Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Branching out: How to pack for an extended trip

Well it looks like I've decided to get all service-y this Tuesday by starting an impromptu Branching Out series about what to do when leaving home for an extended stay in another country. 

While I'm not a travel blogger, I did branch out from home when I was 23 and a recent college graduate by moving to Australia on a 1-year work visa. I only ended up staying 7 months, but I lived in Sydney for 4 of those, Melbourne for 2 and then spent my last month traveling up the east coast from Sydney to Cairns.

And, look, at the risk of sounding preachy, I'll keep this short, but if you have the opportunity to live in another country, you should, with no hesitation, TAKE IT. 

Extra points if it's a country that isn't English-speaking, but for myself, I chose Australia because, well, it was really far away, looked gorgeous and I found this convenient company, BUNAC, to travel through that fit within the time-frame (6 months to a year) of how long I wanted to be away from the States.

Sydney in the summer.

But while the company helped make the moving process a hell of a lot easier, they didn't place me in a job, find my lodging, make me friends or pack for me.

And it is that last point that I would like to write about today!

Part of the reason I am starting this series now is that it was around this same time three years ago that I was getting ready for my move and contemplating what to bring and not to bring. While I read plenty of lists in guidebooks and all that, I still made plenty of rookie mistakes while packing, and I'll be pleased as punch if maybe my advice can stop others from doing the same stupid shit.

(A couple of asides: this advice is intended for people who plan to work and travel and only stay in one area for a few months at a time, not for people moving to a specific city where you will rent your own apartment and live for a year or more... BUT at the same time, this advice also isn't intended for the hardcore traveler who is going to live out of their backpack and travel constantly. And, also, I'm kind of going off the assumption you'll be traveling to cities and not solely rural-middle-of-nowhere villages)

Also, this advice is coming from someone who likes make-up, shoes and clothes, so don't worry, I won't tell you not to bring any of your purty stuff. (Oh, and yeah, this advice is pretty much mainly for women).

But, listen up, because this is important! DOWNSIZE everything you intend to bring. And once you're done downsizing, guess what? Downsize some more! You do NOT want to travel around with bulging, heavy suitcases (no, I did not carry around one of those large backpacks--I brought a duffel and a mid-sized suitcase on wheels). Ideally, you should fit all your shit into one bag, especially if you don't have anywhere free to store it while you travel. I didn't have an issue with two bags, because, in my case, Work n' Holiday (BUNAC's Australia affiliate) would store one bag for us for free for a month.

But you just can't decide what to downsize? Well let me help!

1. Do NOT bring items that require a converter (this is only a concern if the country you are traveling to uses a different voltage than you). Not only will you waste money on the converter, but you'll waste room in your pack on the electronic. Your blow-dryer? Leave it at home. I don't care how fancy it is. I brought my beloved Chi hairdryer and then only used it once because a) it sounded like a dying mouse and didn't work nearly as well and b) I was terrified it would be permanently damaged after using it with the converter after reading horror stories online. That stupid blow-dryer sat untouched in my pack for 7 months. (But you want to know the really sad part? I bought a cheap Remington dryer there and I couldn't even tell a difference in my hair's overall look between my expensive dryer and that Remington. Ugh, don't think about too hard, Katie.) Sidenote: your laptop's charger does not require a converter. Don't worry.

HOWEVER, be sure to check the tags on all of your electronics. It will tell you their voltage and there are plenty of straighteners, curling irons, and etc that are dual-voltage and, in that case, the only thing you would need to buy are plug adapters to stick onto your electronic's plug that will allow you to plug it into the outlet sockets of whatever country you are going to (these vary by country, so obviously, you'll have to do some research). 

2. Pack clothes that are multi-taskers because you'll need clothes for plenty of occasions, like everyday wear, interviews, some formal events, and recreational stuff like swimming. Pack only a couple of pieces for interview wear, but keep most of it casual. For any formal events you might go to--and I'm not talking about clubbing, because as if you can't go to clubs in a tank and cotton skirt and some random sparkly earrings--bring pieces of clothing that can be dressed up with jewelry and a pair of shoes, but that can also be worn during the day with gladiator sandals. But, sure, bring your damn scarf that you'll wear with everything. Just don't bring your prom dress. You're a poor backpacker, no one has high expectations of your clothing, and no one will blink an eye because you've worn the same thing twice in a month.  

