The Art of Packing Lightly . . . well, sort of!

It was exactly four months from the day my plane touched down in Buffalo on October 8, 2010 that I departed once again for Oz.  Somehow in that short period of time I had made up my mind to quit my job, rent my house & leave my family & friends back home for a year of adventure abroad.

My house in snowy Buffalo, NY

Once the the big decision was made, the most difficult part of my preparation was figuring out what to pack?!

Just think for a moment about all of the things you use each day; now imagine trying to squeeze them into one suitcase & backpack, both of which by the way, you have to lug around with you everywhere you go.  Remember, too, that my first few months in Oz were spent on the road & my last month or so probably will be as well.  That means that as much as I may want to at times, I have to try not to collect *too* much stuff while I’m here – my suitcase was already busting a gut before I even left home! 😦

No, I did NOT bring all of this with me - hahaha! These are some of the boxes I packed & stored in my attic so I could rent out my house while I'm away.

So what *did* make it into my suitcase?  Well, in the end I packed pretty much the way I would for a two-week vacation – except that I had to account for four different seasons (thank goodness I didn’t have to worry about boots!)  I also tried to think about work clothes – although I wasn’t 100% sure what type of job I would end up in & what the dress code would be.  I wanted to bring some jewelry, but I had to select items that would be somewhat versatile so I would get enough use out of them.  And of course shoes, bulky as they are, had to be chosen carefully.

So much to think about!

My winter jacket from The North Face

One of my first concerns before I left home was finding appropriate jackets that would keep me warm & dry, but that were also lightweight & compact.  Thank goodness for The North Face!  The winter jacket above may appear bulky in the picture, but it is super light & it kept me nice & warm through the winter months.  The one below is just a “shell,” but I’ve used it often as a raincoat/windbreaker.

My rain jacket from The North Face

Amazingly, both jackets fold up into neat little bundles, as you can see in my next photo.  Very convenient when you have limited space!

Both jackets fold up into small bundles for easy transport

As for other clothing, I tried to pack a range of items that would be easy to care for, & on the whole, not too bulky.  I also tried to bring tops that would match more than one pair of pants & this line of thinking also helped me to select shoes.

I’ll start with the outfit I wore on the plane, which has become a standard for me on long flights: a grey sweatsuit & sneakers.  The sneakers are the bulkiest shoes I have with me, so it was easier to wear them rather than try to stuff them into my suitcase.  The sweatsuit is nice & comfy which makes it easier to sleep on overnight flights.  The top is basically a zip-up hoodie, so I always wear a t-shirt underneath so I can take the sweatshirt off if I get too warm.  The perfect flying outfit!  As an added bonus, I figured the hoodie would come in handy in cooler weather & the sweatpants could be used as pajama bottoms. 🙂

The only other shoes I brought with me were a pair of black Sketchers (which have turned out to be the perfect shoes for my job at Ghermez Cupcakes) & a pair of flip-flops (a.k.a. thongs in Australia), which are great for use in hostel showers & of course on the beach!  Oh!  And I also brought slippers . . . no, not Dorothy’s ruby slippers, just regular old wear-around-the-house-in-winter-so-your-feet-don’t-get-cold-slippers. 😉

Pants were relatively easy to figure out – I brought one pair each of jeans, khakis & black pants.  I also brought two pairs of capris – jeans & khakis – & a pair of jean shorts.

Tops were a bit more difficult – how many to bring & of what type?  I arrived in Australia in late summer & I knew the weather here would be much warmer year-round than it is in my hometown of Buffalo, but I also realized it could get cold in the winter, as well as in the Outback at night, so I wanted to be prepared.  To that end, I decided to bring the following:

  • 2 sweaters (in addition to the hoodie mentioned above) & 1 3/4-length sweater
  • 1 long-sleeve shirt & 2 3/4-length shirts
  • 9 t-shirts . . . yes, 9!

T-shirts packed & ready to go

Nine may seem like a lot of t-shirts to some people & perhaps not enough to others!  Considering I would be away for a year, I figured it was a good compromise.  Although I have had a few things mailed to me from home since I moved to Sydney & I have also bought a few things (yeah, I know, there’s *no* way I’m getting everything back into that one suitcase!), I wanted to have some variety at the beginning of my trip while I was still on the road.  Even more than that, I wanted to make sure I had enough clean clothes to wear without having to do laundry every other day!!

