I confess I am a “take everything but the kitchen sink” type of traveler. The first time I visited Europe I brought a huge duffel bag with wheels in addition to a large backpack. After three and a half weeks of lugging my belongings up spiral hostel staircases and down narrow cobblestone streets I realized I never wanted to travel this way again.
Still, the thought of figuring out what to pack for a year of travel that would include Mexico in the summer and Paris in the fall sent me into a panic. Suddenly my 68 L backpack didn’t seem so big or its pockets so numerous. It took me three days of sitting in my living room surrounded by a pile of all of my possessions before I finally decided what to take and what to leave behind. I thought I’d share some of the tips I’ve learned along the way to ease your own packing process!
Choosing the right backpack
My backpack is a Klamath backpack that is top loading and bottom loading. It has one large middle pocket, two small upper pockets, two mesh pockets for water bottles, and one medium pocket towards the top. It also has a gridlock system where you can adjust the torso and shoulder length. When everything is packed to capacity it weighs about 35lbs or around 17 kilos (I know, this is a lot. But a YEAR ya’ll!).
I love traveling with it because I can organize everything the way I want and I also have the ability to strap something (i.e. a sleeping bag or tent) to the outside. It has suffered some wear and tear (I don’t have a rain cover for it) but so far I have been very pleased with its quality and durability. The most important thing is to pick something that suits your needs and fits properly. This makes a huge difference when you’re carrying it for hours! How to pack your backpack
These tips may seem obvious, but they weren’t to me! I spent many hours grunting and yelling in frustration before I realized some basic steps that make packing so much easier.
- Pack the heavier items at the bottom. I have my sleeping bag and the bulk of my clothes and shoes packed first because they are the heaviest. This keeps the weight on your hips which saves your shoulders and back unnecessary pain!
2. Loosen all of the compression straps before you pack. This one is super obvious but I still find myself struggling with packing until I realize I have left the straps tightened.
3. Pack the outside pockets first. Once you’ve packed the main compartment it will be much harder for you to find room in the pockets for anything to fit. The strain on the zippers will cause extra wear and tear on your pack.
4. Pack everything in trash bags and sandwich baggies. This not only compresses all of the air but it keeps your items organized and prevents them from getting sunscreen or shampoo on them by accident. It also prevents you from freaking out when you’re caught in the rain because all of your belongings will be protected. It is also easier to find exactly what you’re looking for quickly.
What to pack
I agonized over this for weeks, but after being on the road for three months, I can honestly say I’m happy with my choices. I’ll give you the breakdown of exactly what I’ve packed and why.
I think this is one of the easiest areas to over pack! Let’s face it ladies, we don’t really need millions of tubes of cream and make-up when we’re trekking through the jungle or kayaking in Greece. So keep it simple and stick to the absolute necessities, your budget and backpack will thank you!
I use one bar of soap for my face, body, and shampoo (usually something all natural or organic), and I’ve used coconut oil for deodorant because it is good for so many other things as well. Lavender oil is also good for treating zits and bug bites and it smells sooo nice! Throw in some cocoa butter for moisturizer, some sunscreen, and I’m a happy gal!
Now, let me introduce one product I can absolutely not live without and one that will save you both space and money while traveling.
The Diva cup has been a God-send during my travels and I can’t believe I ever lived without it! I was a bit hesitant to try it as I had never used a menstrual cup before, but now I can’t imagine ever going back to pads and tampons. The Diva Cup is comfortable, easy to use, and has completely changed the way I travel. I no longer have to stress about where I’ll be during my time of the month or where I can find a certain brand of tampons, or how I’ll fit said tampons into my backpack. It’s also better for the environment and your pocketbook, a win-win situation!
For my hiking trip I bought the Sawyer water filter and loved it! It was the most compact, efficient filter I researched and the most cost effective (around $50.00). You collect water in the bag (this one is 32oz but they come in three sizes) and then attach the filter and squeeze the water through the filter into your water bottle. The guarantee is up to 1,000,000 gallons of water, so it’s definitely a good investment!
The other thing I would recommend buying is moleskin. You can get it for around $3-4 at the pharmacy and it is perfect for blisters. Cut the adhesive to the size you need and voila! No more pain.
The only medications I bring with me are Pepto-Bismal and Ibuprofen. I also bring some anti-itch cream and anti-bacterial ointment. If you’re going into a tropical country research ahead of time if you’ll need antimalarials, etc.
Outerwear & Gear
Since I was going to be traveling in a variety of climates I decided to skip the heavy hoodies, etc. and just bring one rain jacket, a colorful scarf, and a hat. These have been invaluable so far. I have worn the hat a lot in Mexico to protect me from the sun! My microfiber towel has also been a huge asset. It dries quickly, is compressible, and large enough to use as a beach towel.
My sleeping bag is something I debated on leaving behind as it adds bulk and weight. However, since I am mostly couch surfing and staying in hostels I wanted the security of having my own bedding if necessary. The Suisse Sport sleeping bag, in particular is light weight and the perfect warmth and size for backpacking. It was also relatively cheap compared to other bags I looked at for this purpose.
Since I knew I would be doing Workaways and traveling in hot and cold climates, deciding what clothes to pack was stressful. I finally settled on two dresses, two pairs of work/casual pants and one pair of jeans. One pair of work shorts, one pair of nice shorts, two tank tops, two cardigans, two long-sleeve shirts, and three t-shirts. My favorite article of clothing so far has been my black maxi dress which I have worn traveling, on the beach, and out for dinner. It’s even comfortable enough to sleep in (I did this several times at the airport)!
I tried to pack clothes that could be used as pajamas and work out clothes. I packed one bikini and one one-pice (for more modest countries), 3 travel ready bras, 4 pairs of socks (wool and cotton) and 9 pair of underwear. My other favorite article of clothing I brought was my long thermal pants. They are comfortable and warm, I wear them all the time!
I decided to bring hiking boots and my running shoes since the hiking boots have the benefit of being waterproof (and are great for workaways) but can be rather bulky. I purchased my Birkenstocks before I left for Europe and I wear them every single day. They are definitely worth the investment and I’ve never gotten blisters even after walking for 12 hours straight! I haven’t worn my flats yet, but I expect when the weather gets colder they will replace my sandals.
I’ve used the combination lock every time I’m in a hostel since a lot of travel insurance policies will not reimburse you if your belongings are stolen in a hostel setting without being locked away. Fiber One bars are my favorite snack on the go (along with pistachios for protein). When you’re traveling you never know where your next meal is coming from so I always carry a water bottle and a snack or two just in case. My headlamp is my favorite travel accessory. It keeps me from stumbling around in the dark and I can use it to read on the overnight bus.
The electronic gadgets I brought along include my Macbook, an android phone, and my Nikon Coolpix p150. I take all of the photos for my blog with this camera and it’s perfect for traveling. I have traveled without a laptop in the past but found internet cafes expensive and time constraining. Most hostels and couch surfers offer free Wifi so having my own computer has been perfect.
I don’t have a day bag, but I use a cheap canvas messenger bag from Target as my carry-on and purse while I’m out and about. It’s versatile and just the right size for a day trip.
Voila! There you have it. I can honestly say I am happy with everything I’ve packed for a year of travel. There’s nothing I feel I am missing or wish I had left behind (except for my emergency whistle, ha ha). I hope these tips are helpful in planning your own ’round the world adventure!
Headed for Chicago, and my one year around the world the morning after quitting my job!
Have you gone on a ’round the world trip? Where did you go and what did you pack? What’s your favorite item you can’t live without on the road?