My life, compacted.
December 9, 2010 2:46 PM   Subscribe

I will be living out of my 45 liter/2,700 cu. in. backpack for three weeks in a foreign country (Japan). Help me not lose my mind: please share your tips & tricks to stay sane.

Previous attempts to live out of a backpack (as opposed to suitcase) have always been a nightmare: it takes me forever to find the things that I am looking for, I never have enough clothing, there are way too many shoes in there, and even my clean clothing ends up smelling bad if I'm in a place where smoking in public places is allowed.

I welcome all kinds of advice about making this work, but here are a couple of specific questions, too:

Is it safe to assume that in Japan, every time I go out to a restaurant or bar (so, every night), my clothing will end up smelling like cigarette smoke? What's the best way to deal with that if I can't do laundry?

I'm packing Woolite, which will allow me to wash underwear and shirts in sinks, but if you have any other tricks to de-stinkify outerwear, etc., please share.

How do I avoid getting clean and dirty laundry mixed up and insanely wrinkled?

I'm hoping to downgrade to a single pair of shoes (my trusty hiking boots to keep my feet warm) and one pair of jeans. Would the majority of restaurants and bars let me in with jeans and hiking boots? How many sweaters should I pack for a 21-day trip?

I'm not really willing to purchase clothing marketed for travelers (I don't want to look like my entire wardrobe came from REI – the hiking boots are sufficient, I dislike single-purpose clothing, and I don't like the inflated prices of brands like ExOfficio and Patagonia), but I'll listen if you have nothing but wonderful things to say about it.

Other than that, I'll be bringing just a laptop and a Kindle, as well as toiletries and a pretty big dSLR.

If it makes a difference, other than an initial week in Tokyo, we'll be spending an average of 1-2 nights in each subsequent hotel room.
posted by halogen to Travel & Transportation around Japan (29 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Well, the trick is to alter your expectations. If you're a white person you already stick out in Japan. The fact that you are wearing hiking boots and your shirt smells like smoke and has a few wrinkles won't even register. Hell, they wouldn't register in your own hometown.

I did one year on the road with about 45 liters total (38 liter pack and small camera bag). ExOfficio boxers are amazing and come recommended - they are easy to hand wash, dry quickly, and short of burning them, are indestructible. I also had a pair of their shorts and a few pairs of synthetic fiber shirts but everything else was cotton. I had about 5 days worth of clothes and I did laundry every 7-9 days. Use one stuff sack for clean clothes and another one for dirty. In a 45 liter pack I'd bring one sweater, maybe two if you can make it fit. One pair of jeans and shoes is the right approach. As far as wrinkles - I had better results with rolling shirts up. If you're in hotels and you're worried about it, though, you'll be able to iron your shirts.
posted by MillMan at 3:02 PM on December 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

Packing cubes, seriously. Also get those big ziplock bags, use for dirty vs. clean socks and underwear. Pack some kind of scented dryer sheets to put in with clothes that are smelly but not soiled by smoke or whatever. Seal them in a bag with the dryer sheets.

Get wrinkle free shirts and pants - roll them and pop them into a hot dryer whenever you have a chance. Bring a v-neck sweater to layer. Have one pair of nicer shoes and one pair of walking shoes. Considering one pair will always be on your feet that is sufficient without being too bulky.

For cleaning underwear, find "delicates rinse" which is meant to be used without rinsing. Eucalan is a great brand and a few sample size packets will do a great job in a pinch without taking up too much space.
posted by SassHat at 3:13 PM on December 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

I travelled for 6 months with a smaller bag, and mostly liked it. Now I'm home and wonder why I have all this stuff.

Roll your clothes. My trick for dirty/clean is if it's inside out it's dirty, if it's not it's clean. Eagle Creek packing cubes are awesome for being able to pack and go quickly and keeping things organized.

Get some decent socks. I like Wigwam, myself.

You'll probably find yourself in the company of other backpackers - so your hygiene should be on par with everyone else.
posted by backwards guitar at 3:14 PM on December 9, 2010 [1 favorite] has evolved into quite a comprehensive website on this topic.
posted by fairmettle at 3:24 PM on December 9, 2010

I lived for a year out of a backpack whose capacity I can't quite remember. It wasn't particularly difficult, although it was largely in cheaper countries than Japan. I seem to remember having lots of compartments/ pockets in the rucksack was good. Plastic bag for stinky clothes; all toiletries that might leak in a side pocket.

