As we look forward to the places we’re about to see and experience, packing can be the most daunting part of travel.
“Pack light cause you have to carry all that crap on your back” … the mantra repeated for months during planning is easier said than done, isn’t it?
I turned to my lovely friend Dani and her husband John for their expert RTW (round the word) packing feedback. Having done this before, they’ve both been wonderfully helpful answering our unending questions (see here). While visiting Denver for our going away/engagement party, I asked for some help weeding out an over-stuffed pack. Dani rifled through my piles of clothes, and with uncharacteristic bluntness provided her feedback, “Do you really need five tanktops… Two pairs of shorts… both capris and jeggings… that bulky underwire… two dresses?” Begrudgingly, my gut said she was probably right. I didn’t actually need so many outfits. I could stomach about half of her advice, as it seemed downright aggressive to remove more. The weekend before we left, with a little more encouragement from Paul, I painfully removed a few more items. Many of the cuts were made after taking photos for this post, but I’ll call out what I removed… and probably more importantly why it didn’t make it in my bag.
Update: After a month of travel, I have a little better insight than when I started this post. Since this took me forever to finish, it has evolved into a little “How to pack for a RTW trip“, suggestions on my favorite travel gear, and a little insight into my own pack and process.
*Links to additional resources and websites are littered throughout the post :) Updates since we’ve left home area in italics.
Being the stereotypical Type A personality, I began with an all-inclusive list. 134 items… that hundred is no typo. Some are exclusively mine (makeup)… but more than half of them will be shared (first aid, shampoo, laundry detergent). One perk of having a travel companion who is an exceptionally light packer.
Generally you can break things down as follows:
- Carryon + Valuables – I added this since it has made transit days so much more comfortable and the constant re-packing much faster. These are items you should always keep attached to yourself while on the move.
- Comfort – these are non-essential, but will make life better along the way (think mosquito net & earplugs)
- Toiletries – mini and the bare minimum.
- Health – these items require the most advanced planning, and are probably the most important items we’ll bring with us, second only to passports
1 – Luggage
Since I injured my hip last winter I’ve been sitting on my bum doing nothing per the doctors’ orders, so I’ve been a bit concerned about schlepping a pack around the world on my back. I’ve adored my Victorinox rolling backpack since my parents gifted it for my study abroad trip nearly 10 years ago. She is well traveled and in decent shape, but won’t cut it for the kind of off-roading this trip requires. I searched REI, the internet, and every travel and luggage store in Colorado and could not find a bag that would cut it… so I made it myself.
Let me introduce Franken-bag. She’s no beauty, but she can roll folks. I took an old duffel bag with wheels, cut off everything except the wheels and frame and then strapped what remained to the gorgeous 65liter Osprey pack Paul gave me last summer for our Colorado backpacking trips. The two combined are exactly what I needed.
- Eagle Creak Pack-It cubes – these crazy-lightweight cubes will change your life, making airport security and customs much less stressful. (No joke… every foreign and domestic security check finds a different hazardous item, and makes us remove everything to rescan: oxyclean, jumprope, blunt first aid scissors, phone charges). I use five cubes: one large, two medium, and two small. Packing is now like a game of Tetris… Way more fun.
- Luggage Lock – use combo locks so there’s no chance of losing the keys
- PacSafe Mesh Bag Protector – we use this every single day wherever we’re staying to keep sticky fingers away from any valuables not with us or locked up in a safe. I also wish it deployed like IronMan
- Rain cover – no need to get fancy here. A black trash bag does the trick.
- RipPac Daypack – this featherweight flash pack by Eddie Bauer rocked my world on a bus everyday commuting at home and takes up very little space while not in use.
Update: As we’ve be traveling I’ve started using the top compartment of my Osprey pack, wearing across my body or around my hips like an oversized fanny pack. You didn’t know fanny packs were back in style did you? It’s a lifesaver on buses where you’re separated from your large pack. Unfortunately Paul’s REI flash back hasn’t held up well, tearing along the shoulder straps…and getting munched on by a rat… we may be replacing or looking for a Vietnamese seamstress to repair. In the mean time he’s been using my extra.
2 – Carryon + Valuables
- Snacks – nobody likes you when you’re Hangry. I keep dried fruit and nuts handy on long-haul days. We’re finding instant coffee is also a nice treat.
