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Posted on Aug 23, 2013

Family Travel Blog Question #38: How Do You Know What To Pack? Answer: We Don’t, Actually- Four Categories You Should Be Aware Of

Family Travel Blog Question #38: How Do You Know What To Pack? Answer: We Don’t, Actually- Four Categories You Should Be Aware Of

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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.

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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.

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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:

The Conclusions:

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.

IF YOU ENJOYED THIS PACKING POST, YOU WILL TOTALLY LOVE TO DEATH THESE TWO TOO:

THINGS TO PACK FOR THE ANNAPURNA AND YOUR REGULAR FAMILY VACATION

AND

THE MOST ILLOGICAL, UNREASONABLE, AND ABSURD THINGS WE PACK- LIFE ON THE ROAD TIPS

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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We’ve written a highly inspirational e-book about money and how you can take these ten steps to make your travel dreams come true. It has helped many and helps us continue our travel dreams. I do hope you will consider spending the $8 and learning/ be reminded of what you can do, starting today, to make your family world travel dreams come true. You can do it too friends. You can. You can.

Thank you dearly,

Gabi, Kobi, Solai, Dahnya, and Orazi

Comments

comments

15 Comments

  1. I’m actually pretty good at not taking too much. 3 months into this nomadic world travel thing, my major problem is STUFF DISAPPEARS!! The kids shorts never came back from the laundry, half my underwear vanished in a hostel, somebody stole my shampoo ( I caught him out after he’d used most of it) and a travel towel has just vaporised from my pack. Plus the kids are growing and wearing stuff out. There is nowhere to replace stuff in Laos, where we are now, nothing beyond shorts and fluoro singlets. I’m very glad I brought some extra stuff with me to plug the gaps as things vanish, but I still need a big shopping trip once we hit Bangkok! So there you go. Lots of love Alyson xx

  2. We use cube-its (plastic zip up packs ) and if it doesn’t fit inside each persons cube-it then it goes. I used the same principal for this current trip to the Arctic Circle. in Dec when head off in the campervan for 9 months on the road it will be a similar problem of it it doesn’t fit on the shelf in the cupboard then it aint gonna get in at all. 2 weeks of clothes and not being afraid to wear the same garment until it actually needs washing (Oh my did I really just admit that out loud the other mummies at school would be shocked PMPL) and a bottle of travel wash. Sorted. Its a tough cll though getting it totally right and having clothes that can swap between children also helps… x.

  3. It’s so hard, esp when you’re nomadic like you are! We pack a lot when we go to visit my parents for the weekend! 🙂

    • totally jessie. we used to pack an entire trunk full also when going to the in-laws for the weekend! craziness!

  4. I went through the same thing when I packed for the Camino. It’s difficult to plan for something you’ve never done and know what you will use and what you won’t. I regret not bringing my walking poles, but wish I had rationed my travel pharmacy better. Packing is brutal, even if you’re going on a beach vacation!

    • cat you are constantly so kind and beautiful and supportive. thank you love. yes, packing is brutal, even if you’re going to the beach! 🙂 hugs to you. gabi

  5. Wow – I can totally relate to all of this!! I go through these questions every time I’m leaving for a trip. And I always end up bringing too much 🙁

  6. Ha! I love the categories that you break it down into. I go lighter on clothes so I can fit in my essential oils and peppermint foot lotion!

  7. Nice post. I like your four categories, helpful if you’re just flying across the USA instead of hightailing it for months in Cambodia, but you really got it right with your headline — you don’t know if you’ve got it right until you get there. Talk about an art not a science . . . .

  8. Gabi, carrying an over packed bag is one of my least favorite aspects of travelling. I would even go so far as to call it our travel bane. That said, no matter how hard we try to lighten the load we still carry too much.

    Now that we’re traveling with a couple laptops, smartphones and a tablet it’s even worse. Electronics and all their adapters are heavy. We also carry too many toys (Legos and stuffed animals) and probably a sweater or two that we could do without.

    I think it’s definitely harder when you have kids though. Nearly any packing guru you meet is single and hasn’t needed to keep a bored kid entertained or a cold kid warm on their travels. Kids also get dirty much quicker than we do so extra clothes for them is a must.

    Sometimes when I repack I feel like I’m gambling whether or not I’ll need it down the road. Sometimes I might as well just flip a coin. 😉

    Good luck with your battle and if you stumble on some packing wisdom in the future please pass it on.

    • hi charles. what a treat to find your well thought out reply. we suck at packing. officially. we don’t suck we just hate it. inevitably we can never fit everything back in there and we have no idea what to do. we refuse to get another bag (again) and refuse to be too heavy and the longer we stop somewhere the more we’ve managed to collect and get attached to. i will definitely tell you if i gain any more wisdom in this department. and yes, traveling with the kids is sooooo much harder for we take educational materials (heavy), electronics (heavy but great educationally and for entertainment when we need it), and cooking gear and…. I’ll stop. yes, the single folk have it easier. you know it is funny how you spoke ot flipping the coin cuz i bet you half of it we still don’t need. hugs, gabi

  9. We tend to travel around the island as a family. Whilst Mr Gran Canaria Local’s of the bung-everything-into-a-bag school to ensure we’re not too late to enjoy the break, Mrs Gran Canaria Local’s more of the considered-three-hour-pack which means we’re forever running late. Guess who does the packing?

    • i hear you friend! i hear you! 🙂 too funny! gabi

  10. Thanks for the great packing tips and sharing your 4 categories. I find that the more nervous I am about a destination the more I want to pack.

    • how funny and true mary that the more emotionally nervous you are the more you take ‘just in case’. lol. gabi

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