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Living Abroad Part Time – Packing For Super Long Trips

Packing for a weekend trip, or even a week long trip, is one thing. Packing for when you’ll be out of the country for a month is a completely different concept.

I travel the world and am gone for three weeks with just one small bag. This one:

Yes, I’m perfectly happy and 100% prepared for anything with this one tiny bag, and nothing else, for a three-week trip.

If I’m gone for four weeks or longer, I sometimes have to add one more small bag. This one:

That’s it. I’ve been gone a month (or longer) with just those two bags. Here’s how I do it.

Shifts in Mindset

First you need a shift in mindset. Here are the mindsets you should adopt:

1. “I never check any bags on any flight. All my bags are always carry-on. That way there are no delays getting off flights and there’s never the possibility of losing a bag.”

Checking bags every time you travel is a nightmare. If you want to be mobile and efficient and have peace of mind, you need to learn to pack small enough where you never need to check a thing. I’m sure you’ve heard of some checked-bag horror stories; here’s mine from before I learned this concept.

On the very first international trip I ever took, I was the typical traveler and checked a giant bag with all of my clothes. (This was in addition to two other giant bags of course.)

On my return flight, I had a layover in San Francisco airport before my final flight back to my home in Portland.

In a half-asleep, zombie-like state from the 15 hour flight (where I didn’t sleep) and the massive time zone change, I stood like a rotting corpse at baggage claim, waiting for my big fat bag to come out of the conveyor belt. I waited 5 minutes. Nothing. 10 minutes. Nothing. 15 minutes. Nothing. WTF?

Longer and longer I waited. Then I checked my watch. I had to catch my next flight in an hour. I figured I had plenty of time.

Longer. And longer. Still nothing.

50 minutes later my bag finally came out of the fucking machine. Furious as I was tired, I grabbed the bag and ran, yes ran, half-asleep, through an airport I didn’t know well, looking for my next flight.

I barely made it onto my connecting flight. I was the last guy to board the plane. I was lucky.

I vowed then and there, never again. If the airports and airlines are this incompetent, I can’t depend on them to get my bags to me in an efficient manner so I can have a smooth, international travel experience. Plus, when you travel internationally, often you get your big, stupid checked bags opened twice by security and/or immigration. No thanks.

Don’t check bags.

2. “I’m going to have to wash my own clothes about once a week while I’m gone. This way I don’t have to pack one outfit for every day I’m travelling.”

If you’re gone for a month, are you seriously going to back 30 pairs of socks, 30 pairs of underwear, 10 shirts, 10 pairs of pants, etc? Of course not. That would be insane. (Yet I know people who do this, or at least try it!)

This means you’re going to have to learn how to wash and dry your clothing on the go. On most 3+ week trips I pack 5 pairs of socks/underwear, one or zero pairs of pants (remember, I’m already wearing one when I board the plane), and four shirts at the most.

I use those travel detergent packets to wash my own clothes about once every 5 or 6 days during my trip. If I don’t have access to a washer and dryer (and usually I don’t), I just use my bathroom sink. You plug it, fill it with hot water, put the detergent in, agitate your clothes in there, soak ‘em for a while, then rinse with cold water.

To dry them, you rinse them out as best you can, then roll them up tight in a dry towel, then hang them up using a bungee travel clothesline (that I always pack and takes essentially zero space). Within 24 hours at the most, they’ll be dry and clean.

If this is too much of a hassle and you are traveling to a locale where clothes are cheap, another option is to just throw away your socks and underwear after wearing them and buy new ones. In Singapore recently I bought six pairs of socks for less than $4 US. Underwear was even less. So I just threw my socks and underwear away and wore new ones. All I had to wash was my shirts and pants, which is much faster (and they don’t need to be washed nearly as often, unless you’re really getting dirty or sweaty).

Packing List

I can’t tell you exactly what to pack, since everyone is different, but below is the list of stuff I pack whenever I’m away internationally for three weeks or longer.

5 pairs of socks

5 underwear

3 T shirts

Flossers – 2 per day gone

Earplugs (1 pair per 5 days gone)

Cell phone charger

Eye covering (for sleeping)

Laptop charger

Mini power strip (matched to the plug type for the country I’m going to; I have a wide array)

Vitamins – 1 set per day gone

TRT Stuff (vials, syringes, and alcohol swabs, based on how long I’m gone)

Sunglasses inside a clean cloth

Small bungee tie


Electric clipper shaver with charger

1 razor per two weeks gone

Fingernail clipper (careful with this one, some countries don’t like those)

Travel clothesline

Condoms (just in case; usually don’t need them)

Laundry travel detergent packets, 1 for every 5 days gone


Electrical plug adapters

Tiny collapsible duffel bag

Shaving Mirror


Laptop (completely cleaned and backed up before I leave, and with some digital movies copied to the hard drive)

Trackball mouse

2 AA batteries and 2 AAA batteries

Noise-canceling headphones

2 extra laptop batteries

Cell phone

Cell phone headset

Phone USB cable for tethering cell phone


Book (just one)

Boarding pass (often in my phone instead of a ticket)

Hotel info (often in my phone)



Ipod with charger cable

Liquids  (all in one large clear ziplock bag, all under 2.5 ounces each)



Hair Gel


Face wash

Face Moisturizer


Eye Moisturizer

Sunblock (the hardcore kind, waterproof, 70+ SPF)

Shaving Gel (careful with this one, some countries don’t like aerosol cans, even tiny ones)

Sometimes items – I don’t always pack these below items but sometimes I do, depending on what I’m doing when I travel.

Suit (jacket, slacks, and 1 tie)

1 business shirt

1 pair of shorts

Portable mini-VGA projector with cables

Business cards

HDMI cable

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  1. Guy

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  2. Caleb Jones

    Yeah, I’ve seen that site. I’ve looked at a lot like that.