- Overnight Toiletries – a little toothbrushing and facewashing goes a long way to keep you feeling human
- Scarf – airplanes are always freezing and buses too bright to sleep.
- Mini pillow case + puffy jacket = pillow or lap blanket
- Wallet – I have a satin “hideaway” as well as a small plastic one with a zipper that can hold cash/cards/coins.
- Money – Cash, Credit, Debit, etc.
- Wetwipes + Tissues/TP – hands, face, um… Third-world toilets…
- Luggage Tag – love these sweet monogramed ID tags from our friends Kristen + Keith :)
- Passport + Yellow Card + Immunization Papers – I have an under-clothes purse, but much prefer Paul’s, so he usually keeps both of our passports
- Sleeping Pills + Earplugs – second to hunger, lack of sleep will kill the next day’s fun. Just ask Paul how much he enjoyed our night train in Croatia
- Hand wash or antibacterial hand gel + hand lotion + Chapstick + Gum
- Tough Camera – Update: I ended up leaving this one at home. Between our iPhones, GoPro, and our Sony ( love this camera) we decided we didn’t need it
- Eat’N tool – and you thought your spork was cool… this thing has a bottle opener, screw driver, and three different sized hex heads. Thanks santa mom.
- Journal + Book + tiny LED light
- iPhone + Earbuds – music, movies, books on tape – wish I would have packed a workout armband
- Sunglasses + Case/cleaner – I opted for a polarized pair. Cheap knock offs are easy to come by in most of the world if this is more up your alley
3 – Paperwork
- Copies of important documents (passports, visas, yellow card, tickets, credit cards, travel insurance, drug prescriptions… you will forget whether cipro works in SE Asia, or if Malorone shouldn’t be taken with food) – Leave a set behind. Thanks Mom and Dad. Stash the other set somewhere separate from the originals. iCloud anyone? It will be easier to replace the originals in the event you lose them, and having another person state-side with your info can help in a serious pinch. Cars and condos are another planning point, but I won’t go into that here.
- Telephone access numbers for card companies and bank – we’ve already used this one
- International Driver’s License
- Maps – Nat Geo’s adventure maps are stellar. We use Google A LOT
- Pen + gluestick – came in very hand at the Chinese Consulate
- Visa Application paperwork
- Passport photos – you’ll need a lot of them… visas, applications, ID cards, certifications. You name it. We used an iPhone app and then printed from our home printer. Easy. If you run out, you can pull them from an email and print at most any internet café.
- PADI Diver certification referral package, proof of completion of your confined dives, open water dives, and classroom modules OR eLearning modules. If you’re already certified, just bring your card!
4 – Utilities/Tools
- Electronics – These are in addition to your carryon items. Do not pack electronics with data in the same place as the backup data.
- Camera’s SD cards + charger + cables
- Mini Surge Protector with USB charging – Update: this Belkin literally blew up, tripping our Beijing hotel breaker, spewing off sparks and smoke. Check to make sure yours is rated for 220
- Laundry Supplies: Grey clothes bag (clean or dirty), Oxyclean, dryer sheets, Tidestick (haven’t used this much), flat sink stopper, clothesline. I often shower in my clothes.
- Headlamp + extra batteries
- Ziplock bags
- Door/stop Lock
- Carabineers – super duper handy, clip just about anything…
- Watch – inexpensive, timer, date, night glow, and two time zones are all helpful
- Sewing Kit + Safety Pins
5 – Comfort
- Cocoon CoolMax Travel Sheet – like a baby blanket
- Travel Towel + small towel for your face
- Deck of cards: we haven’t used these much… any recommendations for fun card games?
- Umbrella: Rain or sun… we’ve used it for both.
- Scarf – a traveler’s best friend. Keeps your neck warm on long flights, hair dry in the rain, face protected from the sun and/or road pollution, and works as a swimsuit coverup and spot to lie in the sand. It is no coincidence I have a scarf on in every photo in Europe. A magical scarf, no less.
Gator or Bandana
Mosquito Nets: keep the bugs away… one for the noggin, one for your body, and one for the bed…
Spices: salt, pepper, cumin, garlic, cayenne, chili powder – Love me some spices. we’ve made good use of these so far!
6 – Toiletries
Think mini. You’re not packing enough shampoo for a year people… there are drug stores and marts on the other side of the world. Shopping for these basics is part of the fun of travel… unless after leaving your shampoo and conditioner in Bosnia, you purchase two “champu” bottles in Prague… and then leave your comb in Iceland. Inside joke… I digress, but it’s all in the experience.
