Condensing a Life into Three Suitcases

“If only I had more hands…” That was the thought that circled my brain as I attempted to pack my belongings for this move abroad. “If I had more hands then I could bring more things to make me feel at home and happy.” However, Kazakhstan isn’t my home and it will naturally be different living there. In many ways, these facts or realizations are quite freeing. What I bring will govern how I live and spend my time; I can build a life where I don’t need the things I think I need.

The same goes for clothes, but those, however, were trickier than deciding what stuff I actually wanted to bring. This is something that seemed to worry the people around me too. “How will you pack enough for this move???” is a question I’ve heard regularly over the past few months. So while in the throes of it, I took notes on how I decided what to bring and what to leave and how to pack it all.

There are several things to consider when packing for a move abroad:

First, I considered the place I was moving, the season/climate there, and my next trip home/how long will I be there. Kazakhstan. Winter to spring. Returning in June (six months). I needed to plan for frostbite and sweating. Great.

Second consideration, what will I be doing there or what events may come up? Mostly staying around the apartment writing, meeting new people, and maybe a vacation in May. I also know I have at least one professional conference this spring. Ok, so that’s a lot of warm and cool casual clothing and accessories and a few professional pieces.

My third consideration focused mostly on physical limitations. What bags am I taking and how big are they? How much can I carry without injury to myself? How much space will I have in my new home? I ended up with one 25” wheeled suitcase, a comparable rolling duffel with detachable backpack, a 21” carry-on wheeled suitcase, and my every faithful Timbuk2 messenger bag. More than I’d like to haul, but there is my husband and luggage carts. There is limited hanging space, but lots of shelves and some drawers. Ok, I can make it work.

I’m lucky because I’ve done three and four month trips before and I typically know what I need, how much to bring, and my travel behaviors. I usually do it with the rolling duffel and the carry-on bag (if that!), so an additional bag is a luxury! Still, I like to make packing easy on myself and follow a few tips and tricks every time I travel.

Katie’s Packing Tips and Tricks:

  • A few weeks or a month before you leave, have a box/bag where you can set things aside for you trip you might otherwise forget about.
  • Take mostly your favorites. Too often I’ve packed clothes I’m lukewarm about and they just end up sitting in my bag taking up space. I want to bring clothes that I’m going to feel good in and that will make me happy for the next six months! And on a related note, bring clothes that fit you know, not what might fit you in a few months.
  • Pick a color pallet and stick with it. For this trip, I chose greys, blues, greens, and blacks. These were the predominant colors in my current wardrobe anyway and allowed me two neutrals and two options for pops of color. Sticking with a few colors prevents over-packing and makes it easier to mix and match what you bring—after six months of the same clothes you will be very bored, this keeps things a bit fresher.
  • Take versatile clothing that can be worn on its own in summer or layered in winter and also mixed and matched easily.
  • For a long term-trip, pack a few sentimental things (or gifts) that remind you of people or home—double points if they are also functional! I took a hat, scarf, and blanket all knit by my aunt, and a pair of boots and clothes my mom bought me.
  • Divide your stuff evenly amongst multiple bags. Seriously. Speaking from experience of airlines losing my bags countless times, this is a good precaution. This means each bag should have shirts, pants, underwear, toiletries, etc., not one bag with all your shirts and another bag with all your pants. This is functional too because it distributes the weight and having varied sizes of things makes packing easier.
  • Don’t be afraid to reevaluate as you pack. I had a “definitely pile” and a “maybe pile.” Most of my final decisions came down to space or worth.
  • Bring the things you can’t live without in your carry-on bags. You can bet my coffee press and two favorite pairs of jeans were in this bag!
  • Remember, if you forget something, other people in the world need stuff too. You can always buy it where ever you are going.

I won’t bore with details of everything I packed. I will say between my clothes and the things I wanted to bring, I have stuff that will keep me comfortable, allow me to be creative, push me to exercise, and ensure I get some work done too—an ideal balance!


4 thoughts on “Condensing a Life into Three Suitcases

    • skybluegoldensun says:

      I’ve ventured out a few days with my hat and scarf. I also brought my boot cuff (or whatever they’re called). I figured being outside would be comparable to Minnesota, but the wind here makes it more painful for sure. The clothes are doing the trick though!


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