On a more general note, if you're worried about the smell of smoke, wool shrugs it off, whereas cotton doesn't.

Get rid of stuff if you no longer need it - i.e. changing seasons, travelling north to south etc. Clothes that you travel with take a beating anyway.

If you only have hiking boots, some flip flops are a good idea.

You should be able to stay pretty clean. Some backpackers have pretty iffy hygiene but there's really no need to unless you're in the middle of nowhere.
posted by rhymer at 3:31 PM on December 9, 2010

Stuff sacks are your friend. They can be super cheap ones, but they allow you to compartmentalize the big gaping space that is the body of your pack. Get 3 or 4: 1 smaller one for clean underwear/socks, 1 for the rest of your clean clothes, 1 for dirty clothes, 1 for miscellaneous items (smoky but sorta clean maybe?). If you can get different color stuff sacks, it makes it even easier to find stuff. Stuff sacks also makes it easier to unpack, which aids in finding stuff.

Then figure out a system for where everything goes, and always pack your bag in approximately the same way. For instance, if I were you, this is how I would pack: Shoes(if you do bring an extra pair), dirty clothes bag, and smoky clothes bag at bottom. Laptop and Kindle slid up against your back (from inside the pack of course), with the clean clothes bag next to them to fill up the space and keep your electronics against your back. Toiletries bag on one side of the clean clothes bag. Raincoat on the other side. A sweater or another warm layer on top with your camera. Small toiletries that you want easily accessible in the brain of your pack (the top pocket): toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, etc.

You don't have to do it exactly like that of course, but if you figure out a way that works for you, stick to it. This takes some work up front though: you have to get in the habit of putting everything back in the same place every time. This always seems like a massive pain in the neck up until the day you realize that instead of digging aimlessly in your pack, you're reaching down to a very specific spot, because your brain has already gone, "Raincoat? Oh, left side, halfway down."
posted by colfax at 3:32 PM on December 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

Is it safe to assume that in Japan, every time I go out to a restaurant or bar (so, every night), my clothing will end up smelling like cigarette smoke?
While smoking in public is more prevalent in Japan than in the US, it's not universal, and they tend to have heavy-duty air handlers. Unless you're spending all your time is dive bars it won't be much of an issue.

I'm hoping to downgrade to a single pair of shoes (my trusty hiking boots to keep my feet warm) and one pair of jeans. Would the majority of restaurants and bars let me in with jeans and hiking boots?
Yes, most restaurants and bars are pretty casual. As mentioned above you stick out anyway, you're not going to stick out any further in jeans and boots.

How many sweaters should I pack for a 21-day trip?
That depends on how sweaters fit into your wardrobe. Japan in winter is generally pretty cold, and can be wet as well. Of course, "Japan" covers a lot of territory, from arctic north in Hokkaido to almost tropical in Okinawa. Spend some time on wunderground looking at expected temps for where/when you'll be there.

we'll be spending an average of 1-2 nights in each subsequent hotel room.
Most hotels I've been in have had laundry facilities, as well as drop-off laundry, returned either the same evening or the next day.
posted by Runes at 3:47 PM on December 9, 2010

I don't think there's much you can do about the cigarette odor. Some on-line forum suggest using citrus peel, bleach or vinegar; but if you are going to backpack, I doubt you want to lug around all that stuff. Perhaps you should look for clothing that are not cotton, which may reduce the problem some? (this may fix your wrinkle problem too). Or wear a wind-breaker in smoky places? Worst case, buy what you need on the road.

Second the ziploc bags idea. I always have a bunch of spare in my backpack. They are super useful, especially for those leaky stuffs (like toothpaste, shampoo, detergent) which you don't want seeping out onto your clothes.

I think you should worry less and enjoy the trip.
posted by curiousZ at 4:03 PM on December 9, 2010

I would recommend 2 pairs of jeans (really I mean 2 pairs of pants/skirt/bottoms... maybe you are packing a second something else?) and 2-3 sweaters. You only TECHNICALLY need one of each, but with 2 you have a back-up in case of tears or dirtiness when you haven't got time to do laundry.

Only pack one pair of shoes!!! You can always buy a pair if you really need them for some reason. (And if your feet aren't super big.) I just spent 2 weeks in Japan and I carried a second pair of shoes all over the country for no reason. Your hiking boots will be fine unless you are going to really fancy places.

