I’m leaving for southeast Asia in a few days. Excuse me while I go pinch myself, collapse, and scream in excitement simultaneously.
I’m planning on doing another post before I go and obviously write about my experience when I return, but there’s a practical side I wanted to share with y’all. And that was my packing.
We are going to be gone for two weeks and since we are running a camp while there, we need all our checked bags for camp supplies. That means 2 weeks worth of personal items had to fit in a carry on. But wait. That includes sheets, towels, shoes (including a pair of “shower” shoes), hats/hair coverings, medicine, toiletries (including toilet paper), and clothes. Oh yeah, and our clothes had to be loose pants that covered our ankles and longer sleeved shirts that covered our behinds. Even typing it, that sounds like a lot. I’ll admit, I had a mini panic attack when I saw it all sprawled out on my bedroom floor.
But after scouring blogs for packing tips, I took the plunge in fitting all that in a carry on. I am living proof that all things are possible.
If you’ve ever had to pack 2 weeks in carry on you know it can be a crazy challenge. And if you’ve ever done it for a mission trip, which means bringing extra items that a hotel or friend’s house or even a neighborhood Walmart would normally provide, you know it can be daunting.
So, I want to offer you the best advice and strategies that I found helped me get that mess in picture 1 to fit nice and neatly into the bag in picture 2. And c’mon, you know you don’t want to be that person on your next trip who has to check a bag.
• Get a good carry on.
Go for a study bag with lots of extra pockets and expandable space. It’s really cool that I can say I packed for two weeks in a backpack, but it makes a world of difference that it’s a Christmas-present, REI, carry-on sized backpack. Something easily transportable that fits within the carry on limits. I’ve heard hard shell cased suitcases work well, if your more into the rolling ones.
• Use a good personal item.
I know we are going to be traveling a little when we arrive, and I needed another bag anyway to hold overnight-ish items, so I don’t have to unpack and repack my backpack. I also knew I wanted my camera, my kindle, my phone, and my journal at my feet on the plane. I used an old messenger traveling bag for three reasons: 1. it is sturdy enough to travel well but small enough to sit comfortably under my seat, 2. it is large enough to give me room for personal items that won’t fit into the jam-packed backpack, and 3. it is a messenger, so I can hold it while I have my backpack on my back (if you have a rolling suitcase, I’d probably be more in favor of having a bigger backpack or laptop bag as your personal item).
• Roll your clothes
It’s really amazing how tightly things roll up and how many articles of roll-polly clothing you can squish together. I put rolled everything and created two layers of rolled clothes inside the bag, grouping pieces of clothing I plan on wearing together, closer together.
Now, I know what you are thinking. You are thinking the reason everything fit into the backpack is because I only brought a few pieces of clothing. Think again.
First of all, the clothes are bigger and baggier than I would normally bring on a summer trip, so that was the first obstacle to overcome. Second, I’ve never been to Asia before and wanted to make sure I was prepared for a variety of circumstances.
Included in my suitcase is 2 pairs of jeans, 3 pairs of cargo/linen pants, 1 pair of pajama pants, and 2 pairs of leggings (that’s 8 pairs of bottoms).
Also, 6 T-shirts, 2 dresses, 2 button-ups, and 4 “Indian-looking” tunics (that’s 14 versatile tops). Plus 2 cami-like tanks, several bras/sports bras, 14 pairs of underwear, 5 bandanas, 3 headbands, 2 headscarfs, 2 hats, a pair of socks, and 3 pairs of flip flops.
And no, I’m not including the outfit or shoes I’m going to wear on the plane.
• Pad the bottom, top, and sides of the suitcase
I lined the sides of the suitcase with my undergarments and headwear, I used the towels to cover everything on the top, and I used my sheets and shoes to pad the bottom. My clothes fit nicely in the center and under everything. This way, everything is easily accessible once the towels are taken out and it adds a comfortable layer of protection when my bag is jumping around in the overhead bin.
The key for me was thinking simple and compact. Do you really need it and if you do, what’s the most space-conserving way you can fit it into the suitcase? Smaller items, like medicine, pens, and hats should go in last; leave a little room and they will generally fit wherever. Roll clothing items. With bigger, hefty items like towels and sheets, the rule of thumb that worked for me is if they rolled up and I could circle two hands around them, they should stay rolled. If they rolled up and I couldn’t touch fingers around the circumference, they should they as flat as possible on the top. That way, they aid in compressing and protecting everything else.
When it doubt, there is probably some room for you in a checked bag. I have a small ziploc with some snacks and over 3oz bottles of liquids to put in a checked bag. Some things you just physically can’t carry on. It’s the nature of flying and it’s nothing to be ashamed of (I’m talking to myself here). But as I’ve proven by this little experiment, an incredible amount can fit into a carry on. If I can pack two weeks worth of not just clothing, but items necessary for living as well, into an airline approved backpack, you can to.
And if you are still having problems, give me a call. I have an odd love of packing and re-packing suitcases (sometimes, I pack my clothes up just for fun, not because I’m going anywhere). You just have to pay my airfare to get to your house. But don’t worry, I’m already packed up and ready to leave.
Update: I actually ended up taking another carry on – a rolling suitcase, because I realized the dimensions of the expanded backpack wouldn’t fit in an airplane overhead bin. *sigh* I also found that rolling clothes and putting them in ziploc bags helps cut down on unnecessary empty space.