And though you may have 15 pairs of jeans, pack three pairs tops. It's the same with shorts and skirts. Okay, well maybe not skirts. I brought a lot of skirts. But that's my thing. Give yourself one item you can 'splurge' on and then don't pack more than three things of anything else. 

Just remember, you WILL shop during your travels and you're not going to want to have to buy another suitcase to bring all your shit home.

On SHOES: Bring your heels if that's your thing, but limit it to only a pair or two, THREE AT THE MOST. And keep them cheap. As if you won't be stumbling home from the bars in them. Personally, I'm a flats person so I don't fall on my ass in these situations, or, even worse, scuff them all up because I've suddenly forgotten how to walk. It depends on where you're going, but in my case, I kept it to one pair of sandals, a couple flats, one pair of heels and one pair of tennis shoes.

On JEWELRY: If anything, bring more jewelry than clothes. You can totally make an outfit look like a different outfit by wearing a different necklace with it. But obviously I am talking about costume jewelry. If you want to be stupid, bring all your diamonds. Your choice.

On OUTERWEAR: I only packed sweaters because I knew it wouldn't get very cold where I was going, and also I moved in the summertime. If I stayed longer, then I would've bought a coat while already there when necessary. Don't waste room with multiple coats. Pack one nice one.

On UNDERWEAR: Don't waste room on a year's worth of underwear. Grab a handful and use the laundromat, you dirty wench. The bra situation? Bring your skin-colored one that goes under everything, bring your slutty one you can't actually wear under anything and bring a couple pretty ones that'll help you feel confident even when you aren't.

3. You have lots of make-up? Me too. Downsize your make-up collection to one of those cute Clinique bags you got during gift time. Before I moved, I bought an eye palette from NYX to replace all other eyeshadows for my trip, and I suggest you do to the same (and be warned if, like me, you're going to Australia, make-up is pricy and I mean PRICY). 

You can create your own eyeshadow palette for pretty cheap here and get all the colors you think you'll want on your trip. 

Remember, this is not the time for you to bring all 50 make-up brushes you own. (No judgment, I have lots of make-up brushes). Bring no more than five. It's up to you to determine which are the most important. 

Other than that, keep your make-up basic. Do you really need primer and an illuminator? I promise, your face doesn't look uglier without it. 

4. Don't go crazy with the toiletries (including stuff like pads and tampons). You can purchase all of that once you're moved. But do pack shampoo and conditioner and the stuff you use everyday (hello moisturizer) because you'll probably be staying in a hostel or hotel until you find temporary housing where you'll be able to store all your stuff.

5. I'm sorry to be a cold-hearted bitch, but you don't need 50 reminders of home shoved into your suitcase. Bring some photos of your family and call it good. 

ITEMS to save room for:

--Your own bedding. Now, this could arguably also be purchased once you're moved, but some hostels are nasty and it never hurts to be prepared. And, no, I don't mean bring a comforter. Just a fitted sheet, a pillowcase and a loose sheet, and all of these things can be packed very tightly. It is also to use for your temporary housing if you plan on living in one place for a few months.

--A towel. No, hostels do not provide these for you.

--A close-able folder to place all your important documents in that you'll need for jobs and customs, so you'll never lose anything and it's all in one place. 

Okay, I feel like there's more. There's always more when it comes to moving to another country, but I might stop now before I give myself an aneurysm. 

For pete's sake, just don't forget your passport. Or deodorant.

(As for Part 2, I'm thinking the next chapter will be about what to do once you get there.)



  1. This is a good list! Totally with you on the undergarments. I was reading one girl's packing list for Ukraine and she mentioned bringing 30 pairs of underwear. I was like- what?! you don't think they sell them here?

    But I'm soooo guilty of travelling with too much make-up...

  2. Oh, me too! It was really hard to downsize and of course I bought more while traveling. But 30 pairs of underwear?! To each their own, I guess.