Preparing for Two Months Abroad

“How do you pack for two months abroad?”
I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked this question. My answer is simple.
“A backpack.”

I spent months researching travel backpacks to find the right one. So, I’m going to impart some wisdom with you. There are several types of backpacks, styles, uses, materials, weights, support. You get it, there is much research to be had. First and most importantly is the size. Backpacks are measured in liters, which is oddly primarily a liquid measure? However, when squeezing everything you need into every nook and fold of the pack, liters count. Smaller backpacks run in the 10-30 liter range, medium packs run 30-50 liters and larger packs run larger than 50 liters. As a woman, five foot, seven inches tall, I chose the medium range. Discovering this preference required the most important step to choosing size, by measuring the torso and hip. I suggest doing this at a sports supply store like R.E.I. otherwise you can find a diagram online to tackle this task on your own.

Now, after extensive research, I was certain I was sold on the Kelty Redwing 50. I can’t tell you how wrong I was. Looking to pack for two months had me eyeing the larger pack, but it’s a lot like eating at the buffet. Too much is just too much! This brings me to my next important step, try it on! Unless you live on some remote island or a petite humble village, get to a sports store in your next major city and try the pack on. I realized, all the options I had studied and narrowed down were all wrong for me. The fit is much like a pair of jeans and must compliment your figure. Many stores even provide bean bag weights to fill and weigh the back for an accurate fit. So get out there and try the pack on.

The Kelty Redwing 50, while an incredible and superbly made product, did not fit me. The 50 liter pack was too big and too heavy, it sat too low on my spine and was better fit for a man. I opted to try the RedWing 35 and found it too round and too short for my torso length and standing next to the full length mirror, it certainly looked odd as well! After trying on several other packs, it was at the suggestion of the Salesman I try on the Osprey Farpoint 40. The pack just sat snug on my lower torso and felt comfortable on my hips with even more weight than the others. The Farpoint 40 was also available in S/M and M/L, ideally for men and women.

I had never really considered the Osprey Farpoint 40 previously as it was missing the nifty side compartment pockets. Really, any small accessory pockets, which I still consider to be the pack’s downfall. However, the salesman pointed out the key reason for the absence of the side pockets, being problematic to the width measurement for those carry-on luggage boxes. As a matter of fact, the Farpoint 40 is made specifically for travel and is very hard to overpack. Also the pack includes a convenient zippered cover for the shoulder straps and harness so as not to get caught in the conveyor belts. The thought Osprey put into the stricter carry-on restrictions was strategically crafted and essential for the world traveler. I was sold within minutes, however my REI only carried the pack in blue. So I left ready to order my perfect pack online and found that there was a two-month backlog on shipping this holy grail of backpacks. I had put my name on the wait list and found the pack at another small retailer a week later.

How to pack is another dilemma altogether. I pack for a week or a summer exactly the same. The key to single carry-on packing is to bring only essentials. As a digital nomad and photographer, my essentials include my office. When it comes to clothes, the idea is to be able to wear everything twice and choose compatible color schemes. My list for summer attire includes one pair of jeans, one little black dress, four pairs of shorts, two linen capri pants six tank tops and six shirts (one dressy). In addition I bring 14 pairs of underwear and one bra. Because in summer it’s nice to rinse off and put a fresh pair of undergarments on in the evening after hiking all day in the sun. My bra, I hand wash and hang to dry overnight. I always pack one hoodie (or jacket) and I also pack one nightgown. I generally pack two pairs of shoes (I am a sandal person as an Arizonian), the key item being that they are slightly different heights and work different calf muscles and rub differently in case of blisters, or I would suggest one pair of sandals and a pair of tennis shoes with seven pairs of socks. But, the socks can be a space hog and you my have to drop one shirt and one pair of shorts! I always wear the larger shoes on travel day and pack the B.O.C. flip flops.

As for office travel, I include my MacBook Pro 13”, 8GB backup thumb drive, foldable mouse, small laptop desk for sitting in parks, iPhone and all applicable cords and chargers (retractable when available). My canon camera and one 50mm lens is also required. I realize this is not enough for the professional photographer, but perfectly acceptable for mainstream photographers. I also pack a large, thick satchel than can work as an everyday camera and double as a ‘purse’ sized carry-on for return travel with added souvenirs. This has also been a life saver when the overhead luggage compartments were full and I was regrettably forced to check my bag. Of course the back was lost for ten days while I was staying in Ukraine of all places, where jeans cost $150 and up! Luckily, I did manage to pull the bag out and place my medications, laptop, chargers, camera, all of my underwear, and a shirt. Lesson learned and I was forever grateful for having those essential items.

My toiletries consist of a small, clear, quart sized case with three ‘goo tubes’ for shampoo, conditioner, and body wash. I pack travel sized face wash, lotion, hand sanitizer, contact solution, contact lens case, two new contacts, toothbrush, toothpaste, floss tin, travel deodorant, lip gloss, mini hairspray, hair ties ad a comb. Yes, I only use a comb for brushing wet and teasing dry, I twist my damp hair up around an elastic headband and pull out when dry for soft beach waves. This is great for checking emails with your tea in the morning and then you’re ready to go!  That’s it and keep in mind, most of these items are easily refillable on the go for long journey’s.

The most important part of packing is weeding your items down to the essentials, consider what can be easily purchased and disposed on the go such as toiletries. Most importantly cut back on jeans, they can easily be worn two or three times and it is normal to do so outside the U.S. Most countries have nowhere near the wardrobes of Americans or the regularity of laundry. Consider if you can launder your clothes at a laundromat. If there is no laundromat, wash your clothes each evening with any soap and hang dry on towel racks or a shower rod. When weighing a decision whether or not to bring something, hang it back up, it’s just not a must have! Have fun packing and enjoy your travels!

By Shelley Glasow Schadowsky

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30. June 2014 by Shelley Schadowsky
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