4 Packing Questions I Have for Experienced Travelers

I am going to Colombia in January for 3 months and I could really use some help in planning.

Since now my trip is less than 90 days away, I want to begin making a packing list– especially of items I might need to purchase as I need to allow time for ordering and shipment. Overall, though, the purpose of my planning is to minimize the amount of stuff I take with me.

Thus far, I have been perusing the blogosphere for good packing lists. Here are some that I like:

1. Sean’s Packing List for Thailand

2. Derek’s Light Travel Gear List

3. Tim’s Less-Than-10-Pounds Packing List

I think these packing lists have given me some good ideas. I have already decided to pull the trigger and buy:

  • 2 pair of the Ex Officio Boxer Briefs. These had rave reviews… If I can survive on only 2 pair of underwear, it reduces my luggage load by probably 5% and reduces my laundry needs, as I can simply wash these each time I shower. They dry within 3-4 hours.
  • Kensington Laptop Lock. I have read that this is more of a deterrent than a fail-safe solution. If someone wants to damage your laptop, this will not stop them, and if someone has a cable cutter, they can flat-out steal your laptop. But, so many people have mentioned this lock that I went ahead and got it. How do you protect your laptop abroad? (See big question 1 below)
  • Kiva Keychain Duffel. This duffel is the size of a key chain yet can be opened to carry all sorts of stuff. I really like the idea of having it because it is so flexible… I could use it as a dirty clothes bag, a souvenir bag, an extra carry on, or even an electronics bag. And, it was only $10 bucks.

I have heard from numerous travel writers that the mistake is always to bring too much. The idea is that if you forget something, you can always buy it or find a substitute.

I would like to travel by carry-on only if I can. So, this means I would have a small suitcase and a backpack to fit all my stuff in. It would be a minimalist experiment of sorts.

So, here are the big questions I have now (please respond below):

First, do I take my precious MacBook on the trip?…Or do I set up a go-to-my-pc account to access it instead? If I take it with me, how do I protect abroad, especially in a “hostel environment”? (Pun intended, hehe.) If I don’t take it with me, can I really access everything I need remotely? (BTW, I have an old cheap Dell laptop (about 5 years old) that I could take with me instead… but it is heavier, bulkier, and not my fave.)

Second, how do I pack and keep unwrinkled nice shirts and pants? By “nice” I mean shirts and pants you would wear to go to a nice restaurant, or possibly to an evening professional meeting. Are there any special shirts or pants that you simply cannot wrinkle? I have no desire to do any ironing on this trip.

Third, how many pairs and what kind of shoes should I take? Tim Ferris recommends sandals with detachable ankle straps. Other folks recommend one nice pair of shoes, one pair of sneakers, and one pair of flip-flops. The big concern for me is that shoes take up major space in a suitcase… What to do about this? (For reference, here are the kinds activities I will be doing: professional, hiking & outdoor, stylish & going out, indoor & around the house, beach/sand/water excursions, bus rides & travel.)

Finally, how do I guard my travel documents and money from thievery? In the US, I carry a wallet with me and simply keep the rest in a drawer at home because I feel like I live in a safe place. But if I am traveling from hostel to hostel, how do I keep them safe, while not dragging them around needlessly on excursions and nights out?

I could really use the wisdom of experience. Please leave a comment if you can help me out!

  • Dear Ryan,
    These are all great questions… I’ve never travelled with any of my equipment so I can’t answer that one, or the one about men’s underwear!

    I’d go for pants and shirts that don’t need ironing, and pack them in a plastic ziplock bag. Otherwise, you can easily get things pressed abroad! As far as the nice shoes, I never pack them as they are heavy and take up space and I’ve never managed in night spots without them… but maybe a pair of rockports or something like that could work as everyday shoes as well.

    For travel documents, I try to leave them in a safe at the front desk of the hotel or hostel if possible.

    • Ryan

      Thanks for the advice, Mary! I will look into getting some Rockports… I like the idea of a hybrid work/night shoes, so as to save space. In Bogotá, it looks like the average temperature is just a little to chilly for flip flops, unless I get use to it… so I will have to come up with something there, as I am a Floridian and wear flip flops religiously!

      • Dear Ryan,
        I just realized my previous comment didn’t make sense when I said “I never managed without them.” I meant always managed without them, but I think you got that!

        Good luck with packing… fun time, isn’t it with all the anticipation?

  • I’m starting to explore the whole packing issue as well. Still have 10 months before departure but since we’ll be moving for a long period of time as a family we’ve got so many questions about the best way to ship some stuff overseas. Should I ship my workstation (I use it for my photography work) or buy a high end laptop instead? I’ll be interested to see what the experienced travelers have to say on your questions.

    In terms of the laptop locks from personal experience working at a hospital where we used them on all laptops you can break them off in a matter of seconds so they are pretty much worthless in my opinion. In fact when we lost the keys to them we would just twist them right off with our hands. But it will deter all but the most determined thief. I’m considering using an online backup service like Carbonite to backup all my important files.

    Looking forward to seeing what you end up packing.

    • Ryan

      Hey Matt- Thanks for dropping by… I appreciate the word about the laptop lock. I will not count its defense abilities…

      In terms of file protection, I have started to use Mozy to backup my files, but I have not had to reboot from Mozy yet which would really tell me how good it is… I’m still wondering about bringing my MacBook though… I like it and use it a ton, but if it’s stolen, I’m out $1400+.

