Take Only Pictures, Leave Only Footprints

In my earlier post, I explained how to pack all of your trip essentials into a carry-on. This approach also leaves little room to bring anything back from your trip, which can sometimes be a blessing. Over the years, I have learned to curb my shopping by being choosy about what I bring back. Here are my suggestions on what to bring back, aside from photographs:

1. Music

I have to credit my older brother for starting me along this trend. I still remember the Moroccan mixtapes he bought in Tangier, filled with songs we have never, ever, been able to find elsewhere. From Yiddish folk tunes to Lanna music from Chiang Mai, I have a collection of CDs from abroad that are very dear to me. If you hear something you like, Shazam the tune or ask someone about it, because you may never have the opportunity to do so again. Sometimes, I even bring back a musical instrument, though I admit I have yet to master the didgeridoo.


2. Jewelry

I often buy earrings from abroad, not just for myself, but also as a gift. They’re tiny, useful (so long as your ears are pierced), and can become a great conversation piece. Just be sure to confirm what material they are made of to avoid any allergy issues.

3. Artwork

I try to pick small artwork pieces, canvases that can be rolled, or fabric work, so that they are easy to pack. One of my favourite pieces is the knotted carpet I brought back from Seljuk, Turkey, which I rolled and carried with me on the plane. When that doesn’t work, remember that shipping can also be an option (as I had to do with my didgeridoo). Artwork is a great way to weave stories from your travels into your home decor.

Painting of Angkor Wat

Painting of Angkor Wat

4. A signature item

Looking for a small souvenir on a family cruise at the age of 12, I settled upon a shot glass, whose purpose I didn’t quite understand at the time. I thought it was cute, and so began a habit of purchasing a shot glass from every country I visited. I still don’t use them for their intended purpose, but the collection grew into a reason to keep collecting, and it limited me to just one piece of kitsch per trip. A few years ago, I finally figured out how I would create something meaningful out them. Pour some wax and a wick into a shot glass, and you have a votive candle. Someday, when I have the space for it, I plan to convert all 60 or so shot glasses of mine into a floor chandelier. Al and I have also started to collect a particular type of decor item that we hope to someday incorporate into a future home, but that is a story that is still early in its making.

5. Knowledge 

One of my favourite takeaways from my trip to Thailand in 2011 was the knack for making a delicious Som Tam (green papaya salad). If you like the cuisine of the region you are visiting – take a cooking class! I especially suggest taking one that is geared towards everyday food, because it’s a great way to spice up your weekday dinner repertoire. Knowledge is the best thing you can bring back, because it can never be taken away from you.

Ingredients for Tom Yum Soup

Ingredients for Tom Yum Soup

5 Tips to To Pack Like a Pro


Five years ago, I picked up my Heys xCase 20” carry-on for $35 at Costco. Since then, it has been my trusted travel companion across six continents. By having only a 20″ x 14″ x 9″ space (plus my backpack) to carry my essentials, I’ve learned a thing or two about packing well.

This week, I had to fit everything for a trip to Hawai’i into my little xCase. Since our itinerary includes hiking on Kilauea volcano and stargazing from halfway up Mauna Kea, a handful of bikinis would not suffice. Here’s how to pack for four seasons:

1. Roll, Don’t Fold

This is fairly common advice, but I’ll say it again here – rolling your clothes often takes up less space, and most importantly, avoids wrinkles. So go on, roll it ‘gyal!

2. Use Ziploc Bags

Mr. Pointster jokes that our monthly budget needs a separate line item for Ziploc bags, because they’re my cure-all. The reason why plastic zip-closure bags are so useful while packing is because you can use them like vacuum bags and remove all the air. It’s amazing how much space this can save. Once you’ve rolled your clothes in, close the zip almost all the way, leaving part of it open for the air to escape. Push down on the contents and roll the bag itself towards the opening. Keep your knee on the bundle while closing the zip all the way.

3. Think Modular

There are two ways to pack in a modular fashion. One is to pack each type of item together in a Ziploc bag: undergarments in one, swimsuits in another, t-shirts in another, etc. This makes initially packing easier and makes finding your clothes throughout a trip easier. The second way is the one I use – I pack outfits together, and then put my versatile items separately. I have one bag for undergarments, one for outerwear, and then have the remainder of my tops and bottoms packed together as outfits, at around 2 per bag. I prefer this because it allows me to quickly remove excess items if I can’t fit everything, or allows me to transfer a day’s worth of clothing to my backpack for a quick getaway trip. It also makes getting ready at the destination a lot easier. Most importantly, this method helps prevent me from overpacking by ensuring I take only what I need.

4. Use Layers

Layering is another way of being modular. Rather than taking a large overcoat, I always pack a hoodie, a yoga zip-up, and an ultralight shell jacket with a hood. For ski weather, I can combine all three for warmth that rivals a parka. For tropical rainforest weather, I throw the shell jacket on top of a tank top. The hoodie is perfect for flights, and the shell jacket packs away into its own pocket. By layering, each piece has more than one use.

5. Wear the heavy stuff

It might be a pain to have to lace and unlace your runners as you put your shoes through security, but if space is tight, it’s better to wear your heavier/bulkier shoes on the plane, saving you valuable room in your suitcase (and making it easier to run to the gate in case you get distracted by all the tasty cookies in the lounge – but we’ll get to that later).

Those are the Jet.Set.Tips for packing like a pro. With airlines now charging a checked-bag fee for all flights, it’s a good time to learn how to travel light. Plus, it also makes it possible for you to take public transit to/from the airport. We were able to save about $50 by taking the bus between the Honolulu Airport and Waikiki Beach, and see more of the city as a result.

Travel light, travel on.