The Secrets of Packing

By Emlyn Lee, Founder

I have been called “Queen Packer” when it comes to traveling (yet many other names when it comes to moving…). My friends, staff, and family often turn to me to help them figure out what to bring, and how to fit it in their luggage, so I thought I’d share some of my tips.

Besides the fact that I can throw things in to a bag just minutes before heading out to the airport, I am able to assess the size of the suitcase and choose all the essential things for a trip, without sitting on the bag trying to zip it up.

Tonight is no exception, as I am packing for my 3 weeks trip to South Africa. I will be visiting Cultural Embrace’s service project sites, meeting with partners, checking out cultural and recreational activities, and having some r&r time with friends. Plus, I am bringing clothes to donate to children and women at orphanages and shelters. So how do I fit all this in to one rolling backpack? Read on…

Firstly, decide a handful (handful is the key–no more than 5 days worth) of clothes that is appropriate for mixing & matching, easy washing & drying, and all types of activities. Cotton material blended with polyester and rayon are great since it is wrinkle free and easy to wash, dry, and wear. The darker the better since it will hide dirt and dust.

Secondly, choose shoes that will not take too much space. I’m sorry ladies, it’s time to leave Carrie Bradshaw behind when you travel–pick 2 maybe 3 shoes max! Comfort is key, and lucky for the non-heel embracers) the flat and ballet-type slipper shoes are fashionable and perfect! You can wear them with skirts, dresses, jeans, and shorts. Wear them to walk around town, a night out on the town, and they don’t take up too much space in your suitcase. Bring another pair of flip flop or sandal type shoes that can get wet at the beach, showers, pools, etc. Tennis shoes or hiking boots will be your best bet if you are going to do some hiking, walking, and adventure type activities.

Thirdly, the necessary toiletries–contact solution/eyeglasses, toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, sunscreen, insect repellent, etc. I’m a big fan of travel pack or individual packaged wet wipes or sanitizer wipes. Someone recently informed me that they bring a small bottle of Listerine on trips to serve as mouthwash, antiseptic, and cleanser. I have never used it, but thought that was great idea.

My laziness and can’t-be-bothered attitude benefits me during my travels, so I don’t need nor pack a lot of hair products or makeup. Facial lotion with sunscreen, and shampoo with conditioner are great 2-for-1 space saving products. Leave the hair dryer, straightener, and curling iron at home. They are too bulky, too heavy, and may fry out if the voltage is different abroad. This is your chance to embrace the au natural look!

Now how to fit everything? Roll baby roll! Most of your clothes should be rolled tightly, unless you have jeans, slacks, jackets, or sweaters. Fold these items neatly and lay them in the bottom of the bag. Then place your rolled clothes in between, filling in the spaces. Shoes should be put in disposable bags (grocery bags are perfect) with socks stuffed in to them. Pack your toiletries in to Ziploc bags, and bring a few extra ones, since they are perfect to keep cameras, documents, etc dry from water, rain, and sweat.

I try to bring clothes, supplies, vitamins, health/medical items to donate in underprivilege communities. It is such an easy way to clean out the closet, and will be appreciated and in good use by at-need locals. For this S. Africa trip, although I had space to put my donatable goods in my rolling backpack; I decided to bring an old bag that I could leave behind too. Plus, I used different tote bags that I have collected at conferences to divide the clothes, so I can easily donate them to different orphanages, shelters and communities.

I hope this helps you for the next time you need to pack for a trip abroad. Cultural Embrace also provides a suggested packing list in our Pre-departure Travel Handbook for each trip and program. I’m sorry that we can’t be there to help you roll your clothes, but Cultural Embrace and I are there in spirit to make sure your trip starts off with less weight on your back.

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