Looking back at my teenage and young 20s self, I laugh at the amount of “things” I had. Weekend trips would include a backpack and rolling suitcase, I needed multiple trips to bring all of my things when I moved into my college dorm, and the most embarrassing story? Showing up with two vehicles full of clothes when I moved a few hours from home for an 8-week summer school job. I did not know how to pack, other than to pack everything.
So, when my cheap self accepted a job in Connecticut one summer and learned I couldn't get a free checked bagged at the airport, I made myself fit enough clothing, bedding, toiletries, etc… for 2 months in a carry-on. I quickly learned how few things you really need, and what essentials to always pack.
At the age of 21, I accepted my first international job in Melbourne, Australia. I had been on a few trips with family and friends throughout the US, but never traveled abroad- let alone moved halfway across the world on my own!
With it being my first international trip, I was quite anxious about the size and weight restrictions. My checked bag came in at exactly 23kg, and a carry-on backpack and rolling suitcase weighed a combined 7kg. Those 30kg is all I had for 1 year. Coming from Minnesota, I was excited about the warm weather I would soon have and the lack of winter gear I would need to pack. Oblivious to the fact that the winters do in fact get chilly, young, dumb me didn´t bring a single coat, but did pack all 6 bikinis she owned. I quickly learned that Melbourne's winter, although warm, does require more than a swimsuit.
10 Things to Keep in Mind when Packing Your Suitcase for a Year
Only pack the clothes you truly love. We all have a pair of jeans that is our favorite. We also all have a pair of jeans we keep in hopes that 1 day they will fit better. Leave the second pair at home.
Bring clothes you can wear during multiple seasons. Think tops you can layer with a sweater, dresses you can wear leggings with, jeans that are cute in the summer- but will keep you warm in the winter.
Stick to the basics. I can't stress this enough. You will get a lot more use out of that basic black dress, than the sequined 1. Yes, we all love statement pieces, and you definitely can pack 1 or 2, but if your suitcase is only packed with leopard print shirts and polka dot shorts, you are going to run out of outfit combinations quite quickly.
Be practical. You will need your tennis shoes for hiking and working out. You will need your power adaptor and converter. Do you need your name-brand purse? Do you need to pack all of your stationery?
Don´t pack the shoes. It would be fun to pack your heels for nights out, but how often will you wear them? Converse, although not as fun as a pair of red heels, can be worn year-round and can be dressed up for work or going out, or casually worn for a hike. I also recommend investing in 1 good pair of sandals and shoes to wear for the year, and then tossing them out when you leave. Saving packing space and weight when you move again!
Pack your essentials first. Put the most important things you need in your suitcase first. This could include your laptop, paperwork, medications, etc… Weigh your bag, and then put in the rest. You´ll quickly see your bag will fill fast, with the less important things on the top and easy to take out.
Roll your clothes. Rolling or tightly compacting your clothes saves lots of space. If you´re someone looking to optimize the number of things you can fit in your bag, this is huge! Take in mind, rolling your clothes does not cut down on the weight, though. Now if there was a way to sneak a few extra pounds in your bag I'd love to hear that!
Wear what you can. Who cares if it's summer. If your heaviest pair of shoes is your winter boots, wear them on the flight. Carry your winter coat onboard with you, and layer up shirts with sweaters. Of course, keep in mind your own comfort. You don´t want to be uncomfortable during your flight. Remember, once you get your ticket scanned and are on the air bridge, you can take off some layers and throw them into your bag again. This trick is also important if you´re told your bag is too heavy and you need to take out a couple pounds.
Don´t bother packing things you can buy there. Toiletries, makeup, socks, food. These things are easily found everywhere. Don´t waste your precious space and weight with items you can buy when you land.
Be friendly with the flight attendants! I know, I know. Sometimes you get Karen who has had a bad day and won´t let your 50.5 pound bag on board. (This has literally happened to me!) But, more often than not, if your bag is within 3 pounds of the set weight, and you are on time and are respectful, they will let you through without questions. Smiling and saying thank you will always get you further than complaining and being rude.
What´s in My Suitcase- Moving to a Cold Weather Climate
1 pair of blue jeans
1 pair of black jeans
4 pairs of jean shorts
5 pairs of dress pants
5 dress shirts
10 basic T-Shirts
10 dresses (both long and short-sleeved)
5 swimsuits (swimsuits are my weak spot, even in cold weather climates)
10 pairs of socks
10 pairs of underwear
5 sports bras
5 pairs of leggings
5 pairs of athletic shorts
5 workout T-shirts
5 sweaters (3 that you can layer)
1 leather jacket
1 rain jacket
1 winter coat
2 belts (1 thin, 1 wide)
1 pair of beach flip flops
1 pair of “dressy” sandals
1 pair of Converse
1 pair of winter boots
1 pair of tennis shoes
1 pair of black flats
1 blanket scarf
1 reusable water bottle
1 Power Adaptor
Hair Straightener and Curling Iron (Make sure they can work internationally)
Makeup bag (I´m very basic, so it just includes 1 tube of lipstick, eyeliner, mascara, liquid foundation, powder foundation, toothbrush, travel size toothpaste, tons of hair bands, and a fingernail clipper.)
Medications (As an American, if you use Tylenol, Nyquil, or any other over-the-counter drugs, be sure to bring a bottle or two! International over-the-counter drugs are not as “strong” I have found. If you are on any medications from a doctor, a month before you plan to leave, be sure to get a prescription from your doctor for a year´s supply. You will then need to contact your insurance for them to approve the large quantity supply. This can take weeks, so start the process early!)
It's taken me a few years to get my packing game down to the minimum. If it's your first trip abroad, do not stress if you can't fit everything and need to pack an extra suitcase. Invest in a second bag for your own happiness and sanity.
Realize no one takes note of what you are wearing as much as you do. Who cares if you wear the same thing back-to-back weeks. The sooner you realize this, the sooner you realize how few outfits you need, and how much less you need to pack. If you are someone more fashion-forward than myself, then this may be something hard for you to do. Again, if it saves you stress and makes you happy, pack that extra bag.
Upon arriving, I will then buy shampoo, conditioner, towels, bedding, etc… I have been fortunate each year to live in furnished housing where most of these things were provided for me. I also usually stay in a hostel or hotel for the first week while I sort out where I will live, which gives me time to buy my things. If you are also doing this, a big hint is to have the belongings you will need for that week in your carry-on bag. This way your things will still be packed when you make the move again in a week.
You will find, after being away from your things for a year, you will likely forget about them and realize you no longer want or need them. I long since purged all of my clothes at home and solely have just a bag of belonging. Nothing is more freeing than not having “stuff.”
The packing game is different for everyone, but if you are trying to stay budget conscious and are minimalistic, keep in mind the saying, “less is more.” You may have few things, but you will have many memories.