Sweaters - yes, it does get "cold" in Australia!

As my mom started calling me, I was now officially a “bag lady:” all of my clothes were neatly tucked away into the “Space Bags” you see above.  I’m not sure if they really saved much space when all was said & done, but the organization certainly helped in those months I was literally living out of my suitcase.  I also used them to separate clean clothes from the dirty ones.

In addition to the sweatpants mentioned above, I also brought another pair of pajama pants & 2 more shirts (1 short-sleeve & 1 long-sleeve) to use as pajama tops.

  • About 2 weeks worth of socks & underwear, plus a few bras
  • Bathing suit & Beach towel (I still can’t believe I actually stuffed a beach towel into my suitcase – yikes!)  I guess I figured I wouldn’t want to get my bath towel [the Rick Steeves travel towel mentioned below] sandy & possibly not have the chance to wash & dry it before showering!)
  • Rick Steves quick-wick travel towel
  • Small travel hair towel

Of course I brought the usual toiletries: Shampoo, Conditioner, Body Wash, Shaving Cream, Razors, Lotion, Toothbrush, Toothpaste, Floss, Mouthwash, Face wash, Moisturizer, Contacts, Contact solution, Brush, Hair gel, Deodorant, Sunscreen & a few other odds & ends.

I even brought along a “laundry bag,” which was just the cloth drawstring bag that held an old air mattress I had at home – hahaha!  Dryer sheets came in handy to keep my suitcase smelling fresh as I was traveling, but haven’t been needed so much now as I don’t have a dryer in my flat. 😦

A mini flashlight was my mom’s idea (good one mom! :)) & it definitely came in use while camping, as well as in the hostel – if I was coming or going while roommates were sleeping, I didn’t need to disturb them by turning on the overhead lights.

A mini umbrella . . . which has since broken.  I am now on my *third* umbrella in Oz, but this one (*knock on wood*) seems to be holding up.

A travel alarm clock – which has also since broken.  I now use my Aussie mobile as my alarm.

Whew!  I think that’s about it for what was in my suitcase & I probably couldn’t have fit another thing in there if I’d tried!!  Now onto the items I originally packed either in my backpack or purse:

  • Important papers, such as my flight info, visa info, initial hostel reservation details, travel medical insurance information & Aussie bank account info
  • Passport, License
  • Credit card, Debit cards, Aussie cash
  • Travel pillow (makes long/overnight flights so much comfier!)
  • Laptop & Flash drive
  • Camera
  • ipod
  • Adapter
  • Jewelry: A watch, 3 necklaces, 3 pairs of earrings, 2 rings (I now have 3 rings since I bought an opal ring at Coober Pedy :)), Anklet
  • A journal & 2 books: an Australia guidebook & Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love (I’ loved it so much I figured I wouldn’t mind reading it a few more times if reading material was scarce during my travels.  Fortunately I was able to borrow books at various hostels & I now have a card from my local library – just like a real Aussie resident! ;))
  • A Planner – which has come in handy to help me remember birthdays & such, plus I now use it to keep track of my work schedule, bills I have to pay, etc. (yeah, I still have to pay bills on “holiday” :()
  • Glasses & Sunglasses
  • Medications
  • “Earplanes” – I always use these on long flights now as I get terrible sinus pain from the change in altitude. 😦
  • 2 small locks (for my suitcase & backpack &/or to be used on a hostel locker)
So – I think that just about covers it!!  As I mentioned earlier, I’ve had a few things sent to me & I’ve also purchased a few things since coming to Oz, so I’ll probably have to ship some stuff back home in the end – not ideal, but it may be unavoidable as my suitcase already weighed just under 19 kilos (42 lbs.) when I flew from Alice Springs to Melbourne in late April . . . And that doesn’t include the nearly 8 kilos (17 lbs) that were in my backpack!

