Traveling is one of the most rewarding experiences that can happen in your life. Seeing the world can teach you about different cultures, people, and especially yourself. But before stepping onto the plane to start the life-changing experience that awaits you, there’s one minor detail that must be taken care of. Something we all love to do. Packing. When planning a trip, whether it be for a week, a month, or a year, packing is always the hardest part. It’s an overwhelming process for many and must be planned for carefully in order to avoid an emotional breakdown (even though for many of us this is inevitable!). However big or small the trip, the question will always remain- How in the world do I pack for this?
As the trip comes closer important questions begin to overload your mind- What luggage should I buy? How much of each clothing item will I need? Can I fit my hair straightener and makeup bag? When I got to this point in my travel planning I had to have a serious sit-down with myself and prioritize what I really couldn’t live without. It took sacrifices (and a few tears…I’m sorry to say the hair straightener didn’t make the cut) in the beginning, but I am living proof that IT IS POSSIBLE to fit everything you need to survive into a carry-on size travel backpack. Keep reading to see how I’ve managed so far during my journey! And if you are planning a trip I hope you find my suggestions helpful.
You are looking at my entire wardrobe. Every piece of clothing shown here is all that I have to my name. And it all fits into this Osprey travel backpack. Finding this bag was the first step to my packing adventure. I knew I wanted a backpack because of how much easier it would be to carry it around the world. European and Central American sidewalks aren’t made for wheeled suitcases and no one wants to look like a struggling American every time you’re trying to go anywhere. I also wanted a pack that would open from the front, not the top like a normal backpack. It would make organizing everything much simpler. With this very specific criteria, it wasn’t hard to narrow down my options (because there really weren’t very many!) The Osprey Farpoint 70 was exactly what I needed. It is the perfect size for all of my clothes and toiletries. Not to mention it is just the right size for a normal aircraft carry-on which saves a ton of money! It also has an added detachable daypack which has come in handy for storing electronics and such throughout the trip.
So, let’s get down to specifics about what is in my suitcase! Luckily Jake and I are traveling during the summer months in Europe, and Central America is pretty warm year-round, so lots of tank tops and shorts are in my wardrobe. Pictured above are the shirts that I cycle through. The one in the middle is mostly for going out (because you always have to be prepared for at least one of these options!) The rest I wear frequently. There are two t-shirts (pictured on the ends) and two tank tops. I chose either solid colors or simple black and white patterns because it is extremely helpful when all of your clothing items have the ability to match. One tip I’ve learned when packing clothing for an extended trip: select clothing items so that if you were to pick an outfit completely blindfolded from your backpack it would match no matter what. Now this isn’t going to work EVERY time, but it is a good rule of thumb when your clothing options are limited. I love clothes and picking outfits. So if I only have five outfits to choose from I will get bored. So having more combinations because of clothing colors and patterns makes for a happier Elizabeth!
Another important note- three out of the five shirts in the picture above I have bought while in Europe. Throughout traveling you will discover that you won’t wear a shirt as much as you thought you would or you want more space in your luggage. So I’ve done a fair amount of swapping clothing items and throwing others away. I started the trip with more, but two months in I think I have finally perfected my shirt options!
The additional shirts in my backpack are for working out/sleeping/lounging around. The black tank top has a built-in sports bra which has saved me from having to pack multiple sports bras. Obviously I had to rep my beloved sorority even if it’s just during a run or in my sleep (I’m still in denial that I am an alumni). These shirts are all perfect for what I need.
Next up, bottoms! The two on top are the ones I wear often while out sightseeing in the city. To be honest, I’ve been debating getting rid of the khaki ones because I don’t wear them as much as the jean style ones. We will see! The bottom row are my shorts for working out/sleeping/lounging around.
