Gap Year Guides: How to Pack

So you’re getting set for a big trip, you’re all excited and geared up to go, but one of the biggest hurdles that need to be overcome before any trip is the packing. Deciding what and what not to take can be some of the most important decisions you will make pre-trip. So, in order to make this mammoth task feel a bit more manageable, here are my ten top tips to spare some of the agony commonly experienced over packing.

Make a list.

It’s the oldest tip in the book, but there’s a reason it hasn’t been scratched before now. This is the ONLY way you will be able to make sure you have definitely got everything (and the only way you can reassure your mum when you’re on your way to the airport that yes, you’ve got your passport, yes, you’ve got your ticket, etc ad nauseum). Check each item off as you pack it, and that way even if you don’t know exactly where it is, you know that it’s in there somewhere.

Start early.

There are some things that require early preparation or at least a bit of advanced planning, and it will be incredibly frustrating if you suddenly think of something really useful a couple of days before the trip, only to realise it has to be ordered online. This is particularly relevant for things like currency: often the best currency cards (and even the best exchange rates!) can only be found online, and need a few days to a week to arrive. As soon as you have booked, start compiling a list of things to take, and make sure you do your research thoroughly – the extra time you put in at an early stage can often pay off later.

Know your destination.

Perhaps one of the most key things that it is well worth researching before you head out on your trip is the geography, climate, and season of your destined country. It might be summer in England, but it will be winter in South Africa and Australia, and monsoon season in parts of Asia. Planning around the weather is key!

Prioritise.

When packing, don’t just put everything in one ginormous and slightly terrifying pile on your bed or your floor: putting things into separate piles (absolutely necessary, pretty essential, only take if there’s room etc) makes it a lot more manageable.

Risk assess.

When trying to decide on the volume of electronic goods you are taking (let’s be honest, you will be taking at least some), ask yourself the question of whether the value or use the item will give you on your trip outweighs the risk of taking such an item, and also think about how much it would impact on you if you were to lose it or get it stolen. Only pack things where the plus column outweighs the minus. Another thing worth thinking about is how much cash to have in one place – I would always advise taking a mixture of cash and card, not storing it all in one place (though don’t put money anywhere it could easily get lost or forgotten!), and also always ensuring you’ve got an emergency stash!

Think about what you’re wearing.

A great way of saving some weight on your baggage allowance is by wearing the heaviest items you are wanting to pack – usually, this means hiking or other sturdy boots or trainers, thick jumper, and long trousers (jeans, if you’re taking them). However, don’t forget that you’ll have to go through airport security wearing all this, so where possible avoid things that you’ll need to take off to put in a plastic tray (belts being a classic example – more of a faff than they’re worth).

Bits and bobs.

You will often spend a lot of time and effort thinking about the big or expensive things you want to take with you, but don’t forget there is value in smaller stuff too! There are things I always take just in case they come in handy: a padlock or two (combination is best so you can’t lose the key!), string (can be used as a washing line or to tie stuff onto your bag), a bungee cord, a bike lock whenever I’m backpacking (some hostel lockers won’t fit your padlock), a compact sewing kit, duct tape, hand sanitiser, tissues/babywipes… the list goes on. Obviously not everything will be relevant to each trip, but you will be surprised how often things unexpectedly come in useful.

Space savers.

You only have limited space, so be sensible. Take a travel towel over a normal towel, get a foldable hairbrush, take 2 in 1 shampoo and conditioner. If you make enough adjustments like these, it will make a real difference to your luggage weight and space. A large sarong or pashmina is another great multi-purpose item that will go well in place of a scarf, blanket, spare towel, shawl or cardigan to cover your shoulders where appropriate.

Don’t pack for the whole trip.

Unless your research into the country or continent you are visiting has revealed that certain things are very hard (or excessively expensive) to come by, there is no need to attempt to pack 3 months’ worth of everything. Your bag will soon be weighed down with shampoo, moisturiser and sun cream if you try, and these are some of the heaviest things you will be packing. Instead, pack a small amount of each, and allow that some of your budget for the trip will be spent on replacing these things.

Be organised.

Avoid the temptation to just push, shove and squeeze everything down into all the crevices of your bag until it’s all in – it will be far too annoying when you make it to your first hostel and have to spend an hour rummaging for your toothpaste. One good tip is to put the things you’re most likely to immediately need in your hand luggage. I always take in my liquids bag a small toothpaste and deodorant, so I can access it quickly after (or during!) a long flight or stopover. Another good tip is to pack things into separate easily recognisable bags (a bag for underwear, a bag for tops, a bag for trousers and so on) – this will mean that when you’re trying to find something specific you won’t have to spend ages going through everything, but can target the appropriate bag. Packing cubes are really good for this.

 

This list is not exhaustive, but it’s a good starting guide – and remember: just because it comes last doesn’t mean it should always be pushed to the back of your mind…

Happy packing!

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  1. […] And don’t leave it too late… (For a bit of a hand, see my How to Pack […]

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