Moving Around the World (Packing Essentials) (Episode 25)

When traveling full-time, it can be difficult to figure out what is necessary to bring along with you and what is not. We've up and moved ourselves and our lives to numerous places since 2014 and we've learned a lot about packing and moving since then! In this episode, we dove into the plethora of packing mistakes we've made in the past and how to appropriately pack now (as we've finally learned)! 

In this episode, we talked about:

  • Moving to countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, and Czech Republic
  • Where traveling with big suitcases is a hassle
  • How to appropriately downsize in your packing
  • The best way to pack your clothes to save space and fit more
  • Lessons we've learned for packing, like not bringing two "mega" suitcases throughout Thailand because it's painful and embarrassing! 
  • How to sneak out of a country like South Korea 
  • Why you shouldn't leave a suitcase on a balcony in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam for over half a year straight
  • How to travel with only carry-on baggage
  • Our favorite airline and why it's so darn cheap-- and how to get around their extra fees
  • How to pack for small adventures along with moving to new countries
  • Packing essentials for moving abroad

And much more! If you'd like some more information, just scroll down to see the full blog post!

Wine for Marilyn: Apothetic Red - Blend of Zinfandel, Syrah, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon (California)

Wine for Matt: Cavit - Pinot Grigio (Italy)


In 2014, we moved to our first foreign country: Thailand. Since then, we've moved to South Korea, Vietnam, Japan, back to the USA, and the Czech Republic. We've also of course taken tons of smaller trips to other places. 

First move: Chonburi, Thailand in October 2014

(3:58) At that point, Matt and I had only lived in two places our entire lives: at home with our parents and at college, which was not very far from our hometowns. So, moving to Thailand was a big deal, especially since we couldn't just drive there with our cars packed with stuff like we did for college!

Yes. It was a --for lack of a better term-- a shit storm. I (Marilyn) brought a "mega" suitcase with a big backpack and handbag, then Matt brought two "mega" suitcases and a backpack. That, and we packed an incredible amount of stuff in those bags. Far too many clothing items and shoes! In America, these types of bags aren't hard to roll around with. However, in Thailand, it's a mini-nightmare. The sidewalks aren't even or are often non-existent, you have to ride on motorbikes and/or tuk-tuks, and people just stare at you there. People were already staring at us because we're obviously foreigners, but they were staring at us even more with our monstrous rolling suitcases behind us!

 Matt, sick with a fever while hiking Erawan Falls in Thailand, barely holding onto his backpack!

Matt, sick with a fever while hiking Erawan Falls in Thailand, barely holding onto his backpack!

Second move: San Jose, California, USA in July 2015

(7:44) When we moved to California from New York, we originally had planned to work at a low income school as teachers. However, after being in the city for just a week before our jobs even started, we realized we'd be miserable there and decided to move abroad once again to South Korea! You can hear more on that here

But, before we moved to California, we didn't know that we wouldn't stay. We anticipated staying there for at least a year, so we packed like it! We lessened our packing just a little bit. Matt got rid of one "mega" suitcase (Thank the gods!) and I pretty much stuck to what I had, since I wasn't in Thailand and it would be easier to get around with my "mega" suitcase and backpack. 

At this point in our lives, we were still checking bags since the airlines we took allowed you to do so for no extra charge. 

Although it wasn't a big bother to go from the plane to the apartment in San Jose, California, they were more of a bother in the apartment we were subletting! Since it was such a tiny room, our suitcases took up half the room! There was hardly a walking path in there because of them! 

 Us on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco!

Us on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco!

Third move: Sejong, South Korea in August, 2015

(9:53) Once again, we each brought one "mega" suitcase and a backpack. I also brought a big handbag with me. Still, we had a ton of unnecessary baggage! 

However, it wasn't too difficult to maneuver in South Korea with our bags, unlike Thailand. No one stared at us, the sidewalks were even and easy to walk on, and it was almost normal to have suitcases. Many Koreans vacation and travel, so it's not uncommon to see them with suitcases. Even when we were waiting at a bus stop for a ride from our employer, we weren't embarrassed or uncomfortable! 

I've felt that the only place thus far that I've felt out of place with a "mega" suitcase or a suitcase in general is Southeast Asia. In Europe, the USA, and in East Asia (South Korea and Japan), however, I've felt more comfortable. 

(12:38) Here's a story to explain a difficult suitcase situation we found ourselves in in Thailand. To get to and from Koh Samui, a popular island in Thailand, you need to get on a ferry. But, the bottom level of the ferry is only for vehicles. So, you have to climb a narrow and tall suitcase to the top where you can sit and relax. We needed to do that with all of our baggage, unfortunately. Matt had two mega suitcases at the time and struggled immensely to climb that suitcase with them. While he struggled, behind him spanned a huge line of people, impatiently waiting for him. Not an ideal situation to find yourself in!