I didn't notice smelling like smoke from restaurants or bars, so don't worry about that too much. (Except for yakiniku restaurants. That's a problem.)

Depending on the type of travel you're doing, you might want to think carefully about the laptop. Computers available for guest use in hostels and business hotels are the norm, and you may find the laptop more trouble than it's worth.
posted by equivocator at 4:12 PM on December 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Decant all your toiletries into smaller containers or buy travel sizes. Toiletries alone can take up a significant amount of space and be quite heavy.

I like lots of thin merino layers for clothing - they don't tend to get too stinky and they can be very warm without taking up too much space.

I know you said you've had problems with not enough clothing, but honestly, I find that with more space, I take more clothes and still end up wearing my favourite stuff most of the time. Be realistic about what you wear, and plan to do some laundry - have a bag for laundry (or I tend to tie dirty underwear and socks in a loose knot so I quickly know which is which by feel when digging around!). Don't take 'speciality' travel clothes - what you wear at home is fine unless you are doing serious hiking or something like that. Taking too much just makes it harder to find everything in your backpack.
posted by AnnaRat at 4:44 PM on December 9, 2010

nthing the large ziplocs for storing things in. I was just in Thailand with the bf for almost 3 weeks and those ziplocs came in handy all the time. One thing though, is that if you don't want to put all of your clothes in ziplocs or buy a whole bunch of stuff sacks for things, I often use a pillowcase for my dirty clothes that works really well in separating the gross stuff from the clean stuff.

When packing for a long trip I tend to bring sandals for airing the feet out, warm shoes and maybe sneakers for short jaunts around the city. I also tend to love layering coats and things, so I bring too many sweaters and the like. Wool is always a good choice regarding travelling clothes: socks, sweaters, shirts, whatever. It wicks away moisture AND tends to not soak up unpleasant smells.
posted by ruhroh at 4:50 PM on December 9, 2010

Seconding two bottoms, especially if you're going to be wearing jeans. Jeans take so long to dry. Some skirts and pants you can rinse out in the sink, wring out/roll in a towel, and hang out to dry overnight. Jeans, not so much.

If you just plan to do laundry you can bring so much less stuff. It's great. On a three-week trip I will usually bring two bottoms, four or five tops, a sweater or two (depending on whether I think I'm going to be wearing a sweater every day), and socks and underwear on a space available basis. I rinse things out in the sink every couple of days and try to do a full load of laundry somewhere in the middle of the trip, either at a laundromat or by turning my stuff over to the hotel. I know, doing laundry is not everyone's idea of a fun vacation, but for me it's worth it for the freedom of not carrying a lot of extra stuff. Plus, you're doing laundry in an exotic foreign laundromat! With exotic foreign laundry products!

And do consider bringing flip-flops or something. I like to have at least two pairs of shoes, because three weeks straight in the same shoes gets very uncomfortable for me. Even if the second pair of shoes is flip-flops or ballerina flats, it's nice to change it up occasionally.
posted by mskyle at 5:22 PM on December 9, 2010

Try to find something else but jeans! They are heavy, bulky, and takes forever to dry. The best to get is a cotton synthetic blend such as REI or maybe Patagonia, yes the vey brands you said you didn't want get. If you have a pair of nice fitting pants on top of hiking boots, you'll get in almost anywhere. Two pair of pants is godsend when you are traveling like that. Also consider shoe size- I backpacked for seven months in South America and I wouldn't have been able to get new boots anywhere there since they only sold sizes up to 10.

Good Luck!
posted by brorfred at 5:40 PM on December 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

I only mention this because no one has - pack clothing you don't mind leaving behind along the way? I did nearly a month in Bolivia and lived in long sleeve T shirts; as they got dirty I just left them in the hostel or gave them away. They weren't bad shirts, just expendable. Same with undies and socks. Plus, this gives you the chance to buy really neat new stuff in local markets! If you've got the quid, of course.
posted by henry scobie at 6:00 PM on December 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

Don't know about hiking, but smoking is banned in many public places, and have "smoking areas" set aside in town, end of train platforms etc. Restaurants generally have a smoking and non-smoking areas. If you are willing to pick your place to eat based on that, you can avoid smoke entirely.

hotels and ryokans, generally have self-laundry rooms, or many towns have coin laundry to use. There are also many public bath houses, if you want to have a relaxing onsen bath.
posted by lundman at 6:05 PM on December 9, 2010

I will be living out of my 45 liter/2,700 cu. in. backpack for three weeks in a foreign country (Japan). Help me not lose my mind: please share your tips & tricks to stay sane.

