I used to be of the mindset that the adjective "lovely" could never modify a sentence about packing. Friends who loved packing disturbed me. What about the act of turning your possessions into a game of Tetris meets Survivor could be at all enjoyable? And I hated the idea of overpacking and lugging around something heavy, so I tended to underpack...meaning I ended up serially making mistakes like not packing any socks, or, returning to college, forgetting to pack the keys to my dorm room. Yes, really.
Like many stressful, unpleasant activities, packing is all about attitude. Though I used to be a flighty and ineffective packer who procrastinated until the last hour, I've amended my ways because, as my mom wisely pointed out: if you're going to love travel you're going to have to get better at packing. It could be a friend's weekend at a lake, it could be to stay over your relatives' during the holidays, it could be month backpacking in South America or it could be 5 days walking the Scottish Highlands--every trip has its own demands for stuff and it all takes some level of thought and prep.
Slowly, since my self-imposed packing intervention, I have gradually improved as a packer. I now think of packing as a fun activity. The pre-travel. A chance for strategy and a challenge in resourcefulness.
Right now, I'm in the midst of confronting my largest packing challenge yet: leaving my home in New Jersey to live in Ilsan, South Korea for 12 months. In the travel community, specifically backpackers and round-the-world (RTW) travelers, there are only two travel rules to follow: 1) Pack light. 2) Pack lighter. But this not so much travel as relocation without the U-Haul. So a couple of tee shirts, a pair of Merrils and a poncho will not suffice. As it's a huge task and I feel that I truly cannot pack light and need to throughly pack for several seasons, several casual and professional occasions I have started weeks in advance, doing a little bit every day. This is the big fish of packing.
My dishwasher sized suitcase. Packing for South Korea has begun!
Mull it over: Take into account the length of your trip, what kind of activities you are prioritizing while there, and where exactly you're going to be. If you already have a trip itinerary, if you are going on a guided tour, for example, read it over and jot down what you think you would want to be wearing each day. You can't beat a checklist. Rick Steves has a great packing checklist for traveling Europe that is very basic to start from.
A few extras are ok: And they may make the trip even more pleasant. Especially for long term travelers. I refuse to believe that I can love to travel but therefore shouldn't be allowed to like clothes! Wearing the same solid tee shirts and jeans and walking shoes every single day for weeks on end is soul-wrenchingly drab to me. I usually remedy this by bringing my favorite jacket to layer over them and one or two pretty scarves and some suitcase-space friendly stud earrings and rings. Wear perfume every day and have some room for it in the suitcase? I say go, for it. Think about a few extras you'd like as long as they're not going to be weighing you down, they'll add some personality to how you look and feel while traveling.
Research! This is probably the most important one! Did you know that it is impossible to find Western style deodorant in South Korea? Neither did I until I found a packing list from South Korea travel vets online. Read about what you will and won't be offered in your hotel and what essential goods like toiletries and over the counter medicines, should you need them, are readily available and their price range. Important for international travel: find out how easy it will be to use your debit card and take out money and be sure to alert your bank anyway to your travel plans. Finally, don't underestimate the weather, either and default to preparing for the cold. A word you've probably heard before: layers, layers, layers.
Luggage smarts: The backpack is the wheel of travel for a reason. After trials and tribulations with other luggage combos, I try to travel with a backpack and ONLY with a backpack whenever I can. There are few places a backpack can't go and when you're traveling mostly on foot and are dealing with irregular hostel check in times, layovers, countries without ubiquitous elevators--backpacks rule. You can keep your stuff with you at all times and get around easily. You would actually be amazed at what the cylindrical style backpack can hold. Even wheely suitcases don't do cobblestones easily, I assure you.
And again, attitude: You've prepped and strategized. You're almost through! Keep positive. I say make a few days out of packing, a few chunks at a time. Put on NPR or Motown music or Top 40 and plunk your suitcase in the middle of the floor and get to it! You're going places.