Travel Packing Tips for the Reluctant Nomad

How to pack when you’re not coming back


Fit everything I own into these two bags? Suuuuuure.

Mom, don’t freak out. I’m not not coming back, I just like to rhyme whenever possible. It’s good for SEO.

I have to pack for a trip to at least four countries over a period of at least 3 months and I’m only bringing one backpack and one laptop bag.

What’s a girl to do with restrictions like that?

Luckily, I don’t have that many clothes to place on the sacrificial altar, so killing my babies shouldn’t be too difficult (except those gorgeous DSW boots…I just bought those, damn it.)

Here are my travel packing tips after having to consolidate everything I own into 2 bags.

I hauled out everything I owned and began placing it all into piles on the bed – a “no” pile, a “maybe” pile, and a “yes” pile, based on weather, the mosquito factor, and the likelihood of having to look cute.

By the time I finished, I’d narrowed everything down to two of everything:

  • 2 long sleeve shirts
  • 2 t-shirts
  • 2 sweaters
  • 2 jackets (leather and heavy winter)
  • 2 dresses (one sun, one that I could wear should I be invited to a fancy dinner. Or a Nepalese Cinderella ball.)
  • 2 sports bras
  • 2 real bras
  • 2 pairs of pants
  • 2 pairs of sweatpants/workout pants
  • 2 pairs of underwear

Kidding. I allowed myself room for a smattering of socks and underwear, enough to last me for at least a week without doing laundry.

The garments marched two by two into my lone, cavernous bag, which had suddenly become a veritable Noah’s Ark of international travel.

Make sure to roll – not fold – your clothing when packing. Keep the stuff you must get at quickly (hand sanitizer! clean underwear!) in an easily accessible pocket.

Bra Pod! Step 1

Bra Pod! Step 1

Bra Pod! Step 2

Bra Pod! Step 2

Matt recommends getting tiny little Elf locks (like a padlock, not long flowing hair) to secure your bag. I am not doing this. I hope I don’t regret it.

In addition to my Noah’s Ark wardrobe, I am bringing

  • A bunch of girly toiletries
  • Some makeup
  • Prescription medications (anti-malaria, anti-diarrhea, etc)
  • My laptop
  • My iPhone 5
  • Chargers for said electronics
  • Noise-cancelling headphones
  • Batteries for said headphones

I dumped all of the medications out of their bottles, put it into plastic baggies, and labeled them with a Sharpie to save more room.

I also got an iPhone case that doubles as a battery, so when my phone is about to die on the plane, my phone won’t die on the plane!

This was about $50 on GroupOn and is already making my battery life longer than my boyfriend’s face after I made a joke about getting laid in Nepal. (Ohhh, so you don’t want me, but nobody else can have me either. Got it.)

Think your phone is about to die? Think again!

Think your phone is about to die? Think again!

And the piece de resistance of what I’m bringing to Nepal – VALIUM.

I have never taken Valium before, and I’m not quite sure why I hadn’t considered it earlier because I loathe flying. Absolutely hate it. Everyone always seem to be chewing gum in my ear or snoring loudly or shoving their elbows into me or trying to talk to me when I want to sleep.

I can’t sleep on planes to save my life, but I need to sleep on this flight. If I don’t, I may be awake for over 48 hours straight, and I think that will be really bad for my skin.

Valium face.

Valium face.

My itinerary is as follows:

11:30am Friday – Fly from LAX to Shanghai Pudong, 14 hours (last year’s flight was only 12 hours – is the difference because of daylight savings time?)

4:30pm Saturday – Land in Shanghai and enjoy a four hour layover after my 14 hour flight.

9:00pm Saturday – If you’re keeping track, I’ve now been traveling for 18 hours, and have probably been awake for over 24. The solution? Get on another 3-hour flight to Kungming, China.

12:20am Sunday – Land in Kungming, China. Endure a cruel 14 hour layover.

2:30pm Sunday – Fly from Kungming to Kathmandu, another 3-4 hours. With the time change I should arrive in Nepal around 4:30pm on Sunday.

The two biggest problems about this itinerary are as follows:


2. I don’t know if I’ll be allowed to leave the airport in Kunming, which means I may have to spend 14 hours in the airport.

