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October 30, 2015

3 months in a backpack

In less than a month I'll be leaving for my medical elective/summer holiday trip. I'll be doing four weeks in Arusha, Tanzania for my first placement, then doing a camping trip through Southern Africa, a tour in Egypt, a few weeks in Spain and Portugal, a few days in Copenhagen, four weeks in London for my second placement, and then a couple of days in Tromso, Norway, to try and catch the Northern Lights - coming up to about three and a half months overall.

I've been thinking about the packing situation for a few months now, because I actually love packing. Planning for hypothetical situations is what 80% of my brain is doing all the time anyway. Since I'm going to be in everything from dry hot to wet hot to cold rain to freezing snow, and my activities are going to range from safaris, city exploring, and hospital placements, I've had my work cut. And finally, because I apparently like a challenge so much, I'm going to use a 45L backpack. Lucky for me, my Spain/Portugal buddy (and legend) Wai Lam has agreed to bring a couple of things over to Europe, but I'll still need to fit those things into my pack after we meet in Barcelona.

Image sources here at Polyvore. Note I don't own most of these exact items, they're just similar stand-ins for what I have.

The three situations I have 100% planned for are really hot weather, really cold and snowy weather, and smart casual in cold weather for the placement in London (in Arusha I get to wear scrubs). So I've made sure I'm covered for those, and for all the climates and settings in between I'll mix and match with what I have. I've never done one of those capsule wardrobe challenges so I guess this is going to be my turn.

Wool coat and waterproof jacket are self-explanatory. Actually, the coat is my one indulgence - I know my hooded down parka would probably serve me better and is lighter, but I feel like such a dork in it and it's falling apart. I decided on a heavy cardigan for a jumper, even though I've been partial to thinner pullovers this past winter, since the cardigan is warmer and more versatile (i.e. I can wear it buttoned up... or open).

Skinny jeans, also self-explanatory. For hot weather, I'm bringing my two pairs of rayon drapey pants - these are really comfortable in the heat, and keep my legs covered to avoid mosquitoes (malaria!) or being culturally/socially inappropriate. I could also wear these with leggings underneath in colder weather, if I need to put my single pair of jeans in the wash. Trousers I wouldn't usually bring on a trip, but I might need nice pants for hospital placement.

Pretty much my favourite tops that aren't white (so I don't have coordinate my bra). At the risk of looking like a 90s boy band member, I would be able to wear the chambray shirt as a light layer over my t-shirts.

I always agonise over shoes. I finally whittled it down to the Chelsea boots for more formal situations/city walking, and the Docs for when there's rougher terrain/mud/rain/snow involved. I considered sneakers, but figured that the Docs would cover all the situations I'd wear sneakers in, and would be better in bad weather (also I'm probably not going to go running). I also considered the need for sandals, but I only see myself wearing those for short periods at a time, and I'll manage those situations with flip-flops.

I'm going to leave my beloved Daniel Wellington watch at home and take one which I'm less precious about. No hat (I'm hoping that my massive scarf will be able to work as a makeshift hood) and I'm not sure if the leather gloves will be adequate for Copenhagen and Tromso - if desperate I guess I'll just have to buy better ones.

Even though this is more of a let-me-justify-my-choices post than an advice post, based on my last few trips I came up with a packing guideline to stick to:

  • Accept that I won't be wearing 100% "ideal" outfits 100% of the time.
  • Prioritise practicality over style (but not so much that I feel self conscious about how badly I'm dressed).
  • After coming up with a packing list with the above in mind, cut out things that would only work with one outfit, or that would only be good for very optimistic situations (e.g. I love my loafers, but they'd only work on city streets where I'm not doing a lot of walking and it won't be raining).
  • Once I've done that, I cross off one... more... item. I actually scrolled back up while drafting this post and took out a top, and now I'm wondering if I can leave off one of the button downs.
I guess technically I won't know how well this has worked out until I get back home next year. I would welcome any advice/opinions! In the meanwhile, before I leave, I'm going to try and wear my other clothes as much as possible because I feel bad for leaving them behind (please tell me this is a valid feeling).

ETA: see the review post here.

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