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Ashleigh Gunning Blog: Traveling abroad

Ashleigh Gunning

Ashleigh Gunning, far left, is used to traveling after nine years of life out of a suitcase.

There are a lot more topics that I know nothing about than the ones that I do. I can’t balance a chemistry equation for you, I can’t swim a mile without stopping, I don’t know the first word in Chinese. But, I can balance the weight between three suitcases perfect, I can seamlessly pack up and move three times a year, and you better believe I’m perfectly fluent in goodbyes.

I’ve literally lived out of suitcases for the last five years straight and over half the time for the five years before that– it’s been a decade on the move to say the least. I’ve literally packed everything, left one location to settle in another city 28 times in the last nine and a half years since I left my parents’ house after high school. In that time I’ve lived in four different countries and 11 different cities and traveled to countless other locals along the way. You’d think that I’d have packing down to a science by now but I still struggle with the same thing — I pack too much. I think part of it is because I don’t know where I’ll be going next and I don’t know if I’ll ever make it back to where I just left, so I want to be prepared for the future while taking memories with me from the past. That being said, I’ve learned a few things along the way. For starters, I have a gift when it comes to filling a suitcase to 50 Ibs. without a half a pound to spare normally! I do get help from my handy travel size bag scale that I take with me every time I travel.

Here’s my method:

Start packing early. Have a staging area– an empty bed works best. As you come across something that you think you’ll need, put it in a pile. Also on your phone (which you have with you all the time) start a list. You’ll think of things you need at the most random times, write them down.

As you are making piles on the bed, organize them. Put electronics in one pile, long sleeve shirts in another one, short sleeve shirts in another, dress pants in another. Separate long socks and short socks, put food items by themselves, sentimental items in one corner, and practical needs in another. Fold all the clothes the same way to stack them in respective piles (you’ll understand why in a minute).

If you’re anything like me, you’ll realize that you’ve taken out waaayyyy too much and need to start cutting back. Start by taking out one item from the piles that don’t pertain to your reason for travel (see Rule No. 2). Then, go around taking out one item from each pile till you are closer to the amount with which you can travel. While you’re going around taking out items from piles, if you aren’t sure if you need something or not– you don’t! Leave it where you are.

Rules for packing clothes:

1. It’s ok to look like a scrub the week before you leave; you don’t HAVE to wear anything that you want to take with you that last week. It’s more important to have everything but your toothbrush packed in advance than to wear your favorite jeans the day before you leave.

2. Why are you traveling? Whatever your main purpose is, those items needed are priority. For me it’s soccer, so if space is tight, I have to lose a pair of heals before I lose an extra pair of playing shoes or running shoes.

3. When living at home I have a very strict rule: Fashion over function. When traveling or living out of suitcase it is completely opposite– function over fashion. The multi-use North Face jacket might not be the cutest one in your closet, but it works in all climates, is rain resistant, can layer easily, is a dark color so it goes with everything, can be worn with jeans or workout clothes– pack it and leave the three that it took the place of hanging up at home.

Everything but clothes:

What do you use everyday? What are the small things that make where you are, home? Try to make notes as you go about your usual routine… It’s probably things that you don’t even think about because it’s become so much of a norm to you. Try to figure out a few of these (preferably small things) and pack them. For me, it’s my Starbucks travel coffee mug, my favorite pens, my childhood blanket (don’t laugh, that thing has saved me from some serious home sick moments!!), organic almond butter, Ziplock bags, and my biggest indulgence: a few pounds of Starbucks coffee. The coffee makes my carry-on heavy but you just have to make it look like nothing as you’re toting a 40 lbs. bag past the big tough security guards– I’ve found that their ego is generally too strong to stop a little girl and tell her that her bag is too heavy when I’m not showing any signs of difficulty carrying it.

More Rules:

4. Be creative. I sleep better when I sleep with a body pillow. I’ve never been able to find one overseas. It’s obviously not reasonable to use an entire suitcase to travel with one. Instead, I brought a body pillow case and stuffed it with smaller pillows that are available here.

5. Don’t travel with books, CDs or DVDs. There are too many other ways to travel with entertainment. If you’re a reader and don’t have one, make your one purchase before traveling a Kindle or iPad to read your books. I put movies on a wallet size external hard drive and music on an iPod, iPad or computer. There are a bunch of small travel speakers that carry a big punch so no need for anything larger than your fist to be able to jam to your music.

6. Food: It’s going to be different. Take it from me, a girl who grew up with spicy Cajun food, the bland food of Scandinavia is different! I can’t pack my mom’s gumbo or a sack of boiled crawfish, so I’ve done the next best thing, packed my favorite Cajun spice, a small box of bouillon cubes, and a couple box mixes of gumbo and jambayala for special occasions. You’re going to have to adjust so I suggest packing your favorite spice or sauce instead of a bunch of heavy and bulky food items.

7. Don’t pack half full bottles. If you’re going to be gone a long time, you’ll use the entire jar of face cream– go buy a new one and pack the full instead of a half full one that will just take up space. Leave the half full one at home to use once you return; it will not go bad and it’s nice to have some essentials waiting for you when you return.

8. Don’t forget to pack snacks in your carry-on. There are few things worse than having to eat airport food. I pack a few apples, almonds, a sandwich, and a refillable water bottle to fill after I go through security.

9. Lastly, don’t worry, if you absolutely need something it’s probably available where you’re going. If not, you can order it online and have it delivered to you or worst case scenario, have someone from home ship it to you. Just don’t count on shipping from home too much because as my mom has figured out the hard way, it ain’t cheap!

All of the moves, plane rides, time spent in airports, foreign languages, different customs, and homesickness can be a bit overwhelming at times but I’ve got a feeling that once it’s all over I’ll miss it like crazy. I am trying to take it all in and packing as many memories in the form of pictures, notes, and personal growth as possible. If you get a chance to travel overseas, especially for an extended period of time, do it! It’ll change your life, perception, and appreciation for what you’ve always had. The more I travel the more I realize how much is out there and it makes me want to keep going on this crazy nomadic journey for which I am so thankful!


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