      As for other stuff, I have received an MSR quick drying towel (forgot to mention it in the post), and I really like it. It definitely provides a different “desiccating experience” than a regular towel, but it definitely leaves you dry. It is easy to hang up and dry and small to pack. (Note: I got size XL, which is smaller than a regular size towel, so I couldn’t imagine getting a smaller size.) So I am thinking it’s a winner thus far.

  • I bought a pair of the ex-officio panties for girls and I only wore them once. I didn’t like them. It’s different for guys though. Plus, 8 pairs of panties, only takes up a SMALL spot in my backpack. Boxers prolly take up a bit more. I used some packing bags from REI and loved them, made organizing my bag so much easier.

    I’m writing a post on laptop and SLR camera safety… I’ll be posting it this week, maybe tomorrow.

    • Ryan

      Jenny- I can actually attest that the ex-officio underwear have improved my happiness quotient by 5%. They are that good.
      I’ll be checking out your post because I really want to know about laptop safety. My Macbook is my baby, and I want to take it to Colombia, but not sure if I should.
      Thanks for stopping by, Jenny!

  • Hello Ryan!

    SO excited to stumble on your blog because lets face it-Colombia and Venezuela get a bad rap in SA travel. I did Colombia for a month last year and just came back from another month there & in Venezuela. Colombia is a very safe place to travel-safer than people think.. There are police check points when riding the buses, police in the streets-well you get the picture. I felt safer there than I did in Guatemala, where there are tons of travelers. I recommend getting some travel cubes-they will make sorting everything a whole lot easier. This year was special-an old man on a bicycle in Cartagena tried to snatch my new Canon rebel T2i right off my shoulder as I walked out of my eco-hotel. My first ‘attempted’ mugging! And this was in the ‘good’ neighborhood. You just always have to keep both eyes open and be on the lookout. I had literally just started walking down the street, thinking about how awesome it was that I was back here and what kind of beer was I going to have for lunch(basically in lalaland), then bam! And the only reason he didn’t get it was because my bf snatched it right back. I still love Colombia and I know that could have happened anywhere. I didn’t take my laptop with me either time-for three months I’d recommend not to take anything you would be sad to loose. Get one of those packs that doesn’t look like a laptop bag and if you don’t mind sleeping/attaching the pack to your leg on all bus rides then by all means take your laptop. There are always cheap internet connections over there. Cartagena, Santa Marta, Cali, Bogota, Zona Cafetera, ect, all those places had cheap wi-fi. And if you go to Cartagena(which you will because all the beautiful women are here) then please stay at El Viajero. They have 4 of the fastest computers I’ve ever seen at a hostel. And the fresh juice & pastry shop 3 doors down is what I woke up for every morning. I’m so excited for you! If I think of anything else I’ll let you know. Have a great trip!

    • Ryan

      Wow! Thanks so much Mica! Yea, I am concerned about my laptop… I am still undecided, but much more favorable after reading Jenny’s (commenter above) tips on laptops. I mean, either I buy another laptop just to take with me, or I take my MacBook Pro (my baby) with me and deal with it. If I lose my MacBook, I will be quite perturbed.

      Thanks for the suggestions on where to stay in Cali. If I head over there, I will definitely have to check them out! Did I hear you are in Peru?

  • I’m a big fan of quick-drying synthetics for the undergarments: t-shirts, underwear, socks. I haven’t yet tried Ex Officio (I hear they’re good). For now, I have three black briefs, three pairs of black socks (two crew, one ankle), and two t-shirts (one black, one gray)… all Under Armour, and all dry in a matter of hours.

    I like one pair of jeans and one pair of flat-front gray pants. (eg, Dockers) I add two buttoning shirts (less cotton=less wrinkles), and if there’s going to be cold weather I might add a sweater. Proper layering makes it possible to turn a few items into a lot of different outfits, which is why I like to avoid items that don’t match up well, such as polo shirts or printed tees.

    For shoes, I could happily live 3 seasons in black leather ankle boots, but if you know it’s going to be really warm, you’re probably better off with a good pair of black leather shoes (buy something good for walking) and tucking a pair of flip-flops into your bag.

    For an upcoming month of travel, I plan to take only my iPad (3G), and leave the MacBook at home. But if I were going to be away for several months, I might be tempted to choose the laptop over the iPad.

    Finally, for passport, bank card, and other important details, I’m fond of Eagle Creek’s “hidden pocket”.

    • Ryan

      Muchas gracias por las recomendaciones! I will check all of those out… I need to get some no-iron or rarely-iron pants pretty soon.

      As far as the laptop is concerned, I have pretty much settled on taking it because I didn’t have the cash to buy a new iPad or MacBook Air, I found out there are plenty of security options, and I basically didn’t have another alternative for keeping up with my electronic life.

      Not to mention the fact that I love this MacBook… We can’t be apart.

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  • Jake

    I swear by Echo shoes.  They come in a variety of styles in both black and brown. They are airport friendly, meaning no metal shank in the sole.  And the best reason for them is they are more comfortable than sneakers.  They are incredibly soft, flexible, and supportive.  I try to wear them when I travel and pack my one pair of flip flops and one pair of Chuck Taylor Converse in navy blue.  At the end of the trip I can toss the flip flops and the Converse due to the price of both.

    • Thanks for the tips! You’ve reminded me I need toss my flip flops. 🙂