My number 1 tip? It's not nearly as hard as you think. I lived for a month last summer in a 30-ish litre backpack - the book bag I used for class in college. No problem. Hell, I'm doing what you're about do right now - no problems so far except for family wanting to give me gifts I don't have space for.

it takes me forever to find the things that I am looking for,

Pack less stuff. Also, everything should have a place and ALWAYS be in that place. In my Osprey Kestrel 48 (which is the "small" size, AKA actually 45 L) - all socks, underwear, and short sleeved t-shirts live in the two zipper pouches on the sides of the bag. If I'm looking for a particular tee, that is where it will be. Period.

I never have enough clothing

You don't need as much clothing as you think you need. When I was living out of a school backpack, I had 4 tops. I got a little tired of the repetition and was hardly the most stylish person in the room, but in terms of laundry it was not an issue at all. I always had plenty of clean clothes to wear.

there are way too many shoes in there

Bring less shoes.

even my clean clothing ends up smelling bad if I'm in a place where smoking in public places is allowed.

I don't understand what this has to do with traveling with a backpack as opposed to other luggage. Or, if we're talking about long-term travel, how this is different from the way you live all the time? In 21 days of my normal life, I've cycled through most of my typical rotation of clothes. I probably do more laundry while traveling, if anything.

What's the best way to deal with that [smoke] if I can't do laundry?

Do laundry. If you'll be without laundry access for 21 days, you might want to rethink your packing strategy.

I'm packing Woolite, which will allow me to wash underwear and shirts in sinks, but if you have any other tricks to de-stinkify outerwear, etc., please share.

In my experience you don't actually need woolite. Unless your traveling wardrobe consists of silk and cashmere, in my experience soap is soap. I usually wash my stuff in shampoo, because I wash my hair a lot and it does double duty. Bar soap or shower gel, Dr. Bronner's, dish soap, or really anything that falls under your personal rubric of SUDSY WASHING SUBSTANCES is fine for washing clothes in the sink while traveling. If sink-washing doesn't "de-stinkify" your clothes as a built in feature of doing the laundry, you need to either rethink your washing method or your packing strategy. Or maybe your personal hygiene.

How do I avoid getting clean and dirty laundry mixed up and insanely wrinkled?

Clean vs. dirty laundry - I usually try to pack them separately. For instance dirty undies balled up at the bottom, clean undies folded in the usual side pocket. If something is truly dirty, you will know without needing a forensics report, anyway. Also, if you have issues with "eeewww, this dirty shirt was in the same luggage as this clean shirt!!! contamination!!!", you need to rethink your packing strategy. If your travels cause you to develop some seriously dirty stuff, plastic grocery bags are good for quarantine.

Re wrinkling - don't pack your tuxedo. Or linen. Most other things will be fine if you fold them properly and don't jam your pack full of crap.

I'm hoping to downgrade to a single pair of shoes

Downgrade? Why do you need more than one pair of shoes for a three week trip? Are you a ballerina or an Olympic track star or something?

(my trusty hiking boots to keep my feet warm)

No. Hiking boots are for hiking. If you will not be doing significant amounts of hiking in Japan, leave the hiking boots at home and pack something that is actually functional for the kind of travel you are doing. Hiking boots are heavy, don't pack well, don't look nice, won't do if you need to dress up at all, are a pain in the ass to take off and put on, etc etc etc. Least functional type of shoes for traveling. Ever.

If you are going to be mostly in cities and towns, bring a pair of presentable shoes that are comfortable to walk in. It's Japan, so probably the most stylish pair you can muster.

If you are going to be mostly in rural areas where you might meet a little rough terrain (but not long stretches of technical hiking), bring something that is still presentable but can handle a little mud. Maybe a pair of desert boots or chukkas?

How many sweaters should I pack for a 21-day trip?

