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You’re leaving the country for a year. What do you pack?
It took me 6 months to finish answering this question. Not only did people say I was crazy when I told them I’d be trying to do it with a 32 liter bag, they said it wasn’t possible.
I ended up leaving the country with a 26 liter backpack.
Traveling as light as possible was the driving factor because of the freedom it allows (and partially just to see if I could do it).
When a 26 L backpack is all I have:
- There's no need to check baggage
- I don't look touristy
- I have more mobility
- Less dependent on finding a place to store/lockup my bag
I believe in quality over quantity. Why should traveling be any different?
After acquiring stuff I didn’t really need all my life, it was a huge step to sell it all and leave with only a 26L backpack. Even after my cutbacks, there are still items I could probably get rid of.
When deciding on gear, I looked at weight, compressibility and functionality.
Here is the final list (with my comments and ratings):
Kikkerland uL03-A Universal Travel Adapter
Every multi-country adapter I've seen is HUGE. This adapter can transform. Yeah, like a Transformer. It's amazingly well designed, small, flat, compact and can transform to convert to any outlet for any country. A must have for any international traveler.
Packtowl UltraLite XL (3.1 oz.)
This is a full size towel that compacts down to a little bigger than a notecard and it’s ultra-absorbent and quick drying.
I went on a live aboard scuba trip, we did 11 dives in 3 days, I showered and dried off after every dive and this thing was never wet and always got me completely dry.
Exofficio Give-N-Go Boxer Briefs
The Exofficio boxer briefs come with the tag line: “17 countries. 6 weeks. One pair of award-winning underwear. (Ok, maybe two.)”
They aren’t made out of merino wool like the Icebreaker ones below, so I decided to try them both. They each work great in the sense of being odor resistant and quick to dry.
However, I like Exofficio better (shouldn't have even bought the icebreaker ones) because the legs are longer so they don’t bunch up and they have a pee hole (don’t know what the actual term for this is). These will be the only underwear I ever buy in the future.
The Exofficio briefs also make a great swimsuit and I fit right in with the Europeans.
Icebreaker Beast 150 Anatomica Boxer (x2)
The Icebreaker briefs have no pee-hole opening and are quite see thru, which is a bummer as I’m a big fan of prancing around in just my undies.
They are made out of merino wool but they get bunched up while walking because the legs are so short.
I bought 2 pairs, when really I should have bought 3 pairs of the Exofficio briefs.
20oz Klean Kanteen Insulated Water Bottle
I filled this up a quarter of the way with ice and the rest water, 24 hours later there were still ice cubes jingle-janglin’.
Hot liquid will still be hot 6 hours later and still warm 12 hours later.
How does it work? SCIENCE, SON!
RayBan 54mm Foldable Wayfarers
I have always loved wayfarers (even before the hipsters thought they were cool).
The folding version are a perfect design to eliminate the bulky and awkward-to-pack issues I always have with sunglasses.
Eagle Creek Undercover Neck Wallet
I wear this strapped around my waist under my pants (can also be wore around the neck).
It carries my passport, immunization documentation, the big-pappi cash, ID, credit cards, etc.
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Dream Essentials Sweet Dreams Contoured Sleep Mask with Earplugs
Blocks out a great amount of light and because it’s contoured you can blink your eyes without interference.
The earplugs are standard foam and the carrying case isn't anything special (mine fell apart after about a month).
Since I’m traveling alone it’s nice to have a versatile tri-pod like this.
It can be wrapped around poles, trees, pets, etc. for photos and it's light and compact.
How else am I supposed to take epic selfies?!
Moleskine Classic Large Plain Notebook
This is for jotting down trip highlights, notes, plans, expenses, learning experiences, meals, ideas, directions etc.
It’s so suave looking it almost makes up for my unstylish shoes.
Griffen USB Mini-Cable Kit
The package comes with an Apple charger, and micro and mini USB cables.
Perfect for connecting to a laptop or right to the wall to charge instead of having to lug around the bulky cables that came with the device.
This thing is sweet. It attaches to my keychain so I have quick access to a mini-pen or PDA stylus (so handy these days).
It easily converts to a full size pen when I’m getting my journal on, and the ink is pressurized, so I can write upside down, underwater or in space!
The problem is the pen runs out of ink very quickly so bring replacements.
Icebreaker Apollo V-Neck
Light every day wear shirt.
