Andrea and I have been on the road for about a year now. We’ve traveled through 11 countries, been everywhere from below sea level to over 5,000 meters, hiked, taken night buses, and attempted to keep this blog up to date. People at home always ask us what we brought with us.
How do you go about choosing the things that will fit in your new mobile home?
Do you plan for hot or cold climates?
What if you can’t buy X item in Y country?
When you are on the road for a while scenery, temperature, activities, and climates all change (sometimes very often) and it can be hard to predict exactly what you’ll be dealing with. It’s tempting to try to bring something for every situation, but you also have to carry all that stuff on your back, so weight is definitely a concern. Hermione’s magic bag that carries everything really would be the ideal solution here, but the rest of us Muggles always have to maintain this balance between utility and weight. We’ve learned that we really don’t need that much to live, but sometimes the little comforts you bring along can make your hostel dorm feel like home.
So what all have we brought along with us?
- Gregory backpacks (Zulu 65-liter for Doug, Jade 63-liter for Andrea)
- With rain covers***
- New Outlander 35-L compressible day bags
When you’re always on the road, your bag is your home. You’ll be spending a LOT of time hauling your stuff around from bus station to hostel to boat and so on, so it’s important to get this one right. We bought our bags at REI after talking to one of their specialists about what would fit us best individually. We opted for more traditional hiking backpacks since we knew we’d be doing a lot of walking and they offer better back support, but other travelers do really like the travel bags that unzip like a suitcase or roll. We got 65 and 63 liter bags, but don’t feel like you need to get such a massive bag. Honestly, our bags have gotten progressively fuller and heavier as we go along buying souvenirs and such, so having a bit less space and not being tempted to buy stuff would be pretty nice. The specialists at REI had sandbags to simulate your stuff and let us walk around the store to test the weight. Get something that’s comfortable. Your tired, sleep-deprived, and sweaty self will thank you when you have to go up that hill at noon in the sun in a few months!
I really like that my bag opens from the top, the middle, and the bottom because it’s pretty easy to get to anything. I use the outside of the “brain” (top part) of my bag to store things I might need to get out quickly, like my rain cover, rain jacket, sunscreen, collapsible day bag, beach towel, and so on. They’re all small and lightweight, so they fit pretty easily. I use the inside for items I’d need inside the hostel, like my hair brush, clothes line, spice kit for cooking… My Zulu bag also came with a small collapsible day bag, which I use for shorter excursions. I use my Outlander collapsible backpack for longer day trips and hikes.
- 9 pairs of travel underwear (easily washed)
- 5 pair of merino wool socks
- Long UnderArmour heat gear bottom
- 2 travel polo shirts.
- 3 T-shirts (wick moisture/sweat)
- 2 long-sleeve travel shirts
- 1 pair of jeans for special occasions
- 2 pair of convertible pants (zip off into shorts)
- Chill pants (black)
- Short hiking boots/shoes
- Hands down the best pair of walking shoes I own. They’re comfy, have great arch support, are easy to clean, and withstand everything. I wear them almost every day.
- Flip flops for the shower and beach.
- Rough Weather
- Long underwear (top and bottom)
- Easily compressed, but warm down jacket
- Hat and gloves
- Rain jacket
- Foldable sun hat (Very important if you’re sensitive to sun like me)
- Lightweight sleeping bag (rated to 0 degrees Celsius)
- We have the Helio Sack from REI. (get new REI link, Helio sack might not be selling anymore)
- Most hostels in cold places we’ve been provide great blankets and we actually end up using the sleeping bags mostly on buses with frigid air conditioning.
- Stuff sacks
- We both use one stuff sack for each “type” of clothing (shirts, pants…), but even if you throw it all in one, you’ll want at least one or two stuff sacks to save on space.
Overall, we’ve tried to bring the right clothing to for “most” climates, knowing that we may need to buy more clothing if we go somewhere super cold. I personally prioritize long sleeves and pants as they not only keep me warm in colder climates, but also protect me from the sun in hotter ones. As you’ll be sweating in and washing these clothes in sinks innumerable times, it’s important to bring durable, quick-drying clothing if you can. I’d bring one outfit for “nicer” occasions as it’s really nice to dress up for a dinner or going out every once in a while, but not anything you’d be heartbroken to lose or break.
