Luggage Tetris

Who would have thought that all those hours playing Tetris while procrastinating on my homework would pay off?!

As it turns out, the key to solving my packing woes was pack my clothes flat (instead of rolling) and to only compress one of my compression bags…

All I’m missing for personal items in my suitcase are my French press and my toiletries bag. I am reasonably confident I will be able to fit those into my computer bag. I prefer to travel with my toiletries in the “personal item” anyway, in case I have to check my suitcase and also to hopefully avoid having to open the suitcase at security. Anything that I think is going to scan funny is better off all together in one bag.

So this is the final weight of my suitcase, 9.7KG!

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The suitcase is definitely packed to its limit, but it zipped with ease.

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First layer has a large packing cube, which I had to compress to get the suitcase to close with ease. Next to it are a pair of sandals and below the sandals are my travel purse.

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Take off that layer and you get the other large packing cube, the two small ones, and another pair of shoes (which fit nicely in that groove between the packing cubes).

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And now we get to the magical part… There are basically “ribs” at the bottom of the suitcase for the handle mechanism. Look what fit in the dead space between the ribs! Two spare pairs of glasses, one spare pair of prescription sunglasses, my jewelry box, and another pair of sandals!

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I really don’t think I’ll be able to improve on this and hope that the toiletries bag will fit in the computer bag! Thankfully, I really don’t have much to bring on that end and I know I have a few items that would fit in the space I still have left between the ribs.

What I love about the packing cubes is how little work it is to get to the small items at the very bottom without making a giant mess!

Yes, I will be posting my packing list at some point. 🙂

Soapbox Travel Earring Organiser

I like to wear earrings and thanks to my winters in Mexico, I’ve accumulated quite a few pairs, none of which are valuable! I knew I didn’t want to leave without them as they would add some much needed variety to my outfits. I didn’t like any of the travel earring organisers I found online, like rolls, as they would not protect my earrings. I wanted something compact that I could throw around and not worry about, but also provide easy access to the earrings.

When I saw a soapbox at a thrift store, I had an epiphany. A standard soapbox has a small footprint and the lid fits tightly. I’d bought some thin layers of foam for another project while I was in Mexico and that seemed perfect for the inside. I pressed the bottom of the box into the foam to get its outline and then cut several layers.

I started with a bottom layer for loose items:

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Bottom layer has loose items.

Then, I simply poked my earrings through a couple more layers:

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First layer of earrings. There may be more on it now… 🙂

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Second layer of earrings.

I protected the top layer of earrings with another layer of foam:

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Piece of foam over top.

And here it is all closed up:

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And the cover’s on.

I found the perfect place for my organiser to travel to use up some dead space in my suitcase. More on that later. 🙂

I Need to Go Through My Closet More Often

Well, it looks like I found my travel purse. In my closet of all places.

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I’m a sucker for a Vera Bradley bag and I fell hard for this one, which I found at a thrift store at some point in my travels, but I’ve never used it because the straps are such a disaster. The bag is a little worn if you look at it closely, but, really, if it wasn’t for the shoulder straps, it would have a lot of life left.

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This is exactly the sort of bag I want for my trip. It has a zipped top, long handles, is lightweight, has tons of compartments, is the perfect size, can be laundered, and can be scrunched up to fit where I need it to in my luggage. It even sort of matches my palette since it has pink and purple. 🙂

Shame about the straps. 🙁

Well, while looking for something else this afternoon, I came across an old tee-shirt with paint on the front. The back was in good shape and the colour just happened to match the Vera Bradley bag.

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A couple of hours of hand sewing later, ta-da!

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Compression Packing Cube Experiment

I decided that traveling with more than carry-on isn’t an option. I will never forget struggling to get from SFO to my friend’s apartment in Russian Hill and battling the stairs of the BART station with a ginormous suitcase. Traveling with just one bag isn’t realistic, however, because of my electronics needs, but traveling with a carry-on bag and a personal item is.

I debated whether to go with a suitcase or a backpack and both won. For my carry-on item, I already own a very good suitcase in the appropriate dimensions. I’ve been traveling with it for years and know how to pack it. It weighs 1KG more than the best rated and lightest backpack I found and I think that the wheels will make losing that 1KG worth it. It is made by Skyway. The link goes to a very similar suitcase to mine, but the interior of the lid on mine has storage compartments. Skyway makes a really good suitcase and has a bunch of little details that you don’t find in cheaper luggage, like the handle at the bottom of the case to make it easier to grip as you’re lifting it into an overhead compartment. My Skyway luggage is plum, an unusual colour that makes it easier to spot on the carousel when I have to check it.

While researching packing a carry-on bag for an extended trip, I came across the notion of “packing cubes.” That’s just a fancy term for a sturdy zippered pouch you can use to compartmentalise your luggage. You can also get compression cubes that have an extra zipper that will smoosh your clothes and get rid of any extra space in the cube.