I live in the US northeast, which gets quite cold. I own like 4 sweaters. I could easily survive for three weeks with two of them. Maybe only one if I had some other layering options like a jacket or vest, or if it wasn't going to be below freezing the whole time.
posted by Sara C. at 7:18 PM on December 9, 2010 [5 favorites]

Having done some 2 week trips out of a backpack, I'll second a lot of what's been said here:

- Have 2 bottoms, in just in case
- 1 sweater should be fine, especially if you're in hotels/places w/laundry
- Good socks are crucial
- 1 set of shoes should be fine, especially if sturdy. Make sure to dry them out and defunk the insides - baking powder can help.
- Scarf, bring one or buy one. It's a world of difference and not too much space.
- Consider also having map bag/purse sized option as well - the things you want to grab regularly (phone, camera, snacks, train tickets, etc.) will be easy to get to. You can also leave your backpack at the hotel and still have a small bag to carry things.
posted by yeloson at 7:24 PM on December 9, 2010

Years ago, I did the same.

First thing I would suggest are stuff sacks. Climbers and hikers often use them. Like these and these, they come in all sizes. These sacks have two great qualities - first, the draw string on each sack really helps you compact stuff tightly down, helping to save room in the pack. second, they can be much easily sorted and rifled through. eg. all shirts in medium sized blue sack - laundry in expandable grey sack - socks in small red sack.

this type of sack is great for laundry. the material is fairly durable, so it keeps the dirty clothes dirt locked inside. also, it can be flat and empty, or expanded to fill almost your whole back-pack. finally, with four strong draw strings, you will amazed at how much you can really compress the stuff down to as small as possible.

I would also highly suggest the important advise of the Hitch Hikers Guide - bring a towel! I refer you to the book for the many reasons on that.

My final piece of advise is something that might not suit you, but was a great thing for me. Bring a plastic jar of peanut butter. You can find bread and jam in any city in the world. It is an occasional cheap, all-american meal.
posted by Flood at 7:24 PM on December 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

You've gotten a ton of good advice here that I don't need to replicate, but here are a few extra suggestions

- footwear, definitely not hiking boots, but also have a small pair of indoor slippers that you could wear in a hotel or hostel if you don't want to be barefoot [or sock footed] is nice for your feet
- additionally, having [or buying] moisturizer and treating your feet/face/hands moisturized is a great way to refresh your skin after being in a smoky place and/or after a shower.
- bring a few power bars or high protein munchie things and have one in a jacket pocket so you don't let your itinerary get totally planned by your stomach.
- bring 3-4 outfits and a few mix/match things. two bras, two pairs of underwear, five pairs of socks.

I find this tool really really helpful for giving me estimated on what to bring.
posted by jessamyn at 7:35 PM on December 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

bring a towel!

Don't bring a towel. 99.99999999% of hotels supply them. If you'll be staying in youth hostels, there is still a strong chance that they will be supplied, and if not they will most likely have them available to rent for a small deposit or fee. If you are absolutely sure that there will not be towels where you are going, I'd get the smallest travel towel you can get away with.

Do not under any circumstances pack a thick cushy American bath towel. They're huge and bulky and take forever to dry.
posted by Sara C. at 7:35 PM on December 9, 2010

Just a couple things. One, Japan is smoky, but has become less so. Nearly all restaurants have non-smoking sections now, and the smoking section is well-partitioned in most places, with strong venting systems in place. If you sit in a non-smoking section, you're unlikely to have to deal with any smoke.

Boots are fine, but you're going to be in Japan. There's a good chance, depending on where you're going and where you're staying (any ryokan, minshuku, or pension, for example) that you'll need to take your shoes off in the entrance hall. Big hiking boots aren't that great when it comes to having to take them off/put them on several times in a day.

You really, really don't need to worry about what you're wearing in terms of casual/acceptable. Japanese fashion is all over the place, and anyway, you're a foreigner, and everyone knows that foreigners are a) dumb, b) strange, c) cool, or d) all of the above. (not really hamburger) The thing is, as mentioned above, is that jeans take forever to dry. A good cotton based trouser-esque thing is fine, though I would bring two pairs. If you're in the market, I'm personally a fan of pants like the dockers D3 (or whatever it's called now) line, which is essentially khaki materials constructed like jeans. Comfortable, and they dry faster. You definitely want a backup pair of pants, just in case something messy happens.

Don't bring woolite. There will be a coin laundry somewhere near you. They aren't all that cheap, but it's a hell of a lot more effective and efficient that struggling with undies in the hotel sink. Plus, sitting in the coin laundry gives you a good chance to get caught up on your trip journal, or read, or just decompress. In a pinch, depending on your body type, you could easily pick up a couple changes of clothes pretty cheaply at either UniQlo or G.U. (the old navy to UniQlo's Gap).

