I’ve had this topic stewing since well before I left for Argentina, but I decided to take the trip and analyze the packing list afterward to provide details on what worked well, what didn’t, what was lacking, and what was just adding to the strain on my endoskeleton.
When I prepare for a trip, whether I’m flying to San Francisco for the weekend or Europe for six weeks, I try to fit everything into the same two bags. This means that while I’m not exactly a disciple of the one bag travel philosophy (or Rolf Potts’ no baggage challenge) I’m also not pulling a baggage train behind me. Because I pack 80% of the same items each time I travel, it was easy for me to achieve two logistical goals I had for this trip:
- Check no baggage on flights, to avoid fees and the potential for lost baggage, and
- Travel light, for flexibility and agility during travel.
Success starts with choosing the right luggage.
Early last year I did a lot of research into the kind of bags I wanted. My existing luggage had served me well for almost a decade, but it had seen better days and it wouldn’t suit my travel goals well. Ultimately, I purchased two bags from Tom Bihn: the Aeronaut (45 L), for the bulk of my things, and the Smart Alec (26 L) with Brain Cell, for my laptop and other electronics. You can read more about my take on these bags in April’s State of the Savage, but the idea is that the Aeronaut serves as my main piece of luggage and carry-on bag and the Smart Alec functions as a daypack and personal item on flights.
These bags are roomy, durable, and passed muster as within prescribed size limits on every flight I’ve taken. I highly recommend that you take a look at Tom Bihn’s bags if you’re in the market. The Smart Alec did struggle a bit to fit under airplane seats, but it accomplished the job of holding all of my electronics (see below) with room to spare. These bags were a great investment.
When people saw my list of clothes to pack, they either burst into laughter or looked at me as if I’d recently had a lobotomy. Here’s what I brought:
- 3 pairs of Ex-Officio boxers
- 3 pairs of North Face no-show ankle socks
- 1 pair of Sleep shorts
- 2 pairs of lightweight convertible pants
- 1 pair of Kuhl jeans
- 3 short-sleeve tees
- 2 long-sleeve button-up shirts
- 2 short-sleeve button-up shirts
- 1 long-sleeve zip-up fleece (not shown)
- 1 pair of cross-trainer shoes (not shown)
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of low-rise sneakers
Minus the outfit I wore on the flight to Argentina, all of my clothes fit in those three packing cubes. Overall, this system worked well. I never felt like I was missing a clothing item and everything held up under pressure. The main pitfall here was that I only brought three pairs of underwear and socks. While they were tech items that dried quickly, it meant I was doing laundry every other day and that got tiresome. They don’t take up much room, and for future trips I’m resolving to bring a whopping five pairs of each.
Remember that I packed for summer in Argentina – summer clothing takes up less space. I’ve yet to see how this system works in colder destinations that require heavier clothing. The small brown package in the picture above contains my microfiber bath towel and a pillowcase.
I’m enamored with electronics and it shows in my packing list. I bought an iPhone 4 in advance of the trip so I could use it as my new phone here in the States and as a glorified iPod Touch while abroad. Here’s the gear I packed:
- 15″ MacBook Pro unibody (w/ power cable & extender) (laptop not shown)
- Tom Bihn Snakecharmer case
- 500 GB external hard drive (w/ USB cable)
- iPhone 4 (w/ USB cable)
- Blackberry Curve 8900 (w/ charger)
- Canon Powershot SX210IS (w/ case & strap, battery recharger, and USB cable)
- Xshot camera extender
- Earphones (not shown)
- 4x Argentina-ready outlet adapters
- 1 GB USB thumbdrive
- iKlear travel size screen wipes
I used the Tom Bihn Snakecharmer to hold all of the cords, adapters, plugs, and drives, and stuffed it into the bottom of my Smart Alec. I chose not to jailbreak the iPhone and instead brought my old Blackberry Curve 8900 to use as a local phone in Argentina. AT&T kindly allowed me to unlock the Blackberry, and once I got to Buenos Aires I bought a local SIM card and popped it into the phone (big thanks to Marcello of Wandering Trader for all of the help).
The Canon Powershot SX210IS delivers good pictures and video, though I did notice some graininess on the photos and video. I’m far from an expert user of this camera so I probably need to spend more time learning the ins and outs of this point-and-shoot. I used the Xshot far less than I thought I would, mainly because I shot less video of myself than I had originally envisioned. The video can be incredible bouncy, too, when the camera’s mounted on the Xshot. I need to consider whether I’ll bring the Xshot on future trips.
Finally, I brought two sets of outlet adapters but only used the plugs with the slanting prongs. I didn’t even see the other style of outlet in Buenos Aires or Salta.
The Odds & Ends
The remainder of my gear constitutes toiletries, laundry supplies, medicines, reading material and other sundry goods.
- Toiletry bag
- Medicine bag
- Laundry bag (w/ clothesline, sink stopper, detergent, febreeze, and plastic garbage bag for dirty clothes)
- Daypack mini-bag (w/ earplugs, chapstick, kleenex, saline, and other flight necessities)
- Moleskine and pens/pencils (not shown)
- Glasses (not shown)
- Security pouch
- Luggage locks
- Copies of critical documents
- Business cards (w/ case and extras)
These items take up quite a bit of space, but almost all were useful. I brought several different kinds of locks but didn’t end up using any of them. Had I stayed in hostels this might be a different story. The Clif bars really fill you up in a pinch.
Overall, I’m very pleased with how the packing turned out. I didn’t have any situations where I wished I’d brought something and hadn’t, nor did I have to make compromises on things I wanted to bring along. However, other than my shortage of underwear and socks, books posed the biggest issue. They’re heavy and take up a lot of room. Luckily, I received a new Kindle from three really nice fans (thanks Sarah, Alex, and Laura) for Christmas, and I’m really excited to bring it on my next trip!
Let me know if you have any questions or thoughts about my packing list!
Original photo by ken mccown via Flickr under Creative Commons