I am so excited that Paige from All Over the Map let me have a peek inside her very well traveled suitcase. Paige and her family are on a round the world trip, and have some tips for how to make the most of the suitcase space.
When we decided to take a year to travel around the world, my husband and I really put a lot of time into the decision of whether to bring suitcases or backpacks, and whether they should be on wheels. We made a decision early on that we would each bring one small rolling suitcase (suitable for carry-on for most international flights) and one small backpack, so that each of us – myself, my husband, and my twin 13-year-old daughters – could carry and be responsible for our own stuff.
The decision of what clothes to pack was fairly easy, really, once we figured out how much room we had to work with. We could only bring the absolute essentials with us. We figured we would bring about a weeks worth of clothing, and plan to do laundry once a week or so.
And when I say we only brought the essentials, I am not exaggerating. To prove it, here’s a look at my suitcase without the clothing in it. Note that it is pretty much full already.
Here’s what lives in my suitcase other than clothing:
- 4 packing cubes – these are low tech bags I picked up in Vietnam for $3 each, made on the spot from rice bags. They function like drawers, so I can sort things a bit. Pajamas and pants in the pink bag (like the alliteration?), cold-weather clothes in the blue bag (blue = cold), and swimsuits and shorts in the bag with the fish on it.
- 2 shoe bags – nothing special here, just a couple of lightweight bags to stuff my dirty shoes in. If you question the necessity of this, just keep in mind that I am still finding bits of sand from the Wadi Rum desert six months after we left there.
- A hanging toiletry bag. This is probably taking up way more room than it merits, but I just like to be able to carry everything with me if we’re sharing a bathroom in a hostel.
- A plastic bag for computer cords, converter plugs, a small tripod, a usb charging hub, two external hard drives, a few thumb drives, and an external DVD drive.
- A plastic bag containing antibiotics, cold medicine, allergy pills, and other various remedies and first aid supplies, replenished as needed.
- Contact lenses to last the duration of the trip.
- Business cards. I brought cards for my blog so I could promote it wherever we went, but even if you don’t have a blog, it’s a good idea to carry some kind of card to give to the people you meet along the way so you can keep in touch. Or at least become Facebook friends.
- My trusty fanny pack. It is, as my mom would say “nerdly,” but it’s like a security blanket for me when I travel. I’ve been looking for a cuter one, but nothing has yet taken the place of my 20-year-old nylon paunch pouch. When we’re in pickpocket zones, I carry it under a sweater or jacket and keep my hand on it at all times.
So what kind of clothing did I pack for 11 months on the road?
- A pair of long pants. I opted for a pair of synthetic black skinny jeans from Uniqlo, so I could wash and dry them quickly. Denim would be too heavy and take too long to dry.
- A pair of mid-calf length pants for hiking in hotter climates.
- A tube dress that could also serve as a skirt, or as a changing room at the beach.
- A black slip dress that can be worn alone or with a blouse or jacket or sweater.
- 5 – 7 t-shirts
- 2 long-sleeve shirts
- 1 black shrug. Warm but not heavy or bulky.
- 7 pairs of underwear. Synthetic only.
- 5 pairs of socks. These have been replaced along the way. I still manage to lose one even without a washing machine.
- 1 waterproof rain shell
- 1 pair hiking-type shoes. Mine are Chacco clogs that I can wear in any weather, with or without socks.
- 1 pair lightweight short boots
- 1 pair flip-flops – but rest assured, you can buy these for next to nothing anywhere you would need them.
- 1 pair of folding flats that I can wear when I don’t want to look like a backpacker. It’s not a terribly convincing disguise.
- A small zippered bag for earrings and cheap jewelry picked up along the way. Don’t bring anything you’d be sad to lose!
- A small zippered bag for cosmetics.
Here’s what lives in my backpack whenever we are in transit:
- My Macbook Air with its charging cord, iPhone charging cord, and at least one external hard drive, all in a protective case.
- A folder containing important documents like airplane tickets, prescriptions, copies of our passports, receipts for packages sent home, emergency numbers, insurance information.
- My black cashmere pashmina. I only mention that it is cashmere because that means it is ultralight but ultrawarm. I have whipped it out on every flight, over-airconditioned bus and train, and it really takes the chill off of autumn in Europe and June in Buenos Aires.
- A small folding umbrella.
- A water-resistant rain shell. Haven’t used it more than once or twice, but my husband was adamant that we all needed one.
And speaking of being in transit, a key part of our packing has been how we dress when in transit. We always wear our biggest, heaviest shoes, and we wear our jackets, even if we’re in sweltering Asia. And I always, always wear my Scottevest. This, again, might fall in the “nerdly” column, but it’s fairly unobtrusive and nondescript, which is the whole point. It is meant to be a travel vest that doesn’t look like a travel vest. It has a ton of pockets, and each has its own assignment when I wear it. There’s the iPhone pocket, the passport and ticket pocket, the wallet pocket, the notebook pocket, the pen slot, the backup pen slot, the glasses pocket (which comes with a cleaning cloth!), and even an iPad pocket, though I don’t travel with one. And those are all internal pockets, so if I zip it up, I’m pretty much pickpocket-proof. Which is a big concern when you’re traveling on crowded trains and buses, believe me. The external pockets hold coins, mints, lipstick, and tissues. And I’m ready for anything!
~All of the luggage for four people for 12 months~
What’s in my suitcase today, 10 months into our round-the-world trip, is not the same as what was in my suitcase when we left the United States last fall. I’ve picked up t-shirts here and there, and bought a pair of Vietnamese pajamas.
Here are some things that I either sent home, lost or simply ditched along the way:
- Anything white. It’s just impossible to keep it looking presentable.
- A cute hat that was not particularly warm and couldn’t keep its shape when squashed into the overfull suitcase.
- A dressy blouse I brought to wear over my slip dress for fancy nights out. What fancy nights out?
- A shapeless black pullover sweater that I never liked anyway. When I knew we were heading to hot weather for the next few months, I ditched it.
- My favorite Nalgene bottle. I accidentally left it somewhere in Spain in our first month on the road, and felt naked without it, but I never found a suitable replacement.
I will admit that after 10 months on the road, I am sick to death of my clothes, and am only half joking when I say I’d like to have a bonfire to burn them when I get home. If they weren’t mostly synthetic, I would do it. And my shoes! I can’t wait to put on a cute pair of shoes! They’d be utterly impractical on the road, but I’m dreaming of heels.
Overall, I’ve been happy with the choices I made. If I were to do it again, the main change I would make would be to bring even less stuff. You can always buy clothes if you need them. Just bring the bare essentials, and things you can only get at home.
As for what the rest of my family packs, you’d have to ask them. One of the joys of traveling with teenagers is that they can and do take care of their own stuff!
Meet the Author:
Paige Conner Totaro is a co-founder of the family travel website All Over the Map, and a frequent writer on food, design and travel. In September 2012, she set out with her twin 13-year-old daughters for an 11-month trip around the world. You can follow her travels on her travel blog and on Instagram.