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Whether you’re running around your own town for the afternoon or taking a day trip from your Northern Thai hostel to ride elephants, you can boost your comfort and ability to meet unexpected challenges by taking along appropriate essentials. Here’s how to hone your instincts about what to bring–and what to leave–when you’re heading out.

1. Visualize the outing
When I take a moment to really consider where I’m going (what I’m hoping to accomplish, what I might encounter, what meals I might need), it helps me think through the things I really need to take and the few extras that will help me feel comfortable. Mindfully compiling essentials is much more effective than schlepping along an ever-stocked sack, stuffed with things you may not need on this trip.

2. Assemble your essentials
Once you’re clear about this particular adventure, gather your stuff before putting it all in your bag:

  • Details particular to this day like a grocery list, theater tickets, hiking shoes/hat, picnic lunch/blanket, etc.
  • Safety stuff like sunscreen and a hat if you’ll be in the sun, or bug spray if you’ll be in the wild, or even bandaids and ibuprofen can prevent or treat annoyances like sunburns, blisters, or headaches, which can seriously sabotage your mellow.
  • Food and water: staying hydrated is essential, so a small water bottle is great. In many places, you can refill your bottle, just make sure it’s a no-leak kind. If you know you’ll be out through lunch/dinner, taking food–or taking cash and a basic plan for when/where to eat–can help you maintain poise and joy. Waiting to consider food until you are already hungry and crabby is not an auspicious M.O.
  • Simple comforts can make a big difference. We all have different tolerances for dirt, dryness, etc. Depending on your style, you might adore carrying lip balm, hand wipes, portable kleenex to double as toilet paper, a small warm layer (if you’re easily chilled), or a nail file (if you’re a classical guitar player).
  • Brain food like a book, laptop, journal, or small list of stuff you can accomplish on your phone instead of idly thumbing through social media sites can transform a plane/bus ride or doctor’s waiting room into a welcome productive pocket of time.

3. Consider and edit your pile
Once you’ve collected your stuff for the day, scan it and consider if there are things you can do without. Improvising substitutes out in the world can be fun, too. The process of deciding what is truly helpful, and what you’re willing to gamble on (to keep things lightweight) can help future packing endeavors. It’s all a journey, gang. Even packing for a journey.

4. Choose your bag
Do you need a bit of gear and want your hands free? Backpack it up. Or are you going urban and/or want to be able to tuck your bag neatly under a seat? Then opt for a sleek laptop-type bag and consider taking a small foldable tote bag for any purchases. By laying out everything you hope to pack and then thinking through how you want to carry it/move through the world, you can manifest comfort and success in your day.

5. Pack it up
If your bag for the day does not have compartments (or even if it does), consider putting things in little pods within the larger bag. You can use ziploc bags, tupperware containers, or little mesh pouches. When you pack with purpose and category, you know what you have, why you have it, and where it is.

6. Unpack
When you get back to home base (hurray, you did it!), unpack the bag. Yes, unpack it. I know that a lot of people keep a purse stocked all the time, so they can grab it every time they head out. They usually end up carrying a lot of junk they don’t need, and the inside of their bags get grungy. And for all that, they don’t always seem well-stocked in the world. Unpacking doesn’t take long. It’s a thoughtful process that develops your packing prowess and keeps you lean, light, and clean.

7. Review
If you’re an improver like me, you might do a debrief after certain outings, and even keep a list of things you took/you wish you’d taken (or not taken). It might be that you only need to refer to the list a few times before you become a master day packer. Good luck, and wishing us all happy adventures.

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Leap, Little Frog

a musician's musings on nesting, being creative, traveling, and parenting