Packing tips from a Nomadic Hipster

So after a flurry of exams and trying to experience every bit of Singapore I could, followed by days of denial and procrastination, it was finally time to admit that I was going to have to pack up my bags and say goodbye to Singapore – cue obscene amounts of sadness, followed by more denial. Now, it really took up until about 2 days before I was leaving for everything to actually sink in. I had been able to distract myself up until that point with the fact that I had a 9-hour layover in Japan and was planning on taking full advantage and exploring the city of Narita (more about that soon) – I wasn’t leaving Asia, I still had another full trip before I left!

However, this didn’t change the fact that, once again, I was faced with the challenge of packing up all of my worldly possessions into one backpack and one suitcase while not exceeding the ominous 50lb/23kg checked baggage limit. Those lucky enough not to have exams had already begun their packing quests and rumours of abandoned souvenirs at airport check in gates were circulating like wildfire. Not wanting to become another sad story used to warn future exchange students about the hardships of international flights, I vowed to make it to the airport without exceeding this limit, an ambitious task, as I was about 1 pound under the limit on my way over, and I knew I had accumulated a mass of “treasures” during my time in Southeast Asia. However, I also had plenty of experience packing my life away and had come a long way from my first attempt where I (foolishly) devoted an entire suitcase to 1 blanket and 1 pillow and attempted to shove a 17” laptop and 2 textbooks into another. When I got to the airport, I was stopped by luggage security (or whatever the official title is for the people who weigh your bags is) and forced to re-arrange my entire life within the span of about a minute.

My entire life consist of 1 suitcase, a backback and a longboard!

My entire life consist of 1 suitcase, a backback and a longboard!

Since I’m a nice person (or at least feel like being one for the next few moments) I’ll contribute some of my accumulated packing wisdom with you (mostly so that if I end up in line at an airport behind you, I won’t be stuck waiting for an hour as you attempt to convince the attendant to allow you to be 0.5lbs over the limit without being charged for overweight baggage – which won’t happen by the way, just letting you know, those people are FIERCE)! Anyways, without further ado, here’s my airport packing survival guide list:

1)    Be real with yourself: as cute as your blue snake-skin wedges may be, they’re not more important than your malaria pills if you’re going rainforest trekking. Before you go, ask yourself if you realistically think you’re going to need everything you’re bringing with you. For clothing especially, I try to imagine the type of scenario I’d actually use the particular item in.

2)    Pack smart, not hard: thin articles of clothing can be rolled to take up less space, but don’t do something like that to thicker cottons because they’ll wrinkle to no end (and who has the time for ironing!?) Make sure to wash all of your clothes before confining them to an enclosed space together this won’t only space you smelly pains when you arrive at your final destination, if you’re packing footwear, you can usually fit clothing inside the soles to save space. If you want to take things to super-hardcore-master-of-the-universe level, check out this video:

3)    Avoid checked baggage if at all possible: like with life in general, you want to avoid have excessive baggage. During all of my trips within Southeast Asia, I never checked a single piece of baggage and cannot even begin to count the amount of hours this has saved me going through customs and baggage claims. Whenever I show up somewhere and get to brush past everyone desperately waiting for his or her black suitcase to come out of the rotating carousel, I definitely get a little freedom-thrill. In addition to saving you time, you also don’t have to worry about any of your bags getting lost if they’re always in your possession!

4)    Bend, don’t break the rules: Although I don’t have an excessive wardrobe or insane collection of knick knacks, I love my gadgets and would be completely incapable of travelling without all of my laptop, tablet, DSLR camera, tripod, iPhone and iPod (I need them ALL for different scenarios, okay!?) As a result, this combination would take up about half my total checked-baggage weight limit, which is completely unacceptable, considering how little space these things actually take up. As a result, I’ve learned that while security is (excessively) vigilant in making sure you don’t surpass the weight limit with your checked baggage, as long as your carry on isn’t the size of a full-grown elephant and you’re not bringing anything dangerous like a safety-pin, you’re good to go! For me, this means bringing all of my electronics on carry on with me and although I always feel a little bit like the bitch at the airport unloading multiple laptops and portable devices as I go through customs, if it means the difference between bringing my mac or leaving my baby at home, you better believe I’m bringing her with me, no matter how many times I need to let security scan her to make sure she’s not a bomb. In conclusion, pack all of your small, heavy things carry-on, as long as you’re strong enough to pretend you’re not struggling to lift your bag!

  1. Do your research: as a self-admitted hipster, I love alternative modes of transportation – cars are much too mainstream and pollute way too much! As such, (almost ;) ) nothing gives me more pleasure than biking or longboarding. When you’re boarding an airplane, bikes and longboards (my personal favourites) are usually classified as a regular piece of checked baggage. So if you plan on bringing one with you, invest in a BIG suitcase that can hold 50lbs/23kgs of stuff, and you’re good to go!
  2. Duty Free: if you have a connecting flight and you’re checked baggage is going to be automatically transferred for you, it means that you unfortunately won’t be able to buy anything duty-free from the airport you’re beginning your journey from. HOWEVER, if you have a layover, and have to re-check your baggage (like in destinations like Bejing) and want to pick something up from the destination you’re leaving, like Singapore (which researches literally every airport in Southeast Asia to guarantee they have the lowest duty-free prices on alcohol across the sub-continent), if you’re under the weight limit, after you pick up your baggage and before you check it again, you have the opportunity to stash all of your booze and perfume into your checked baggage, where you can carry enough liquid to drown an army. However, if you have to undergo a transfer where your baggage will be moved for you, you’ll have to wait until your transfer destination to buy your duty-free goods, unless you’re planning on getting really drunk and smelling a LOT like Chanel during your connecting flight.

5)    Buy good headphones and guard them with your life: even if you’re flying economy class on a super-budget airline, if you’re on a long haul flight, there will be some type of movie showing, and regardless of what it is, you’re going to want to watch it! With this, you’re not going to want to use the airline headphones because they’ll cost you 2$ to buy and will be the worst headphones you’ll ever use in your life. Instead, I always bring both my massively chunky over-the-ear phones and my portable earbuds, the first for actually using to listen to whichever movie I may be watching, whether it be Cloud Atlas before it gets released to DVD or a repeat of some Spanish soap opera one of the attendants downloaded illegally, and the second just for blocking out the noise of the person beside me snoring as I attempt to position my head in a comfortable enough position to fall asleep in.

  1. Make special requests: with Air Canada, it doesn’t cost anything extra to request a window seat or a vegetarian meal, so go ahead and ask for what you want! Flights are expensive enough as it is, you don’ need to suffer through sitting between the two biggest people on the flight! If you do end up in this scenario and there are empty seats around you, I’ve moved positions on an airplane without even asking – as long as the seat is empty, it’s basically yours for the taking!

6)    Sleep: Jet lag sucks; this is an internationally renowned fact. If you’re literally flying across the globe, it’s impossible to avoid, but you can at least cut it down a bit by doing what you can to get some shuteye while you fly. Good on you if you naturally conk out when you’re in the sky, but if you need some sleeping pills to get the job done, it’s worth the investment!