I started out this trip with only the yoga pants and Capri jeans. They have filled each purpose that they are intended for with satisfaction. I decided on bringing Capri style jeans to save some room in the bag and also because it’s hot and full length ones are not necessary. The patterned pants on the end I bought at a market in Croatia for $8 and I think it was the best eight dollars I have ever spent. They are super comfortable, lightweight, and cute! Definitely a great addition, especially because they take up virtually no room in the backpack.
Maxi dresses and rompers are some of my favorite clothing items in general, so I had to incorporate them somehow into my backpack! The maxi dress takes up a considerable amount of space. However, it has been perfect to have when Jake and I are going out to nice dinners or to a performance of some sort. It also has been a lifesaver in Italy when visiting churches because of their modest dress code requirements! The romper is super comfortable and essential for summer traveling in my opinion. Only one item of clothing and you don’t have to worry about being “lady-like” all the time in comparison to a sun dress!
To remedy the solid and bland-ish colors of my wardrobe I decided to bring a couple “accessories” to help change up my look sometimes. This lightweight kimono is beautiful and really fun to wear. The orange scarf is nice at times too when I want to switch things up. And of course, I always gotta rep good ol’ Portland with my Portland Gear hat! This hat has been perfect for travel days when I want to hide my sleeping face from other passengers on the train or on a hike on the beautiful European terrain.
While I may be traveling during the summer months and in the tropics during my six months away, I can’t be in denial about the possibility of being cold. However, I don’t need to over prepare. I decided that a lightweight, but warm, zip-up hoodie that I have had for years would be perfect for those cold evenings and rainy days that are inevitable (it’s currently raining in Italy as I write this in August so I think it was a good choice). As a true Oregonian, I never go anywhere without my rain jacket! Rain jackets are malleable and easy to fit almost anywhere. So this was a must in my backpack. Finally I have a vest from ScotteVest. I feel like Inspector Gadget when wearing this thing! There are 17 pockets able to hold basically all of your valuables including RFID pockets for passports and credit cards. Jake’s very generous grandparents (Hi Delaine & Mike!) gifted these to us for the trip and they have been amazing. We are very fortunate to have them!
Last but certainly not least, SHOES! I have narrowed it down to the absolute necessities for these babies. Not that I wouldn’t love to have more, I obviously would, but shoes take up A LOT of room in a backpack. I don’t have room for any more than I already have. I have my Nikes for working out/hiking/traveling. They are extremely beat up and have multiple holes in them, but they are necessary on this trip for me! I also have one pair of sandals that I wear most often. They are SO COMFORTABLE. Perfect for walking around cities for hours and they are extremely lightweight which is important for packing reasons! I also have one pair of low rise shoes that are also good for walking around in. The last is a pair of flip flops that I wear exclusively in hostel showers (it’s necessary, trust me), on the beach, or lounging around.
Of course there is the debate of how many bras, underwear, swimsuits, and socks to bring on the journey as well. However I think these, much more than anything else, are decisions based on personal preference. My only advice would be to bring as much underwear as possible because it is the only thing in your wardrobe that really can’t be re-worn (or shouldn’t be!)
In addition to clothing, there are obvious toiletries that must be accompanied as well. As a women I feel that I have a lot more going on in this department than Jake (actually I KNOW this is true) so narrowing these items down was probably the hardest part of my packing experience. Keeping toiletries organized is one of the most difficult parts about packing, in my opinion, so I made myself fit all that I wanted to bring into this toiletry holder from Bago. This thing is PERFECT. Honestly, if all of your toiletries can’t be fit into this amazing bag then you need to have another sit-down with yourself about your priorities. I have made sure all of my containers are smaller than 3 oz. but I still have a lot of things to include in this bag. It all fits with ease! This bag has multiple compartments of all sizes keeping everything extremely organized and has made me very happy throughout the past two months.
Overall, no matter how much you plan, packing can be overwhelming. However, if you are reading this blog post with future travels in mind, I hope you can refer back to this post and these suggestions leave packing for your next trip a little less overwhelming than ever before.