Family Travel Blog Question #38: How Do You Know What To Pack? Answer: We Don’t, Actually- Four Categories You Should Be Aware Of
How do you know what to pack? We don’t, actually.
That’s the truth of the matter. I wish I could make it more romantic or easier for you, but the whole truth is that we simply do not know. We figure it out as we go. You see, you think you’ll need all of this stuff that you never do, but you keep carrying it around for months and months cuz a- it cost you a lot of money or b- you think you still just may need to use it or c- it’s not taking up that much room anyhow. But, the darker (or more colorful, actually) truth is that we hold onto things from fear that makes all of those little ‘just maybe’s’ cumulatively a huge burden to tote around.
You’d think that in month 30, we’d be “family travel blog experts”. I know. I thought I might win some award of wisdom by this point too. Yes, we’re wiser, but in terms of packing, it continues to be a highly-entertaining balancing act between homeostasis and the world pushing toward entropy and total chaos breaking lose. We get ‘just right’ and then buy a few innocent things or get a few loving gifts or plan just a few seconds ahead and BAM! we’re totally off kilter and have to march through the mud to figure out how to lighten our load.
I’ll give you four concrete categories of our packing ying yang so that you’ll know what to aim for, and how normal you are if and when you find yourself way off course.
1- The Stuff You Know You Will Need
There is essential gear. And as the film crew will be meeting us next week (OMG!), we know from their stories that no matter how much you don’t want to be carry a lot, sometimes you don’t get that luxury of choice. They will be carrying multiple cameras and extra battery packs to enable them to keep recording even when we get so high in the Annapurna Circuit that there won’t be where to charge. In addition to the things we mailed them, they’re hoping to have room for a few pieces of clothing. They are all into the essential.
And essential gear is that non-negotiable stuff. So, for us living on Koh Rong Island, Cambodia, essential gear was bug cream. Essential. All four bottles of it. When we’ll do our one year bike-through-Europe insanity plan, essential gear will be kids bikes. Non-negotiable. You need the bikes to bike, yes. When we lived in Dalat, Vietnam and it was freezing, we bought 5 really nice winter coats for $4. (They guy who was our taxi driver the day before, saw us walking up and announced to the crowd, “Buy four, get one free!”) So, in the cool, mountains of Dalat, coats were essential.
2- The Stuff You Think You Need
These are the things that make you life easier that you really don’t need need but it makes a lot of sense. We carried a small cooker, gas cylinder, wok, and cooking gear for years on the road. It saved us tons of money and allowed us to cook healthier, lighter meals than we would typically get out in the world. Essential? No. Really wise and logical for us? Yes. In Dalat, Vietnam for example, we also bought winter gloves, scarves, socks, and knit hats. Essential? Yes. No. Not sure. We totally could of lived without it but it would have made us very uncomfortable. We would not have died of frostbite, but may have gotten a bit more sick than we did. It was really nice to have around. You get it.
But, what makes it harder is that we didn’t let go of that great winter for over a year later. This is where we enter the next category.
Our friend Jeff and Sharo at Living On The Globe were with us while we were packing up our lives in Panagsama Beach, Moalboal, Philippines. Sharo was shocked that the only clothing I took was what fit into my little zippy pouch. “If it doesn’t fit in here, I have too much.”
This post Oh God! Nothing To Wear teaches tons about how I pack with an actual list from when we stopped in Houston, Texas between South America and South East Asia. Other People’s Clothing sheds a new light on clothing. This video from Siem Reap, Cambodia explains our ‘volume theory’ well. It goes into the practicality and versatility vs volume and weight of each item well. If you’re wondering about the packing thing, you will enjoy this video:
3- The Stuff That You Hold Onto
We knew that we were going to meet the film crew in September to hike the Annapurna Circuit. We knew that we would need winter gear and had just purchased lots of winter gear from Dalat, Vietnam….. an entire year earlier. And so, we actually carried our winter jackets, scarves, gloves, and hats with us in the sweltering heat of South East Asia for about seven months. Somewhere, somehow in Gopeng, Malaysia when we were doing some amazing rafting adventures with World Nomads we realized we are choking on way too much stuff.
Out of nowhere, from backpacks we graduated to rolley-bags which were bulky, overstuffed with too much that we didn’t need anyhow, and it just got very cumbersome and heavy. And though we were just months away from finally getting to the Annapurna, we dumped those great jackets, most of the other winter gear, and tons of things that maybe we did need after all, but…. we could breathe. Yeah, in those swift shifts from one side to the other, we sometimes overdo it in cleaning shop, but, at the time, it makes the most sense, and in all reality, you never really need any of that stuff anyhow.
4- The Stuff You Want
This is where ying-yang goes way off balance. You feel like what’s the point of living if I can’t have those little pleasures that bring me joy teetering on the tipping point with what’s the point of being nomadic if moving is so damn hard? And you look at the stuff you want, me specifically, Malaysian workbooks, case in point. Hide head in shame [*cough* we carried 13 workbooks *cough*] for I believe kids should primarily use pencil and paper and not screens for their education. OMG that was insane and ridiculously heavy! We’ve carried some games around that in year three, we still hadn’t played. Funny, we played ‘the worm game’ a billion times but never got around to Scrabble, and yet, Scrabble is still there in the left side pocket of my big backpack waiting for the rainy day that we’ll feel like playing.
I think it’s the parental guilt gnawing at the left corner of my kidney that says I should play Scrabble with them in order to be a good mom. Thus, every few months when we clean up and give away/throw away/ship to Israel stuff, I somehow get out of getting rid of the Scrabble. This is where we end up getting in huge trouble and end up in situations that we all detest. The video says it all:
I haven’t spelled it out for you this time so you’ll need to laugh and cry with me on this one, and just take from it what fits into your travel life. Do you take too much? Do you also fill an entire trunk up when you go to the weekend to the in-laws, like we used to? Do you see which category you are too heavy in? Do you realize deep, down inside that most of what you think you need, you really just want, and could live perfectly well without? Have you devised some genius packing system that you can share with us? Have you written a post about it? Do share.
Love these artistic travel photos and how they take my thoughts and make them that much more expressive. Seriously, people have amazing talent that they share with so much light. I am honored to give them full credit, and hope that if you need them, you use them tons (and give them credit too, of course): Crate and box, tv crew equipment, the happy couple on their tropical vacation.
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Thank you dearly,
Gabi, Kobi, Solai, Dahnya, and Orazi