Travel Lifestyle

The Great Unpacking List

What's on YOUR packing list ? Travel needs on your packing list really vary depending on where you go.

Disclaimer: this post is bit lengthy. It’s not one of those cute “10 things to put on your packing list for your next vacation” posts. Rather, this is a post that gives you the results of the ultimate litmus travel test. Our goal as global citizens is to always refrain from dragging our entire closet around the world, so what exactly does one really truly need?

I recently returned from a 21 day trip to 3 different continents. One of my greatest challenges was packing my bags for so many different needs. As I drag my bags out of the back of my car, I can’t help but think of what I took that I really, really didn’t use. Don’t get me wrong, I, too, watch videos about how to pack the perfect bag for a 31 month trip to 143 countries and still meet the TSA approved carry on standards.

Truth be told even though I travel a lot, I mean a lot, I have never ever accomplished the carry on bag. It’s just not my reality. In fact, I packed over 100 items in addition to a ton of donations for this trip. So what did I really use and what did I really just lug around with me for no reason? Here’s the big packing list, and, more importantly, the bigger unpacking list.

So, what were my travel needs?

24 hours in Dubai (think hot!)

Purpose: extended layover

Dress: casual covered

8 Days in Lusaka, Zambia (think mild, mild weather with chilly nights)

Purpose: volunteer work in schools

Dress: professional work place plus all of those donations!

6 days in Livingstone, Zambia and Chobe, Botswana

Purpose: game drives, Victoria Falls and other activities

Dress: casual for cold mornings and warm days

6 days in Athens, Greece

Purpose: relaxing

Dress: casual ready to lunch and shop

What was the challenge?

The luggage parameters for this trip had a generous three, 50 pound suitcases for check in and a standard 15 pound carry on. The reason for this is because the second leg of my trip was for humanitarian purposes and I was bringing supplies to a local charity.

The recommended packing list:

….was long! The complications of different climates, different tasks, and different cultural expectations meant far more than the average traveler! Additionally, going to sub-Saharan Africa has its own set of challenges. A few of the more specific items on the list include:

Bathroom wipes. Sweaters for the morning cool

Malaria medication. A small pharmaceutical kit

A raincoat to visit the Falls Laundry detergent

What got packed:

Along with the above, I packed a layover bag for Dubai with my electronics, toiletries, and a change of clothes and my travel papers (barely making the 7kg cutoff!) I also threw in travel bands, the new turtle neck pillow, an eye mask, headphones, a foot rest and compression socks.

My three check in bags- and I am anti carry on! – each maxed out to 22.67 kg a piece; more so because of the donations I was bringing rather than my clothes. But I did need to bring a week’s worth of professional clothing, a week’s worth of cool weather clothing, and a week’s worth of summer clothing. Although, taking 150 pounds of stuff, I tried my best to organize things: bag one, all donations, my plan to donate everything including the bag worked out well. Bag two was full of a mix of donations and summer clothes and bag three rounded out my clothing for the rest of my trip. So, did I bring a lot? Yes. But specifically, what wasn’t of use? After unloading about 100 pounds, this is what I figured out.

In the end, what didn’t get used?

So as I drag my bags back into the house after 21 adventurous days, what are my packing regrets? What could I have left off my packing list? I weighed them out of curiosity and all that regret weighed exactly 7kg. That’s a lot of beautiful art and treasures that I could bring home! Here is what didn’t work:

The neck pillow: I’m uncomfortable with or without it, it’s bulky, although I got the new foldable one, I didn’t think it was worth it.

The eye mask: while not that big or heavy, was not that helpful. I did use it but my sunglasses worked just as well. I’ll pass!

Two pair of flats: I brought two pairs of Rothy’s washable flats and I really only used one. Washable flats seemed a good idea with all the work I was doing but I didn’t need two.

5 dresses: I depended on the charity I was working with to guide me on the work clothes I needed but truth be told, I could have just brought the flats and a few nice tops to use with the pants and jeans I already packed. One dress would have been quite enough. As for the rest of my clothes, I did use everything but if I hadn’t brought the professional clothes, I could have focused more on a concise capsule wardrobe.

2 pair of sandals: I brought one pair to walk in and another to go to dinner with. I probably could have chosen better and gotten away with one comfortable pair that looked good with nice clothes. Additionally, I did bring a pair of sneakers that I ditched after my time in the bush, saving lots of room and weight in my luggage.

Pharmaceutical kit: don’t get me wrong, I’m sure if I got sick in a third world country, I’d want all of the things that I’m used to having around. Had I not gone to a third world country, I could have picked anything up at a local pharmacy.

A raincoat: every travel guide I read, every blog I perused, everything that I could find promised me that the one thing I would need in order to view Victoria Falls was a rain coat. Guess what? I never once pulled it out of my bag.

A few last lessons:

One travel essential that has always worked for me is a large cloth laundry bag. It helps me separate things (and works like a packing cube before packing cubes were cool). It’s easy to sort and if you fold your clothes as you put them in, you can’t go wrong.

Speaking of dirty laundry, knowing what the laundry policies are at each hotel, air B and B or lodge you are staying at is important help. For example, our Air B and B in Greece had a stacked washer and dryer, our hotel in Lusaka only charged about a dollar per item for quality laundry service, and our lodge in Botswana included laundry service for everything but your intimates. Knowing your laundry options let’s you plan clothes and time into your schedule more strategically. So, make the inquiries, it’s worth it.

Don’t bring new shoes. The only shoes you want on a trip are ones that you don’t mind ditching if you have to choose between them or a memento. When in doubt, ditch the shoes. Speaking of mementos, be sure to bring a reusable bag that folds up in your purse or day bag. Better yet, make it one of your first purchases! Use it while you shop then put it to good use for your trip home. Wrap dirty shoes in it before you pack, use it for that still a little damp bathing suit, or keep it handy to tote breakables back on the plane.

So that’s it! My un- packing list! Every time I travel, I certainly learn how to bring less. And maybe that idea should be the very thing I put at the top of my list!

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