As for the dirty clothes issue, my wife and I usually just use a couple plastic bags for laundry. Whatever snacks/drinks you pick up at the convenience store on your first night, that bag becomes your first laundry bag. Cram it at the bottom of your bag so the things you can actually use are close to the top.

I would, just to make things easier, have your hiking backpack as well as a day pack. The hiking backpack can stay at your hotel or in a coin locker at a station. The hiking pack will be cumbersome and (dear god, I've been here too long) really inconvenience other people using public transportation.

If you need any help while here, feel free to memail me about anything.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:52 PM on December 9, 2010

Nthing having some sort of daypack and not carrying your main pack around all the time.

Will stop babysitting the thread now. Even though it enables me to live vicariously through someone else's travels.
posted by Sara C. at 7:55 PM on December 9, 2010

I once lived out of my backpack for 3 months in Europe. I packed jeans, hiking boots and some heavy wool sweaters. I regretted packing this way because these items took up a ton of room in my backpack, but also, despite how I was dressed, my travel plans never involved long hikes through pine scented forests. I did end up going out a lot to clubs and bars in the evening and felt like a very unsexy and dowdy boy scout amidst all of the hip European women.

If I was in your shoes, traveling for 3 short weeks in a city and staying in hotels. I would pack lightweight, dark colored clothes that I could wear in layers...things that I'd feel comfortable wearing to an art museum or a good restaurant as well as sitting in train stations. I would bring only one pair of good shoes (not hiking boots). Let your clothes air out in your hotel room. You could always reserve one specific sweater for wearing out to smokey bars. Keep the obviously dirty clothes in a separate plastic bag at the bottom of your backpack. You could probably get away with doing laundry once during your trip.

Carrying your laptop and possibly the Kindle around will get old and heavy really fast. I'd use public computers and bring extra memory cards for the SLR camera so you can take loads of photos without having to move them off the camera. A small messenger type bag would look more stylish than a day pack and could hold your camera & stuff you'd need for a day trip while leaving your big backpack at the hotel.
posted by pluckysparrow at 8:47 PM on December 9, 2010

If you are staying at hotels (no guarantees made for hostels, but should hold true for capsule hotels) in Japan they will (almost without fail) provide
a) toothbrush/toothpaste
b) pajamas/yukata
c) mini hairbrush/comb
d) shampoo/conditioner/soap
They will also generally happily hold your luggage for you both before and after check-out times, so you do not need to do all your sightseeing lugging around your backpack. Lockers also exist at almost every station (except for the unmanned ones out in the middle of nowhere), so give your back a rest!

The first time you stop off at some convenience store, you will get a plastic shopping bag. Use this for dirty clothing. Laundromats exist in Japan, and they will be open later hours than most other things. On the other hand, most sightseeing spots close at 5ish, so if you're expecting an exciting evening, you could spend that 5-7ish period relaxing and doing laundry. And then you don't have to worry about not-yet-dry laundry. Take two pairs of jeans in case of miso (or other food) accidents.

Most restaurants nowadays have non-smoking sections unless you go into the various (awesome!) little tiny restaurants around. It's hard to filter out smoke at a restaurant that seats 10. Verrrry few places may care what you are wearing--I hope you weren't planning on seeking out all of the Michelin 3-star restaurants!

Ghidorah's comments about boots is a pretty salient point--many of the sightseeing locales require you to put on/take off your shoes, and if your shoes are hard to get on and off it's going to get irritating.

One warning: Don't expect abundant free wireless. It doesn't exist. Not even at Starbucks etc. If you want an internet connection your best bet will likely be at your hotel (many do provide wired internet), or an internet/manga cafe.
posted by that girl at 10:03 PM on December 9, 2010

You mentioned not wanting ExOfficio - good call, except a pair of EO pants has been excellent travel wear for me. EO shirts and underpants have been horrible, uncomfortable rash-inducing things that never dry in the few hours the adverts say, but the pants are great. They're comfortable, very light, pack very small, look fairly decent, have zippered legs so can be shorts or full legs, and have pockets handy for travel. They would not be too good in a very cold climate, but I recommend them for anywhere else.
posted by anadem at 10:18 PM on December 9, 2010

Oh, and one more thing. In the US, public coin laundries are some of the skeeziest places around. Not so in Japan. The ones I've seen are sparkling clean.
posted by Runes at 7:04 AM on December 10, 2010

Nthing not taking hiking boots unless you will be hiking on rough terrain. Since your profile specifies you're female, I'd take sneakers and a pair of comfortable flats, mostly so you can trade off if one pair starts hurting your feet. The flats will also be nice on days you know you'll be putting on slippers repeatedly. Don't bother packing slippers for indoors, they'll be supplied.

