Step One: Packing Up Your Life

Authored by:
Alexis C.

Alexis C.


Image: I was lucky enough to fly with my friend Sami, left, and this is us with our bags before leaving LAX. 

The process of packaging up my belongings and the comfort of every amenity that I have taken for granted at home was daunting, to say the least. How would I live without my favorite pillow and the reusable glassware I packed my lunches in? These small things brought me daily joy. And there were bigger questions too like, what will I do with my car, and where will I put over half of my closet? And most of all... how would I pack up the stable and comfortable life I had created for myself and trade it for the unknown?

And that's exactly what it is. Unknown.

There isn't a perfect way to pack or to prepare yourself. Packing is emotional. All said and done, I honestly enjoyed packing. The organization process gave me the chance to get to know myself a little better. When packing, you decide which items enhance your chance to live the type of lifestyle you want. I left some of my comfy sweats at home and brought dresses I have dreamed of wearing but rarely find the chance to. 

 I enjoyed narrowing down my wardrobe to discover my favorite items. Once I laid everything out, I began debating like a lawyer on behalf of each item fighting for the final inches of space in my luggage. What I found is that, so much of it was not necessary and I would be just as happy in one pair of black pants as another and therefore didn’t need both. I compromised with myself time and time again while packing, bringing my favorite pillowcase instead of the pillow and a reusable bowl for lunches instead of the full set of glassware. I brought a small pour-over coffee maker and the stuffed bear that my little 11-year-old brother gave me last year. I only brought one of the two overall sets I wanted to bring, and I didn’t buy the new shoes I was looking at online. However, these compromises brought me peace going into what feels like a situation out of my control. I left so much stuff behind that I thought would be non-negotiable. As a Literature and Writing major, I accumulated lots of books. Before leaving, I organized the must-keep books into garage bookshelves. This process felt invigorating as I placed my favorite books into categories. It was such a simple way to reflect on all that I had learned. I also sorted through all the memories my room contained and neatly boxed them for an older version of myself to access.

 I can say with certainty that my arrival in Madrid came with immense relief. I am so happy with everything I packed. I hope that these tips help alleviate some of the packing stress in exchange for the excitement of opportunity.

The absolute best gift you can give to yourself while preparing to leave is time. I stopped working three weeks before my departure date. This isn’t an option for everyone but for me, I found it extremely useful. Unlike, a lot of my peers, I stayed home and commuted to a college campus nearby. I was still was living in my childhood bedroom last week. In some ways, it was advantageous to have all of my items accessible in one location, as opposed to other friends who were shuffling belongings from city to city. And in other ways, this made packing incredibly difficult. I was in a heap of memorabilia. Luckily, my mom allowed me to leave most of my items in boxes stacked in our garage. Having a few weeks for the process alleviated so much of the moving stress and replaced it with happy last memories. I was able to layout everything I own and decide which pieces were most essential. I spent hours trying on outfits and curating a closet with so many layers and interchangeable options for different seasons. I had time to order anything I was missing as well. I hope that in the long run, this saved me money and frustration while abroad.

I ended up packing a three-piece luggage set and I found it fit just the perfect amount of things. I also brought a travel backpack which doubles as a cross-body laptop bag that I can use for work. I put shoes jeans and heavy clothes into the smallest overhead/carry-on bag. Next, layered my dresses, sweaters, and lighter items into the biggest bag, making sure to avoid overpacking this bag and I put most of the heavy things in the medium-sized bag. I shuffled the contents of my luggage around until each checked bag weighed just under 50 lbs. I managed to bring a 30 oz bottle of my favorite conditioner and so many hair products to care for my curly hair. I also packed several deodorants because I have sensitive skin and prefer certain ingredients. I plan to buy contact solutions, toothpaste, body wash, and hygiene items which I do not have a brand preference of once I am there.

I wouldn’t recommend a cheap Amazon luggage set though because the zipper broke on the largest bag the day before my trip. Although I was able to fix it, I spent the entire flight agonizing that it would split and its contents would be spread across the entire airport, my favorite things lost for good.

I HIGHLY recommend weighing your luggage at home or being prepared to pay a lot of money. My friend paid $200 ($100 per bag) in added weight charges. She was prepared to pay and expected it, knowing that having more items in her bag was worth the price. Personally, I’d rather save the money to spend here in Madrid.

If you have friends or family coming to visit, I also recommend discussing luggage with them. For example, I am planning to send my winter coat home with a friend visiting in April.

Although packing is emotional, it's actually a practical process. Don't be afraid to leave things behind. Focus on what items will benefit you in this current phase of your life, what will help you grow, and what will help you remember. 


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