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Packing for a month long trip

If you know me, you know I’m a virgo. And whether you know me or not, you’re probably wondering why I would start there. Virgo is a sign that is well known as a “planner” or an “organizer” or an “obsessive list maker.” Those are all qualities I have and also, explain how I approach packing for a month long trip.

My partner and I visited Korea this past May for 4 weeks. I hadn’t visited Korea since I was 2 years old, so I had planned this trip with the goal of seeing and experiencing as much of the peninsula (and a couple islands) as I could. With that in mind, I knew we wanted to travel light, ideally everything would fit into our Osprey Fairview 40L Travel Backpacks. And so, I set to planning how I would pack several months before we left.

Planning

To plan what to pack, I thought about what we’d be doing. We mainly walked around the cities, hiked outside in the mountains, and travelled via airplane/ferry/bus/subway. I figured I needed a hiking outfit, a comfortable travel outfit, and something cute or a more city appropriate outfit. I love wool clothing–full stop. But I especially love wool clothing for travel because:

  1. it’s easy to wash in the shower and hang to dry (it will dry over night)
  2. it packs well because it’s light weight, mostly wrinkle resistant, and odor resistant
  3. it can be warm and cozy, but also breathes well for warmer days (or at least dries quickly if you get sweaty)

Top of the list for wool clothing to bring was a t-shirt, a long sleeve or sweatshirt, undies, and a dress. I packed a Wool& dress because I love their brand, I’ve done their 100 day dress challenge, and I get inspiration from their travel journal posts (ladies who rock a dress for a whole trip). I don’t always feel myself in dresses, so while the idea inspires me, I’m unlikely to commit to one dress for a whole month abroad.

And of course, I checked weather conditions and temperatures. Spring in Korea is temperate, even warm. Many days were 65-75F and there was occasional rain. I tried to browse pinterest, instagram, and the internet in general to get a sense of what was on trend in Korea before I went. The internet failed me, but after traveling around for a month, Korean women are well dressed, they look very put together, and cropped jackets, neutral colors, and black trouser were in abundance. Here’s a few examples, most of these images are from @nohkyungim on instagram.

What I learned (and my ideal packing list)

Packing three outfits based on core activities of the trip is a great approach and one I’ll use again. But, I did end up over packing. It had been a few years since I’d done a long trip and the panic of being unprepared set in and I brought along things I didn’t need. Here’s the lessons:

It is warm & sunny in Korea in the spring. Korean’s prioritize sun protection, and that is why everyone will still be covered up on the beaches, in the city, and on the trails. I only needed a rain jacket, a sun shirt for hiking, and a a cute jacket for the city or to throw on in the evenings. These three layers will keep you protected from the elements and in-style. Importantly, bring sunglasses!! It was sunny. I wear glasses everyday and didn’t bring sunglasses because I didn’t bring contact lens. When I got home, I immediately ordered prescription sunglasses from Smith and now I’ll never be without again.

My hiking outfit was key. Despite warm temperatures, Korean’s rarely wear shorts or tank tops, however it’s fine if you do–and I did. I brought Mountain Hardware’s Crater Lake tank top and Basswood shorts. This whole outfit I got from a clothing swap with friends, and I wore it a ton on the trip! Both items are lightweight, easy to wash in the shower and air dry, and they’re stretchy, making them really comfortable pieces to wear. Normally, I don’t hike in shorts, but in Korea the trails are extremely well maintained, like this one that is almost entirely stairs or wood slats and you will be passed by many ajummas who are in better shape than you.

Shoes that are easy to slip on and off. When visiting temples, palaces, and historic sites you’ll often see a sign asking you to take off your shoes before stepping inside. Having a comfortable walking shoe that is no fuss taking on and off is a good bet. I went with a white pair of sneakers by Cariuma, but if you can find cute trail sneaker that is also slip on/off, then you’ve found the holy grail of travel shoe for this trip (let me know what it is!).

Bring your favorite pants. I brought 4 pairs of pants and none of them were my favorite. So, I hated getting dressed everyday AND I had to lug around all those pants for a month! What I didn’t know was that black wide leg trousers were IN–every woman in Seoul was wearing them, all the time, everywhere I looked! When I came home I made a pair in black linen and they’re my favorite pair of pants now. If not making your own pants, look for linen, hemp, or another material that breathes well (i.e. avoid jeans, ponte, corduroy). 

Packing cubes. Enough said. Ok–any travel packing article you read is going to recommend packing cubes and for good reason. It sucks to open your backpack and have everything fall out. Aside from keeping my pack organized, packing cubes help everything fit and take up less space than if I wasn’t using them. I have the Amazon Basics small ones because they fit vertically, side-by-side in my pack. 

Around town:

  • black wool t-shirt
  • black wide leg pant
  • cropped jacket
  • white sneaker

Or if you’re up for a challenge:

Outside hiking:

Travelling:

A few other lessons learn on packing light

Always bring an extra battery. For my Sony A6000 camera, I brought the one battery and the charger. My battery promptly started malfunctioning (it was old, it needed to be replaced) and so started my journey of visiting every Sony store I could to find a new battery. Every store was sold out (supply chain issues abound!). Eventually, I found a third party battery at a market, but this is an issue I could have avoided.

Don’t bring a travel pillow. I love this travel pillow and have used it on many a red eye flight. But when you are backpacking around a country for a month, you do not want this taking up room in your pack. Also, it didn’t help that I totally didn’t use it at all. If you needed permission to not bring a travel pillow, consider it granted.

Even if you’re worried about getting bored, don’t bring it. Again, when you’re traveling for a month with just a backpack, you really want to err on the side of less is more. I’m a knitter, a sewist, a reader, a writer and I always bring some sort of craft to work on when I fly or travel, lest I get bored. I should have only brought my journal and a pen–it’s all I used! I brought an iPad (could have just used my iPhone), a book AND my kindle (only needed the kindle), a small knitting project (didn’t touch it the whole time because I was writing, reading, and taking photos), and markers for drawing (nope – didn’t need those). Less is more, less is more …

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1 Comment

  1. Very well written and agree on all points made about packing, especially advice on what not to take. Pictures of food and places make me want to go back.


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