I like Icebreaker because everything is made from Merino Wool. It keeps you warm when it's cold, cool when it's hot, dries quickly and is extremely odor resistant.
Icebreaker Tech Polo
Light every day wear shirt, but with a collar, for those days when I’m feeling fancy.
Also made from Merino Wool.
Icebreaker LS Outback
A thick, long-sleeved full button down shirt with collar, for those days when I’m feeling fancy AND it’s nippy out.
It's a great over shirt and extra layer when it's too cold for short sleeves but not cold enough for a full jacket.
Icebreaker Men’s Distance Short
I use these as pajamas, workout shorts and as a swimsuit (they have inter-net...) which is great on laundry day so I can wash all my undies.
Unfortunately, they don’t have pockets.
Icebreaker Multisport Lite Mini Sock
I brought two different pairs socks with me to test different brands. Both made out of Merino Wool
They are the first legitimate, nice socks I’ve ever owned.
They are like bras for your feet—nothing gets bunched, everything is tight and supported where it needs to be and they are so soft and cushion-y.
Smartwool PhD Running Light Micro Sock
I bought both a medium height sock and a low cut sock, for no reason in particular.
These developed a hole pretty quickly, which is why the rating is lower.
Patagonia Super Shell Jacket
There are many rain shells out on the market but I picked this one mostly because I found it on sale at the time.
it’s light and compact (and has a hood)--I can roll it up into the size of a Fosters beer can and it's built with GORE-TEX® Paclite® shell technology and weighs 13.5 oz.
Mont-Bell Ex-Light Down Jacket
This jacket is amazingly warm, ultra-compact and light. It fits into an included stuff sack that is about the size of a Fosters beer can.
The sizes are a bit small though (the jacket is made to be worn in layers and close to your body) so keep that in mind if buying one.
Prana Zion Pant
There’s nothing really special about these travel pants.
I chose them because they look like normal pants that aren’t covered in cargo pockets or convertible to shorts. They are light and breathable and can be rolled up and buttoned when I’m wearing sandals.
Yes, these are the only pants I brought. Jeans are too bulky and heavy and who really notices when you’re wearing the same pants all the time? That was my reasoning at least.
Arc’Teryx Spiro Cap
Even though I look terrible in hats due to my enormous “cabeza de marro” (the cooks in the restaurant I worked at called me this, I was told it means: head like a sledge hammer), I knew I needed one for my pale complexion.
This cap can be folded into a tiny shape without hurting the brim, dries quickly and the back can be unrolled for full ear and neck coverage. Total Dad hat.
Invisible Shoes Connect 4mm Barefoot Sandal
I knew I wanted the option to have both close-toed shoes and sandals, but I knew they needed to be compactable.
I settled on invisible shoes. They are pretty much the most minimalistic shoe you can get. They are just a 4mm piece of rubber with string to hold them on your foot, which makes it possible to be rolled up and stuffed into my bag.
I love to read so I'm loading up the kindle with some books I've been meaning to read and hitting the road with it instead of having to worry about lugging around books.
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Sony NEX 5
I chose this camera because it's more powerful than a point and shoot and not as complicated as a professional camera, since I'm still quite the amateur.
However, it has interchangeable lenses, it's small and compact, and takes great photos.
Kodak Play Sport
A more rugged, 5 megapixel camera/video camera that is waterproof down to 3 meters.
I bought it before the go-pro came out and after playing with one of those, I think I’d rather have a go-pro. However, the Kodak takes decent photos/videos and I plan on using it during the more rugged adventures.
Sony Vaio Z-Series
- Intel Core i7 (2.7GHz with turbo boost up to 3.4GHz)
- 8GB RAM- 13.1″ LED Full HD display (1920 x 1080)
- 128GB Solid state drive
- .66 inches thick and 2.5 pounds.
AC Bel VGP-AC19V32 Laptop AC Adapter
The adapter that came standard with my laptop was awkward and bulky.
This adapter is much smaller and lighter and a much better shape (flat) for packing in a backpack.
Fenix LD15 Flashlight
The flashlight is very small (a little larger than the single AA battery that powers it), but very bright. It also has a candle setting which I have used to read at night when others are sleeping.
Seagate 1.5TB HDD
The 128 GB in the Vaio isn’t enough room for all the photos/videos I plan on taking during the trip so this is a nice supplement.
