Packing (spoon, fork and knife all in one!), Ottawa, December 2017

Every time I pack for a trip, I hear my mom’s voice in my head. And she isn’t saying “be safe,” “call me when you get there,” “stay away from trouble” or other stuff moms could remind their stubborn daughter. “You’re not heading to the desert!” my mom states reassuringly.

This is a running joke in my family. When I lived in Nantes, my parents watched me pack my bags for different trips, including China, Hong Kong, Mexico and Canada. They don’t have any travel experience, so instead of advising me, they used to leave me alone in the room with my lists, my piles of clothes and my toiletries. They understood the challenge of living out of a bag for several weeks or months—I had to pack light and be practical.

“I hope I didn’t forget anything,” I’d eventually say, sighing, at the end of the evening. And then my mom, always supportive, would invariably reply: “As long as you have your passport, your plane ticket and your bank card, you can buy anything you forgot. After all, you’re not heading for the desert!”

By that, she meant I could probably find shampoo in Toronto, socks in Mexico City, earphones in Beijing or tampons in Hong Kong.

Sound advice… until this night of 2002 when I replied, “Nan, mais maman… I AM!”

I was about to fly to New Zealand and then to Australia to cross the Nullarbor Plain for that quintessential experience of the “Australian Outback.”

We looked at each other and burst out laughing.

My mom still reminds me that I’m not “heading for the desert” whenever she sees me pack, and it always makes us giggle.

I’m packing tonight, and I’m trying to not forget anything important. Nowadays, I rely on a master packing list I wrote a few years ago. As usual, the devil is in the detail. Clothing, and toiletries, that’s the easy part. What takes the longest is gathering all these little things that make travelling easier—a lock, toilet paper, a light throw, USB cables, etc.

Here is an example of six everyday items I always pack as well:


I discovered earplugs when staying in hotel dorms and they really helped me sleep through couples making out and drunk backpackers celebrating their drunkenness. I rediscovered earplugs a few years ago and I love being able to concentrate to work or sleep in peace.

Reusable bag(s)

Plastic bag bans are spreading around the world and you don’t realize how badly you need a simple, sturdy bag with handles and NOT made of paper until your arms are full. I have a few foldable reusable bags I keep for grocery shopping or just to take stuff to the beach. I order them from China (which possibly defies their green purpose) for the “kawai” factor—my favourite one is a giant panda.

A knife, a spoon and chopsticks

One night, I found myself eating a yogurt using a cookie as a spoon and spreading butter on a slice of bread with a piece of crust. Never again. I do feel like Joey in Friends—who apparently always has a fork in his pocket just in case there’s free food to be eaten—but at least, I can enjoy what I buy in local supermarkets. As for chopsticks… well, there is NOTHING you can’t do with chopsticks!

Ziploc bags

Sturdy, resealable Ziploc bags are awesome. I use them to store medicine, Q-tips, USB cables and more. I also bring a few empty ones that I fill with travel memorabilia (like tickets and receipts) or even seashells.


Yeah, I’m one of these stubborn smokers, so I always have a lighter with me. But really, everyone should. I mean, when you think about it, this is a simple, cheap and portable tool that offers what mankind took thousands of years to control! In case of a power failure or just to light a gas stove, you’ll be happy to have a lighter with you.

Four-colour pen

We’re so used to taking notes with phones, computers and tablets that we sometimes forget pens are pretty handy. I bring my favourite classic four-colour Bic to fill out custom or hotel registration forms.

As usual, packing took longer than I thought—an entire evening, running up and down the stairs from the washing machine to the bedroom, folding, counting, organizing, closing…

I’d better sleep now.

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  1. Frenchie au Canada December 29, 2017 at 5:11 pm

    I would love to be packing to go somewhere fun just now 😉 and I love your mum’s catch phrase aha
    I somehow always seem to forget something small like socks / razor/ deodorant etc. and pack too many outfits. Maybe I need a master list too 😉

    1. Zhu December 30, 2017 at 7:20 pm

      I forgot my comb once. I had very messy hair until I managed to buy one (and it wasn’t easy, I was in Guatemala and they only sold those at the market!) 😆

  2. Martin Penwald December 29, 2017 at 9:19 pm

    It’s too bad, you’re going to miss the heat wave. They plan -9° for next week in Ottawa.

    1. Zhu December 30, 2017 at 7:20 pm

      I’ll cry in silence about it 😆

  3. I Say Oui December 29, 2017 at 10:44 pm

    I also keep a template list. It may take a little extra time to pack the way we do, but it feels so good when you’re on the trip and you’ve brought everything you need!

    1. Zhu December 30, 2017 at 9:00 pm

      I know, right? Makes packing less stressful 🙂

  4. Eileen January 4, 2018 at 9:06 am

    Whenever going back to North America now ‘or anywhere really) I always take a face mask. What IS it with the crappy or nonexistent curtains??

    1. Zhu January 6, 2018 at 8:28 pm

      It’s funny because I like to sleep in the dark but I feel super uncomfortable with a face mask. I need earplugs in many places, though!


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