How to Pack a Life

2 Humans

1 Year in Europe (give or take)

2 Bags

We started preparations for our trip months ago, selling things we didn’t need and slowly downsizing. Most of the big furniture went the way of auction sites on Facebook and slowly our material possessions were compacted into boxes that could be easily stored.

We kept the things that would be expensive or difficult to replace, or that we would need immediately upon returning — and most of my books. (Because…. books). In all honesty I think my book collection takes up as much space as the rest of the items we decided were important enough to keep.

It’s interesting, packing ahead of time. When you no longer have access to them, you realize just how few of the material possessions you have, you actually use on a regular basis. What is genuinely important? If you only use it once a year, couldn’t you live without it? I find that the answer is typically a resounding yes.

What is really ‘necessary’??

Once the house was packed, the time arrived to determine which of those items we had kept, were worth dragging around the world with us. It didn’t take us very long to decide that we wanted to try and bring only one single solitary bag with us. We weren’t going to be doing the camping version of backpacking, so items like tents and sleeping bags weren’t required.  Instead, we would be trying the Workaway program for the first time. (Check out – which, for anyone who has heard of it, is rather similar to WOOFING. The idea is that you volunteer with a business or a family and in exchange for a few hours of work a day, they provide you with food and a place to sleep.

Your basic necessities are taken care of. Food and shelter. (It also has the added bonus of saving you the cost of providing these things for yourself, which are typically the most expensive portion of any trip, and thus should increase the potential length of your trip by enabling money allotted to last longer.) What more do you need? Clothing. And…

Step 1: The Bag

My wonderful partner in this endeavour found a pack he liked almost immediately. I think he bought it at least six months before D-day. I was not quite so lucky. We shopped around and tried on packs, got advice from travellers, knowledgeable salespersons… and in the end I ignored it all.


I ended up choosing this neon-orange pack from MEC (Mountain Equipment Coop), in Calgary – not because it has a particular feature or because it was one of the brands most highly recommended – I bought the very first one that didn’t make my neck hurt the very second I put weight in it. How well will this work out for me? Only time will tell! It doesn’t have as many pockets in it as I would like, the main bulk of the bag is pretty much just one giant sack. Yet it sits beautifully on my hips and shoulders, and with that color strapped to my back, there is no way that I’m going to get lost in a crowd!

With just over a month left until D-day, packing could commence!

Step 2: Clothing

We were fortunate enough (or unfortunate if you consider how much we spent), to attend a little seminar on wool. Merino wool to be precise. It is a remarkably wonderful product – it wicks away sweat and keeps you cooler when it’s hot, and it insulates when it’s cold. It doesn’t hold on to moisture and miraculously doesn’t smell even after being… well loved. It dries quickly. All pluses. Items included in my pack are several pairs of merino socks, underwear and undershirts. A base layer that will hopefully keep us a little bit happier on those hot sweaty work-days and make life easier when we don’t have the chance to wash our clothes in a washing machine. (It’s going to happen!)

Hiking Boots: We both agreed that a good quality pair of hiking/work boots were definitely in order. Not only are we going to be working outside a great deal, but we’re avid nature lovers and don’t want to be prevented from hiking a mountain because our shoes aren’t up to it.

Keeping Warm: Choosing how many layers to bring is a challenge – seeing as how we are primarily intending to be closer to the Mediterranean, we hopefully won’t experience any freezing temperatures. With good shoes already taken care of (they handled a several hour hike and snowshoe trip in the mountains), I opted for a light shell, a sweater, and all of the under layers I could possibly need. Hopefully I can just keep adding layers if it gets chilly. No winter gloves, I’ll buy those if it comes down to it, but we did both decide that Buffs were pretty much the best thing ever. You can wear them around your neck like a scarf, over your ears, to cover your head… they’re pretty amazing. If you don’t believe me, check them out! There’s all different kinds – but mine is a lovely soft, bamboo blend. It stays in place better than any headband I’ve used.

Summer days: A few summer dresses and bathing suit also made their way into my pack. They’re light, and on the hot days I’m sure I’ll be glad to have them!

Step 3: The tech


Other than my pack, a new camera was one of the bigger expenditures for this trip. I had a camera already, but it was an extremely bulky Canon Rebel that just doesn’t fit into the ‘less is more’ mentality that I’ve been trying hard to adopt. After some serious consideration I ended up purchasing a Panasonic Lumix. It’s a little on the pricey side, and pressing the ‘order’ button took me a few days to do, but I think I’m going to be quite happy with it. It has a viewfinder. A detail that might not sound like much, but I enjoy taking pictures and not just for the option to post them to facebook later. I like seeing what I can capture, what I can create – and for me, being able to look through a viewfinder that blocks out the rest of the world, allows me to focus on what I am creating. It’s also the perfect size to slip into my purse or backpack, has 30x optical zoom, AND wi-fi. Which is brilliant because I have set the camera up to automatically upload to the cloud whenever I plug it in to charge. Hopefully this will prevent me from losing pictures like I have managed to do on every single one of my big trips!

Other than the camera I’ll be bringing an unlocked cell-phone, in case I want to get a pay-as-you-go SIM card, my tiny netbook so I can (hopefully) update this blog and two ipods. Why two? Well I’m loading them up with language audio lessons. Currently they are stocked with French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese. Ambitious, I know – but I figured it was acceptable to overpack language lessons, as they don’t actually take up any additional space in my luggage!

There is one more techy item that I absolutely cannot leave behind. My kindle. It is also loaded up and ready to go. While I still do love my paperback books, there is not a single trip I would go on without this baby. Thousands of books with less weight than one decently-thick fantasy novel. It’s a marvel of technology.

Step 4: Odds and Ends

Toiletries, one roll of compact toilet paper (just in case), hair elastics and bobby pins. Lip Chap. Eye drops. Medical tape and band-aids. Tylenol. Two pairs of glasses. One compact day-pack.

You may notice a distinct lack of items such as hair straighteners or blow driers. I didn’t bother with them. My hair spends most of its life up and I couldn’t justify lugging them around just so I can look a little cuter from time to time. For my last trip, I made sure to get really really good at French braids, and I can contain my hair within mere moments if need be. My makeup collection consists of three items, small enough to fit in a pocket.

Step 5: Packing it away

Sadly my main pack is too large to be carry on, so despite my desire to avoid this it, I’ll have no choice but to check it. Because of that, I am packing a few items (including a change of clothes) into a day pack which I will take on the plane. I can then transfer the day-pack and everything in it, into the top of my pack when we land. I’ll repeat this process for every flight we take.

The rest of my pack is organized with small laundry bags, the kind that you would use to wash your delicates in (they can be purchased from most dollar stores), due to the fact that there aren’t many pockets in the inside of the pack. My goal is to make items easy to access, without having to pull out an entire pile of clothing. Even if I have to pull out all of the small bags to get at something at the bottom, it should be easier to replace just those, than all of the items contained within them individually.  As long as I know which bag contains what, I should only have to open one, to get whatever item I’m looking for!


I am bringing only one purse, and it’s the satchel-variety. The hope is that I can easily sling it over my shoulder, and then put my pack on. This should secure it even further to my person, and will enable me to enjoy the trek without having to consciously cart it around with me.

And there you have it.

That’s basically everything I’m bringing with. For a year. I’ll be sure to let you all know if I have any packing regrets once this trip gets going. For now, there’s nothing I can do but wait and see!


2 thoughts on “How to Pack a Life”

Leave a Reply