ID and Finances
- Driver’s license
- Vaccination record (important for crossing some borders)
- Debit card
- Credit cards (be sure to find one with no international fees). We recommend Chase Sapphire.
- Prepaid Visa gift cards (back up money for emergencies)
Every person’s strategy will vary here depending on where you’re from and what’s available. Make sure you have backup ways of getting money and that you have access to photos/copies of your documents online in case you lose them. I generally take a driver’s license, cash, and backup credit card for the day and only take my debit card if we’re running low on cash.
I’d also highly recommend taking photos of your ID and saving them in a secure location online so that you can prove who you are if you lose something. Photocopies of your passport are also very useful.
- Small backpack to hold it all
- Travel adaptor
- Computer (I use an old Surface Pro 3)
- Kindle (I highly recommend one of these for reading as they’re unobtrusive, small, and have great battery life.)
- External hard drive and small USB pen drive (for photo and media storage)
- Project Fi phones (Nexus 6P and 5X)
- External battery (We use Jackery Titans)
- Various charging cables and adaptors.
Bringing tech on the road, especially computers, is inherently risky. Remember the cardinal rule: if you couldn’t stand losing it, don’t bring it! We travel with computers so that we can maintain our blog, work on a few freelance projects to help fund our journey, and keep up with our personal lives (family, friends, finances…). It’s also a huge luxury to have a computer-sized screen to watch a movie on every now and again. Since we’re on the road for so long, we decided lightweight computers were worth it for us, but many travelers go without or just bring a smaller tablet. Most people we’ve met seem to have at least a smartphone and ear buds.
- Travel towel (we have Turkish towels)
- Toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss
- Hair brush and beard comb
- Soap and shampoo bars (we prefer these to liquid shampoo as they’re lighter)
- Anti-fungal cream
- Toilet paper (you always need to have some on you, believe me)
- Nail clippers, scissors…
- Med Kit:
- Hydrogen peroxide (for cuts)
- Vitamin C packs (for when we get are getting sick)
- Pepto bismol, Imodium, and dramamine (for tummy trouble and motion sickness)
- Afrin (decongestant)
- Bug spray
- Anti-malarial drugs
- Every traveler should bring:
- Nalgene water bottle
- Ear plugs and eye mask (for sleeping on buses and in hostels)
- Travel washing line and universal sink plug (for washing clothes)
- Money belt
- In the wild
- Steri-Pen and Life-Straw (we use the steri-pen a good amount and recommend the one that can be recharged)
- 3-liter bladder
- Travel spork
- Collapsible Tupperware
- Spice kit (zip lock bags with various spices and seasonings for cooking)
- Lightweight beach towel
- Deck of cards
- LOTS of zip lock and plastic bags.
- Things spill, it happens. I always carry plastic bags with me to wrap the sunscreen, bug spray and anything else that might get everything dirty.
- Every traveler should bring:
Everyone brings all kinds of different stuff here. As you can see, we brought stuff to cook and camp mostly.
Everything in life is constant learning. We have changed the contents of our backpacks constantly as we go, adding and subtracting as we gain experience. Our next goal is to get rid of even more things. Our big bags currently weigh about 18 kg each, we want to decrease weight. Having a lighter pack allows you to walk more without feeling crushed by the weight. When you’re trying to compare hostel prices, trying to get to a bus station cheaply, or just made a wrong turn, that can make a BIG difference. It’s definitely tempting to bring everything you think you might need, but remember that people live where you’re going. Chances are, unless you’re camping in the wilderness, you’ll be able to buy anything you really need. We’ve often found that we simply don’t need that much.
What to bring is always a personal decision and I recommend you take time thinking about what’s important for you, but always remember WEIGHT. Andrea and I packed and re-packed our bags for weeks and even brought them on walks and hikes in Seattle to get a feel for what life would be like with so many or so few things. After the first big uphill in Capitol Hill, we decided to leave a few more things at home!
I’d also recommend taking a look at Travel Independent and reading their packing guide, which was super helpful for me.