The first time I embarked on a long trip was between my junior and senior years at college, when I spent a summer in Poland teaching English conversation to adults. I wasn’t sure how to pack then, but being a frugal and bare bones kind of gal I decided to only bring what could fit into a forest green soft back pack and a book bag. Really, how many clothes would I need? I had heard that at that time (1992) in Poland most young women often wore the same clothes for multiple days, primarily because not all households had clothes washers or dryers. Wash boards were the norm for cleaning clothes in youth hostels, and line drying standard.
The following was likely what I packed in my soft case:
- One pair of jeans (I wore another on the plane)
- Three summery blouses (“ “)
- Three pairs of socks (“ “)
- A couple bras (“ “)
- Many underwear (8?)
- A nightgown and a summery pajama
- A pair of sandals
- A pair of sneakers (” “)
In my book bag I had the following:
- Wallet with money
- Small camera with film
- My favorite lipstick, blush, and face powder
- Some acne medication and blemish cover up
- Tweezer and nail clipper
- An assortment of over the counter medications & Bandaids
- Sun screen
- Toothpaste and toothbrush
- Sanitary napkins
- Polish guidebook combined with Polish to English/English to Polish dictionary
Sounds like a lot? Well, it filled my two bags and was the maximum I could haul all by myself without hassle. All fit on my back and shoulder. Yes, others on the trip packed more than me. Many were overburdened, especially when transferring from train to train. I remember one female friend packed so much makeup it was if she was a model. She was a very pretty young lady, but over made up, in my opinion. I attracted a more desirable set of men than her while we were there. In fact, a couple of sleazy guys even mistook her for being a prostitute. It was a pity, because she was actually sweet and wholesome. Cultural misunderstanding.
Wondering about my phone and laptop? It was 1992! We didn’t have them. In fact, for the month and a half I was in Poland I never called anyone in the U.S. Some fellow teachers did (some frequently), but had to use the phone at the government office. I remember once my roommate didn’t call her mother for two days and the mother called the government office thinking her daughter was sick or in peril. I had to laugh because my parents didn’t worry a bit. Not that my parents didn’t care, they just thought they’d hear bad news if there was any.
In Poland I realized I was short one personal item. I really needed a skirt for a special occasion and daily use, so I had fun browsing through Polish clothes shops. The skirt was a little different than I was accustomed to. Not one I’d wear in the U.S., but it was a fabric that washed and dried quickly. That was important. Jeans were hell to wash and dry by washing board/line. I’d learn that fabrics are an important consideration for travel/packing.
In later years I would live in Taiwan for many months, and confess I ended up packing too much that time. Again, the wash board was my clothes washing option. They did have a spin dryer, but I still had to line dry clothes for them to fully dry. Again, I ended up wearing pretty much the same three outfits. Almost a full luggage of clothes wasn’t even touched.
In Taiwan I did buy some gizmos, like a water heating pot, and electric frying pan. When I left, I simply sold or gave things away, including clothes, to my roommate to lighten my load. She was super happy! I headed to Hong Kong and then to Thailand. The weather was much hotter there. I eventually bought a few sarongs and halter tops in Bangkok, and didn’t wear any of the clothes that I brought.
My hubby and I have made many trips over the years. Guess who packed the lightest? Yes, me! In fact, hubby would bring twice the amount of luggage than me, and he’d not touch much of what he brought. His toiletry kit would pretty much be like a medicine cabinet. Not that we didn’t need some of that stuff occasionally, but definitely not all. At the airport, people would stare at our luggage as if scrutinizing it for being too much. Of course they’d look straight at me, but I’d say “No, most of the luggage is his,” pointing at my husband. That has always burned him up.
What essentials (in 2017) could you NOT live without on such a trip? Do you tend to travel light or pack a lot?
See Summer work abroad in Poland to read more about my Poland trip.