If you’ve ever traveled overnight more than a couple days away from your home, you know how difficult and stressful it can be to interact with the world in the same way that you do when you’re home. There are oodles of reasons for this, but there are also some easy—but vital—steps you can take to mitigate those when you travel (whether it’s to visit family on the opposite coast or to backpack around Asia). All you have to do is focus on the simple things:
A Good, Orderly Bag
I’m not naturally organized, so I have to be meticulous so I can think clearly. That’s why I use Eagle Creek Pack-It cubes. I like to get a different color for each size and then differentiate what’s inside based upon the quantity of that thing and I’ll rearrange numerous times before I settle on what’s in each cube. Then I’ll organize the contents of the bag over and over until it seems the most optimal. I’ll leave it like that for the duration of my trip and I always know where things are. It helps center me. However your mind works, find a system that works great for you.
Pack what you need and lay it all out. Then take out what you don't and lay it all out. Then take out what you don't and lay it all out. Hopefully, at that point, you're getting pretty close. And the moral of the story is, most people take vastly more than they need on trips. You don't have to look perfect in any particular scenario, you just need to be clothed and ultimately having extra just weighs you down. As a side note, this is aided if you get clothing that is made exceptionally well. It's why I like Arc'teryx brand clothing.
For whatever you have that’s truly valuable, carry something waterproof. A waterproof jacket is crucial (I’d suggest an Arc’teryx because of how well they tend to fit, how comfortable they are, and how long they last—but many brands will do fine), but so is a bag to protect essentials in your travel luggage. I’d consider buying a dry bag and carrying it with you even if you don’t use it on the regular. Nice to have that extra bag to tuck your computer in if you happen to be hiking in Scotland and the sky opens up and pours on you. You could also get a pack cover if you have a backpack—taking care of all of the contents.
While TSA locks can help keep your luggage safe from perpetrators relatively well, it’s also vital to have a lock with you if you’re going to be staying in any hostels. Some hostels give you an electronic key for your locker while others simply give you a locker that you must provide the manner of protection to keep out snooping fellow travelers. Buy a good, light one that travels well but leaves you confident in its effectiveness.
Know where you’re going and don’t bother with the trivial toiletries like soap. If you wanna carry a small bit (like Dr. Bronners), go ahead. But most places you travel are going to sell soap, too, and you can likely get it locally made wherever you’re traveling to. Forget your makeup, too—you don’t need it. What would be in your vital toiletry bag if you had to pack it? Just the basics. Maybe a toothbrush? Small toothpaste? Deodorant (if you do that kinda thing)? Dental floss? A tiny bottle of mouthwash? All great options. Take what you need to feel comfortable, but spare overpacking here.
Some people buy Nalgene or Hydroflask (and I'm one of them), but others just buy a bottle of water wherever they're at and hold onto that for the duration. Whatever you do, fine. Just be prepared to focus on—and value—water. Whether you're going to a place where water is highly valued or not, water is vital to your health and it is a precious resource. Make sure you're drinking enough and not wasting it. It's always good to have some handy in whatever situation you're in.
That's it! When you get ready to take your next trip, consider how you can be progressively excellent at packing well. At some point, doing so may make the difference in you having a much more positive experience as you're able to get past the things that normally cloud your mind when you travel and focus on the trip itself.