Since selling our sailboat we have been on the move at a dizzying pace. In the last month we have visited multiple places in Mexico, then Disneyland, then Canada, and now Europe. We have not stayed in any one place for longer than two weeks.
What does that mean? It means that we have not really unpacked our bags, at all. We have been living like vagabonds, rummaging through through two bags that hold the contents of four lives.
This is not always super simple, but I would like to think of ourselves as pretty savvy travellers and over our years of being nomads there are definitely a few tricks and things we have picked up that make living out of a suitcase just a little bit easier.
10 Tips To Successfully Living Out Of Your Luggage
Some of these tips may seem obvious, and you may think “yeah duh”, but actually doing them (and not just thinking you will), will be helpful.
1. Before taking off on your trip, help each other pack.
If you have someone you can ask to look over what you are bringing along, do it. A second pair of eyes is always helpful when trying to be selective with all your stuff.
Eben is not awesome at minimizing his stuff when packing. He knows it. He always brings way too many clothes! So what we do is he makes piles of all his clothes he thinks he’ll need, and then I look it over with him. It may sound ridiculous, but just having someone looking at all your stuff will instantly make you ask yourself, “do I need this? How can I justify bringing this?”. IT HELPS. Get yourself a good bag. Your “suitcase” itself needs to be practical.
2. The travels themselves can often help you decide what type of luggage to use.
Think of the type of travelling you will be doing. Are you going to an all-inclusive where once you arrive in your room you will not be leaving until your departure date? Or will you be hopping from one spot to the next, needing to be able to carry all of your belonging on your back?
Those huge roller suitcases may seem awesome in that you can pack so much into them. But picture yourself trying to lug one of those down a set of stairs, or squeezing it on to a boat, or finding somewhere to keep it in your small hotel room. They may not be that awesome in your situation.
Find yourself a bag that you can comfortably carry. A bag that can fit a lot into it. And a bag that folds up real small.
We have found that a large, well-made duffle bag with backpack straps has been ideal for us. We can fit all four of our lives into two of them, they can be carried in different ways depending on the distances that we are travelling, and they fold up into tiny packs when they are stored away. Jackpot!
3. A clear bathroom bag is worth its weight in gold.
We were gifted this bathroom bag that is completely see-through for one of Arias’ birthday gifts. I originally thought it would house her toys, but it dawned on me that using this as a bathroom bag would save us the hassle of pulling every item out when you are looking for one thing in specific.
Being able to see the entire contents of the bag will save you the headache of searching through it all when you are looking for your tweezers which have obviously fallen to the deepest corner of the bag during travels.
4. Squeeze bottles and travel-sized bottles are amazing.
I often ask myself, why spend more money buying small bottles when you already have the full-sized one at home. True. But then Eben reminds me, “do we really need a month’s worth of shampoo while we are backpacking for two weeks?”
If you run out of your mini bottle is there anywhere on your travels that you can buy a new one? Will having smaller bottles save you on “luggage weight”? What fun souvenirs or liquor could you fit into your bags if you didn’t bring full-sized bottles of all your bathroom stuff?
A couple of years ago we bought ourselves a set of mini bathroom bottles (you can find generic brands at Walmart and dollar stores) and they have really come in handy.
When I know that we are just going for a short period of time I grab these and fill them from my full-sized bottles we have at home. We always end up coming home with plenty of left-over products in those bottles, just going to prove that the full-sized version would have been excessive in so many ways.
5. Pouches, Pouches, Pouches.
I love when things are orderly, which isn’t the easiest when you are sharing a duffle bag with another person. But having things separated into their own pouches or mini bags makes for quick and easy access.
Every individual in our family has their own bag for their underwear, and I get two because I have the extra bra issue.
These pouches don’t have to be anything fancy. For our girls’ undies, I am just using a large freezer ziplock bag! For myself, Eben sewed me two pouches that velcro shut and keep all of my belongings where they belong.
SailorBags also makes several little bags in different sizes, which we been using on our recent travels and loving.
6. When you’re staying anywhere longer than 6 days, UNPACK!
It may seem like a headache to pull everything out of your bags that you just neatly packed. But unpacking it all will make your trip so much easier.
Forget searching through stacks of clothes (which just get more disorganized as you search!) to find a specific t-shirt, by unpacking your bags your life will instantly be simpler. And if need be, at the end of the trip just toss it all back into your bag in one huge jumble because chances are you are going to throw it all in the laundry when you get home so it does not have to be neat.
7. We use compression bags for our dirty laundry.
When travelling it always feels like our dirty laundry multiplies at a crazy speed, so being able to shove it all into one bag and then tighten it down into a tiny ball of “yuck” is super useful.
Also by keeping all our dirty clothes in one compression bag keeps those items from contaminating the rest of our clean items.
8. Remember that no matter where you go, laundry can be done!
You do not need to pack enough clean outfits to wear every single day of your trip. You can re-wear them, and if they get real sweaty or noticeably dirty then wash them.
It’s not an old notion, you can hand wash in your sink, bring them to the local lavanderia, find yourself a laundry mat, or see if your hotel has machines that you can use.
Really you could probably survive with two outfits…wear one while you wash the other, and switch. Although no one really wants to be that extreme, it’s comforting to remember that overpacking clothes is not necessary.
9. If travelling with kids, let them have their own backpacks.
These little travel packs we use for the girls’ toys. By letting the girls carry around their own toys and books, they aren’t searching through our luggage (destroying it) looking for their specific teddy. They know exactly where to find it, IN THEIR BAG!
This gives them a sense of pride, of being “big girls”, and being an important part of the trip.
We have found that small backpacks work best. Don’t get ones that are too big or they will end up overpacked, heavy, and the kids won’t want to lug them around (meaning you get stuck carrying it!). We also found that those “kids” roller suitcases are too tricky for our little ones, constantly flipping over while rolling and not easy on stairs, not practical.
10. When travelling always carry the same bag.
What I mean by this is, with all the trips and transfers, decide, “you carry the red bag, always. I’ll carry the blue bag, always.” This keeps each person accountable for a set bag and makes transfers smoother with fewer chances of accidentally leaving a bag behind.
This is a personal decision and some may not like it, but we always keep ALL of our important stuff in one bag (passports, money, cards, cameras, etc). Although this may seem foolish, “What if that one bag gets stolen?”. But we see it the opposite way, we always make sure we know where that bag is, its the most important one.
These tricks have kept us sane with the non-stop travels we have been on. Even with our constantly changing surroundings and room types, we manage to keep some sort of order in our belongings, which honestly helps me be able to relax more.
One other thing that has helped us keep our travels light is that we are leaving our things all over the world!!! We have bins of things still sitting in St. Thomas, USVI, we have a bag of summer clothes waiting for us in Todos Santos, Mexico, we have our winter clothes in our trailer in Canada, and we currently have a random mishmash of sporty/spring clothes with us here in Europe.
This may not be recommended unless you have full intentions of returning to these spots. We see it as a guaranteed way that we will return and visit our friends in every one of those destinations!
Amazing tips!!! Keeping squeeze bottles is definitely an amazing tip for long term travel. I will use it in my next travel plan.
It would definitely be helpful advice in planning my next trip. It will make our trip easy and enjoyable. Mutual cooperation and understanding are required while travelling. This will make our journey interesting and worthwhile.
I really appreciate your post. Our family has gone on some epic road trips and packing has always been a work in progress. I do believe assigning each person responsibility of one particular bag is a good idea. We once left a bag in the parking garage of an airport and it was not till we arrived at the hotel that we discovered it missing.
I can’t imagine how your heart must have dropped when you realized that bag had been left behind!