| Adventures in small packages!

Adventures in small packages!

Uluru base walk at sunrise

Last fall I took the month of October off from organizing and went to Australia on a solo trip: A gift I’ve been wanting to give to myself for decades. If you read this post, then you know that I paid for part of my flights by selling some inherited items that I wasn’t using or appreciating.

From October 1 to November 1 I lived out of one school-sized backpack and one mini knapsack, pictured below.

Unfortunately I did not pack the creature on the far right.

I had a one day layover in Los Angeles where I spent the day with family, a one day layover in Xiamen, China where I took a free bus tour around the city, three and a half weeks in Australia, a one day layover in Honolulu with other family, and back to LA for 3 days before I finally flew home to Kansas City.

Australia was a three part adventure: First I did a ten day tour from Melbourne to Alice Springs with Intrepid that involved tons of hiking and bush camping. Next I flew to Cairns and did a 4 day/night SCUBA liveaboard experience with the Spirit of Freedom (eat, dive, eat, dive, eat, dive, eat, dive, eat, sleep- all on the boat. Repeat for four days). Finally I did a one week self-designed journey down the east coast from Cairns to Sydney using a hop-on-hop-off bus pass.

My packing job needed to give a nod to camping, hiking, diving, beach days, long days of driving, overnights on chilly buses, and 8 flights (4 of them overnight).

All September long I had a section under my bedroom window where I set “this might come to Australia” items. The night before the trip I sorted the piles into “YES” and “maybe?”… The latter pile eventually became “Nah, skip it.”

Top tips for packing light

  • Pack only a few clothes, then do sink laundry as often as you can. Bring a small leak proof travel bottle with liquid detergent and a travel laundry line.
  • Inflatables wherever possible: My camping pillow, ring neck pillow and collapsible canteens all packed flat when not in use.
  • Carabiners- if it can’t fit in your bag, pack it on the outside! I often clipped my sun hat and full water canteens to the outside of my backpack.

What did and didn’t make the cut

VIP items: The most useful things I packed for this trip:

  • My Australia leather journal from etsy, my favorite pen, a retractable Sharpie.
  • Oboz hiking shoes (REI garage sale purchase)
  • My sun hat and Buff headwear (pictured below) both from REI. My Buff has UV protection and was excellent for keeping flies off my face during our base hike of Uluru, and keeping my face warm on chilly mornings (Bonus: It now has use as part of my face mask system in these days of COVID-19!)
  • Microfiber towel
  • Travel size binoculars (terrific quality for $20)
  • Mini Kipling knapsack– I’d stash my larger backpack in a locker for the day and head out with this one for my daily adventures. This was also a terrific day bag for Burning Man last August.
  • Puzzle Snacks– easy, clever puzzles that are great for long bus rides, and terrific to share with new friends you make along the way. Not exactly travel sized though. Next time I would opt for something a little more challenging and small.
  • My small and mighty power bank meant I never ran out of cell phone juice.
  • My travel organizer for supplements and as-needed medicines. The salt/electrolyte pills for the harsh Outback sun and motion sickness pills for the dive boat were essential.
  • My travel laundry line, a small jar of liquid laundry detergent, and dirty laundry sack (I did lots of sink laundry on my travels- it relaxes me).
  • My zippered neoprene travel pouch of tiny essential oil bottles. Not only did I use them (peppermint for fresh breath, melaleuca for bug bites…), they were terrific for offering around my small tour group and making friends!
Friend Liz whom I met on my outback tour, me in my Buff trying to keep the flies off my face!
Using the Buff to keep my face warm on a chilly morning on the Great Ocean Road

Other useful items I brought on the trip:

  • 1 pair of fleece/winter leggings, 3 lightweight leggings, 1 pair jean shorts
  • 4 tank tops, 1 t-shirt
  • 1 merino lightweight zip hoodie, 1 track jacket
  • 3 sports bras, 5 pairs of underwear, 3 pairs merino socks.
  • 2 sundresses
  • Sunglasses and travel case
  • 1 pair hiking boots, 1 pair flip flops, 1 pair “nice” sandals
  • Thin, lightweight sleep shorts
  • A small toiletry bag with just the essentials, all travel-size: Deodorant, lip balm, sunscreen in a leakproof tub, natural bug repellent, body wash/shampoo-in-one, tweezers, nail clippers, q-tips, night cream, tiny comb/mirror, toothbrush, toothpaste, floss picks, 2 bandaids.
  • Diving: SCUBA ID, dive log, mask, hood and gloves.
  • Electronics: My cell phone, charger, power bank, Australia adapter plug (part of this set), headphones.
  • Protein bars (a real lifesaver on my ten day outback tour, which only offered cereal and toast for breakfast).

Here’s what I rented/bought and then left in Oz:

  • A sleeping bag for the outback tour
  • Large spray sunscreen (can’t fly with the cans)
  • Almost all SCUBA equipment

Things I packed then donated along the way:

  • A bug repellant sleep sack (this arachnophobe slept more soundly!)
  • A rain poncho
  • East Coast Australia guidebook
  • 3 tank tops that got stained/torn on the trip
  • A small steel water bottle that was a free gift from my liveaboard
  • DEET wipes

Items I should have left at home:

  • My third sports bra
  • My second sun dress
  • My “nice” pair of sandals (nobody looked at my feet, I could have simply worn my regular flip flops, as I didn’t do fancy things on this trip)
  • Jewelry- I did wear the one pair of earrings and one bracelet I brought, but I didn’t need to- it added zero value to my trip.
  • Earplugs- Thankfully no roosters on this trip, and I rather enjoyed waking up to the singing of tropical birds in some parts of the country.
  • My Lycra wetsuit and dive socks- these have served me well on so many trips, but the Great Barrier Reef was a tad chillier than the Caribbean, and I ended up renting a neoprene suit and booties for diving.
  • DEET wipes. They had no effect on the flies in the Outback, and once I got into “mozzie” territory on the coast, I didn’t want to be wearing DEET in the ocean.

Items I deliberately did not pack:

  • Makeup! No makeup all month long. ‘Twas was glorious.
  • Host gifts (instead I offered to pick up the tab at dinner, and I bought my buddy in Melbourne her favorite bottle of wine in-country for us to enjoy that night).

Things I wish I would have packed:

  • Long johns for the cold nights between Melbourne and Adelaide (though I made do with simply wearing my fleece-lined leggings day, night and into the next day… This wasn’t a luxury trip!)
  • Backup ink for my erasable pen.
  • A small jar to pee in at night when the bathroom was far from my sleeping quarters. (Hey, I’ll always be honest with my readers).
  • More electrolyte pills and protein bars.
  • An adhesive pocket for the inside of the journal to stash ticket stubs and folding maps.

New items I brought back with me:

  • A pair of earrings from the funny little town of Coober Pedy
  • My slim course book from my Enriched Air SCUBA certification course
  • Some small gifts that my family in Hawai’i gave me

I brought back zero gifts or souvenirs for anybody- just stories, photos, and a slightly less ridiculous Aussie accent.

A school backpack, a mini knapsack, and one happy traveler. All I need for one month abroad.

If you’re planning a solo trip similar to mine, I hope these lists were helpful! If you’ve done a trip like this, what do you wish you had taken with you, and what do you wish you had left at home? What items were indispensable to you?

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