- Hair — Shampoo + Conditioner | Argon Oil Hair Treatment | Baby Powder | Comb | Hair Ties | Headbands | Bobbypins: gold and Jane Tran’s colorful pins I found in Hermosa Beach
- Face —
- Tinted Sunscreen – Lancome BienFaint Teinte Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 30
- Mascara – Bobby Brown Smokey Eye Mascara
- Eye Shadow Lancome 4-pack
- Eye shadow brushes
- Facewash – Clinique rinse off foaming cleanser
- Serum – Algenist Regenerative Anti-Aging lotion
- Eye Cream – Clinique all about eyes
- Sunscreen SPF 55 – Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Broadspectrum – Helioplex
- Teeth — Gum | Mouthwash | Floss | Toothbrush + head cover | Toothpast – usually these guys only come in a teeny tiny tube with barely enough for a weekend, but I found a 1.9oz Colgate Total tube that will last at least two months
- Skin + Grooming — Razor + 4 blades | Nail Clippers + File | Tweezers | | Q-tips | Soap | Tampons | Tissues + Anti-bacterial Handwash + Wet Wipes | Handwash Sheets | Earrings
Removed – compact powder, blush, blush brush, eye shadow brush, dry shampoo (as it does the same thing as baby powder), and lotion since, it is so humid in SE Asia, I presumed I could live without it… and am happy to find I guessed right… I feel like it actually locks in my sweat at makes me hotter
All of the liquids fit in a handy clear bag with handles for airport customs. I rearrange the most-frequently used items into this cute little Sea to Summit hanging kit while I’m on the road.
On the overnight train…
7 – Wardrobe
What to wear? I cover this last because it seems to be the most frequent topic I get questioned about regarding our trip… almost more than the itinerary. (Hence the “How-to” advice here). I am expecting to wear the same pair of lululemon pants nearly every day for 6+ months. Boring, maybe? Practical…absolutely. Every itinerary requires different climate or technical gear, but there are a few guidelines worth following…
- Preferably… you already own it (like those fav yoga pants) You already know it’s comfortable, is essentially free, and you won’t be heartbroken if you spill pho on it your first day in Vietnam.
- Lightweight, waterproof or breathable, and quick-drying. No cotton or denim, as both stay wet longer and can be very heavy.
- Multi Functionality + Comfort > Style. Are you cringing? Unless you’re traveling for less than one month, or plan on checking luggage, this is pretty important. That doesn’t mean you have to throw style out the window, but expect to get tired of the same outfits.
- Stick to a single color scheme. You should be able to mix and match just about every item. This helps with the style issue. I brought grey, black, white, and purple on my last trip… this trip happens to have a lot of black bottoms for long term wear-ability, with bright tops. I managed to refrain from neon… a nearly impossible task for me.
- GoLite Down Puffy
- ExOfficio Bugs Away
- GoLite GoreTEX Rain – Update: this jacket was about 5 years old and the GoreTex started leaking in the arms, so I replaced it with a Northface I found in Vietnam for a serious deal
- 3 sports bras – bring one that can double as a swim top.
- 5 pairs of underwear – Started with seven: ditched one, lost one somewhere along the way. Exofficio Give-N-Go, Lululemon Mula Bandawear, VS PINK. Update: I actually wish that I had brought the seven, as I feel like I’m doing laundry constantly. The ExOfficio’s are as amazing as they say…
- 4 pairs of socks – two synthetic short, one wool short, wool long
- 1 swimming suit – plus the neon sports bra works with the striped PINK undies for a second swimsuit!
Four Tops: Tanks + Short sleeved
- Bright patterned one doubles as a swimsuit coverup or dress it up with a scarf wrap skirt. I spilled chili sauce on this one and you can’t even tell. Yay for patterns.
- Yellow Athleta Back to Basics seemless tank for working out, sleeping, hiking, etc. Should have followed rule #1 here… this talk takes forever to dry and it isn’t wearing well.
- Black Athleta Go Time tank is crazy-fast-drying and long. Love this top.
- 1 short-sleeved shirt: I replaced the two heavier shirts shown in this photo one V-neck. It is made with lululemon’s silverescent “nostink” technology… which I’m finding is a bunch of smoke and mirrors. I still stink after 12 hours on a train in SE Asia. This shirt does dry miraculously quick and is light as a feather. Even though I love the light color of this shirt, it shows stains, food and sweat.