Don't take snacks with you. There are all sorts of exciting things in Japanese convenience stores, and they're cheap. Convenience stores will also have cheap umbrellas, underwear, and small-sized toiletries.

I dealt with organization by packing a very small amount of stuff that all matched, so 1) there wasn't as much room for stuff to get lost and 2) if I couldn't be bothered, I could just grab something. There are also suitcase-style backpacks that zip wide open available; a friend I travelled with really liked hers.

(I'm another one vicariously enjoying your travels!)
posted by momus_window at 9:48 AM on December 10, 2010

Not to sound like I'm shilling, but if you want some nice pants for travelling that will work in almost any situation, take a look at Outlier clothing. It's a frou-frou line made in the US that's geared towards hipster cyclists who want to look fashionable while biking.

The fabrics used in their pants tend to be water-resistant, quick-drying, and comfy (with some stretch). The cut is modern so basically you have pants that are travel ready without looking sloppy. They are purported to be odor-repellent but not so sure on that claim.

I own the one cut they make for women and wore them almost everyday on a trip to LA in the fall. They do wrinkle a bit easily, but smoothing it out with a damp hand worked. The women's cut is pretty slim, but not quite a skinny cut. It worked for the weirdly grey weather.

- Seconding the calls for stuff sacks/cubes. Color code so you can easily get your socks from the blue sack, your snacks from the yellow sack, etc. So simple but sooo important.
- If you are afraid of smelly clothes, bring some lavender sachets and keep them in the cube or stuff sack of clothing. The scent isn't that strong but imparts enough to combat weird smells.
- As for sweaters, bring thin wool ones. Wool is great in that it's antibacterial properties allow for multiple, smell-free wearings. I would say 2 or 3, and you can handwash every few days or so.
posted by mlo at 10:07 AM on December 10, 2010

I agree about not wanting to look like you stepped out of a travel catalogue, but I also never like to feel like I stepped off the appalachian trail or out of a college dorm either. I find comfortable, normal but thin and quick drying clothes in muted colours much easier to travel with. 
I find Jeans and hiking boots miserable to travel with in cities. I much prefer a pair of black flats - something well constructed, comfortable, made for walking; I will spend 100 plus on a really good comfy pair because it makes a big difference. These will be way less heavy, way more fashionable, and way more practical for urban travelling. Plus, if you decide to buy a 2nd pair of shoes along the way, they will pack so much better. For pants, a plain pair of black trousers, cotton or lined wool usually for me, is so much more practical. Packs much smaller, dries much quicker (so you can hand wash at night or so they dry quickly if you get caught in the rain). Plus, again, I feel so much more comfortable in an urban place wearing simple but comfortable black shoes and pants than jeans and hikers. If you want, you could throw in a light skirt and some sweater tights for another comfortable, warm, quick drying option. 

When I'm planning a trip like yours, I spend a couple of weeks planning what I'll pack. I'll go to my normal stores (h&m, eddie Bauer, target work for me) looking for the perfect pants, skirt, and shoes if I don't have them already. I'm always pleasantly surprised at the selection of 'normal' clothing that is light, warm, and quick dry. I'd also pick the one sweater to take (I recommend cashmere as it's thin, warm and quick drying) and the four shirts I'm taking. For shirts, I recommend against cotton t shirts (too long to dry).  Each of these pieces should match every other piece. Taking this time to pick the right clothes makes it so much easier on the road. Make sure you have 2 to 4 pairs of quick drying underwear and socks. Then, when you're on the road, do hand laundry regularly, hopefully every night but at least every other night. 

This alleviates a few of your problems. You won't have trouble finding clothes because you won't have that many to sort through (plus they'll be in a stuff sack or packing cube). You won't mix up your clean and dirty clothes, because your clothes will almost always be clean.  You will always match and you will always be appropriately dressed, whether for a temple or a club. 

Then, you can spend your trip enjoying yourself and loving japan. You'll gave a great time! 
posted by mosessis at 5:52 PM on December 12, 2010

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