Ode to Packing (during a pandemic)

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Dear Packing List – Thank you for helping us make every place we visit feel like home. And thank you for keeping us grounded, safe, and comfortable everywhere we travel to on this fabulous earth.

Love, Ali

At this moment in time, travel is heavily restricted because it brings bigger groups of people into close proximity in a Petri dish environment. Being on a plane or a ship or a bus right now can be dangerous and increase person-to-person spread of COVID-19. Social distancing is important because it can slow down community transmission of this terrible virus. The experts agree and their message is very clear – if you do not have to travel you should not be traveling right now. So we are staying here in Mexico for the time being, where we have been since the start of 2020.

We are full-time travelers, and in our case we don’t have a home base to return to where we can wait out the spread of this virus. I don’t say that as a bad thing – the fact that we don’t have a home of our own is something we love about our full-time travel lifestyle. Every place we stay in is our home, which is a very enriching way to experience new places and different cultures. So we are paying attention and observing as countries all over the world close their borders. We are following the advice of global health experts: We are staying home, self quarantining, avoiding large groups, and we are not traveling. We have cards, Yahtzee, a puzzle, and we are catching up on some great online movies and shows. And we are enjoying a lot of video chats as our primary method of socializing.

Packing is on My Mind

My packing list is on my mind everyday lately. Ordinarily packing up is not my favorite thing, but the idea of packing for our next trip sounds amazing right now. In May we are supposed to head back to the US for the first time in 8 months to see family and friends. And in June we have plans to leave for a summer traveling in Ireland, Scotland, and England with Alison’s mom. Everything is booked and we have been looking forward to this summer since last year.

I assume we will still return to the US in May or June at the latest, but not as planned since we will have to self quarantine upon arrival for a few weeks in order to protect our family. We will be taking that very seriously since we have family members in the highest risk categories for COVID-19, and that is the main reason we are not rushing home to the US with so many other travelers right now. If you don’t have to travel, do not travel! We were also planning to visit Oregon and Washington on a road trip to see friends in May, but we have canceled that trip. And we were looking forward to seeing our nephew graduate from college in Colorado, but we have canceled that trip as well. As for our summer in Ireland, Scotland, and England with Alison’s mom – that trip definitely does not seem at all likely at this point. But since the three of us have our hearts set on those plans we are all choosing to hope we might still take that trip together.

Packing is Fun

We had to/got to pack our bags in the US three times in 2019. We stayed with our family and dug through our spare suitcases at their houses so we could pack with clothes we hadn’t been wearing recently. In January we packed for hot weather in SE Asia. In June we unpacked our hot weather clothes and repacked with moderate weather clothes for Europe. And in September we repacked again with a different set of moderate weather clothes for our travels through the Americas. It was fun to dip into our backup bags to find some of our other old favorites that we hadn’t seen in a while. Obviously Singapore requires different clothes than Scotland! We also switched from our big backpacks to our roller bags in June when I packed into my smaller roller bag and Alison packed into her bigger roller bag. After 5 months with only backpacks it felt awesome to get some wheels! The second time we went back to the US in 2019 Alison kept her Big roller bag and I switched to that size of bag as well.

In addition to those bigger repacking adventures in the US last year, we pack, unpack, and repack every time we have move to a new place. And we do that a lot. Looking back at my notes, I think we packed 50 times in 2019!

Once we had a full year of nomad life behind us, packing definitely got easier. We have actually expanded our packing list a bit from what we had when we first started traveling full-time. Originally we carried two backpacks each, one with clothes and the other with electronics, with an assumption that we would always carry our bags on planes. But the reality was that we almost always had to check our second bag even if it was carry-on sized. Now that we are using bigger roller bags we know we will check them on every flight. And this routine feels a lot easier to us. If we do lose a bag that would not be the end of the world since we still carry our most precious things like laptops with us, and clothes are easy to replace. We have never lost a bag or had any issues with checked luggage (knock on wood).

We still try to keep our bags as light as possible. Every time we pack up to move to the next place we look through the things we have and ask ourselves if there’s anything we can give away. And we donate clothes and gadgets fairly often. We gave away our umbrellas in Cambodia. We gave away a pair of binoculars in Japan. And we have given away shirts, pants, and even shoes in a bunch of different countries.

Kitchens Really Matter

The biggest change we made once we switched to our bigger roller bags was to add some kitchen items to our packing list. We love to cook for ourselves at home pretty much everyday. But almost every home we stay in is missing something, and some places are missing quite a few things that we like to use in a kitchen. For months we never had a spatula or a fruit peeler, so we fixed that. And we spent three weeks in a home that only had one mug and no silverware so we fixed that too. At this point we travel with a small spatula, a cutting board, two porcelain knives, 4 sporks, two pairs of chopsticks, an AeroPress coffee maker, a water purifier, small stackable bowls, small stackable mugs, a fruit peeler, a picnic blanket, and a set of cloth napkins. We also have a small spice kit so we can carry sea salt, black pepper, spicy pepper, garlic and onion powder, cinnamon, and raw sugar.

There’s only one other pair of full-time travelers we know that carries a set of kitchen stuff like ours. It will seem silly to some people for us to carry our kitchen bag as full-time travelers. But these items add very little weight and they don’t take up very much space. And these kitchen items have made a huge difference in helping us to feel at home as we travel. At this point our packing list feels just right for us!

It’s the Little Things – Like Packing Cubes!

