Life in Ireland with One Suitcase

Have you ever come home from a trip and unpacked stuff that you never used? That won’t happen to me on this trip. I will return from nearly 5 months in Ireland having used everything that I brought. With some careful planning, I was able to fit everything for the trip in a single suitcase and carry-on backpack.

What worked:

  • I planned on dressing in layers to stay warm, and this system worked out quite well. Even with the worst winter in 40 years, I stayed warm and comfortable. I might not have looked properly outfitted, but with thermals, “regular” clothes and the rain jacket on for wind protection was more than enough.
  • My packtowel has been used for the entire trip and has worked splendidly. I have received a number of compliments and jealous looks on weekend excursions; my large bath towel fits into my toiletries bag, while other travelers’ towels took up half of their backpack.
  • The bar shampoo experiment. My bar of J.R. Liggett’s shampoo has lasted the entire trip and will still be in use after I return home. I am looking forward to returning to the Co-op where I purchased it and trying one of the other scents.

What could use some work:

  • Next time I will pack less in the way of clothing. The one dress outfit has only been worn when I pushed the laundry day too far back. Likewise, I could easily get by with fewer socks and underwear.
  • Both my wife and I could have brought less in the way of hobbies. She finished knitting a beautiful scarf for me, but has not used her knitting needles much otherwise.
  • I could pretty safely get by with less in the way of school supplies. It seemed like a waste to buy more when I already had so much at home, so I brought it with me. During orientation the library gave out pads of paper, and I have typed the notes for all but one of my classes. As a compulsive list-maker, the binder full of paper still came in quite handy.

It is quite a feeling to realize that you can comfortably live out of a suitcase. It is nice to know that we can safely pack up and head out to different lands without looking like this guy.

Seek Out a New Version of Your Everyday Products

I hate chores and don’t like doing them. Unfortunately, my life tends to include some chores that I have to take care of. Shopping, for example. In order to work around the idea that it is a chore, I make it into an adventure. Looking at it as an expedition, I enjoy shopping and look forward to trips to the store.

One of the things that I do is to explore the different versions of the stuff that I have to buy. When you go shopping, do you always buy X brand of yogurt, Y brand of toilet paper and Z brand of clothes? Unless I have tried most of the options out there and settled on one that I prefer, I will continue to try new versions. This does make the trip a bit longer, but it helps keep it from seeming like just another chore.

Here’s a recent example: Before leaving for Ireland, I was perusing the food co-cop’s hygeine section and came across J.R. Liggett’s Old-Fashioned Bar Shampoo. It particularly caught my interest at that time because a shampoo bar would take up much less room in my luggage than a bottle and also cause no trouble when passing through security checkpoints. (Even better, if I liked it, it would not only work for this trip but also for camping.) I purchased a bar, put it in my luggage, and away I went!

I’ve never used a bar shampoo but figured it couldn’t hurt to try. The label states “This shampoo will not strip the natural oils from your hair so most people do not need a conditioner.” Since I was trying to save room while packing, not having to carrry conditioner sounded good to me! Worst-case scenario, I would not like the shampoo and would have to buy a bottle to replace the bar.

By now, a couple of months have passed since I purchased my shampoo bar, and I doubt that I will be returning to a liquid shampoo. My hair feels healthier than before, and I haven’t used any conditioner. My wife also tried the shampoo bar and liked it, except for the fact that I purchased an unscented bar. Once I told her that it also comes in a variety of smells, she was interested in gettting some for herself.

Without taking the time to explore a new section at the store (which was only a recent find itself), my hair would not be healthier, my haircare routine would involve an extra step and I would have bought yet another bottle of the same shampoo that I had been using for years. Who knows what I will find next time…

Now, instead of just blindly following your list, take the extra bit of time to seek out the adventures that shopping list of yours points to. Explore the offerings of the deodorant department, peruse the sock selections and try a new fresh fruit flavor! Your new favorite might be waiting just behind the next purchase!

43 Uses for a P-38

P-38 Can OpenerI first put my P-38 on my keyring over 10 years ago, and it has been there ever since. Keeping it there has saved the day in a number of instances. What is a P-38? It is a can opener. Designed as a throwaway item intended for one-time use, it will last forever. They were given out with canned C-Rations, which have been replaced by un-canned Meals Ready to Eat (MRE’s), so that P-38’s are no longer standard equipment.

This little tool has an amazing history. Anyone who is familiar with the military (indeed, with any part of the government) knows that they do not do anything fast. In 1942 the P-38 was conceived, designed, prototyped and went into production in less than 30 days. For the Government to do anything in less than 30 days is a phenomenal accomplishment.

