice journal. After returning from my trip last year, I loved flipping through my leather-bound travel journal and remembering everything that happened. This is going to store my favorite memories, so I want it to look like a heirloom.

14) Make sure to pack empty space. Plan on picking up items along the way. I am a big fan of dumping unnecessary items along the way, but you don’t want to be forced to choose between the perfect gift for your grandmother or the winter jacket you are eventually going to need.

So… After all of that, here’s a general idea of how I packed.

Checked bag:
Casual/ travel clothes (t shirts, jeans, shorts, tanks, sweaters, etc)
Shoes (athletic shoes, flats, sandals)
Knitting (extra yarn & needles)
Gifts (UW Madison t shirts)
Medicine (Allergy, cold, malaria, contacts, etc)
Liquids (bug spray, sunscreen, face wash)
Jackets (light winter & rain)
Scarves (winter and light)
Baseball hat

Carryon bag:
Business clothes (suit, button downs, dress pants, sweaters, tanks)
Underwear & Socks
Jersey knit skirts (long and knee-length)

Padfolio & Business cards
Knitting project
Water bottle (empty!)
Textbook (for my summer class)