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10 Days To Go: Putting Your Life Into 2 Suitcases

Needless to say, fitting your twenty or thirty-something years of life into 2 suitcases is no easy task. Unless you fit Japanese clothes and will purchase loads of stuff overseas or if have no attachment to your stuff and completely lack any hoarding tendencies, figuring out what to pack is no easy task and often requires several rearrangements and re-packs – which is actually quite stressful. The first time I went to Japan and was packing for over a year, I procrastinated and then completely stressed out. Luckily it all ended up fine – even after a 1am pre-departure rearrangement of stuff in my bags (one bag ended up being close to 70lbs, but United at the time had a deal with Japan and only charged me $25 instead of $200) – but I definitely do want to experience that again.


This time around, I’ve started organizing my stuff much earlier (I started a week ago); but that doesn’t mean I’m not feeling the stress – I already need to reevaluate what I’ve been trying to pack and weed out unnecessary items. Below are some tidbits that seem to be helping to keep me sane as I pack, re-pack, and re-pack again:



1. Space Bags

Or some other form of space saving “technology.” Space bags have been my friend, especially since clothes have lots of air to be sucked out. Keep in mind, however, that they save space but can easily lead to overweight bags as the density increases. If you don’t like, don’t have, or simply don’t want to use space bags, try rolling your clothes. Often this helps with wrinkles as well as saving space.

2. Lists

Get list happy! There’s nothing wrong with making a ton of different lists. I personally like to make a preemptive “what I’d like to pack and in which suitcase” list and tweak it as I start the process when I begin to really see how weight and size distribution plays out. At the very least, I highly recommend making a list of items you pack as you go so you don’t lose anything and so you have an easy list to use for your customs forms.

3. Think of it as a game of Tetris

Look at packing as a game of Tetris – what can you pack where? What fits in these funky little spaces? You win if you fill every nook and cranny of your suitcase! Reward yourself with…

4. Alcohol

Not trying to sound like a lush or anything, but if you’re able or like to drink, I recommend a small bit of alcohol to help the packing process. For example, a glass of wine while packing is wonderful – the alcohol keeps you from getting too tense as you rack your brain over your Tetris game (okay so maybe you can reward yourself before you win, because you will win!).

5. Pack Necessities First

It may seem like a no-brainer, but we all get caught up in packing and start putting in things that we really could leave behind (I’ve already caught myself doing this and need to review what I’ve packed again…). This is where that “want to pack” list comes in handy – you may have lots of things you want to pack, but use that list to whittle down to what is truly necessary and start your actual packing from there. Once the necessities are good and stored, then you can consider if you have room for the extra stuff.

6. Carry-on Bags

Don’t forget to include these babies into your packing calculations/Tetris game. Even though your fellow flyers may find it irritating, I do actually recommend getting the largest carry on bag allowed and squeezing whatever you can into it. Following the carry on, I recommend as large a “personal item” as you can manage that’ll fit under the seat in front of you – in this bag you should put anything you might want for entertainment on your half-a-day flight and anything other excess stuff you can carry.

7. Locks

Ahh the reassurance of things not being easily stolen. Locks don’t mean crazy people can’t break into your luggage, but thieves are usually lazy and look for easy targets. If you get locks, remember to purchase TSA approved ones for your checked baggage. The best locks should feel sturdy, have a solid metal shackle (no thick wires), have a number code and not a key to open, and have a neat feature for TSA personnel that doesn’t allow them to remove their key unless they lock the padlock again. I purchased these for this years adventure:

8. Research

Look up anything you may “want” to pack and see if you can find the same or similar in Japan. For example, I’m a huge fan of Redken’s All Soft shampoo – I searched Amazon Japan, found it, added it to a wish list, and crossed it off my list of things to pack. There’s other sites to get foreign goods as well; you’ll see references to Rakuten and The Flying Pig and I highly recommend searching those as well for your various needs.

**note to ladies:  you can find perfectly suitable feminine hygiene products in Japan, you just have to know what to look for. Use these sites for kanji/vocab reference (and I again recommend searching Amazon Japan and making a wish list for your preferred items): or

Overall, just be aware this kind of packing for long-term can be stressful so try not to procrastinate. Also, do your research so you know what is necessary to pack and what you can find in Japan. It is a modern country and has quite a lot of commodities you’re used to, so don’t panic :)

Author Bio
Cassie Vander Meer

Cassie Vander Meer

Not quite getting enough of Japan during study abroad in university, Cassie has moved to Ishikawa prefecture to see what teaching mountain monkeys is all about. Outside of school, Cassie plans to explore the nearby beaches and mountains with camera in hand every step of the way!


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