Living Out of Suitcases

img_0371-kopie.jpegMaybe the most common question we hear from people (okay, women) about traveling for so many months at a time is “How in the world do you pack?”

We could laugh and say, “It’s easy!” but that would be disingenuous.

In truth, it is not particularly hard to figure out what we want to bring with us. What’s tricky is fitting it all into two small suitcases and a backpack each.

We have learned tricks. Compression bags, packing cubes and moisture-wicking underwear definitely are all that they are cracked up to be. This winter, we will be only about three weeks in temperatures reliably hotter than 75F. Doris packed everything she would need for those destinations in a single Eagle Creek packing cube with dimensions not much bigger than a sheet of paper.

Summer wardrobe in a cube: two pair short pants, four tops, one dress, one bathing suit, one coverup, one pair of sandals.

But clothes turn out to be the easy part. Splurge adventures have their own requirements (Galapagos: water shoes, binoculars, underwater camera). We also carry “kits” – pre-packed plastic envelopes holding items we have learned are expensive, inconvenient or impossible to find on the fly. Sunscreen, specialty toothpaste, sulfite-free shampoo. When the Bluetooth iPad keyboard Doris cannot write without cracked during our first week out, she was mighty glad to be carrying a traveler-shaped supply of duct tape and teensy travel scissors in our portable “tool kit.”

Doris likes to think that a duct-taped iPad keyboard is proof she is a true road warrior.

Our kitchen kit even holds a very lightweight cotton apron because we cook a lot of our meals on the road. Carrying as little clothing as we do, we need to protect what we have from cooking accidents.


Remember the book What Color Is Your Parachute? When hitting the road, the question ultimately becomes “How Big Is Your Comfort Zone?” Living out of a suitcase for four or six or eight months is a great way to map a comfort zone. Rule of thumb? Bigger zone, smaller bags; smaller zone, bigger bags. The photo at the top is our Dutch friend Herman schlepping the only luggage he and his wife Annet carried on a round-the-world trip a few years back. Sure sign of a giant comfort zone.

Traveling as we do has taught us more about our own comfort zones, and we pack accordingly. With each trip, we find ourselves packing fewer clothes and more gear. Louis, for example, has learned he really doesn’t need ten different shirts on a trip, but we wouldn’t leave home without a miner’s lamp.

Processed with MOLDIV
Room too dim to read, cook or apply makeup? A miner’s lamp does the trick every time.

There’s a fair amount of minimalist snobbery out there in the travel blogosphere (e.g., anyone who checks a bag is not a “real” traveler), and we confess that we have been known to snicker at travelers hauling what looks like their every worldly possession through airports. But, at the end of the day, travel is a challenge, even under the best of circumstances, and few road warriors encounter the best of circumstances all the time. We now always check one bag because it is the only way to get all the liquids we will use over many months onto our flights.

Comfort choices go beyond packing decisions. In Colombia, we talked with a young Canadian working his way around the world who said he happily shells out for the shortest, most direct flight he can find between destinations. Back in the day, when he was only 21, he was willing to take three connecting flights to save $100 on a route, he told us. At 27, he’s “too old” to be uncomfortable.

At 27-plus, so are we. We may live out of suitcases, but packing to be comfortable enough is one of the reasons we can do that.

Random crap bag
We have yet to fly an airline that does not allow passengers to carry on reading material, food, personal electronics and outer wear in addition to the standard carry-on allowance. Our luggage always includes a sturdy shopping bag to tuck in those items and maybe hide a few more.

From the Partout Toolbox: One of the drawbacks of traveling light is leaving home with every square inch of luggage packed and no space for buying anything on the road larger than an emerald ring. Doris’s solution to this dilemma is to pack a few items of  clothing that are still presentable but nearing the end of their life in her closet. At her last stop or whenever she wants to free up some packing space along the way, she leaves clean and neatly folded items behind for the housekeeping staff to repurpose. Especially in underdeveloped countries but even in many developed ones, gifts of usable clothing are a far bigger bonus for low-paid workers than a handful of small coins.

COMING SOON! Cuenca on Fire

3 thoughts on “Living Out of Suitcases

  1. Those Eagle Creek packing cubes are great indeed, I use them always but to pack all your clothes in just one cube is a real challenge.
    Good work Doris! I will try the same next time.


  2. wonderful post. thank you! now i”m wondering what the fire is you will write about next. Sunny right now on Lake Street. Beautiful day on the track up at Schweitzer. I’m a happy stay-at-home! K


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