 The view from the ferry

The view from the ferry

Anyway, back to Korea! We really never felt uncomfortable with all of our stuff there like we did in places like Thailand. Plus, we had a 3-bedroom apartment there (hey-- unnecessary, but it was free!), so we just stored them both in our bedroom so they were never in our way!

(14:19) However, just 5 months into our contracts, we had to do what is commonly referred to as a "Midnight Run." We loathed our jobs there, but you can't quit as a foreign ESL teacher. If you quit, no one will hire you. Only if you get fired will someone else hire you. But, our boss would never fire us, just mentally abuse us. Find out more about that witch and our terrible jobs here

Our only option was to just run away from Korea and never look back. That's the Midnight Run. We had to first secretly sell our things to gather some extra money before going. We sold our couch, giant TV, and various other items, but had to do so without anybody we knew noticing or the gig would be up. How? The power of Facebook and Facebook groups! I made a fake Facebook account, posted our items for sale in a Facebook group for Korean expats, and sold them all there! So, if you ever need to suddenly leave Korea and break your contract, do that! 

Then, we planned to go to Vietnam because it was so much cheaper there, it was nearby, and we'd heard such great things about it. We booked our flight, then packed up our remaining things in our suitcases (again!). Our flight was on a weekend so that sneaking away unnoticed would be easiest.

When the day finally came to leave, we left early in the morning so that none of our neighbors or fellow teachers would see us! 

Tip: if you want to sneak out of a country, don't have a mega suitcase loudly rolling behind you!
 The view in Busan, South Korea

The view in Busan, South Korea

Fourth move: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam in January, 2016

(17:42) Just like in Thailand, we had some big issues with having our mega suitcases with us-- and right away. Our first AirBNB was right next to Bui Vien, the backpacker street. To get to it, we had to walk down a tiny, dank alleyway on an uneven surface. Then, when we got to the AirBNB, we had to climb three flights of stairs to get to our room-- with our baggage, of course! It was a struggle. And the heat and humid didn't help our cause one bit. 

(19:30) We then found an apartment in District 1 of the city, which is the center. We were in what was called "Japantown." It was foreshadowing! ;) 

We liked our apartment, but it was up four flights of stairs with no elevator. So, guess what we had to do when we moved in? Make two trips up those stairs to get all of our crap in there! 

It was also a smaller apartment. We couldn't afford a more expensive one and we didn't want to be further away from the center, where the apartments are cheaper, because we wanted to be near everything. 

 Me, just being slightly terrified of falling into murky water on a shaky bridge somewhere in Phu Quoc, Vietnam

Me, just being slightly terrified of falling into murky water on a shaky bridge somewhere in Phu Quoc, Vietnam

(20:30) Since it was so small, Matt had nowhere else to put his suitcase but outside on our tiny balcony! This balcony was so small, you could only open the door and stand where you opened the door. That's it. So, we had to somehow maneuver his suitcase to behind where the door would swing open. And that's where it sat for seven months straight. 

Mine was just a bit smaller than his, so I could fit mine on top of one of our closets. Phew!

Then, when we needed to leave Vietnam in August, we had to scrub that suitcase with an unimaginable amount of soap! We seriously considered just tossing it and moving on with our lives. But, eventually, it did come clean!

But, before leaving, we both made the decision to donate a lot of our clothes. We had no need for them and we thought it would be nice to give back to the less fortunate in Vietnam. We donated our clothes to a burger place in District 1 that had a donation box (I tried to find it when writing this post, but I don't think that place accepts donations anymore, sadly). 

 Somewhere in Hoi An, Vietnam

Somewhere in Hoi An, Vietnam

Fifth move: Osaka, Japan in August, 2016

(22:55) Once again, we were moving somewhere with our mega suitcases. Ugh! However, we were luckily going to East Asia, where my theory that it's easy to get around there with big suitcases was proven valid once again. 

When we got there, we took a train from the airport to our station in Osaka. Then, our landlord picked us up there. It was so convenient and comfortable! The train felt like it was made for people with baggage, which was perfect. We also weren't ever stared at with all of our stuff.

We also finally moved to a place with an elevator after struggling for 7 months in Vietnam without one. Hallelujah!

Our apartment was quite small, which is common in Japan. However, our closet was humungous, so storing our suitcases was no problem! No need to put them out on the balcony like in Vietnam! 

Sixth Move: Taiwan to New York in November, 2016

(25:28) We stopped in Taiwan for 10 days before heading back to New York for a bit. We'd planned to backpack through the country, but our mega suitcases made that a bit of a struggle. Instead, we asked our first AirBNB host in Taipei if we could leave our suitcases at her apartment, then pick them up before our flight ten days later. She agreed, which was amazing! If you ever are confused on what to do with all of your stuff while backpacking, ask an AirBNB host if they can hold it for you. You never know!