The P-38 is designed to do one thing; open cans. As such it is an amazingly effective device. It opens any classic tin can, any time, any place. It runs forever. No batteries required. Fully portable. Self-protecting. Cost is zilch. No users manuals or tutorials.

Fortunately for us, it also does more than just open cans. Without further ado, here are 43 reasons that I carry my P-38:

  1. can opener (duh!)
  2. all-purpose toothpick
  3. fingernail cleaner
  4. splinter remover
  5. flat-head screwdriver – use one of the ends
  6. phillips-head screwdriver – use one of the corners
  7. bottle opener
  8. box cutter
  9. letter opener
  10. chisel
  11. stirrer
  12. neck slasher (women used to carry to use in case of attack)
  13. seam ripper
  14. cut fishing line
  15. open paint cans
  16. window scraper
  17. scrape around floor corners
  18. digging
  19. clean out groove on Tupperware lids
  20. reach in and clean out small cracks
  21. scrape around edge of boots
  22. {in the field} gut fish
  23. {in the field} scale fish
  24. test for “doneness” when baking on a camp fire
  25. prying items
  26. strip wire
  27. scrape pans in the field
  28. lift key on flip top cans
  29. barter
  30. marking tool
  31. deflating tires
  32. measurement
  33. striking flint
  34. puncturing plastic coating
  35. knocking on doors
  36. Morse Code
  37. write emergency messages
  38. scratch an itch
  39. save as a souvenir
  40. rip off rank for on the spot promotion
  41. carburetor repair tool
  42. bee sting removal tool (scrape off w/ blade)
  43. knife sharpener

My trusty P-38 has come in handy numerous times. More than once I have gone on a camping trip and no one thought to bring a can-opener, even though everyone brought canned food. Fortunately, I was prepared (and it’s always humorous to watch the un-initiated use a P-38 for their first time.) I have even saved members of other groups, such as the unfortunate lady who walked around half of the campground looking for a can opener before getting to our site.

Besides a can-opener, I often use my P-38 for a screw driver; I have tightened glasses, fixed equipment at work, opened battery compartments when geocaching and more! I cannot stand having dirt underneath my nails, and so frequently use this to clean underneath my nails (I sterilize it on a regular basis, as well!) Without repeating the list above, suffice it to say that my P-38 is the most commonly used tool on my keyring and I feel lost without it.

Think you could use a P-38? You can grab one here, or G.I. P-38 Can Openers (15 Pack)get a number of them and share. Or keep them all for yourself and store them in various places: keychian, glovebox, tacklebox, mess kit, etc.

If the 1.5″ P-38 is smaller than you want, you can always try its big brother, the P-51. At 2″ long, it is still convenient enough to carry daily, but is easier and faster than the smaller P-38. The larger size affords more leverage and doesn’t require as much thumb pressure to use. They are especially good for smaller or arthritic hands.

Get yourP-38 or P-51 today, you never know when it’ll come in handy!

The Importance of Packing Light

“No one ever wished they packed heavier.”

Before heading out to Ireland, I re-packed my bag a number of times (as you can read about here). After much effort, my wife and I managed to narrow our luggage down to a carry-on and single suitcase apiece. This amount was enough to provide everything we needed while in Ireland for four and a half months, but was small enough that we could easily carry it ourselves. Fortunately so, it turned out, as we managed to get off the bus sooner than necessary and had to walk an extra mile through Dublin while carrying our stuff.

During our trip we ran into a fellow student who did not subscribe to our theory of packing light. Following him off the bus, we realized that he had 5 pieces of luggage: 2 suitcases, a gym bag, a carry-on and a guitar. How does one person manage all of this stuff? We still don’t know, as we volunteered to help carry since we were traveling to the same destination. He bravely carried all but the guitar. The carry-on was strapped around his shoulders, the gym bag was perched on top of a suitcase, and he rolled the suitcases behind him, one in each hand. While this arrangement would probably work fine on the smooth floors inside an airport, it was rather cumbersome on the uneven streets of the city. The gym bag kept falling off and getting drug on the ground, and the double suitcases were too wide and everyone had to walk around him. Not to mention the guitar, which I was carrying.

How did we do it? How did we manage to carry everything for four and a half months in a suitcase and carry-on each? I did have the advantage of not bringing my guitar along, so I automatically eliminated one item from my packing list. Otherwise, we realized that we generally wear the same clothes week to week anyway, and started with those. Instead of bringing bulky coats and a lot of extra sweaters, we packed based on the layering system (the backpacking background comes in handy sometimes!) We included a base-layer of thermals that can be worn underneath our jeans and shirts. With a sweater added on top, and a windproof rain-jacket over that, we will be toasty warm in some very cold temperatures, colder than it is likely to get while we are here. Just in case, we did add in a dressy outfit and pair of shoes to match.