- Both dresses are from Athleta and made with their Featherweight Stretch material(Polyester/Spandex). It is silky, ultra-lightweight fabric that packs down quite small, wicks, breathes and dries exceptionally fast. It is UPF 50+ rated. Added bonus. Sorry, no pictures here, as they were last-minute additions.
- Update: I wear these two dresses nearly everyday, as nothing is much cooler than a simple dress. They have a built-in bra as well, so one less layer of clothing I’m sweating trough and then having to wash/dry by hand.
Three Long-sleeved shirts:
- UV Protection: This tangerine beauty is a silky soft and breathable shirt I lived in during my summers of construction. REI really knocked it out the park with the one.
- My go-to black light-weight fleece layers well and keeps you warm even when it’s wet. Perfect for California coastal weather like SUP in Hermosa Beach, exploring San Fran, trekking in Sapa, and imagine it will feel nice in Patagonia (no photo because I was still considering my favorite… impractical… white fleece)
- UV Protection: Pink button up is Columbia’s Omni-Shade sun protection. It keeps me pretty cool in the sun and also layers well for colder weather
- PraHna convertible shants (shorts + shorts). These babies play double-duty and have a plethora of mesh pockets
- Remember those fav black yoga pants? Well, they meet rules 1, 2, 3, and 4, and we love them already! Lululemon Speed Tight Luxetreme
- über breathable lululemon capris (these have become my travel-day pants, protecting my skin from the sun and not so clean bus seats)
- Shorts with built-in underwear. Super plus when you’re not bringing many to many to begin with. Lululemon Speed Short
Three Pairs of Shoes: Because shoes take up so much room, I find the selection agonizing. Flip flops, ballet flats, nice sandals, boots, heels, Gore-Tex trekking shoes, low profile sneakers? I’ve packed just about every combination of this list, so can say that it really depends on your designations’ culture of formality, and what you will feel best in (style and comfort-wise). For my last trip to Europe, I splurged with knee-high leather boots, ballet flats, flip flops, and small tennis shoes. It was the perfect mix for our hot and cold weather and stylish city travel. This is a different kind of trip
- Flip flops : this is my second pair of simple, yet magical Reef Ginger Drift sandals. I wore through the first set romping around Prague, Poland, Oslo, and the Greek Isles in 2006. The second pair survived Croatia, Bosnia, Czech Republic, Istanbul, Reykjavik, and Costa Rica… so I’ve brought the new pair along this round.
- Trekking shoes: GORETEX was a necessity…. So I ordered every GTX shoe sold in my size from Zappos and Moosejaw and landed on the Salomon X Ultra GTX. They’re quite heavy at just over a pound, but provide suitable support when I’m carrying a 30lb pack and think they’ll be useful for real trekking. As Dani promoised, I’m loving the quick-lace shoe lases. The downside: I’m so accustomed to small, nearly barefoot shoes from CrossFit, that I catch my feet on roots and the like during jungle hiking.
- Sneakers: These Vivobarefoot shoes perfect for CrossFit (and europe 2012) weigh less than 8 oz, making them a pretty easy squeeze. These were a very last minute add and one I’m very happy with. They don’t look ridiculous with dresses and I don’t feel like I need to climb a mountain when I slip them on.
- Orthotic insoles – These babies make my feet, knees, hips, and back happy.
- Shower cap – keep shoes’ dirty bottoms from gooping up anything else in your bag while also letting the insides air out.
All of the following didn’t make the cut: adorable denim jeggings that made me feel stylish instead just a backpacker, but were unfortunately heavy and no-so-quick-drying; another fashionable pair of knickers with great zippers on the thighs, but were also heavier than the “chosen” lulu capris; and a similar pair of lulu shorts… cute blue ones; Two tanks with built-in sports bras didn’t make the cut because they were bulky; Ballet Flats – I decided to nix these in place of the Vivo’s. Since Europe is off the itinerary, we will keep our casual way about ourselves for the time being.
8- Health– Iodine, tums, antibiotics, Band-Aids…
I’ve devoted an entire post for the all inclusive travel medicine cabinet. Health on the road is paramount and a topic worth delving into a bit more. We’ll talk about health insurance, best practices for food, and our own mishaps thus far… stay tuned!