What I packed to travel the world

One year, One backpack: What I packed to travel the world

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On the day that we left for our ‘Round the World trip, I was less than confident about what was packed to travel the world. I had researched, made a concise list and had been collecting items for almost six months, but I waited until three days before leaving to actually put it all together inside my bag. It wasn’t easy, but I somehow made almost everything fit. I anticipated ditching items as we traveled, but my backpack left little room for anything additional. At the airport, I realized I was still wearing my terry cloth zip up hoodie that was not on the list and I vowed I would ditch it when we arrived in Uruguay.

What I packed to travel the world

Click here for my packing list...Keep reading for my packing tips!

As unsure as I was about carrying my 15-year-old Lowe Alpine top-loading Walkabout 45 backpack, I came to love it. The canvas bag itself weighs more than the newer models, but its comfortable – well, at least as comfortable as carrying 30 pounds on my back can be. It lacks the sleek design of Kris’s Osprey Farpoint, but has ample pockets and is durable. In Thailand, I realized my waist belt clip had disappeared and Lowe Alpine was quick to help me out with a free replacement via mail.

Without a doubt, the absolute best pre-trip purchase we made was packing cubes by Eagle Creek. The ultra-thin, lightweight bags are like drawers inside my pack, keeping my clothes organized. I used one for pants and dresses, one for shirts and a smaller one for under clothes. They also make excellent pillows in a pinch (re: while sleeping in an airport). The one-way valve compression bags worked fabulously to shrink my bulkier jackets and scarves/gloves/hats. The entire collection was a bit pricy, but worth every penny.

In the past year, I’ve unpacked and packed more times than I can count. I can completely empty my bag, hang up clothes and unload my toiletries into the bathroom in about 12 minutes. When it’s time to go, I need 45 minutes flat to take a shower and pack before I’m ready to walk out the door. The task of packing isn’t as daunting as many people think it would be. There are no decisions to be made and, like a puzzle, everything fits right in its place. There is no guesswork and I’ve never left an item behind.

Even if we had left something behind, we’ve learned that everything is replaceable. I lost very few things along the way, but it was never totally devastating. My sunglasses case went missing almost immediately, my Mini Maglite disappeared in Vietnam (but Kris had a duplicate that I swiped), my forgotten gloves fell off my lap when we disembarked a bus in Croatia and my sunglasses vanished somewhere along the shore in Howth, Ireland (OK, that was a little devastating. I loved my Maui Jim sunglasses!).

I apparently heeded the advice about not over-packing clothes and, as it turned out, I had actually under-packed. In Southeast Asia, I didn’t have enough summer clothes to rotate through the humid days, so I bought two new tank tops and a dress. When we arrived in Europe in the winter, I needed more than my three, thin long-sleeve shirts. Our visiting friend, Lowercase, so kindly let me ‘borrow’ two of hers for the remainder of our trip (but I’m not so sure she’ll want them back now). By some miracle, I was able to squeeze these additional items into my pack.

As we traveled, the contents of my toiletry bag dwindled. I was able to find replacements at local pharmacies, but realized that there are some things I can live without – like facial cleansing cloths; instead, I use plain ol’ soap to wash my face. The cheap plastic container I bought at Target for my facial toner exploded on the fourth flight we took. Lesson learned. It wasn’t until we got to Singapore that I found a travel size of my brand toner as a replacement.

Finding travel size toothpaste, on the other hand, wasn’t so easy. Instead, we would purchase a larger tube (Colgate was available every single place we traveled!) and refill our travel tubes by tightly holding the open ends together and squeezing paste from the larger tube into our travel sized ones. We were fortunate in our travels that neither of us got sick to the point we needed to see a doctor, but I was glad to have brought along the medications that we did bring for colds and stomach aches.

By the time we got to Thailand, I desperately needed a haircut, but wasn’t willing to pay the tourist price at a salon. Instead, I purchased a pair of small scissors for 70 cents and cut my hair myself. It may be the single best purchase of our ‘round the world trip. I was unaware that scissors were permitted in carry-on luggage, but, apparently, they are – and I’ve become quite skilled at cutting chopping my own hair, as well as Kris’s.

My classic Timbuk2 messenger bag might not have been designed specifically for traveling, but I can’t think of another bag that would have worked better for me. On travel days, it was my carry-on, containing my laptop, DSLR camera, external hard drive, notebook, travel documents and other ‘travel day’ odds and ends (deck of cards, Sudoku book and socks for the plane, to name a few). On non-travel days, it was what I carried when we explored. With the plethora of zippered compartments, I have specific places for everything I want to carry with me: lotion, lip balm, hand sanitizer, tissues, toilet paper, keys, etc. After losing my Jansport backpack (that I had owned since high school!) in a war with the washing machine, my Timbuk2 bag was the only day pack I carried.

In addition to what I packed, Kris carried a few items that deserve a mention. It was nice to have a travel umbrella, but, more often than not, it was in our apartment when we needed it most. To ensure we would have clean drinking water around the world, we purchased a SteriPEN Freedom UV water purification system. We used it throughout South America, but it conked out before we got to Southeast Asia – and, quite frankly, buying inexpensive bottled water was the better way to go.

In the end, there wasn’t one item I brought that I didn’t use and there wasn’t anything I wanted that I couldn’t get locally. That being said, there were a few things that I was really glad I had packed. Binder clips – I kid you not – came in handy more than we thought they would. We used them to hang laundry, secure open food items and clasp curtains together to keep the sun out.

A last minute decision to pack a colorful scarf helped to perk up my fairly drab wardrobe of blacks, greys and blues. And, my lightweight, foldable shopping bag became invaluable for grocery runs. More than anything, I’m glad I packed comfortable clothes. I ditched the advice of packing ‘travel’ clothes and instead packed jeans, old tees, slip on Skechers and my favorite Reef flip flops. And, I never tossed the zip up hoodie I was wearing the day we departed; it’s the comfiest thing I own!

Click here to see my updated Packing List


Packing list


We want to know: Are you packing to travel the world? What has been the hardest part? Are you currently traveling the world? What is your best tip? Tell us in the comments!

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