I really liked the idea of compression cubes and so I bought a set of Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Compression Cubes. They were not sufficient enough for my needs so I added a set of Eagle Creek Pack-It Compression Cubes. The difference is that the Specters are much lighter weight and you can’t open them up fully the way you can the regular compression cubes. This left me with four large cubes and four mediums.

Everything I wanted to bring and then some fit into my four cubes. I couldn’t believe how much I could cram into them. But, of course, the more you put in, the harder they are to compress. All the tips I read said to roll your clothes before putting them in the cubes, but I found that folding them to the dimension of the cubes and stacking them flat allowed me to not only put more in them, but also to more evenly compress them. I did end up having to make a couple of deletions to compress the cubes fully.

Here are my two large ones. The black one has bottoms, the purple one has tops (including a rain jacket and a fleece hoodie). As you can see, they pretty much take up the entire suitcase.

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Add in my two smaller cubes, my shoes, and my jewelry box (subject of a future post) and you can see I’m going to have a problem. I don’t have my French press in here or my toiletries bag.

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Yeah, this is not going to work…

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Now, here is everything in my compression cubes put into my suitcase with no effort made to maximise space or prevent wrinkles. I just pretty much threw everything in there.

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The suitcase closed without any issues. I still have room for my toiletries bag and my French press. I bet that with a little effort, I can even fit in a couple of the things I discarded.

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For the curious, the bag weighs just over 10KG, which is right on target. I weighed it with a Dunheger digital luggage scale. WestJet doesn’t have a weight limit for carry on, but many other airlines do, so I decided that I should leave with my luggage at the common allowable weight of 10KG if at all possible to save me possible grief on other flights.  The bag does not include my airport outfit, which I may change. Right now, I’ve got myself traveling in a skirt, which would be like wearing pajamas all the way to London, but I may have to reclaim space in my suitcase by wearing a pair of jeans instead. Of course, I’m wearing my heaviest and most cumbersome shoes on the plane.

I really love how neat the compression cubes are, but they end up being like a brick and do not let me make use of all the nooks and crannies in my bag. I’m not convinced at this point that I will be using them, or I may only use a couple and leave other items loose.

Before I make any decisions, I am going to wait for my computer bag to get here. This was a last minute purchase that I think was a smart decision. I was going to go with a soft sided messenger-type bag that wouldn’t have been able to carry much because it would have been too difficult to carry. I had a vision of me trying to get all the way across London with that heavy thing strapped across my body and went nope! By going with a slim backpack that I can slip over the handle of my suitcase, I’ll be less fatigued. I made sure to get a bag that would fit WestJet’s dimensions for a “personal” item since most backpacks would be too large. This will also give me a backpack for day hikes, even if it’s not made for that purpose.

An idea that I have at this point is that I may have room in the backpack for one of my smaller cubes as well as my toiletries bag. I would pack a full outfit in the compression cube so that if I decide to get changed upon arriving in London, everything is right there in one neat bag and I can also throw dirty laundry into the cube. Of course, I can’t overload the backpack as I have to make sure that it can fit under the seat in front of me.

I’ve spent a couple of hours already experimenting with packing both with and without my packing cubes. I’ll be glad when the computer bag gets here so that I can practice packing up my office and see if there’s any room left in that bag for the few things that won’t fit in the suitcase. I think that I’m doing well for a first time trying to pack minimally for an extended trip, but I’m still very much at the beginner stage.

The last thing I need to decide on is a purse. I am trying not to bring me beloved leather tote because the top doesn’t zip, but I haven’t get found anything I like better. Whatever I decide on has to travel in either my suitcase or the backpack on travel days.

So to recap what I’ve learned about compression packing cubes:

  • You can fit more in them and more easily compress them if you pack things flat instead of rolling them (especially heavy items like jeans);
  • If you fill them fully, you will not be able to compress them (pack less or buy regular, less expensive, packing cubes instead);
  • Once compressed, they become a brick with no give at all;
  • They are great for compartmentalising your clothes and keeping your bag organised, but do not let you use your bag space to its full potential;
  • They would be great for two people sharing one bag.

One Week Left Till I Leave Indefinitely

I can’t believe how quickly departure day is sneaking up on me!

Here’s an update on my giant to-do list:

Reducing Expenses Back Home While I’m Gone

I can cancel the registration on my truck and have very minimal insurance to cover me for liability. This new policy will be $50 for a year. Savings: $70 per month. I have to do this at the last minute, so it’ll happen on my last trip to town next Tuesday.

I can cancel my SaskTel service since my contract is up. When I come back, I can either get service again with them if I can do so without a contract or look at Bell Mobility. Savings: $80 per month, but I lose my phone number. I have to do this at the last minute, so it’ll happen once I clear security at the airport next Friday. By the way, SaskTel has no customer retention program.

