Seth Barham Design
Minimal and effective design, inspired by culture.

Spartan Wanderer

Ramblings from the road, gear reviews, design trends, and whatever else happens to be on my mind.

Packing for a Year

"You only truly own what you can carry at a dead run.” This quote from an unknown wanderer is something to be embraced as you plan to move to another country for a long while. Of course I can’t fit suitable attire for teaching, winter wear that will help me a avoid loss of limb in -30F winters and all of my gadgets in a small daypack, but I still meditate on this philosophy that is minimalism as I prepare for my move to China. What do I need, what do I need, what do I need…and what would be nice to have? That’s the order of operations when you pack for a year.

Deciding what to cram in that suitcase and the anxiety of leaving something out can make packing way more stressful than it needs to be. First of all, you really just need to think about what you get on with in your day-to-day life. Those will be the most vital things to throw in. Of course the reason for travel matters just as much. Your results may vary. I’m moving to a very cold corner of China to teach English for a year, so I’ll just quickly document how I’m tackling this challenge for my own situation. Adapt accordingly!

What to bring

1. Purpose - Why are you traveling? I’m going to be a teacher. So right out of the gate, I know I need some business casual attire. I have about five shirts and two pairs of trousers that are appropriate for work. If I could pack patience, I would. Luckily the school will be providing most of the teaching materials so we won’t need to worry about that. I won’t be working constantly, so I’ve also got about five t-shirts and two pairs of jeans. I’m also traveling to China because, well, it’s what I do! Travel writing is starting to become less of a hobby and more of a second job to me, so my journal and laptop are the first two things in my bag.

2. Health - China is, er…infamous for having some dodgy products that slip through the cracks of government regulations. I want to have time to vet some of these products before I apply them to my face. Therefore I’m bringing a complete starter set of toiletries that will last me a couple months or so. So there’s my toothbrush and shaver (both rechargeable - environmental win!), deodorant, soap, toothpaste, and basic first aid. China is also known for air so thick with pollution that you can pick some of the larger particulates out of the sky with a pair of chopsticks. I’ve got the ubiquitous M3 masks for the worst days as well as a ton of vitamin D3 and Nyquil if they fail me. Everyone I’ve talked to said that I will get some respiratory ailment within two weeks of being there. Fun.

3. Climate - Heilongjiang Province is the most northern area of China, poking Siberia in the ass above it. It will get COLD. -24ºF in the winter. Suffice it to say, I have packed my warmest clothes and plan on buying an expedition-grade jacket when I get there. I now regret not getting one of these when I was in Iceland. The climate should always be on your mind as you’re packing. Not only will you be uncomfortable if you arrive unprepared, but depending on what you’re doing there, carelessness is dangerous. I can tell you firsthand that pondering the future use of your toes is not very fun.

4. Interests - When you’re packing you should try to include a few things to facilitate your interests and hobbies. Maybe an instrument, some watercolors or underwater basket-weaving supplies. I love to hike, so I’m at least bringing enough gear that would be appropriate for some day trips. I still design things from time to time - mostly t-shirts inspired by my adventures for my Redbubble shop - so I’ve tossed in color and graphite pencils, sketchbook and my Wacom Bamboo tablet. I also run and do yoga in my free time, which would technically fall under health, but I’m also interested in them and like having somewhat symmetrical paragraphs. So yeah, yoga mat and running shoes.

How to pack it

1. Compression -If you don’t have one of those bags that allow you to squeeze the air out of all your clothes, then you’re doing it wrong. These are so helpful because air really does waste space in your luggage, unless you’re trying to smuggle a cat in there. I buy them from Eagle Creek and they’re very easy to use. Put the clothes in, close it like a Ziploc bag and roll it up to push the air out of the bottom. It’ll cut the size of a big stack of clothes down by 50% or more. This way your clothes do not have to rule how you pack.

2. Layering -Okay, this is Packing 101. You should be mindful of everything you put in your bag, when you put it in and how you do it. I recommend starting out with one of the more bulky, frustrating shapes you’ll deal with: shoes. Next, put some of your smaller do-dads inside the shoes and build around them until you have an even layer of stuff that reaches the height of your shoes in the bag. Then you have a nice, flat area to stack your clothes, books, etc. on top of. ‘Playing Tetris’ is a big part of layering. Play this in the background for effect.

3. Precautions - You’ll notice in some of the photos that I learned to store liquidy things the hard way. Changes in air pressure and the oh so gentle treatment your luggage receives from the airline can result in a toothpaste bomb going off in your bag. Zip that shit up and sandwich it between your clothes so it doesn’t get smashed. Also, stuff gets stolen from time to time. Keep the more expensive, important things in your carry-on with you. I’d also recommend stuffing an extra change of clothes in there just in case your luggage gets lost (which you should definitely pony up the extra $50 to insure).

Zài Jiàn!

Well, not ‘goodbye’ to you guys. But tomorrow I leave the States, spend 29 hours in airport hell, and finally emerge from my cocoon of airline pillows and blankets in China. Less than 48 hours from now, I will be dead to the world in my new apartment in Daqing with my girlfriend - who I haven’t seen in four months - by my side. It’s a strange feeling that combines Christmas morning levels of excitement with a nervous anticipation of experiencing the inevitable culture shock in addition to being completely burnt out.

I also sense that this will definitely be the advent of a new chapter for Spartan Wanderer. So far, I’ve been to some pretty vanilla countries, so to speak. Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and England may be different from the US in several ways…but this is frickin’ China! For a year! Whatever happens, it’s guaranteed blog security. Thanks for joining me for the journey so far, and you can bet your ass that there are going to be some interesting stories on here over the months to come.

For a more updated post on how I pack, click here. 

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