However, after backpacking through the country, we realized that it's very possible to travel with big suitcases. It was very comfortable there and catering towards people with baggage, much like Japan and South Korea. 

You can hear more about our backpacking adventure through Taiwan here

(27:51) After Taiwan, we flew back to New York for a nice home visit. This was when we finally did something different and overall better with our packing situation! We both bought large hiking backpacks. This is the one we bought:

Seventh move: Prague, Czech Republic in January, 2017

(28:02) When moving to Prague, we really got our packing in order. We both got rid of our suitcases and swapped them for the backpacks above. We also both had smaller carry-on suitcases and I still had a big handbag. 

The backpacks are great! They hold a ton of stuff, affordable, and convenient. However, they can get a little bit uncomfortable, especially if you jam pack them like we did. They also are only able to be checked, as they are too big for carry-on luggage. 

So, we're most likely going to sell ours because we want to really downsize and only depend on carry-on. Matt is really not a big fan of them, but I don't mind them. If you could just use them as carry-on, that'd be great!

As I mentioned before, Europe is super comfortable for the most part with baggage. So, in Prague, even with our tiny suitcases and giant backpacks, we were comfortable! That, and we luckily have been able to store our baggage in an ideal way: inside a compartment in our couch! 

 Me (Marilyn) in Old Town Square, Prague

Me (Marilyn) in Old Town Square, Prague


Perfect Formula for Packing?

(32:00) As for the perfect combination for bags to bring when moving, we haven't particularly found the sweet spot yet. It really does depend on where you're going. For example, backpacks would be better in Southeast Asia, but a small suitcase is great in many other places. It also depends on how much you need personally, like clothes, electronics, medicine, personal items, and so on. It also depends on if you are willing to spend extra on checked bags or not.

Personally for me, I really have been enjoying the combination of a small rolling suitcase and a big handbag/purse. They both can be carry-on. The suitcase can go in the compartment above my head and my purse can stay with me in my seat. No extra charges or anything! 

I also recently purchased this amazing backpack for Matt:

So far, Matt is in love with this thing. It is deceptively larger than normal backpacks and fits a ton of electronics and other stuff! It also is perfect as a carry-on. I'm kind of mad at myself for not buying one for myself, too! 

(32:47) We are going back to Prague (tomorrow, February 22nd), so Matt will be bringing that backpack and a smaller backpack to put on his front. For me, I'll be bringing a small rolling suitcase and my handbag! We'll see how it turns out!

I personally like backpacks, but am not a fan of them for moving places. They tend to irritate my back a lot and I can't fit as much in them. I really enjoy just moving places, then buying a cheap backpack there just to have for smaller excursions. It's worked out so far in Prague! 

My favorite thing, though, has to be my big handbag. I've traveled with it for so long and I never want to part with it! In it, I put all of our important documents, passports, electronics (phone, Kindle, portable chargers, chargers, headphones), eye mask, and other various items to have with me throughout the actual flight. It's the best. 

(35:55) We also tend to take all of the cheapest flights available, like Norwegian Air, for example. On these flights, we get cheap airfare, but we don't get food or checked bags included in the price. Bummer, but worth the sacrifice! I mean, we've found flights from America to Europe for $100-200! Worth it.

There's always ways to get around those extra fees that the cheap airlines like to charge you. Naturally, just don't check bags. Don't do it. As for the food, just bring your own food. You can bring homemade food as long as it isn't cheese, milk, or food that can rot or anything. Also be sure to store it in see-through bags. If you don't want to do that, then just eat at the airport right before getting on the plane.

However, there was one instance where we took RyanAir with our small rolling suitcases and because their carry-on size requirements are bullshit, we were forced to check them and got charged $60 each when the flight itself was $50! So, be sure to always keep an eye on those size requirements, especially the cheaper airlines. I personally bring a small tape measure with me now!

Tip: always carry a small tape measure with you to make sure the airlines don't swindle you! Measure your fully packed suitcase before leaving for the airport to ensure no thievery! 

Packing for Smaller Adventures

(38:50) When we travel to places for a week, two weeks or even three weeks at a time, we only bring one backpack each and I also bring my big handbag, but only on rare occasions. That's it. We make sure to bring enough clothes for about a week or even less, then while we're traveling, we'll find a place to do our laundry. Also, don't fold your clothes. Roll them!

Tip: roll your clothes! That will save you tons of space while packing!
 

We've also seen on the internet that rolling your clothes doesn't make them crinkle, but that's totally false because every time we roll our clothes, they get wrinkles! Just a heads up on that. Then again, a ton of hotels and AirBNBs have irons available if you really need one. 

Packing Essentials

(42:10)We've learned our lesson when it comes to what to pack when moving abroad. We didn't need 90% of the stuff we've packed. So, here are some things we've learned along the way.