We are obsessed with our packing cubes! We bought most of them in 2014 and we are really impressed with their durability. In 2019 we added a pair of red bags that we each use for dirty laundry (a great addition). Alison’s bags are organized by color and size so she can find things quickly and easily. I’ve also noticed that she has carabiners on many of her bags so she can hang them in different places, and that totally matches her personality. When I bought my bags I insisted on getting them all in the same color, which matches my OCD personality. And I’ll admit I sometimes get annoyed when I have to open a bunch of identical looking bags to find what I’m looking for. But I love that they are all the same fun green color and that only dirty clothes are in a different colored bag. Yeah I know I’m weird! We also each have one bathroom bag, but in 2019 we got a 3rd one for the stuff we can share. You can tell which bathroom bag is mine because it’s that same lime green color, and you can tell which one is Alison’s by its carabiner. It’s just us!

Packing is Normal

Travel is normal for us, and so is packing. Packing is part of our routine and we are creatures that find comfort in our routine. We have been in Mexico for three months at this point, with another month or two to go. I’m positive that we will return to the US in May or June at the latest to see our family. But it’s impossible to predict exactly what will happen with COVID-19 in the US at this point. We are staying positive, and we are taking every possible precaution. Avoiding an international flight back to the US right now is one of the most responsible things we can do.

No country is handling the virus perfectly. We do not feel unsafe where we are. We feel at home here in Mexico. We are staying informed, and as confident and optimistic as possible in this unsettling time. We do not have to travel right now. We are doing our best to be safe and to keep our family and friends safe as well.

What would we do if we could control our own situation? We would continue feeling at home here in Mexico for now. Then we would pack up and go visit our family in California in May, without endangering them. And then we would pick up Alison’s mom in Arizona in June, and continue traveling with her as planned this summer. We can’t control things, but we will continue to be flexible and optimistic, and we will take things one day at a time.

So keep calm and work on your Packing List!

11 comments

    • I can’t imagine things getting any stranger! But of course anything seems possible at this point. Hope you are doing as well as possible too!

      Like

  1. We did a 4 week trip in October where my wife and I packed all our stuff together. On our recent 7 week trip, we went with one bag each for clothes and separate toiletry bags also. Made it so much easier to just go through my own stuff when looking for something and not disturb her stuff and vice versa. We also used separate bars for each function – beach, shower, laundry, etc, with everything needed for that function in one bag. (Is that how your cubes are organized?). That way if we were going to the beach, we knew everything related to that was in that particular bag, such as bathing suits, towels, flip flops, sunscreen, etc. It worked great! Of course since we drove instead of flying we were able to pack more. Our next trip in September we will hopefully be flying so we’ll need to be more selective.

    Love reading about your travels (and the financial aspects as well)! Wishing you continued safety and enjoyment!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for the good wishes! We send those back to you as well – stay safe and have fun! It’s fun for us to pack together because we do things differently! Alison is more organized by logic so she has a bag for swimming, a bag for rain, etc. I like to organize things by what seems to match or be symmetrical so I have one bag for long pants, one bag for shorts, one bag for long sleeves, one bag for short sleeves, etc. The way we organize ourselves makes travel more fun and the process of unpacking and repacking much easier!

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    • Thanks Michael. We will be happy when we can find our new normal. Sadly, thats going to take some time. Best to you both. XO

      Like

  2. Great post! First let me say I totally support your decision to remain in place… Whether to return to your home country is a personal decision that we each need to make based on our own circumstances. We have also been waiting things out overseas, and like you we hope to resume our travels as soon as possible!

    I am also a big fan of packing squares…after a few moves I stopped unpacking them and just put them in a drawer or shelf with the top unzipped and folded under. Saves a lot of time! I also keep them packed the same each time so I only need to see one item then I know the contents of the whole cube. TMI but there you have it.

    We also carry some kitchen stuff with us… are we by chance the ones you were thinking of? If not that makes three of us (couples).

    Keep up the great posts… sure does help with the cabin fever. Take care and be well,
    Gillian

    Liked by 1 person

    • You two are definitely people we can relate to right now! And yes we were thinking of you with the kitchen stuff 🙂

      It’s funny but I don’t think we ever empty our packing cubes completely. It’s sort of comforting to just leave things organized in the bags with them unzipped in drawers or on shelves or whatever. It feels very familiar and normal to us that way!

      We should schedule another video chat soon. It would be great to catch up again and talk about how we are all handling canceled plans and border closures now that we are all settled for the moment. Travel is on pause but life goes on!
      ~Ali

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Ha! People after our own heart! We did our first year of travel carry-on only. But when we resumed traveling, we decided to use roller bags for the same reason. We now travel with a knife, a cutting board, a wine pull, a wine stopper, a champagne stopper (haven’t used that one much, but we still bring it), a salt grinder, a pepper grinder, a mocha pot, and a peeler/grater. Thankfully, it all fits in Robert’s suitcase….

    Liked by 2 people

    • Same! I was thrilled to drop my carry-on bag after we returned from Japan last summer and embrace roller bag life. We have never had trouble with checked bags before so I’m grateful for the extra space for kitchen things and I don’t worry about the possibility of replacing things if we do lose a checked bag. We don’t carry wine or champagne stoppers but those sound like great additions. We bought oven mitts three different times over the last year when our Airbnb’s didn’t have any and left them behind the first two times, so I decided to keep the oven mitts we bought in Mexico this year. They don’t take up much space at all! 😁

      Liked by 1 person

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