Friday, October 8, 2010

A Wandering Student Tackles Packing, Part I

Confession: I'm a pack rat. I've gotten infinitely better about it in the past five years or so, but there was a time not so long ago when I wouldn't let my mom get rid of any of my old stuffed animals, even the ones I completely ignored as a kid. I'm much more practical than I used to be, but I'm still wildly sentimental and afraid of throwing out anything that might possibly be useful somewhere down the road.

My luggage for my first experience studying outside the U.S. was a picture-perfect example of how not to pack that still makes me cringe. For my first semester, I essentially threw every piece of clothing there was a remote possibility I might wear into the large duffel bag, large suitcase and carry-on suitcase I took with me, until I ran out of room. I came to my senses a little bit before winter break and brought half a suitcase of clothes it had become clear I was not going to wear back home with me, but the books, notebooks and souvenirs I accumulated by the end of the year more than made up the difference.

I've since learned how to pack for most travel situations with only carry-on luggage (although being a runner who hates to go more than a day or two without a run sometimes makes that difficult on longer trips), and that empty space in a suitcase won't kill me but is, in fact, a good thing.

Packing for two years in Australia, however, is going to be a challenge.

My first step toward making the process a smooth, efficient one was to buy a backpack, which will be a good way to get things to Australia that will easily convert to being a good way to travel during school breaks. I went to REI while I was in Southern California this past weekend, since I live nowhere near any outdoor stores and the REI a friend of mine works at was right around the corner from my hotel.

I've never bought a pack before, so I did my research before even thinking about actually buying one. I got measured and semi-fitted for a few I was considering months ago, then did some more research. I went into REI thinking I knew which pack I wanted (a women's Osprey Aura 65), but it didn't feel all that great once it was weighted. An incredibly helpful employee named Nelson (hooray for friends of friends!) who is much more knowledgeable about backpacks and how they should fit than I am loaded up four separate packs for me, tweaked the fit and told me what looked good and what didn't to his experienced eye. The Aura seemed to carry the weight too high, I loved the fit of the hip belt in the Gregory I tried on but the shoulder straps felt like they were grinding bone, the REI-brand pack was okay but nothing spectacular and I wasn't thrilled with the idea of a top-loading pack with just one pocket.

Please forgive my terrible photography
skills when it comes to large inanimate
objects that aren't scenery.
 The women's Deuter ACT Lite 60 + 10 SL surprised me. Since there's only one size that you adjust with a series of "rungs" built into the back, I expected it to fit poorly and be too big for my short torso. But once Nelson had adjusted it for my height and we had all of the straps dialed in, it felt great. Twenty pounds isn't a lot of weight, but it was enough to make me seriously uncomfortable with the packs that didn't fit properly; with the Deuter on, I felt like I could walk around all day. I wandered around the store for a while (looking ridiculous since I was wearing a sundress and sandals with no support at all thanks to having been at the local fair all day) and finally decided this was it. The yellow flower that comes with each of these packs is a fun bonus, but it'll be coming off before I head down under. It's pretty, cheerful and I love the color and the little bit of flair it adds, but it screams "I'm a woman - rob me!" just a little too much for comfort. (But good job, Deuter marketing department!) Maybe I'll toss it in to wear in my hair now and then.

Charming, but probably not a good idea for
actual backpacking.
Since I'm going to be living in Australia for two years and will have a semi-permanent base at school, my new pack isn't all I'll take, in the interest of not having to do laundry twice a week and being able to settle in a bit. I'm still debating whether a 60-liter pack qualifies as a carry-on. Largely empty and cinched down this weekend, it fit in the overhead bin just fine and the Southwest employee I asked about it said it was an acceptable carry-on size, but I'm not sure that will be the case when it's full (any opinions on or experiences with this, please let me know!). If I do end up carrying on my pack, I'll check a rolling duffel - maybe two - and carry on a shoulder bag to go under my seat. If not, I'll check my pack and a rolling duffel, and probably carry on a rollerbag and a daypack.

With three-and-a-half months to go before I leave, I'm still feeling pretty ahead of the game (except that now I want to take my pack everywhere with me so I get used to it - and because it's pretty). Next up on the packing checklist: figuring out what's going in the luggage!

No comments: