A number of people have asked what I take with me for long overseas trips, and how I travel with no backpack or checked baggage. I’m getting ready to head out on the road again in about 10 days, so this is a good opportunity to review how it works for me.
The biggest secret: packing light is actually easier than bringing a ton of stuff.
The overriding philosophy of my packing list is to keep it as simple as possible. That’s basic, I know, but very important. At least for me, travel stress is directly proportionate to the amount of stuff I carry around. I don’t own a backpack and haven’t willingly checked a bag on one of my extended adventures.
Whenever I see people lugging huge bags around or waiting at the carousel hoping that their suitcase arrived intact, I always remember how glad I am to avoid that. It’s not just about simplicity, although I like that too. It’s also about the fact that if you carry less stuff, you worry a lot less. I mostly worry about my passport, wallet, money, and laptop bag — things that are always with me.
When I take off to Haiti, Guyana, Suriname, and the Dominican Republic (with a couple of stopovers along the way) late next week, this is everything I’ll take with me. This time I’m only going to one major region, but my gear is consistent pretty much anywhere I go. The only difference if I’m going to cold and hot climates on the same trip is to add a sweater and change the light jacket for a slightly heavier one.
By far the biggest space in my bag is taken up with running shoes and light workout clothes. I don’t do as much running on a typical trip as I do at home, but whenever I have the chance to exercise, I’d be sad if I couldn’t do something for lack of shoes. At some point I’ll write about all the countries I’ve ran in– off the top of my head, my favorites include Ghana, Macedonia, South Africa, Brunei (not my favorite country in general, but good for running), Easter Island, and Laos.
The rest of the clothes are simple and versatile. One pair of slacks, one pair of jeans, one dress shirt, two or three t-shirts, the basics for socks and underwear. I’ll try to do laundry at least once along the way, preferably twice, but it doesn’t always happen. If necessary, I’ll just go out and buy a new shirt or whatever I need along the way.
I learned this trick in India, where I was going to a new city and the laundry place was not able to wash my clothes before leaving. I went on the street and bought a whole new outfit for about $7, which I wore for the next two days before giving to a beggar in the train station. I thought of it as “renting” an outfit for $3.50 a day.
I like to collect amenity kits from the airline and give them to people at hostels or guesthouses, who are usually thrilled to receive them. The ones pictured here are from Delta and Cathay Pacific. I’ve been wearing contact lenses for so long that I can wear them anywhere – long plane flights, the Persian Gulf, etc.
The only things I absolutely need are my passport, tickets (I’m still using paper tickets from the last Round-the-World trip), and money. I travel with cash – U.S. dollars, in 20s, 50s, and 100s – always new bills with no writing on them. (If you ask for them like that at the bank, they know what you need and will give you only new bills.)
I usually take about $800-1000 in cash with me on a typical two-week trip. I don’t always use that much, but naturally I’d rather bring money back than get stuck without it. Of course, I also take two credit cards, but the fees for overseas transactions are so high that I prefer to use cash whenever possible.
Right after the passport(s), tickets, and cash, I always make sure I have my journal and notebook. The iPod Touch complements these items and helps me check email anywhere there is wi-fi.
I don’t have a world phone yet – I just use Skype. I met a random guy in Johannesburg recently who kept trying to sell me on some telecom service that I could use “anywhere in the world with an internet connection.” I was like, uh, Skype? Yes, he said, but his service was only $50 a month. Uh, Skype is free? Yes, he said, but you can also do video with his service. Uh… I finally gave up and took his business card.
I take several books, a big stack of magazines, and my Nintendo DS on every trip. Yes, I am usually the only guy in the Business Class cabin playing video games, but I don’t care.
Here are a few more photos of the rest of the cargo:
Note: due to space limitations, Liberia the cat does not usually accompany me on my journeys. She likes to sleep in the bag when I’m home, though.
Other than the jacket and scarf that I wear, all of the items are packed into the one carry-on bag and one laptop bag that you see here. I also take a much smaller handbag with me (on the bottom right, next to Liberia) that gets packed into the carry-on. I bought this in Hong Kong a while back and use it to carry my notebooks and iPod when walking around during the day.
I also take 2-3 Clif Bars, a travel alarm clock that fits in a side pocket, electrical adapters, and a couple of things that may vary from place to place. However, at least 90% of this packing list is consistent no matter where I am going and no matter how long I’ll be away.
I’d like to say the packing process takes only about 20 minutes, but in reality it’s usually longer. An additional 20 minutes or so is spent looking for stuff, checking papers, and wondering “What am I forgetting?” (This never really gets easier.)
I know that many people are more organized and efficient than I am with packing, but this way works great for me. I’m looking forward to getting back out on the road!
Any questions? Do you have a packing strategy of your own?