I’m preparing for my first mission trip! Actually, it’s my first time to ever travel out of the country. I’m excited (a little nervous) and a little overwhelmed at all that I will need to bring with me. I heard that you travel all the time. In fact, I heard that you don’t even check a bag when you go overseas! Would you mind sharing your strategy for packing your suitcase?
Dear Getting Ready:
Frequently I am asked how I manage to travel so extensively and often essentially live out of a suitcase—and happily so! My answer is rather simple: “God gives me contentment for whatever my task may be—and that covers my location as well as my assignment, together with the challenges that accompany!” Despite living in a public house, I do treasure every minute in our private area in the midst of personal furnishings and family mementos, especially our personal library. Nevertheless, I have learned to “nest” wherever we happen to be.
My husband and I travel only with carry-on luggage, which cuts our time by at least an hour for checking and reclaiming bags and ensures that the bags arrive with us. A leather double frame with family photographs stays in my travel bag. It is the first thing to come out when I begin to unpack and “nest” into my room. I make every room on the road “home.” Upon your arrival, I recommend that you:
- Unpack your suitcase—even if for one night. When you live out of a suitcase, what you need is always on the bottom.
- Settle your clothing; put out your family photo; arrange your work or projects appropriately. Find outlets for your electronics.
- You may stop at the grocery store for your favorite beverages or snacks or grab something in the airport. Your host may have a basket or bag of goodies in the room already (be sure to send a thank you for this kindness).
- After all that work, you are ready for a cup of coffee or tea. I have learned how to brew the best pot of tea on the road. Wash the coffeemaker in your room carefully; add bottled water; place loose tea in a filter or put tea bags in the carafe if you do not have a pull-out tray in which to place the tea. Flip the switch, and you have brewed tea in minutes. This is far better than simply pouring boiling water over a tea bag. I travel with a small pouch of assorted teas. Having tea will not change your circumstances or solve your problems, but it can bring a moment of comfort and beauty even when everything else seems to be falling apart.
The packing itself is an art and skill that is first learned philosophically. Some people believe less is more, and others believe more is more! W. A. Criswell, my pastor for almost two decades, had a great word for me: “When you get ready for a trip, go to the bank and withdraw the money you think you will need; then go home and lay out the clothes you plan to take. Return to the bank and double your money, and then put away half of your clothes.” These were wise words! To this day, I do not begin to pack until I have laid out everything I plan to take, and then I always put back some items as I think critically and creatively about just how little I need.
These items stay in my travel bag, and I simply add clothing for a particular journey:
- In a zippered side pouch, I have a flashlight (batteries are always changed before an international trip), electronic chargers (plus adapter for overseas), alarm clock, clothes pin (to be sure I can close draperies tightly at night), rubber circle for opening bottles, bottle opener for the old-fashioned tops, eye mask (in case there are no black-out draperies), small roll of duct tape, mini sewing kit, rubber sink stopper, and disposable gloves.
- In pocket with my leather framed family photo, I keep zip-lock bags (several of each size), a trash bag, my traveling Bible, and a small journal as well as a Xerox copy of my passport information page.
- Other general items include regular sized Kleenex in cloth holder, antibacterial wipes, small bar of soap, extra hand sanitizer, silk pillowcase holder, handkerchief, a compact umbrella, disposable houseshoes, and a cotton gown.
- In my outside pocket, I have a laminated sheet of family/staff contact information (adhesive-backed sheets of addresses for sending cards), a laminated sheet with travel hotel and airline memberships, face mask, and fold-flat plastic vase that will hold a bouquet if I am so fortunate as to receive flowers while I am traveling!
Having all these essentials already packed, I can quickly add the selected items for each trip:
- Shoes go on the bottom—one dressier pair and a casual pair to wear. I would never pack shoes without shoe socks. You may use a small trash bag or even a shower cap to protect your clothing from the shoes. I always have a hat that will top off my dressier outfits (my leather berets collected in Europe are favorites!). If you are going where the sun is strong, you need a brimmed hat.
- For almost any trip (even up to 4-6 weeks), I can manage on 3-4 outfits plus what I am wearing. I have changed my wardrobe so that almost all my regularly worn items are high quality cotton. I select a basic color (black, navy, or beige), and then to my basic jumpers I add two blouses or shirts or light jackets. Often scarves, pashminas, shawls, or jewelry provide different ensembles. Every basic garment must have 2-3 different looks for longer trips. I can do laundry almost anywhere (Though expensive, you probably will not spend any more than you will paying for that checked bag; and if you rotate your garments and spot clean after each wear, you will have little need for laundry.).
- I include 3-5 sets of underwear, and I select these undergarments with the requirement that they can be washed out by hand as I go along (when I wash, I usually use soap provided; I rigorously towel dry; then I hang on hangers for circulation). I mark my itinerary before leaving with laundry days, being careful to have the option of using hotel laundry as needed since my husband’s socks and shirts must go to laundry. This advance planning in timing for laundry service and budget to cover the expense (we do not allow our ministries to pay for this personal cost) makes our system work.
- I do not travel with electrical equipment—no curling iron or dryer. You can call or email the hotel to ask if such would be available. In my clear plastic bag of toiletries, I have toothpaste, liquid and cream make-up (I am a minimalist here because of time and space), deodorant, nail polish (I use same color year around) and quick dry, stain remover pen, and sun screen if we are going to place with great sun exposure. I depend on hotel for lotion, shampoo, conditioner, and mouthwash. In another very small travel bag, I carry a toothbrush, dental floss, shower cap, Q-tips, cotton balls, nail file, polish remover pads, lipstick, mini canister of face powder with brush, etc. I have body powder in a canister.
- Medical supplies include Band-Aids, insect repellent, diarrhea medicine (such as Imodium), any current prescription medicines as well as Cipro and some pain med for emergencies. I carry a.m. and p.m. dosages of my vitamins.
- In my second piece of luggage (large purse or small briefcase or occasionally a back pack), I place what I will need during the flight—all valuables, including money, credit cards, passport/boarding pass, itinerary, hand-sanitizer/antiseptic wipes, medications (especially anything that should be taken during the journey), books or magazines or work to do en route, mobile phone, iPad or computer, head set and iPod, a few small snacks, pens/pencils, and any other frequently used items. I include a fold-up compact purse to which I can move more important items once I have boarded.
For me, less is more—more time to enjoy the journey, less effort to keep up with my things, more security because I can manage everything myself, less time spent packing and unpacking, more reminders that focus should be on people, less distraction on the mundane distractions of the world.
I remain yours in the journey,