In the past I have made random comments about living out of a suitcase. I have done so in the past and it is entirely possible — in fact I arrived in the US with just a suitcase — to fit in the necessary clothes, cookware, and electronics in a large suitcase. At some point someone asked me what one should bring along and I promptly filed the question on my ever-growing to-do-list (item #29) of blog topics and then forgot about. When the simple dollar used the suitcase to illustrate a point about the amount of stuff we carry around, I remembered the original question, so here goes.

Living out of a suitcase comes with the following advantages:

  • It is very easy to pack up and move. This is thus ideally suited for students, salesmen, contractors, globetrotters, speakers, and other people that move around.
  • It puts a very hard limit on the amount of things you can own. Not only do you have to think about cost, you also have to think about weight and space. Anything you buy has to be space- and weight-exchanged for something that originally was in the suitcase. Otherwise you lose the advantage.

Personally, I have a big Samsonite suitcase. I won’t bother to go in and measure it but suffice to say it’s within airline regulations and in retrospect it may be pretty average as far as big goes. I paid $95 for it years ago. On transatlantic flights, people usually bring two of these just to give you an idea.

To bring list:

  • Towel: A towel is the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Naturally you need one, but only one. I used the same towel for four years at which point I ceremoniously declared it dead. I recommend a medium sized towel. It dries the body as well as a big towel but it takes up less space. Roll up the towel (rather than fold it) when putting it in the suitcase. This goes for the clothes too. Rolling as opposed to folding is a more efficient way of storing clothes.
  • Toiletries include tooth brush, floss, and shaving kit. It is presumed that you buy the toothpaste, soap, deodorant, and shampoo when you arrive and ditch it when you move. If you want to rough it, you can use baking soda for ALL of these. For the shaving kit, I use a straight razor with replaceable blades. I have found that if the beard is kept wet, I can go for half a year without replacing the blades. This avoids the strop and other gadgetry of a real straight razor and the cost of the high tech multi-blade instruments.
  • You need one pair of leather boots for walking in all seasons, one pair of dressy shoes, and one pair of trainers. Make sure the boots and the dress shoes are the same color. The reason is that you only need one color of shoe polish. Forget about the sponge and use the oldest pair of socks in your inventory; speaking of which …
  • You need 13 pairs of socks. I prefer this to be tennis socks, all black. A 12-day laundry cycle just under two weeks works well for a single person (if you can do your laundry with another person divide all of the following numbers by two) as that seems to correspond to an amount of clothes, split into warm and cold washes that just fill up a laundry machine. Why 13 instead of 12? You might step in something wet.
  • You also need 12 sets of underwear. I’m presuming that you won’t sit on something wet. Briefs take up much less space than boxers.
  • You need 12 t-shirts. If you are forced to weak business casual, make that collared shirts. If you are forced to wear business, make them shirts.
  • You need two, maybe tree, pairs of pants. I prefer chinos, jeans, and some light technical sports pants (for laundry, sports, and rain). If you need to wear suits you will want to modify this plan. Instead of the sweater get a suit jacket and instead of the jeans and chinos get two pants that match the suit jacket; also include a couple of ties. Just make sure that EVERYTHING MATCHES WITH EVERYTHING. If nothing else, you can never go wrong with white or dark blue shirts.
  • You need one sweater. Make sure it matches the shirts and the pants.
  • You need two large plastic bags to hold your laundry. You can bring them or get them later. If they rip, get new ones. They do not take up much space.
  • You need one jacket. I recommend a three layer Goretex jacket. Make it black. If it has a hood it should either be detachable or go into the collar. This will work as business casual and it will be good for three seasons. Summer = no jacket. When it get cold, wear your sweater under it.
  • You can bring either a wide brimmed hat or an umbrella. Also get some sunglasses. If you tend to throw them away a lot, get cheap $5 ones. If you don’t get some good ones. My raybans are from 1999.
  • You need one needle, and a few rolls of thread that matches the color of your clothing: probably white and black. Include a couple of safety pins as well, they are always useful.
  • For scissors, I prefer the leatherman squirt because this can go in your key ring along with a photon LED light. I would also in get a Swiss army knife with corkscrew, can opener, and screw drivers.
  • Get a small first aid kit.
  • For cooking, I use a one gallon pressure cooker. Get the best you can afford. I use a Kuhn-Rikon that has been going for 8 years now (although the rubber gasket on one of the pressure valves is getting a bit stiff). Bring one stainless steel plate. I prefer steel because it’s not plastic and it does not shatter. Also bring one cup. There is no need to bring more than one fork and one spoon since it is the odd person that eats with two spoons at the same time! For the knife, I prefer a short serrated utility/tomato knife. This will keep cutting and can be used on the steel plate with no adverse effects. Also get a set of small storage containers, maybe 2 or 3. Each should be the size of one of your meals. Wrap all this in your shirts and put them in the suitcase.
  • I generally do not bring any food. There are often issues with customs. Also, it takes up space. The only thing I would bring here are spices. The rest you can buy as you go along.
  • You need a small backpack. I got my favorite backpack for free at a conference. It holds my letter sized laptop in a letter sized compartment for paper. The laptop will play your music and your movies. Never buys movies. Either rent them, borrow them, or get them via netflix, etc.
  • Speakers take up a lot of space, so get some headphones.
  • You also need a pen, a pencil, and an eraser. One binder should be enough to hold your personal files. Get a hole punch that makes one hole at a time. It does not take up much space. You can also get a tiny stapler.
  • You need one set of bed sheets. I highly recommend a pillow. A pillow will take up quite a bit of space, so get a small but comfortable one. Fashioning a replacement pillow out of shirts gets old real fast (well a month anyway). For the blanket get a fleece liner from a sleeping bag and get a sleeping bag rated for room temperature. Depending on how warm it is, you can use either the sheet, the sheet+fleece liner or sheet+liner+unzipped sleeping bag

This should include everything you “need”. For exercise, use body weight exercises although you may want to consider adding a piece of nylon rope for jumping ropes. Be very careful about not buying books (very heavy!), CDs, or DVDs. In particular, do not buy anything unless you just wore something else out. Find hobbies that do not require equipment. If not, you will need an additional suitcase. Think about acquiring stocks and bonds as a way of “having” and “owning” rather than buying furniture and toys. It can be just as fun.