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How to Pack for One Year (Or One Week) Of Travel

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Editor’s Note: Britt brings new meaning around here to our concept of  this site being for “women who know getting out of town is a beautiful thing.”  Today she shares her wealth of packing tips.

The Reints family officially takes off in their trailer today, June 1, 2011!

On June 1, 2011, I will officially become an extended traveler, one who travels for an extended period of time. Or, depending on your perspective, you could say that my family of four will officially be homeless. Either way, I’m officially a packing expert.

As you can imagine, I prefer the courageous vagabond bent, not only because it sounds more glamorous but because it reflects our choice. My husband and I chose to sell the bulk of our belongings and move ourselves and our two children out of a suburban home and into a travel trailer. We chose to commit the next year of our lives to travel around the United States.

In choosing these things, we put ourselves in a unique position. The question of what to pack became weighted with the realization that we were essentially deciding what to keep. We don’t have an immobile home-base for all of the things we won’t need but couldn’t bear to let go of. With the exception of one small trunk filled with family photos and stored in a friend’s garage, everything had to be labeled as important enough to make room for or able to live without. The former will be squeezed into a 24 foot RV and the latter has been sold, donated, or thrown away. How did we decide what to pack and what to pitch?

Packing for a year is similar to packing for a week.

I realized that I used almost the same principles for sorting through 3,000 square feet of household items as I have for packing a week’s worth of travel gear into a carry-on bag. I’ve also learned ways to improve my packing while going through this epic purge.

1. Get rid of what you don’t use. This sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s the first step. I didn’t keep the bridesmaid dress from my sister-in-law’s wedding and you don’t need to pack an extra cocktail dress for a week at the beach. While some contingencies are worth preparing for, most are so unlikely to happen that it’s silly to devote the space to them.

What will I do if someone asks me to be in a wedding or you’re invited to a cocktail party on the beach during summer vacation? In that unlikely event, we’ll make do or locate a nearby store.

There are many things you don’t have to take with you.

2. Get rid of duplicates. It’s amazing how many backups most of us keep in our home. I had three sets of measuring cups, five cookie sheets, and more coffee mugs than there are Starbucks. I see the same thing happening in suitcases all the time. We bring two pairs of pajamas, three pairs of skinny jeans, and a separate pair of sandals for each day of our trip. We tell ourselves we like variety and choice, but too often we end up being overwhelmed by having to maintain all of these options.

3. Figure out why something is important. I’ve learned that much of the stuff we keep in our homes are a reflection of our values more than a statement of need. We keep things that make us feel successful, loved, and safe. Before anything got sold or stashed, we had to ask ourselves what the thing really represented to our family and whether or not we really needed the thing to have the feeling. Similarly, I try not to throw anything into my suitcase without stopping to think about why. I only pack items with a specific purpose. That being said, I consider comfort and luxury to be two very valid purposes and have no qualms about packing decisions based on those values.

As you may have guessed, I tend to pack lighter than many people. I enjoy packing light because I feel that it frees me up to more thoroughly enjoy my travel experience. The less I have to carry or worry about losing, the happier I am. However, I’m not a staunch advocate for light packing anymore than I believe that everyone should sell all of their worldly possessions and move into an RV.

Relaxing without wearing even one of the five pairs of shoes you may have brought with you

I’m a believer in owning our choices. If you have to check two bags to enjoy your weekend getaway, then save up the extra cash and pay the baggage fees with pride. But choose. Be aware of the experiences you’re creating for yourself and the motivations behind your decisions. Learn to be a more conscientious packer and you’ll be, I think, a more fulfilled traveler.

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