Rick Steves Travel Gear Clothesline
The clothesline is made out of braided surgical tubing so you can stretch it to accommodate all kinds of living situations.
Because it’s braided, you can separate the braid and stick your clothes in to hang without clothes pins.
It's well made but unnecessary unless you plan on camping a lot.
Sea To Summit 100% Premium Silk Travel Liner (Traveler Size)
This will only keep you about 10 degrees warmer, but I plan to use it for protection from shady hostels or couches rather than warmth.
It’s extremely light and stuffs into a bag that fits in the palm of my hand.
This is where I keep my daily spending money as well as 20 US 1 dollar bills, which gives the illusion I’m carrying a decent amount of money.
It is also packed with expired credit cards, old hotel room key cards and any other cards I could find that I wouldn’t mind losing.
The idea is that if I were to get mugged, I could hand them this throw this in the air and run away screaming while the thieves are preoccupied with the money flying everywhere. I also wouldn’t be too upset if it got pick-pocketed.
Note: You can now buy these from Decoy Wallet instead of making your own. You can read a guest post by Chris, the founder of the company, on how he used kickstarter to start his business and fund his travels here.
The fates of the universe definitely have a sense of humor. 7 weeks before I left, they decided to introduce me to a wonderfully splendid individual.
Our first official day of being together was the day I left on this yearlong trip.
She wrote me a letter for every flight destination I have, as well as letters for when it rains, when I miss her, etc., so there are about 20 of those in my bag as well.
- Montrail Streak Trail Shoe
- I/O Bio Merino ¾ tight
- Foursquare mittens with glove liners
- Face mask
- Neck Tube Scarf
- San Disk Cruzer 8 GB Flash Drive
- Apple iPhone 4 with headphones
- Sony NEX 5 Battery Charger
- USB to power outlet adapter.
Bags & Organization
Tom Bihn 26 L Smart Alec Backpack
I chose this backpack because of the great organization and because it's made of durable and heavy duty material. The bag is also equipped with aquaguard zippers to keep the contents dry when it’s raining.
My favorite thing is that It also looks like a daypack and is a solid unassuming color so it doesn’t scream tourist/backpacker.
Tom Bihn Clear Organizer Pouch (Small)
This Pouch Holds:
- Travel Adapter
- NEX Battery Charger
- Griffen USB Cables
- USB Thumb Drive
- USB to wall outlet converter
Tom Bihn Padded Organizer Pouch (Mini)
This Pouch Holds the 1.5 Tb external hard-drive.
Both of these pouches hook into the side pocket of the backpack.
Tom Bihn Laptop Air13 Vertical Cache
Extra protection for the laptop.
I made sure to get the vertical cache because then it makes it very easy to access the laptop while it's in the backpack.
Eagle Creek Pack-it 2-Sided Half Cube
Holds most of my cold weather gear: my mittens with glove liners, beanie, face mask, neck tube scarf, long underwear and icebreaker long sleeve button down shirt.
Tom Bihn Kit
Holds all of my non-liquid toiletries:
- Gold Bond
- First Aid/Sewing Kit
- Nail Clippers
- Medicine - Nyquil, Imodium AD, Motrin, Claritin, Excedrin for migranes
Tom Bihn 3D Clear Organizer
Holds all of my liquid toiletries:
- Face wash
- Eye Drops
I have been traveling for over 3 weeks now and as I’ve told the people I’ve encountered, “I have everything I need, just not very much of it.”
The freedom to just pick up and leave is remarkable. Everyone I have met wishes they didn’t pack so much.
I saw a traveler walking to the train station with a 70+ L backpack, another backpack the size of mine strapped to their front and another bag in their hand. They looked miserable.
Pack less, and if you can’t live without something, buy it on the road.
The lack of restriction is very liberating and I wouldn’t recommend traveling any other way.
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It has been quite an adventure so far. I’m in Newcastle, Australia, on my way back down to Sydney after a 3 week journey that took me up to Cairns and back along the stunning landscape of the Australian east coast.
A special thanks to Becky for letting me stay at her place here in Newcastle to do some hardcore R&R, to Shannon for editing this post and to Tynan for the inspiration for a majority of this gear.
On October 2, I leave for New Zealand, where I will embark on a 14 day road trip across the north and south islands that hits around 50 different destinations (an aggressive plan that will probably change when reality smacks me in the face and says nope).