The Ultimate Packing List for a Round-the-World Trip

When we were getting ready to take off on our Big Adventure, one of the things we agonized about the most was how on earth to pack for a yearlong trip. This task was especially daunting to me, as until that point, my bags had almost invariably gotten the “Heavy” tag added to them every time I went to the airport. There was also at least one occasion where I brought so much needless crap that I was forced to unpack half off my bag at the airline counter, sending a box of items back home from the airport (thanks Mom!). “You just never know what you might need” was my motto.

No more. When you are going to be unpacking and repacking every few days (on average), and potentially walking miles with two backpacks strapped to your body (one on the back, one on the front), the last thing you want is twenty extra pounds of…anything. By our third country or so, after a bit of trial and error, I had gotten the art of packing down to a science — everything had its designated place, I had a near-perfect amount of clothing and equipment, and my bag was just the right weight. In fact, my pack was lighter than my husband’s. There were a few things I didn’t really use, which I’ll note below, but I was never really wanting for anything that I couldn’t find easily enough wherever I was.

While I was somewhat fortunate in figuring out on my own just what I needed to have with me, I still really wished I’d had a comprehensive list when I was getting ready to go, which was the impetus for writing this post. Of course everyone is different, and of course everyone’s needs will vary depending on what they are planning to do (for instance, those who are planning to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro might want to check out this post), but I hope that this list is a good starting point for anyone (especially women) getting ready to head out on the road for any extended length of time.

So here, without further ado, is an informal catalog of the items I carried in my bags for eleven months (note that this is only my own inventory, and that Pierre carried a lot of stuff that we both used, including his laptop and a water purifying wand; also note that this might still be considered a lot of stuff by long-term traveler standards):

Clothing

  • Road running shoes
  • Three pairs of running shorts/tights, three sports bras, and three running shirts
  • Trail running shoes: For hiking, walking around town, and (of course) off-road running.
  • Flip-flops
  • Ballet flats: For when I needed something a little dressier (which was almost never).
  • Patagonia rain jacket
  • North Face puffy coat, for the colder places
  • Two fleeces
  • One nice-ish sweater
  • Two pairs of jeans: I should only have brought one.
  • Three pairs of breathable pants, one from North Face and two from Lucy
  • Two pairs of shorts
  • One skirt: See below for my thoughts on the uselessness of this item.
  • One dress: I kept looking for a wrap dress that wouldn’t wrinkle, but never found exactly what I wanted. It would have been perfect, though.
  • Five or six t-shirts
  • Underthings: Some people wash undies in the sink and reuse. I do not, so I brought many, many pairs.
  • Two sets of sleeping clothes
  • Bikini
  • Beach towel
  • Sunglasses
  • Two caps

Medications and Toiletries

  • Malaria pills: Visit a travel clinic before you go to inquire about your exact needs, but most people will end up in at least one country where malaria pills are a must. Pierre and I took Malarone, which gave us some really fun dreams but otherwise didn’t do much in the way of side effects.
  • Birth control pills
  • Tampons: Unless you’re going to Europe, tampons are hard to find in most of the world.
  • Imodium: I can guarantee that it will not go unused. That’s all I’m saying.
  • Advil
  • Zyrtec: I don’t have allergies in the traditional sense, but I am prone to migraines and I like red wine. Accordingly, I simply pop a Zyrtec before drinking and voilà! Pas de headache.
  • Sunscreen: Always.
  • Face wash
  • Moisturizer
  • Contact solution and replacement lenses
  • Glasses
  • Shampoo and conditioner: In travel-size bottles. You can buy this stuff anywhere and refill, or use what you find in hotels.
  • Hairbrush
  • Deodorant
  • Band-aids: Because you never know.
  • Glide dental floss: Stock up. It’s impossible to find Glide anywhere outside of North America.
  • Toothbrush & toothpaste
  • Nail clippers and nail file: Pedicures really aren’t a “thing” in most of the world, so don’t count on them. Chances are good that your nails will be bare within a few weeks of starting your trip.

