Confessions and Revelations of a Bag Lady

Expert traveler and suitcase packer Jody Hanson on how to pack light for a month-long adventure

My theory has long been that if you can’t sort things into bags, you likely don’t need them. The task was to figure out which bags were essential for a month-long trip – November 30 to December 30, 2011 – through Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and the Galapagos. Then, at the end of December, I would return to Chile to collect my two suitcases so I could move to Argentina via Uruguay. Yes, I know it sounds rather convoluted, but such are some Travel Belle trips.

Confessions and Revelations of a Bag Lady  travel tips for women packing how to

First I got out my carry-on bag that is 18” high, 10” wide and 13” deep. It is small enough to easily fit within the restrictions of both national and international airlines. The bag is suitably battered from travelling through 23 countries – plus local jaunts – since I bought it in 2000 when my old carry-on literally fell apart on the way to the airport.

Confessions and Revelations of a Bag Lady  travel tips for women packing how to

I love that well-travelled look and am highly suspicious of people who have shiny, new matching luggage. I figure either they don’t travel much or their parents gave it to them as a graduation present.

Then there’s the joy of a diaper bag, rather than an ordinary handbag; it is much lighter than leather and has as many compartments as you will ever need. This Lugg model (12” high, 17” wide, 6” deep) also has an over-the-body strap, as well as handles, and a strip on the back so it slides down over the carry-on bars.

Following my own advice, I organized the things I needed first and foremost: an under-the-clothes travel pouch, my can’t-be-without computer, and my journal (that dates back to 1981 when I went to live in Nigeria).

And then there were the essential toiletries and cosmetics, and a mobile phone with an alarm clock and camera.

Confessions and Revelations of a Bag Lady  travel tips for women packing how to

Wine out of a jam jar just doesn’t taste as good, so Travel Belles, I advise taking along a glass. Single malt from duty free tastes even better when sipped out of a rice-pattern cup from China. And being able to boil water to make mate de coca to help with altitude sickness when arriving in La Paz was essential.

All self-respecting Travel Belles also need to keep their fingers and toes looking good and be able to change a bit of jewellery from time to time.

Confessions and Revelations of a Bag Lady  travel tips for women packing how to

Doing laundry regularly is essential in tropical climates, so that bag – which includes a dual voltage travel iron and rubber gloves – came along as well. The control freak in me doesn’t like to rely on what you may or may not find in home-stays and hotels.

Then I tucked in the 23” by 18” cotton bag my mother made for me that I carry “just in case” I can’t resist buying something I can’t fit into the two bags I’m carrying.

And, of course, I couldn’t leave home without my travel-junkie map or the light nylon over-the-body handbag (13” by 11” and flat).

So by the end of the assembling process it looked like this:

Confessions and Revelations of a Bag Lady  travel tips for women packing how to

Along the way I bought a notebook, a pen, two yards of cloth to wear as a wrapper, a pair of earrings, a ring, a couple of small bags (one to hold my computer cord and the other to organize small pill bottles and such) and a shot glass from Galapagos. So, thus, I have souvenirs that I actually use or wear from all the countries I visited.

The things I didn’t use were an umbrella, a leather notebook (replaced by the small one that better tucked into the small bag) and a thumb-size flashlight.

The only thing I wished I’d taken was my Epilady, so, henceforth, I won’t leave home without it.

Confessions and Revelations of a Bag Lady  travel tips for women packing how to

I ended up being able to take more clothes than anticipated: two pair of cotton trousers, two pairs of linen ones, four tops (one long-sleeved) and a dress to go out in, plus two pairs of sandals and a hat. Plus, I tucked in a roll-down-to-nothing top and bottom outfit for exercise and wearing around the house that I practically lived in during the trip. When flying, I wore my ankle-boots and carried the long, heavy, draping jacket I bought in Morocco. The home-spun cotton semi-coat (rather dowdy, but practical) was ideal, and I also used it as a small blanket on chilly nights.

Yes, Travel Belles, I’m delighted to confirm that getting by with a carry-on and a diaper bag for a month is actually very do-able. It also spares you from checked-luggage waits and elicits compliments from other travelers. Another bonus was that I never felt as though I was “doing without” things.

Happy packing and safe travels.

Confessions and Revelations of a Bag Lady  travel tips for women packing how to

Jody Hanson

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Comments

  1. says

    great advice – love that you travel with your own wine glass! i’m with you on the two carry-ons, except i rely on my trusty, stuff-able and expandable back-pack, as a single strap bag is more difficult for me to lug because it always falls off my shoulder. how do manage to avoid that?

  2. says

    Hi Amanda,

    The diaper bag has an across-the-body strap which is easier to handle. It also makes it less likely — but not impossible, of course — that you will get robbed.

    Cheers,
    Jody

  3. says

    I’m incredibly impressed too! I thought I was good at packing, but I would take more than this for just a week… I need to revise my packing strategies & cut down on the clothes.