For the fellas: you really only need 5-7 shirts. If you're going somewhere warm, bring five short-sleeve shirts and two long-sleeve shirts. Bring more long-sleeves if you're going somewhere colder. As for jeans, bring one pair. I've been surviving on just one pair for quite awhile now and it's working out perfectly! As for underwear and socks, bring enough for at least a week. Contrary to popular belief, that will be enough. As for sneakers, you have to be a little picky. If you're going somewhere where it's warm or hot, then you can easily just wear them there. But, if you're going somewhere cold, you might want to opt out on bringing them and just wear a pair of boots. I also pack two to three pairs of shorts for working out, lounging, and walking around.

Tip: remember you can buy always something you need in the country you go to! Be careful in Asia, though, as sizes do differ, especially in shoe sizes for guys.

Oh, and uh, always bring your passport. Duh! Also, Kindles are a huge benefit to have with you. We both love actual books, but they just aren't practical for traveling. Kindles are the way to go if you enjoy reading. 

(46:00) Bathroom things for guys: don't bring anything. It's unnecessary as you can just buy everything in the country you go to! Deodorant can be more difficult to come by in places like Asia, but you can still get by and find some somewhere. If necessary, you can bring one stick if that's what makes you comfortable.

Medicine: we thought you could hardly bring any when we first moved abroad, foolishly thinking it would all get confiscated at security in the airport. Not true! At least where we've gone, anyway. Bring what you think you'll need, but most of the time, you can find it abroad.

(46:48) For the ladies: clothes are first. I always thought I had to bring everything I own, but you really don't. I usually bring a good amount of underwear and socks. You can buy these anywhere for sure, but these take up such little space in your bag. I'd suggest packing these last in all of the empty nooks and crannies left from packing your other garments. Even tuck them inside your shoes in your bag! 

Tip: pack your bigger garments first, then stick your smallest things in the empty spaces, like underwear, socks, sports bras, and other smaller things!

Matt may only pack one pair of jeans, but I usually bring 2-3. I wear one pair, usually my thickest ones to save space, then I pack one to two others. I do this because I have different jeans for different occasions! I could always buy them in the country we go to, but I still like to just bring my favorite jeans with me. But, then again, I love jeans, so if you don't care for them, then you don't need so many! 

I always pack a pair of leggings or two. I love them and their versatile. As for shoes, I always pack a pair of sneakers for exercising. I also try to fit a pair of flip-flops, but if I can't fit them, then I toss them because you can really buy those anywhere! Then, I wear whatever my bulkiest pair of shoes are at the time, like boots or sneakers. I usually take them off when we fly anyway, so they don't bother me too much. 

I also pack a few things for exercising, but not many, like workout pants and t-shirts. I pack one to two pairs of shorts, depending on where we're going and the climate there. I also pack a couple of dresses and one skirt (I don't wear skirts that often though). As for shirts, I bring a couple of long-sleeve and a couple of short-sleeve, all depending on the climate again. I also only pack maybe two bras. You really don't need that many. Sorry, Victoria's Secret.

Technology: bring your phone, computer (if you need/have), headphones, Kindle, all chargers, and a portable charger. Portable chargers are the best! Great investment. 

Lady situation for ladies: if the place you're going doesn't sell tampons (like Asia) and you use them regularly, bring a bunch with you. You can put them in a ziploc bag and lay them flat in your bag or just stuff them in small, free spaces in your bag after packing your clothes. As for pads, no need to bring them unless you need them the day you're going! Everywhere in the world has pads, so no stress there!

(53:00) Medicine for flying (from Marilyn's POV): some type of headache medicine, Imodium (to stop that sudden diarrhea!), eye drops (my eyes get dry easily) and Xanax or something like that (to sleep on the flight or have less anxiety). I know this isn't medicine, but hand sanitizer!

Bathroom stuff for the ladies: I bring deodorant from America. I stuff it in an empty space in my bag or in my shoes in my bag. But, I could very well not bring any because you can buy it almost anywhere!

Tip: only pack stuff you know you're going to wear! If you pack too little, you can almost always go out and buy something you're missing.

Space bags are worth a shot, too! Just keep in mind that you can fit more stuff, but you will add more weight to your bag, so be mindful of that


(56:25) As I mentioned earlier, we'll be flying to Bergen, Norway tomorrow (February, 22nd). After about five days there, we'll finally be returning to our apartment and life in Prague! 

Cross your fingers for us because we really hope we can see the Northern Lights in Norway!


Are we missing any must-need packing essentials? What do you travel the world with? Any suggestions on what to do and see in Bergen, Norway?


Thank you for reading/listening! Cheers and happy travels!


Wine for Marilyn: Apothetic Red - Blend of Zinfandel, Syrah, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon (California)

Wine for Matt: Cavit - Pinot Grigio (Italy)

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