There is more to packing than just clothes, though. What about all of the other stuff that we use on a daily basis? Since we were planning on finding a furnished apartment, we did not need to carry any bed linens or cooking gear. If needed, we could purchase a set of sheets upon arriving (we didn’t). We had the laptop and a couple of 3-ring binders with paper for school use, as well as the necessary plug-converters for the laptop and whatever writing instruments would be necessary. Entertainment-wise, we brought the knitting supplies that we thought would be needed during the time we were in Ireland, as well as the GPSr and Palm for GeoCaching. We threw in some books and a sketch pad for some additional entertainment. The only other things we could think that we use on a daily basis are toiletries. Just the basics: some soap, shampoo, and deodorant, q-tips, razor, toothbrush and toothpaste, a washcloth and our PackTowels. The only other items were a blanket or sleeping bag and a travel pillow for use on the plane and when traveling.

Have you ever really thought about what all you use in the course of an average day? You might be surprised how little it is. Hygiene products, clothes and some entertainment. Obviously we weren’t bringing our vehicle, we’ve seen all of our movies (and are not big TV watchers anyway), have our music saved on the laptop and will be using provided equipment to cook and eat from. Since the hairdryer would have needed a converter anyway, it was easier to purchase one after arriving here (this and the sheets were the only things we planned to purchase after arriving, and the sheets only if needed).

The small amount of stuff combined with some good packing techniques allowed us to fit everything inside our suitcases. We had enough room left-over that we managed to fit my wife’s bathrobe (which she was most thankful for), some snacks for the plane, an empty water bottle, and a spare duffel bag in case our luggage weighed too much.

Not only was our minimal luggage easy to carry while traipsing around town looking for the train station, but it came in handy a number of other times. While on the bus and the train, it was simple to find a place to store everything. The lift (elevator) was out at the hostel, so we had to carry our luggage up four flights of stairs. Repacking once we found a place to stay was a quick matter. Unpacking and moving into our flat was a quick matter that only took about 10 minutes.

If you’re getting ready to pack for a trip, here is the most useful advice that I can pass on. Take half as much as you think you will need, and twice as much money.

The Packing Conondrum

What do you get when you combine a budding ultra-light backpacker with a 4.5-month trip? A frantic series of repacking attempts. Over the last two weeks I have repacked my suitcase at least five times, and altered my packing list even more more.

My original goal was to take only luggage that could be taken as a carry-on. It’s not going to happen. I have ended up with a fairly small suitcase worth of stuff, spread out into a bit larger duffel bag (so that I have room to bring souvenirs back). In addition to my carry-on backpack, which will have my electronics, notebooks for school and entertainment for the flights.

Dividing my stuff into two bags offers a couple of different advantages. If my duffel bag gets lost, I can buy new clothes fairly easily. However, if my backpack is lost, I will lose a couple of electronics (laptop, GPSr, Palm and cell phone) that contain irreplaceable information. I do have backups of the information, but it will be a continent away, and thus inaccessible until I return. As my carry-on, my backpack will remain with me at all times, and thus will be easy to keep track of.

I was able to get down to a single suitcase fairly easily after realizing that I only wear a limited amount of clothes on a weekly basis anyway. In all reality, if I did laundry every night, I would only need two outfits. One to wear and one to wash. Since I won’t be doing laundry every night, I need to take enough clothes for a week (my normal laundry schedule). What a coincidence, I need a week’s worth of clothes and I normally wear the same clothes week to week. It’s perfect!

In order to get the most use of my wardrobe, I chose clothes that I can pair together in a number of different combinations. I can wear any of my t-shirts individually or as undershirts. My dress shirt can be layered under my sweater for warm dressiness, worn casually with jeans, or simply worn with my dress pants when needed. By packing clothes that can be layered I am actually able to pack less. My warm-weather clothes double as baselayers, so my meager suitcase-worth of clothes will function for any seasons that I might encounter while traveling.

Since I was able to limit myself to only the dufffel bag and backpack, I will have everything that I need, but will be compact enough to remain mobile. I should not have any problems carrying my luggage whether we travel by bus, plane or train. While the urges of the ultra-light backpacker have not been fully satisfied, an acceptable compromise has been reached. I should only have to re-pack another time or two before we leave. 😀