Travel Packing Challenge: 6 weeks, 3 cultures, 4 climates, 1 carryon

Every time I complete a crazy trip like my solo Thanksgiving round-the-world adventure, I sleep for a week, and then when I finally wake up, I make a promise to myself that next time I’ll travel slower and try not to go to as many places on one trip.

Inevitably, after a month passes, however, I somehow forget all these promises I’ve made to myself. Even though I start with planning my next trip simply, I somehow wind up with an itinerary that crosses to the moon and back.

Confession: Some people are addicted to Girl Scout cookies and pizza. I lack complete lack self-control when it comes to national borders.

Here’s my logic: If you’ve already made the effort to fly half way around the world to go to country X, why not also go to country Y if it’s not that far away, and maybe also stop in at country Z if you have to fly past it anyway to get home?

I’m not convinced that country hopping is always a bad thing, but I do know one thing for sure: Country hopping makes for very tricky packing. Especially if you are a person, like me, committed to a carry-on only travel style.

This week I’m headed out for my first multi-country 2018 travel adventure, and as you may have guessed, I didn’t keep it simple. I’m on my way to a tango festival in Vietnam via a long weekend of hanging out at the Women’s Travel Fest in New York City.  From Vietnam I’ll go onward through South East Asia, visit friends in Cambodia and Thailand, stop for a beach week in the Maldives, and then hit up one final stop in the UAE for a fellow traveler’s birthday celebration in the desert before I head back to the US across the Atlantic.

I’m very excited about every single part of my adventure–besides the one thing I have to do to get myself out the door: Pack.

Now, some travelers will recommend that you keep it simple by always packing the same things. For me, always packing the same jeans and black shirt just never seems to work—I like to pack for the occasion.

Not only will I be traveling while working on the road for six weeks, I’ll be crisscrossing countries, climates and cultures that all require very different clothing.

New York, for example, is currently under a blizzard warning, while Bangkok is about 100 degrees every day with 100 percent humidity. A Tango festival requires me to bring specific shoes that I literally can’t wear anywhere else, and transiting home through the Middle East also means that I need to have something in my bag that is long and modest.

When your trip isn’t simple, your wardrobe isn’t simple either.

Guys might be able to get away with those zip off khaki travel pants everywhere, but if you’re a girl and you want to look decent and be appropriate for whatever culture you might have accidentally added onto your trip, you’ll need to kit yourself appropriately.

When I declared on my Instagram story this week that I would pack for six weeks, three cultures, and four climates in one carryon, so many of you said it would be impossible. I will confess it was a challenge, but here’s how I did it.

The Three Point Packing Strategy:

1.Layer, Layer, Layer

The key to any good multi-climate packing plan is layers. When it is cold you wear all the layers, when it’s bloody Asian hot, you wear as few layers as the culture deems appropriate.

A couple of tank tops, long sleeves, tights, basic skirt, and a dress that can double as a tunic go a long way in the mix and match game. Multi-weather fabrics like merino wool are also a secret weapon to keep you warm when it’s cold and cool when it’s hot (hat tip to Smartwool and Icebreaker).

Also, it helps to keep your layering strategy color coordinated. While I’m definitely not a monochromatic dresser in my day to day (orange and yellow are my favorite) I tend to stick with a color theme for the basics–most commonly blacks and grays with some pops of color. Color coordinating also means that you can get away with fewer pairs of shoes.

My bag has about 15 key pieces of clothing when it’s all packed, but I can probably make up at least 30 different outfits from its contents based on the temperature, what smells, and what I’m sick of wearing

2.Take the Goodwill pile

I’m definitely not the kind of person who buys new things to take on a trip. When it comes time to pack I’d prefer to dig to the back of my closet to see what is hiding in my Goodwill pile.

I love to pack things that I still like enough to wear for the trip, but am definitely going to be okay with getting rid of along the way. I take old tank tops instead of my new tank tops so I can fit the new tank tops I’m bound to buy in the market in Bangkok.  I take my oldest running shoes instead of the newest model because I can leave them at my last stop to make room for whatever souvenir I fancy from my adventure. And I also take the contents of my underwear drawer that really should be thrown out–it’s always nice to have extra undies and much easier to get rid of those holey ones when you’re on the road.

Disposable clothing are my key for keeping my packing light as I collect things along the way—plus you don’t have to worry as much about your things getting lost or stolen if they aren’t your absolutely favorite things.

3.Let your bag evolve as you go.

After many years of travel I’ve finally learned that I don’t actually need to purchase ahead and pack everything I need. People who live in other places usually need and want many of the same things that I want. If I need shampoo I can buy it there–why pack it? I can buy new flip flops if I lose mine, or pick up a fancy dress on the occasion that I find a hot date in my next location.

If you start somewhere cold and move on to somewhere warm, take warm layers you don’t mind leaving along the way, or organize to leave things with a friend to pick up later.

Last fall when  I packed for a beach trip to Mauritius, but decided to fly home via Paris in winter, I was worried I was going to freeze. Instead of skipping Paris,  I kitted myself out locally with a new hat from a street vendor and some jeans and a sweater. The bonus–I now have an awesome sweater and I get to say “I picked it up in Paris” when people comment on it.

You don’t have to pack to be prepared for everything—just prepare to be prepared and 99% of the time it will all work out (the other 1% will make great stories to tell someday).

So, what’s in my Mary Poppins bag?

If you really want to know, here’s everything I’m schlepping around the world for the next 6 weeks. Contents are subject to change. In fact, I’m less than 18 hours into the trip and I’ve already lost my hat!


  • Boots, Jacket, Dress and shoes for speaking event, jeans,  and long sleeves (I’ll keep the long sleeves and jeans and leave the rest with a friend in NY to pick up later).
  • Winter Hat (already lost), yoga pants to wear as long underwear
  • Overside Scarf – doubles as beach and shoulder covering for Asia & Middle East
  • Merino Wool cardigan- doubles to wear over long dress for Middle East & for aircon in Asia

Tango Festival:

  • 3 Dresses for Tango that can double as sundresses for wandering around Asia
  • One pair of shoes I won’t be able to throw away of wear anywhere else (note: if you have big feet, don’t skimp on shoe packing when traveling to Asia)

Asia (Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam):

  • Jean skirt, 3 tank tops, sandals, flip flops + all my sundresses from tango + oversized scarf
  • Lightweight goodwill-ready orange pants

Beach (Maldives):

  • Bathing Suit, Hat, Sunglasses.
  • Will use oversize scarf, jean skirt and tango dresses for cover up
  • (I would normally bring my hammock on a beach trip but had to leave it at home to make room for blizzard jacket and tango shoes)

Middle East:

  • One ankle length dress.
  • Yoga pants/leggings under sundresses with scarf to be modest

Other Clothes:

  • yoga pants & short, sports bra, running shoes – these can be used for exercise, comfy clothes for cold plane rides, and also as PJs

Other Stuff:

  • minimal toiletries (get what you need where you are)
  • emergency food rations(almonds & almond butter for plane rides and #hangry moments)
  • book  and journal
  • headphones, computer, folded up flip chart paper and sharpies, work papers that I will dispose of as I go.
  • phone (doubles as camera for this trip since I’m traveling to all places I’ve been to before)

What will be in the Mary Poppins bag by the end of the trip? Follow along, or wait and see!

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