The Packing Dilemma

As someone who has spent several months traveling in South America, I can attest that what you pack and what you choose to leave behind is the difference between a great trip and annoying back pain. Before you start your journey, the storage challenges fall broadly into two categories: how to physically fit all your possessions into your travel luggage, and what to do with the stuff you leave behind. By overcoming these issues, you stand a much better chance of your trip going smoothly.

What to Take

You wont fit much in this old beauty

We all know the maxim: pack light, so why can so few of us obey this rule? The answer is: fear of the unknown. How can we be sure we wont need an extra towel/a hairdryer/our favorite shirt? The take everything approach might make sense on romantic weekend breaks, but interestingly this impulse is even stronger on longer trips (as your survival instinct kicks in).

One of the biggest considerations, in terms of packing, is number of activities. For example, you might need clothing for general day-to-day activities, exercise, going out in the evening, special activities (like hiking) and sleeping. They’ll also need different shoes (sneakers for day wear, running shoes for exercise, high heels/formal shoes for going out, hiking boots and slippers). Five pairs of shoes are going to be very heavy, so consider items that multitask. For the above example – I might take a pair of shoes that are good for both walking and light exercise, and another pair of smarter black daywear shoes that I can wear on more dressed up occasions too. Two pairs, done (sorry slippers).

Here are some other tips:

  • Roll your clothes to fit more in, and pack layered clothing that can easily be put on/taken off as you get hotter/colder. Also consider what you look like with all your layers on together savvy traveler or asylum escapee?
  • Don’t buy a massive first aid kit unless you’re planning to do high-risk activities (find one thats well stocked but compact).
  • Bring extra plastic bags and small zip lock bags. You can never have enough of these.
  • Make sure the day backpack you take has lots of compartments to help keep track of things (documents in one, guidebooks in another).
  • Speaking of guidebooks, they’re usually heavy. Consider replacing one of your two paper guidebooks with an electronic edition. Even if you dont have a kindle, you can download the kindle app on your Smartphone and read eBooks that way.
  • Another great space saving item is a compact microfiber travel towel.
    Instead of a water bottle, pack a plastic bladder (takes up much less room when empty).
  • Remember, its not just about weight; its also about ease of repacking (especially important if you’re moving around a lot on your travels).

What to do with the stuff you leave behind

The length of time you’re away will have a major impact on this. If youre traveling for weeks or months instead of days, then investing in storage is paramount (you don’t want to come back to find your possessions missing or damaged). But even if you’re traveling for a few weeks, many people now rent out their house or room to help cover costs, so storage will be a consideration too. Self storage works great for travelers – its flexible, safe and a minimum stay can be as little as seven days. But there are several ways to make it work harder for you:

Once you’ve decided on a storage room, maximize the space. The more organized the storage room is the more you’ll fit in. Stack lighter items on heavier, but leave room for last minute packing/unpacking.
Label everything and be specific bathroom stuff is too vague, and when you’ve back from your travels you’ll appreciate the time you took to name boxes
Some storage facilities will discount irregular sized rooms (ones that aren’t rectangle in shape they might have a small alcove, say, rather than just four walls). Ask the storage facility manager about value or irregular rooms and see if they have any discounts.
Van hire can add another cost to your storage requirement if you don’t own a vehicle big enough to transport your possessions, but some storage facilities will refund the costs of your van hire – ask them.
If you plan to store your items for a long time, you might be able to get an even bigger saving if you can pay in advance.
Make sure you know where all the bolts/screws are to put things back together again
Think about what you’ll need first when you get back after your travels and make sure these are easily available in the storage room.