A long time ago, in an internet far, far away, I was a travel blogger.
Yes, it’s true!
Back then, one of my popular articles was called “How to Design Your Own Travel Inventory,” and in light of my recent travels, I’d like to give you an update on what I’ve learned since I wrote that article, over seven years ago.
Aspirational vs. Real
If there’s one thing the last 7 years have taught me, it’s that the old adage is true: the more things you own, the more things own you, and this is an order of magnitude more intense when you’re travelling.
Now, there are packing lists, and there are Packing Lists.
Half of the packing lists I see are merely aspirational. Some travellers make such ambitious lists, aspiring to only take 20 things with them… but end up bringing six sweaters.
Lists like that are useless because they aren’t a true reflection of life. They aren’t something you can look at and say, “Oh I see, I hadn’t even realized I wouldn’t need that.” Honestly, aspirations are NOT what make a good trip, positive action is.
So in light of this, I’m doing something I haven’t done before. While in Wisconsin, I wrote down everything I had with me (pictured here). And for the first time, I’m sharing, with utter transparency, exactly what I brought on my month-long journey. I’m pulling no punches here, in the hope that seeing what I actually brought would give you some ideas. I believe this speaks louder than any advice I could give you.
And even after all these years of practice, I still felt like I brought too much. But I’ll let you be the judge:
My Honest Packing List
48L Osprey Kestrel Pack
— Over 7 years old & still seems new
— Inside of it was a small daypack, highly compressed to fit against my laptop case
— Most of this fit into one ziplock bag
two granola bars
travel bowl (silicone)
contact lenses & solution
glasses case & cleaner
sewing kit (tiny)
band-aids (held in a paperclip)
shampoo (tiny 1oz)
toothpaste (tiny 1oz bag)
hand sanitizer (tiny 1oz)
— While this may seem like a lot, 90% of it fit into one single-quart ziplock. (My only regret here is that I brought the shaver.)
MacBook Air (inside neoprene case)
1TB backup hard drive
cell phone & charger (both tiny)
iPod USB charger (& headphones)
Fujifilm S6000FD camera
AA battery charger (for camera)
Kindle (& usb cable)
Portable USB battery
2 short usb cables
tiny bundle of twine
USB thumb drive
— Happy with the balance I got here. Even though I only used the sleeping sheet once, it was nearly weightless — a notable bonus of getting a silk one. (Also, since this was winter, I needed to bring more clothes than if it were another season.)
5 pairs of socks
1 thin pajama shorts
1 silk sleeping sheet
How to Do an Inventory Post-Mortem
Brutal honesty with yourself is the only way to come to a travel packing list you feel good about. And returning home from a trip is the perfect time to do it.
Sit down and go through what you’ve packed. Did you use everything? Is there anything you wanted to use but didn’t? Why not? Is there (and this is a big one) anything that you repeatedly bring and aspire to use, but never end up using?
By asking yourself these questions, you can save yourself time (and weight!) during your travels. Is there anything that broke (like my scissors on Maui) that you need to replace? Is it necessary to get it now or is it optional? (Odds are, you aren’t going to the Sahara, and scissors are available for purchase at your destination.)
In the past seven years, I’ve done this process dozens of times, shedding a lot from my list, such as a paper journal (now I do everything on the iPod), a flashlight (the iPod’s LED is blinding), and even duct tape! (Crazy, I know, but it’s situational.)
Constant reflection and striving toward less and less is an ideal I’ve held for many years, and only through this process of Optimus Minimus can I reach the happy medium I desire. (Think of it as Kaizen for minimalism.)
What would you change?
Experience has been the best teacher here, and I’m happy to say that I used everything I brought except the tiny comb, tiny bundle of twine, my USB stick, and the sharpies. Considering that they’re all small and light, I’d say that’s a win.
In the future, I’m going to leave the comb, one of the sharpies, and probably one of the t-shirts at home. But alas, it’s hard living with only 5 shirts sometimes. (And when you’ve been cultivating a weird T-shirt collection for as long as I have, you grow to miss it.) Honestly, the only thing I really missed in 3+ weeks of travel was my own hairbrush. (My hair was getting long at the time.)
In retrospect, what I’d love is a single charging solution for my iPod, Kindle, and camera. The camera is probably a lost cause since it runs on AA batteries, but I’d love to find a good solution to provide the correct amperage to my iPod, Kindle, and shaver in a single, all-purpose plug. Is that possible?
If anyone has a clue, please let me know under “Leave a Reply” below.
I’d really appreciate it!
Good luck on pairing down your packing list, and until next time, keep exploring.