SaskPower will let me disconnect my power for a $170 reconnection fee when I get home. I pay a $30.65 connection fee every month. So assuming I am gone 11 months, I would have paid them $337.15 in maintenance fees. Savings: $15 per month over 11 months. I will get a new account number. I have to make sure I reconnect before a year is up, otherwise my meter has to be recertified by an electrician, negating any savings. I was able to put in a work order for this for next Friday or the following Monday. I didn’t realise that a technician had to physically come here. I really like SaskPower, by the way. I never feel like I’m out in the middle of nowhere when I deal with them.

Finding Healthcare Coverage

I actually didn’t have to do much research on this because the options were so limited and others had done the homework before me. I bought a policy with World Nomads. For just over $400, I am insured up the wahzoo for six months. The caveat is that my SaskHealth coverage needs to be valid for my trip. I put in a notice of extended leave with SaskHealth and haven’t heard back yet, but I’m not concerned as they didn’t have an issue with my doing this for my first winter in Mexico. Ha! I got email confirmation seconds after I posted that my request was approved!

Ensuring That I Have Insurance Coverage for Home and My Personal Effects While Away

As it turned out, my home insurance covers me perfectly even with the addition of my outbuildings, the RV no longer moving, and my traveling for long periods of time. The only thing I changed was increasing the coverage on my buildings, which was an extra $0.50 per month. I cannot discuss my home insurance in any more detail.

I got a nasty surprise that my electronics are not covered by my home insurance while traveling because they are used for business. I have an broker working really hard to find me travel coverage. If he succeeds, the policy will be able what I am paying right now for SGI (truck insurance and registration).

Understanding the Schengen Area Rules

What this boils down to is I’m allowed up to 90 days in the Schengen Area in a 180-day period. The area comprises most of Western and Central Europe, as well as some Eastern European countries like Poland, but excludes the UK. Now that I know I’ll be in Bulgaria, which is not part of the Schengen Area, for my full allotment of 90 days there, I have a better handle on how I’ll handle the Schengen Area to make sure that I can be in Portugal and/or the south of Spain for the bulk of January, February, and March.

Option 1: I leave Bulgaria for a Schengen country for a quick holiday at the start of July to open up a 180-day period that would take me the start of January. This would give me the option of doing Schengen countries like Poland and Greece after Bulgaria. I don’t like this idea because I would have to reenter Bulgaria.

Option 2: I complete avoid the Schengen Area until January. After Bulgaria, I’ll likely go to Serbia and a couple of other countries in the Balkans that are not part of Schengen and then very carefully make my way to Turkey. And by very carefully, I mean that I’ll have to fly because I won’t have the land option of going through Bulgaria and I cannot fly through Athens. Or I may travel straight to Istanbul from Sofia and then fly from Istanbul to Belgrade.

Planning My Packing List and Doing a Lot of Online Shopping

That’s done. I am washing the last of the clothes that I am taking with me for sure and will start packing for real in the next couple of days as I make time to take some photos for my series of posts about my packing list. Now that I know I’ll be in the Bulgarian mountains for three months I’m not so much having to make any significant changes to my packing list as being more certain of what items I can add since I actually still have some room and weight allowance left.

Trying to Learn Even a Smidgen of Bulgarian and At Least Getting Used to the Sound of the Language

My internet is behaving better and I can listen to a few YouTube videos every night. I don’t feel I’m making any real progress, but at least it doesn’t sound like complete gibberish now and I’m starting to recognise some Cyrillic letters…

Making as Much Money Before I Go

Definitely happening. I picked up a new client last night that I am still reeling from shock at adding to my list. I’m not making super good money, but steady easy jobs are the next best thing. I’m not worried about work. My clients are very supportive about my Europe plans.

What I’m hoping for my three rentless months in Bulgaria is to have a comparable cost of living as I do in Mexico as that will enable me really replenish my savings. I expect that any savings I have on rent will be lost with weekend jaunts in the area, but I may be surprised. I do think that I’ll save money over being at Haven in that food will be much cheaper and I won’t have all those at home surprises in the budget that I’m sure other homeowners know about.

What I still need to do:

1. My 2015 taxes. I just can’t be bothered when I have so much work, so this will happen probably on Wednesday next week. Before anyone freaks out, I’m a sole proprietor, so I have till June 30th to file.

2. Make sure I’m satisfied the roof is leak free. I had a drip the other day after a bit storm, just a couple of drops, which was do disheartening when I’d gone through two solid days of rain with no leaks at all. I bought tarps that are just the width of Miranda and instead of strapping them down, they will be weighted down.

3. Close up Haven.

4. Advise the postmaster that I’m leaving again and that Caroline and Charles can handle my mail.

5. Make sure I have both physical and digital copies of all my important paperwork before stashing my printer (and a few other things) in C&C’s basement.

I believe that’s it, in addition to a few work and volunteer projects.

I’m ready to get out there, much as I’m enjoying being home. And I am incredibly grateful that I can do this now, three years ahead of when I planned to, and that the project doesn’t involve selling everything I own or putting things in storage.

All those tough early years of freelancing have paid off. I did have to make sacrifices, but I was right that it would be worth it if I just worked at it. I can’t wait to toast with a pint in London the fifth anniversary of the start of my transcription business!