A Management Consultant’s Guide to Packing (aka Paul’s debut post!)

Sophia and I scoured numerous blogs during our round-the-world trip planning, and found two very helpful types of posts: posts that inspired us to explore the world, and posts that dealt with the practicalities of doing so.  We’d like to do the same with our blog, and since Sophia’s posts have hopefully already appealed to your own sense of adventure, my first post is of the latter type.

But before writing about what my packing list consists of, it’s only fitting for me to first explain how it came to be.


Those who know me well will know that I am a very analytical person; those who don’t may not invite me to their parties after reading this.

This analytical nature lended itself very well to my previous job (before my current gig as an unemployed world explorer) as a management consultant.  I was often asked what “management consultants” do and it’s surprisingly difficult to explain.  The best I could do was, “A management consultant helps their clients identify and articulate problems, and develop and analyze options to enable them to make an informed decision.”

I know that’s not a particularly satisfying response, so I’m hoping one of the outcomes from this post is to provide a more tangible example of what management consultants do and how they approach problems … like squeezing everything for a 14-month round-the-world trip into a single carry-on sized bag.

Now, onto the packing list.

Most of the packing lists I came across during my search for packing nirvana were just that: lists.  Although I did find some inspiration, I never found a turnkey solution that I’d be able to re-use in its entirety.  Now that’s to be expected given that everyone has different requirements, and why I thought a post about a packing strategy would be of interest to a much broader audience.  Well, perhaps “interest” may be an overstatement unless you would make for a great character on The Big Bang Theory, but I’m hoping that at least those who are struggling with one of life’s great packing questions – hair gel or winter mitts?** – will find this framework valuable.

Although everyone may differ when it comes to what to pack, I suspect there are some common key considerations:

  1. Frequency of use – how often will the item be used?

  2. Necessity – when a situation arises where an item could be used,  how important is it to have the item readily available?  How significant of an impact would there be if it wasn’t on-hand?

  3. Packability – how much space does the item occupy?  How heavy is it?

A matrix is a commonly-used consulting tool for grouping options (gel vs. mitts) into categories or “buckets” based on multiple dimensions (frequency of use, necessity, and packability), and then identifying a strategy to deal with each bucket (to pack or not to pack).

In this case, we would plot each item being considered for packing based on its frequency of use along the vertical axis and its necessity along the horizontal axis, with its packability visualized as a third dimension using the the size of the plot point (figure 1).

Figure 1: Plot of items based on frequency of use, necessity, and packability

Gear analysis matrix

Once the items are plotted, they can be categorized and a strategy applied to each bucket (figure 2).

  • Must-haves: Daily essentials such as everyday clothes, underwear, toothbrush, etc.

  • Travel luxuries: Items that you normally use day-to-day but aren’t absoloutely essential during a RTW trip such as a hairdryer, beauty products, computer mouse, etc.

  • Consider renting: Items that are very useful when the need (rarely) arises such as a tent, sleeping bag, winter clothes, etc.

  • Leave behind: Items that are rarely used and probably unnecessary while travelling, such as sports equipment, etc.


Figure 2: Strategy for items in each quadrant of the matrix

Gear analysis matrix

The framework also supports:

– Identifying where to prioritize spending for more functional and/or more packable items

– Identifying opportunities to trim down your packing list by coming up with ways to move items towards the “leave behind” quadrant

Using this framework, what would be some of the unique items in each category for you? I’ll show and tell everything that’s in my pack in my next gear post!

** The answer for me is neither; by getting a “round-the-world” haircut I moved hair gel to the “leave behind” quadrant, and will be in climates cold enough to warrant mitts so infrequently that I will procure them if/as I need them.


5 Responses

  1. Tony says:

    That’s the most analytical, scientific article on packing I’ve ever read in my life. My packing strategy is “Do I need it? Yes/No” and “Can I get it abroad? Yes/No”.still your article brought a smile to my face!

  2. Anne-Gaëlle says:

    Hi Paul and thanks, I feel.way less crazy after reading your post. I am also travelling around the world with Kevin Su, Him and Sophia now each other from school, so we ran into your blog through Facebook. It happens so that i just posted an article about packing, and i went through a similar process as you did. If it makes you curious you can read it here :
    sorry its in french but you can probabely figure out the diagrams. if not there is an english version on https://www.facebook.com/MadeInPartout
    Fun travels !

  3. Matthew says:

    Oh gawd this is my brother… Great post to read before bed 😀 hehe

  4. Clémence says:

    Paul, you remember you are off work, right?!

  5. Kristina says:

    Oh man….. I laughed until I cried reading this blog post. Such a Paul thing to do to include matrix diagrams!

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