Retrospective: Packing

Living out of a single suitcase has proven difficult yet liberating. I packed a backpack with most of my clothing and a few things I couldn’t live without if my luggage was lost (jewelry, etc.), then I had a suitcase with other gear I thought I would need. Here is a review of the stuff I brought down for a 5 month stay in Costa Rica; some things were necessary, some surprisingly necessary, and some never left the suitcase:

Things I could not live without…

… headlamps – perfect for reading, power outages, and those scary night trips to the bathroom

waterproof jacket – it is a lifesaver:light, compact, much smaller than an umbrella

… bandanna – great hair accessory and perfect on a hot hike soaked in water and tied around your neck

… clothespins – I used them everyday

… my Molskine journal and planner – perfect for confirmation numbers, hotel info, and remembering

… office supplies – envelopes, paper/binder clips, tape, scissors, post-it flags

… medical supplies – have on hand bandages, neosporin, etc. and anything you are particular about (I’m allergic to many medications so I brought some that I know I can take)

the Roku – this little guy plugs into your TV and has games, applications, and with internet we can use our Netflix account; we hardly used cable; Costa Rican restrictions do apply (no streaming Amazon/Hulu content, etc.)

Emergen-C (don’t get sick!), mint tea tea bags (hello, travel anxiety), granola bars (you really never know when you’re going to find food again when traveling)

… essential oils – lavender, tea tree, and peppermint; bug repellent, anxiety/sleep aid, sunburn relief…

Sanitizing towelettes – a gift from my co-workers, TSA compliant and perfect for travel days, when it’s hot/humid and you’ve already showered, or when the city decides to shut everyone’s water off and doesn’t tell you and you have a dinner reservation…

… my Osprey Talon 33 backpack – my carry-on, weekend trip bag, hauling groceries every Saturday…

Things I could live without…

… hiking khakis – I don’t think I wore them once

… fleece jacket – while it was absolutely necessary to wear getting here (think Michigan winters), it is not necessary in Costa Rica

… stationary – there is no post here

… snorkel gear – BIG shocker but not once did we find ourselves at a beach we could snorkel at; only pack it if you’re going to seek out clear waters and want to use your own gear

… mini-sewing kit – I didn’t use it, but I suppose it would be nice to have had I needed it?

… knitting supplies – while like the sewing kit, had I wanted to make a rug while I was here it would have been nice, but it’s just too damn hot to knit

… extra soap, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner… – everyone brushes their teeth and washes their hair, you can buy it here

Things I wish I had…

… rope or string – I can’t remember why but we’ve said we wished we had it at least twice now

… instant coffee, like Starbucks Via instant coffee – we went a week without coffee when we first moved into our place, it was rough

… nail polish – I just did, ok?

… running shoes

Tips and Tricks

… be organized – put like things together in ziplock bags, not only will it help you find what you need when you need it but it will help you to not over-pack (one for medical supplies, one for office supplies…)

… don’t pack things in their original packaging – it is just too bulky, i.e. bandages

… don’t leave any empty spaces – pack socks in shoes, use clothing to pad fragile items, etc.

… only pack small quantities of things like toiletries and medications – just enough to hold you over until you can get to a store, you may not even need what you bring

… books are a tricky subject, especially when traveling somewhere where English is not the native language – you’re going to pay a premium for basic bestsellers in English, yet they take up valuable space in your luggage; use your own judgment and try to borrow as much as possible (great way to meet people)

… if there is a hobby you particularly like (running for me) that requires special gear (shoes), bring it – if you’re going to be living somewhere and this hobby is part of your daily life then don’t limit yourself; I was ready to pay DOUBLE for running shoes because I missed it so much

Clothing and such

… neutral and solid colors are your best friend – try to pack shirts, cardigans, and dresses that are somewhat neutral so everything can be interchangeable ( I stress dressy AND casual), a basic layout:

jeans and shorts

(2) cardigans – black and gray

the little black dress and one solid (bright) color dress

t-shirts – all solid colors (except one, for variation) and therefore match the cardigans and jeans

… shoes – ladies, it ain’t easy but all my shoes had a purpose, no duplicates: (1) pair dressy sandals (needs to be dressy, casual, and chic), hiking shoes, casual sandals, and my running shoes

… bags – again, ladies, this might be hard for you but think about space: (1) purse for going out, (1) purse for everyday (waterproof=bonus points), (1) reusable bag for grocery shopping

… accessories – I brought a small container for all my jewelry (bobby pins, nail files, hair ties too… it’s perfect) and brought two ‘statement’ pieces that will match above outfits, one thin black belt for dressing up, and one brown belt for everyday

As we prepare for our next adventure we face a real packing dilemma: preparing for three different seasons. While in Montreal we will be facing summer, fall, and winter, all with one suitcase. Thankfully, and I’m not sure if they know they’ve signed up for this yet, my family is going to make a visit in the fall where I plan to exchange shorts for fleece.

What are your recommendations? What can you absolutely NOT travel without?

– Jes


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