All in all, I’m pretty happy with what I packed.  Could I have made do with fewer clothes?  Probably.  But at the same time, I can honestly say I’ve used everything I brought with me multiple times.  *And,* miracle of all miracles, I actually don’t think I forgot anything! (And if I did, I haven’t missed it in 7 months! ;))  Now if only I could curb my desire to go out & buy some new summer clothes now that spring has arrived Down Under! 😉

13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Heather
    Sep 16, 2011 @ 08:33:01

    Just buy a second suitcase and bring it home — was $115 for me to ship a small box home!!

    LOVE YOU! I am so glad we had those first couple of months together.


    • nicoleinoz
      Sep 16, 2011 @ 21:59:44

      Thanks Heather! I’m glad we had those first two months together too – miss you!! 😦

      I’ve thought about getting another bag to bring home any extra stuff – the only problem is how to carry it all with me during my final travels. I might be able to leave some things with my flatmates while I’m traveling around Queensland, but if I want to spend some time in New Zealand I just don’t know how I’ll be able to lug all that stuff around with me. Well, I guess I have some time to figure it all out!


  2. Camille
    Sep 16, 2011 @ 13:43:37

    I still can’t believe you managed to get all those things into one suitcase and a backpack that you have taken all over Australia with you. Guess it shows how much we all have and how little we really need in life to survive and be happy. Glad you didn’t forget anything since I would have been the one sending it!

    Heather’s on to something there – buy another suitcase as opposed to shipping things home – another one of her thrifty travel tips – way to go Heather!

    Oh – and don’t forget my pink diamond!

    Love and miss you – MOM xo


    • nicoleinoz
      Sep 16, 2011 @ 22:04:38

      As I was writing up this post, I couldn’t believe how long my packing list was!! It’s funny because I sometimes find myself missing the fact that I can’t really accrue too much stuff while I’m here in Oz, but then again I think about how much stuff I have waiting for me back home & it seems so ridiculous – how much stuff do I really need? But I guess it’s just human nature to enjoy collecting things, decorating a home, etc.

      Riiiiight – that pink diamond is on my list of things to pick up here in Oz . . . right after I win the lotto, that is! 😉 Love & miss you too. :o*


  3. Jenna
    Sep 18, 2011 @ 02:19:36

    Wow Nicole, you’ve got some impressive packing skills! I had a lot of fun reading your post. I’m so glad to hear you’re having a great time in Australia. Thinking of you! 🙂


    • nicoleinoz
      Sep 18, 2011 @ 16:13:59

      Thanks Jenna! I’m not so sure about that though – other backpackers tend to bring less, but I’m glad I brought what I did. Thinking of you, too! 🙂


  4. livingwellesthetics
    Sep 19, 2011 @ 10:28:44

    You are so entertaining as a writer! We are looking after your Mom at work and loving her telling of your adventures! I hope you continue to have a fantastic time in Oz. By the way, can you make that 2 pink diamonds?


    • nicoleinoz
      Sep 19, 2011 @ 20:58:43

      Thanks Donna! Hahaha – well I’m sure I’d have to get one for my sister as well & as long as I’m bringing home all these diamonds I’m sure my aunts would be expecting one & you better believe I’d get one for myself . . . hmmmm, I better get a second job!! 😉


  5. Auntie Marilyn
    Sep 23, 2011 @ 00:40:45

    Yes, pink diamond for me please 🙂 Nice post in case I ever want to go away for a year – now I know how to pack! Love & miss you!!!


  6. Mindy
    Sep 24, 2011 @ 11:02:50

    Hey Niki, after reading your packing list, I must admit, I am in awe of you. No, seriously, I would have to bring at least 3 suitcases. Not that I would need all of it. I just need to know I have all that just in CASE there might be a slight chance that I might need that something extra. So, if by chance I do get to travel some day, I’m having you do my packing. So after I try all those macaroons, I’ll still have room in my luggage for the next size up. God Bless and Happy Trails to You!


    • nicoleinoz
      Sep 24, 2011 @ 18:55:54

      Thanks Mindy! Ironically, I might actually be inclined to bring along a few extra things on a shorter trip – knowing I won’t have to lug it around for too long. 🙂


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