How to Pack Your Entire Life in 3 Bags


There are a lot of ways to pack your entire life and move abroad. You can hire a moving service, or send yourself boxes of stuff. Or you can pack a few bags and go. I chose the latter. But after two years of living in Chicago, I found myself with a master’s degree, a lump sum of hard-earned income, and an apartment full of stuff. How was I going put my entire life, a life I worked hard to gain, into three bags: a checked bag, a carry-on, and a backpack?

I donated all my STUFF STUFF

It’s the first thing I did after graduation. I had an apartment full of stuff stuff when I complete my first graduate degree. I lived with my sister, yes… but more than 85% of the furnishings and kitchen items were mine.

It was time to let the stuff stuff go and to let those past memories go.

Easily enough, my sister was moving to a new apartment in Chicago and needed stuff to fill it. I didn’t even blink. “Take it all,” I said. But a lot of it wasn’t my personal stuff like books, movies, cds, papers I’d written in undergrad (why did I still have those?), letters from friends and family, clothes, etc… I had A LOT of STUFF STUFF.

I donated most of the things I really didn’t want, and all of the things that reminded me of ex-boyfriends, lost friendships, past failures.

I made digital copies of my personal stuff

As for the stuff that really meant something to me, I made digital copies of those things to look back on when I get homesick abroad.

One of the easiest things to do with old photos is to make a quick album with the free photo application on your computer. And with technology today you can literally scan the photos to a tablet or smartphone and upload them to the cloud.

Bam. Friends and family with your for the long haul.

Keeping digital copies of your documents is a great way to archive important information, too. It’s pretty easy to print them off later if you need them. For this I don’t even save them to my computer, I keep them in my email account (if there’s not sensitive information on them). Sensitive documents get stored in an external hard drive with a password.

I decided on what type of luggage and what mode of transportation I was using

I will say this as seriously as I can, think about HOW you are traveling. Last year I went on a study trip to three European countries in two weeks. I had a carry on and a backpack. It was easy to get around. Some of the students on this trip brought large suitcases that had to be carried by two or more people to get through the quick changes at train stations. Some people almost were left behind repeatedly because of their lack of quick maneuvering.

Again… think about HOW you are traveling.

Car = little to ample amount of space, lots of freedom to get into the bag, moderately easy to put in the trunk or back seat (especially if traveling alone or with one other person…believe me cars can hold A LOT of stuff).

Train = little amount of space, lots of carrying on your back down long corridors, lots of running through long corridors with your bags, hard to store if there’s no luggage car or designated place for YOUR bags, relative freedom to get into your bags. Also, a lot of trains are first come, first served in terms of space and seating. Good luck with that oversized, over packed duffle with one handle and no wheels, brah.

Plane = little amount of on board space, lots of carrying your carry-on luggage around (airports won’t even let you through security with anything over the size of a carry-on, generally), no freedom to get into your checked luggage (duh), low freedom to get into your carry-on. All in all, flying is probably the best/fastest way to get around the world, but the worst way to bring a lot of stuff.

Because of the distance of my final destination, I knew I would be flying. And because I am a relatively light packer, I knew two of my bags would be traveling with me the entire time: my carry on and my backpack. I had traveled with these bags before in different climates, so I was sure I could pack them to the brim and be fine with carrying them through security checkpoints and onto the plane.

My other bag, however, needed to be a large piece of luggage that I checked at the airport. I used the eBags eTech 2.0 Mother Lode 29" Wheeled Duffel.

Then I, seriously, downsized my stuff (and checked the weather like 50 times)

I had my baggage allowance. Next, I needed to seriously downsize my stuff. This time it was all about my clothes.

I moved to Scotland. Scotland does not have four distinct seasons. Harsh Chicago winters and long Kentucky summers were things of the past. I was moving to a climate where the weather would almost always be somewhere between 35 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

That realization made it easier to get rid of a lot of summer clothes, but harder to let go of winter stuff. I created a “what if” list, then I threw it away, and realized that Scotland has a lot of really nice wool exports.

So I donated, again, a lot of my clothes and shoes and bags…! And repacked my luggage, again. And felt a great sense of accomplishment and weightlessness.

A Note About Weather: Although it’s not as dreary as many Scots will have you believe, Scotland really does have rainfall almost everyday. They get soft, sleepy rain, not torrential downpours (depending on the time of year). So, I invested in waterproofing products for the jackets and shoes that I did pack, and I treated those items BEFORE packing.

My favorite place to check current weather forecasts is Accuweather. You can type in the location and look at a month’s (which is really six weeks on their site) projection of the weather.

Lastly, I invested in a free storage solution

My mom’s house. If you have the option to leave your really valuable stuff that you don’t want to take with someone you trust, then I suggest doing this. I, somehow, didn’t really have anything valuable to leave, but did store originals of my transcripts and diplomas with my mom. I also made digital copies of them to use abroad, if needed.

And those are my tips for packing three bags to move across the ocean. Soon, I will write a post detailing my tried and true packing tips. Stay posted!