Last year when I flew into Shanghai, I had a similar lay over and was allowed to leave the airport with a visa that was only good for 24 hours. But this time I’ll be in the country longer – first Shanghai, then Kunming.

Coffee and Valium, the breakfast of champions

Coffee and Valium, the breakfast of champions

The airport in Kunming is new and the information available online is confusing. One website talks about lounges, and even showers, right in the airport. Travel forums are filled with people asking the same question as me – can I leave the airport and get a hotel? If not, are there really showers in the airport?

I still don’t know. I guess I’ll find out when I get there (Yikes! I need a plan! A plan, I say!)

In the mean time, my Valium is tucked inside my Noah’s Ark menagerie, and as my sweetie helps me try on my packed pack for the first time, smiling at me tenderly before kissing my forehead, I wonder if I’m making a huge, huge mistake.

What’s your weirdest travel packing tip?

photo credit:

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Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. Roll up each individual item of clothing to save space.
2. Take exactly 2 of everything (except underwear - take a bunch of that)
3. Dump medications out of their bottles and put them in labeled plastic baggies to save space.
4. Get a battery-powered charger for your Smartphone (try GroupOn - they should be around $50)
5. You miiiiight want some Valium for the plane.
6. Just when you think you've eliminated all extraneous items from your bag(s), get rid of more. When you're running to catch a train in 100-degree heat, you'll thank me.

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

6 comments on “Travel Packing Tips for the Reluctant Nomad

  1. Annie

    I have spent years perfecting my ideal minimum travel gear and STILL not achieved it :)) but the freedome it gives you if you travel light cannot be underestimated. I am interested by your choice of leather and heavy winter coats, what do you wear for heavy rain?? I tend to take lightweight waterproof and a down jacket for warmth that’s light and compact but neither is very appropriate for any dressed-up event……still working on it…..x

    1. Rebekah Voss Post author

      Great question Annie! It’s a tough balance for sure. For colder weather I have one leather jacket and one thicker winter jacket that’s actually warm but lightweight and rolls up nicely in my backpack without taking up too much space. I haven’t experienced rain somewhere really cold, but for rain in warmer climates I just use a cheap plastic rain cover, the kind you can buy on the street for $1. I have yet to have a dress-up event collide with bad weather – that’s a tough one indeed! I sort of dress like a scrub when traveling so if you figure out how to look great while still packing light please let me know!! (:

  2. Annie

    What shoes do you take?? I am still struggling with the shoe issue -flipflops (beach, showers etc), walking sandles (always want my boots but tend to manage with sandles and socks if necessary), then I am always struggling and want trainers for cycling etc and posher sandles for evening….

    1. Rebekah Voss Post author

      I started off with a pair of boots (which I wore on the plane and didn’t pack), one pair of flip flops, one pair of hiking sneakers, and a pair of flats. I’m now down to a pair of flip flops and a pair of plastic shoes bought in a market in Vietnam – I’ve been doing yoga for exercise so no need for sneakers, and I’ve learned to do just about everything in flip flops as is the way in Asia! Shoes have actually become less and less important as I’ve seen people do everything from strenuous workouts to construction work wearing sandals. I’d say a sturdy pair of sandals (the kind you can walk all day in) are great, plus a pair of cheap flip flops and a pair of sneakers will suffice. I gave up on posh footwear but maybe nice flats for evening? Heels are heavy and clunky and take up so much room in your bag….

  3. Donna

    I may be way off base, but I thought you had to keep your medications in their prescription bottles or run into issues at the airports, something about your bringing in unprescribed drugs. Just don’t want you to get in trouble. What a trip you’re going on. You’re my hero.

    1. Rebekah Voss Post author

      Thanks Donna!! So far I’ve only had an issue once while in China – and it wasn’t even about prescription meds, it was an aerosal can of bug spray in my suitcase. The man searching my stuff at the airport didn’t speak English, but took the can and mimed “sniffing” it. I don’t know if I’ve ever been so surprised! You make a really good point though – probably a good idea to leave prescription meds in their bottles just in case, or at least hang on to the bottles if any asks. (:


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