Chris Guillebeau, 33, is on a five-year mission to visit every country in the world. He is currently on number 164.
Every month, I hit the road for another adventure. The average trip takes two weeks and brings me completely around the world, from North America to Europe or Africa, then home via Asia. Despite the different destinations, I pack almost exactly the same things every time.
For years, I agonized over packing, making lists and cross-checking everything several times before finally leaving for the airport. Fortunately, it's now down to a mindless process that lasts about 20 minutes from start to finish. I have a Rollaboard carry-on bag for my clothes, and an over-the-shoulder messenger bag for my laptop and other gear.
No matter your destination or travel style, here's the most important strategy that can make your travelling life much easier: the less you put in the bag, the better. You may think this is a sacrifice ("What if I need something and don't have it with me?") but most of the time, it's not. Your life will be easier as you whisk through airports, ignoring the long wait at baggage claim, and never worrying about what you've forgotten to bring along. Worry only about your passport and your money, which you'll keep close to you, and any important valuables that are in your smaller bag.
As helpful as it is, committing to travel with less baggage does raise a dilemma. Since your space is limited, what do you bring? These tips may help:
Take more money than you think you'll need. If you end up with too much money, you can always redeposit it when you're home. But if you get stuck without money on the road, you have a real problem.
Clothes should be versatile and easily packable. Layers help: bring long-sleeve T-shirts that look nice enough to be worn on their own, but could also be used underneath a dress shirt or or blouse. Make sure your jacket is wrinkle-free or at least wrinkle-resistant.
Bring shoes you can use for multiple occasions. Try to find shoes that are comfortable for extended walking, but nice enough to wear on dressier occasions if possible. Make these your primary pair of shoes. Judge any additional options against the primary pair: do you also need sandals? Running shoes? Something else? Maybe so, but if you can get by without them, do so.
Multi-task your technology. The widespread adoption of smartphones threatens to make cameras obsolete for everyone who's not a pro photographer. An iPod can be used as an alarm clock. I used to bring a wide variety of adaptors, before realizing that one multi-adaptor would work in most of the world.
Put all needed papers in one folder, including hotel confirmations, copies of visas or airline e-tickets, and anything important. Bonus tip: don't lose this folder.
Bring a few snacks. When you're travelling, you're not always able to eat at normal time periods, and you'll probably be eating different food whenever you do. A small pack of raw almonds is my favourite choice, and I usually have a few granola bars in the bottom of my bag as well.
Dress up slightly. Generally speaking, it's better to be slightly overdressed than underdressed. Make sure you have at least one outfit that can pass as "nice" wherever you go.
I still like reading print books and magazines, but the iPad has made it easier to have access to a near-unlimited stream of additional reading material. In addition to a small stash of printed material, I keep up with newspapers like the Economist each week through my online subscriptions. I also read hundreds of blogs.
I try to keep fit wherever I am, and a pair of running shoes takes up the greatest amount of space in the bag. I always throw them in front of the hotel or guesthouse door after settling in, using the philosophy that it will increase the chance that I'll actually put them to use. If they've been well-used, I'll sometimes leave them behind in the last country before heading home.
Upon arrival in a new place of lodging, I immediately unpack. Sometimes I'll live directly from the suitcase if it's only a quick stay, but I usually prefer to have everything out and in its place. It usually takes less than 10 minutes to repack upon leaving.
Pack less, worry less. Regardless of what finally makes it in the bag, you may be stressed on the day of departure. Sooner or later, let it go. You're on the road!
Next week: the writer navigates through chaotic Taiwan.