Whether you prefer backpacks or rolling suitcases, airline luggage limits force us to reign in our pack rat tendencies. Plus, there are few things as annoying as getting halfway across the world to realize that you will never wear or use half the stuff you just schlepped from home. So, when I set off for a nearly month long trip along the Trans-Siberian Railway, every item in my luggage had to be vitally important, or be left behind.
With the average checked baggage weight allowance being around 50 pounds, you want to come in below that as you depart, while leaving space for things you will certainly buy along the way.
• Clothing: Choose a common color palette for your clothing so you can mix and match ensembles without feeling like you're wearing the same thing over and over (despite the fact that you really are). Choose layers, especially if you are traveling between seasons. For 23 days, I packed 5 sets of clothes and washed what I needed along the way in train and hotel sinks.
• Shoes: Whatever footwear you pack needs to be well broken in already. No new shoes! I generally pack a good pair of walking or hiking shoes, one pair of nicer shoes and some flip flops.
• Toiletries: Unless you are using prescription shampoo or lotion, I find it best to pack a small amount of shampoo, conditioner and toothpaste, knowing it's easy to pick up replacements along the way. I took a jumbo pack of baby wipes with me on my train adventure and they proved invaluable (not only to me, but also to fellow passengers). Good quality facial cleaning wipes took the place of my usual cleansing regimen.
• Color Photocopies of Travel Documents: Passports, visas, itineraries, tickets, maps, prescriptions and anything else that you could potentially and realistically be lost without. I also keep a copy of everything in Google docs, and have friends that use Evernote for the same purpose.
• International SIM Card: I used OneSIMCard for my travels, but I'm sure there are better deals to be had, if you do your research. My mobile carrier is Sprint, and it was simple to call and ask them to unlock my iPhone for international use. Switching out the micro SIM took about 30 seconds.
• Converters: I bought a really inexpensive power plug adapter on Amazon that was good for Europe and Asia. It worked perfectly and was very compact. Don't forget to pick up a converter, too.
• Cash: When I get to the airport, I always exchange some dollars for currency of whatever country I'm heading to. Sure, you can hit an ATM in your arrival airport, but after a long flight I usually just want to get directly to my hotel. I always keep a couple of $20 bills handy in the back of my wallet for emergencies.
• Money Belt: I was always suspicious of these things in past travels, but was thankful that I had one when I caught a woman on the Moscow Metro with her hand in my bag. Since I only had a guidebook and scarf inside, she wasn't able to grab anything before I slapped her hand!
• Hat and Sunglasses: Unless you're traveling somewhere that doesn't get sunlight, you want to be prepared. Plus, these pack small and the hat will hide the inevitable bad hair day.
• Medications: Any prescriptions you take regularly. Also consider any allergies or other conditions that may arise. I always carry Imodium and Chinese "curing pills" for potential stomach issues.
• A Multi-Tool: Incredibly helpful for peeling fruit or opening bottles of wine and beer — just don't try to pack it in your carry-on. I found an old Russian military set that had a knife, spoon, fork, corkscrew and bottle opener.
• Quick-dry Camping Towel: Great for freshening up after overnight train rides.
• Inflatable Travel Pillow: REI's self-inflating travel pillow compressed into a small carry bag and was one of the best things I took with me.
• Eye Mask and Ear Plugs: You never know what the noise and light situation are going to be until you reach your destination. These saved me when I realized there was a dance club on the floor below mine in Ulaanbaatar.
• Music and Apps: Once I had the SIM card situation sorted, I just had to update the playlists on my iPhone. While in Moscow and Beijing, apps for their respective public transportation systems proved invaluable and well worth the $2 or $3 per app cost.
MORE PACKING TIPS ON APARTMENT THERAPY:
• Secret to Successfully Packing Light: Pick a Palette
• Well Designed Travel: How to Pack Lightly
• Tips: Making a Packing List
• The Top 10 Things To Carry With You When You Fly
(Image: Michelle Chin)