Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Packing on the Down Low ;)

One of the more frequent questions I get when I make known that the only piece of luggage I'm bringing for the month I'm spending abroad is a large frame-backpack is -- "How do you do it?!" and "What are you bringing?" or rather "What are you NOT bringing?" These are sensible questions for anyone who's ever seen me leave home to go to the grocery store with an oversized messenger bag including no less than three books (+ bible, +journal) in tow. In short, I vastly overpack for my daily sojourns but tend to be decent at packing light when going abroad, thanks to nearly a decade of international travel and the painful realization that if I pack it, *I* will be the one to lug it from home to airport to luggage carousel to connecting flight to car to room and back again. Unless you're posh enough to travel with porter (or muscle-bound travel companion), she who sews overpacked suitcases begets hernias, strained shoulders and a deep sense of self-loathing upon realizing that half of the junk she brought was never unpacked, much less used.

So, here for all the world to see, is what I'm bringing for a month in Asia:

3 pairs of capris
2 skirts
2 tanktops
2 blouses/button-down shirts
3 T-shirts
1 pair pajamas
2 pairs shoes
1 towel
+ underwear to last a week :)

Ultralight sleeping bag
Small back-pack for day-trips (... this will be my carry-on for the plane as well)
Document pouch with Passport, Tickets, Travellers' Cheques
Travel flashlight
Postcards (... to give out instead of business cards.)
Photographs (... of me, for railway passes, of me and family and friends to show to people I encounter.)
Camera (... the one item costing more than $50 in my luggage.)

Asthma meds + vitamins
Travel-sized shampoo/conditioner/toothbrush/toothpaste
Bug repellant
Contact lens stuff + glasses
Sunscreen (!!!)
First Aid Kit
Brush & Clips to hold back hair

Thin folder with print-outs of receipts, maps, addresses etc.
Journal & pens
... as many other books as I can fit and carry!!! :)

And YES! It ALL fits! :) Go me and my 1337 packing skillz ;)


Part of my comfort with relative sparsity of luggage has to do with the relatively minor amount of "personal maintenance" I practice (... I have friends whose hair is the equivalent of a Boticelli painting, a magnificence that requires half a suitcase of utensils to maintain. My hair looks more frequently like something harvested in the herb garden and then left on the counter for too long -- a "look" that as you may imagine takes little to "create.")

I also recently for the first time remembered consciously some of the facets of my childhood that likely play into my "travelling lite" attitude. I say "remembered consciously" not because I had previously forgotten these things, but because they always appeared on the periphery of my childhood memories, pushed off into the fuzzy gray area of recollections that houses the 'props' and 'settings' featured in one's "real, important" memories but that rarely take center-stage themselves.

One of those memories if that of the weekly family bath: The house I grew up in featured an old hot water boiler of limited capacity and even more limited life expectancy. Accordingly, if every family member was to get even remotely clean on a nightly basis, all we could afford, water-wise, was for each to fill the basin with warm water, wash one's hands, arms, face and (by lifting one foot at a time into the basin) one's lower body. Once a week, however, my father ran a bath that was used, in succession, by myself, my mother and my dad, while the water turned gradually cooler and less clear. On those weekly occasions, we would also all wash our hair -- once per week, no more, no less. We never took showers.

My parents were far from wealthy in the 1970s and 80s when raising myself and my brother, and at the time I never questioned the normalcy and necessity of this water shortage. In retrospect, I doubt that this austerity was representative even if the people in our community and likely more of a reflection of the extreme poverty (and associated neuroses) my parents experienced when growing up in the aftermath of World War II. These days, of course, I shower daily, wash my hair regularly, and otherwise have adapted smoothly to Western customs of hygiene. Part of me, however, remembers that it is perfectly possible to survive and thrive without these creature comforts, and that the terrible curse of dirty hair or unshaved legs is unlikely to slay me while in Asia.

And yes, I'm bringing deodorant. Just in case I encounter some real Americans during my travels ;)


At August 18, 2004 at 10:15 AM, Blogger Okie Pilgrim said...

thank you for the handy packing list.

i guess if it were me, i'd be packing blue jeans instead of capris.

can you take a pocket-knife or multi-tool in your checked luggage, or are they something likely to get confiscated as you go through customs from country to country?

i believe i took a bath in the full tub more than once a week growing up, but when we went camping, it was a daily sponge bath for ten days. if we wanted to shampoo our hair, it was down to the river to take a plunge in the snowmelt.

i am not a girlie girl, so it never bothered me to be covered in grime. still doesn't -- a handy trait to have as i wrangle my grubby little boys day in and day out.

now, as far as a week's worth of underwear goes...i saw some sort of mystical "travel underwear" in a local travel store -- something that rinses out easily and dries in a hurry, or something you can wear for a week without a hitch. i don't know -- i didn't buy any.

my high school Spanish teacher took his wife on a month-long Galapagos nature safari. they packed old underwear, and just threw it away as they used it. of course, you'd have to save old underwear for a while to get a month's worth.

At August 19, 2004 at 8:59 PM, Blogger Expat Birds said...

I guess that's the opposite of the college underwear effect, where it's just easier to buy a pair than to launder one! I have this vision of a backpack full of old flannel undies as carry-on luggage ;)

You know, I originally meant to bring jeans, but a.) it'll be very hot/humid where I'm going, b.) shorts aren't really an option for these countries, at least not if I'm planning on visiting temples (... and Western women tend to be perceived as "easy" in traditional culture anyway, not something to reinforce ...) and c.) I'm told that in China jeans are frowned upon when worn by anyone beyond their teenage years. Hey, I'm just following what the Journeywoman website (and a few travel guides) are telling me ;)

The hardest part for me is the shoes -- I'm a flip-flops kind of girl, and those kinds of shoes tend to be regarded as bedroom-slippers only: In Thailand, without shoes that have a back-strap, one isn't admitted to various touristy attractions. So I'm on the look-out for a sturdy pair of non-flip-flop sandals. That'll be my splurge before the trip.


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