Miscellaneous Other Stuff

  • Cocoon silk sleeping bag liner
  • Swiss Army Knife: For picnics, opening beer and wine bottles, and peace of mind.
  • Eagle Creek compression sacs
  • Laundry bag: To transport your dirty clothes to the laundromat.
  • Plastic CamelBak water bottle, to be filled from the tap where safe, and to be filled and then zapped with the purification wand everywhere else.
  • iPhone: With Skype app, so you can call home cheaply whenever you have a decent wi-fi connection.
  • iPad
  • Camera, charger, and extra battery
  • Headlamp: For late-night reading and avoiding falling into gutters.
  • Pens and paper
  • Journal
  • Wallet (including Capital One credit card)
  • Magazines
  • Books
  • Passport!

And here are the things that were, frankly, a waste of space:

  • Travel towel. It seemed like such a good idea, and it wasn’t heavy, but every time I opened my bag and saw it, it bugged me that I wasn’t using it more. The only time I was happy to have it was when I was camping, which was all of, what, a week?
  • Cipro. I had these meds with me the whole time in case I got some terrible stomach bug, but I’m not sure why I bothered. Even if I had gotten sick (luckily, I didn’t), I wouldn’t have taken them because the drug has been known to lead to horrible Achilles tendon injuries. I’d rather puke for a week than not be able to run for months.
  • Denim skirt. This was my brilliant solution to the “what do I wear to temples in Asia” conundrum. Shorts are a no-no, and I thought it would be so hot that I wouldn’t want to wear pants, so the longish denim skirt seemed like a perfect compromise. Turns out that I never wore it, because it was too hot. Duh. The breathable long pants were much cooler (or there’s always a longyi).
  • Soap. “Borrow” it from hotels along the way instead!

Finally, some general confessions and lessons learned about packing for long-term travel:

  • Clean and dirty clothes don’t always have to be separated (except dirty underwear, which must always–always–be separated). I kept most of my dirty clothes in the compression sacs with the clean clothes until laundry day. Having another bag filled with dirty clothes just took up too much space, and I kind of stopped caring if I was a little smelly. Pierre, on the other hand, opted to keep his dirty clothes in a separate bag the whole time and probably always smelled much better than I did. Oh well.
  • On a similar note, your concept of what is “dirty” will change after a few months on the road. At home, for example, I wash my running clothes every time I wear them. On the road, that wasn’t really an option so I ended up running while stinky quite a bit.
  • You can always buy stuff along the way. This may seem obvious, but when you’re getting ready to go, it’s easy to get caught up in the paranoia of potentially not having some vital item when you’re not planning to be home again for several months (if not longer). Unless it’s essential medication or your special teddy bear, chances are good that you can find it on the road. It’s one of the marvels of the modern world.
  • The post office is your friend. Everybody knows that one of the best parts of traveling is collecting souvenirs along the way. When you’re going to be on the road for a long time, though, you don’t want to weigh yourself down with a lot of useless knickknacks, so you’ll need to cut back on the shopping (which will also be good for your budget, of course) and/or learn to ship stuff home along the way. Pierre and I are still sad that our apartment isn’t decked out in exotic foreign wares, but that’s not to say we came home completely empty-handed. We’ve got a carved gorilla from Rwanda, a raffia chameleon from Madagascar, and a vase from Turkey, just to name a few new additions. And all of these items traveled across the ocean via snail mail. Visiting foreign post offices can be an adventure in itself — as Pierre learned, if you’ve got the patience to deal with the Italian post office, you can handle pretty much anything.
  • Get a duffel for your backpack. I was skeptical when Pierre suggested we get some giant duffels to carry our giant backpacks when we were in transit, but these things were great. Backpacks have lots of straps that can get caught on stuff, and they are easily opened by dishonest airline employees, so it was nice to have an added layer of protection. The duffel was also good for Burmese bus rides, as well as any other time we anticipated that our bags might end up getting filthy. Sure, the duffel got yucky, but our packs were always clean!

So, did I forget anything?…

2 Comments

  1. Ed
    May 10, 2012

    Great post! Can I get a demonstration of a “water purifying wand”? Is it as magical as it sounds?

    Reply

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