One of the most common questions I'm asked by those preparing to depart on a backpacking journey of their own is: what's in your pack? After over thirteen months vagabonding through India, SE Asia, South America and Europe, I have some opinions about what to take and what to leave behind. Here are some packing tips for longterm, around the world travel:
- Osprey Farpoint 55L with detachable daypack (I adore this backpack. It's easy to carry, it's small enough to qualify as carry-on luggage, and being able to zip up the shoulder straps is a gloriously smart design detail. I also love the size limitation because it forces me to ship purchases home or to refrain from buying things at all.)
- 4 compression sacks (If your backpack is your portable dresser, consider these the "drawers." Indispensable for organizing clothing in my pack.)
- Shoulder purse (To carry larger SLR camera)
- Extra ziplock bags
- Custom leather money belt, worn on shoulder or waist (I had this made by artisan friends in Bali. It's something I have strapped onto me at almost all times. Besides the basic contents of any normal wallet, inside I carry: a safety whistle, earplugs, a few Tylenol, and tissues (read: toilet paper in India) An essential item for any travel packing list.
- 1 down vest
- 1 long sleeve fleece
- Sierra Designs rain jacket
- 1 long sleeve hoodie
- 1 Capri length shorts
- 1 pair shorts
- 1 pair jeans
- Redram long underwear thermal bottoms
- Redram thermal top
- Long sleeve white UV sun protective shirt
- Long sleeve button down collar shirt for sun protection
- 3 T-shirts
- 4 tank tops
- 1 sports bra
- 2 regular bras
- 7 cotton undies
- 3 wool socks, 2 short cotton socks
- 1 bikini
- 1 sarong (Important and versatile! Can be used to cover exposed shoulders when entering holy temples, worn as a skirt or beach dress, or used as a lightweight sheet or towel.)
- 1 Scarf (more acquired along the road)
- Half mittens/ wrist warmers (for style and warmth)
- Buff UV head scarf (I'm a big fan of this little piece of cloth because it's so versatile, kind of like a bandana. I use it as a headband for my hair, to protect my neck from the sun, or to cover my mouth and nose if the air is really dusty, dirty or cold.)
- REI quick dry pants - While lightweight and easy to wash, I hardly wore these because they are made with synthetic material and thus not breathable in tropical humid climates (read: heat rash). Maybe an item to leave behind next time.
- Prana Amaya sleeveless dress - While this dress is cotton making it comfortable in humid weather, I discovered that in many of the countries on my journey I could not go around with exposed shoulders and lower legs due to cultural expectations. I ended up sending this dress home early on.
- Running shoes
- Walking shoes (An extra pair of supportive shoes is important for me as I have a chronic foot problem. Even though it takes up extra space in the pack, I haven't regretted it.)
- Keen water sandals
- Black flip flops - I ended up abandoning these at some point. They were taking up too much space and I hardly wore them.
* Oral Rehydration Salts (Essential for preventing dehydration, especially if you are hit with diarrhea.)
- Anti-histamine pills
- Anti-diarrheal, Imodium AD (But only take if it's an emergency, such as if you have to get on a plane and know you won't have easy toilet access. You don't want to trap those nasty bacteria in your stomach otherwise.)
- Nasal decongestant
- Dramamine (sea sickness)
- Charcoal tablets (Absorbs bad stuff if you feel stomach upset after eating something funky.)
- Antibiotic ointment (Neosporin)
- Anti-itch topical cream
- Moleskin (for blisters)
- Second skins (for blisters or burns)
- Alcohol wipes
- Small sutures/stitches
- Ciprofloxacin (for nasty bacteria in digestive system, totally necessary in India and SE Asia)
- Cephalexin (antibiotic, useful for skin infection in tropical areas)
- Fluconazole or Monistat (for ladies)
- Metronidazole (for dysentery)
- Malarone (for Malaria)
- Pain killer (for emergency)
- Birth control (Plan B for emergency)
Note: If your American doctor gives you a hard time about prescribing some of these or the cost is too much, I recommend picking them up in Thailand if it's on your route. Medications there are super cheap and readily available at pharmacies everywhere, it kind of puts the US to shame.
- Nail clippers
- Ear plugs (for peaceful sleep in youth hostels or on loud overnight buses)
- Mini shampoo & conditioner
- Dr Bronners soap
- Mini scrubby
- Small hair brush
- Hair ties
- Wet wipes
- Lip balm
- Extra tampons (not readily available in some parts of Asia)
- Small sewing kit
- Tiger Balm - Works like a dream to prevent itching mosquito bites or to relieve sore muscles.
- Prickly Heat Cooling powder - I discovered this wonder while in tropical Thailand. Being of Eastern European descent, I don't do so well with humidity. Dusting myself with this absorbent powder, which contains essential oils, was a lifesaver.
- Toilet paper - It sounds crazy now, but once you're in India and other parts of Asia you will realize that most public restrooms and many hotels and hostels do not supply TP. You can pick this up at general stores along the way once you arrive.
- 11" Macbook Air + charger
- Portable laptop stand if you'll be working remotely and want good ergonomics
- Seagate 1TB small portable hard drive for photo back-up + USB cord
- Canon EOS Rebel T3i + charger + extra battery
- iPhone unlocked + charger (I use Instagram regularly, and upload whenever I find wifi or have a SIM card with data)
- Canon Powershot SD940 + charger + extra battery (As a photographer, having an emergency back-up camera just in case my larger camera was stolen was important to me.)
- 2 extra 16 GB USB sticks for back-up
- 4 extra 8GB + 2 extra 32GB camera cards (To mail home as a back-up when full)
- Sea to Summit waterproof ultra-sil nylon dry bag (This has come in handy a few times in watery situations. I keep my small camera, iPhone and extra camera cards inside.)
- SteriPEN Freedom + USB charger (The UV rays kill bacteria in water making it clean and safe to drink. It's also a sustainable way to avoid buying plastic bottles daily.)
- Electrical converters: Europe/ Middle East + Australia/NZ/Fiji/China + England/Africa/Hong Kong/Singapore
- Belkin 3-outlet surge protector and USB charger (Totally necessary for recharging multiple electronics simultaneously.)
- Mophie Powerstation Juice Pack (A small portable USB battery charger helpful for powering my iPhone while on the go. Important since I shoot Instagram images constantly.)
- Kindle + charger - I went through two Kindles over the course of nine months. Both broke and Amazon would not replace them. In the middle of India I finally gave up on carrying the weight of an e-reader. Now I read my already purchased e-books on the Kindle app on my iPhone and pick up paperback books from other travelers on the road.
- Sun hat
- Ultrathon insect repellent 34% DEET
- Safety whistle (for emergency)
- Packtowel Original absorbent travel towel
- Rain poncho
- Sea to Summit silk sleep sack (essential for questionable sleeping situations)
- 2 combination locks for packs
- Sea to Summit Lite Line clothesline
- Door stop (for security when sleeping in youth hostels)
- Nalgene water bottle
- Carabiner (for clipping my water bottle to my backpack, or for clipping my backpack to a post for security while on a long train ride)
- Black Diamond Cosmo headlamp + extra batteries (an indispensable item useful for late night arrivals in the hostel dormitory, night hikes, power outages, etc)
- Customized Moo mini business cards (A fun conversation starter and novelty to give new friends. People loved selecting a card, which I had customized with photos from my previous travels.)
- Point-it dictionary - I never used this while in Asia, but perhaps it will be useful in South America.
- Passport + required visas (India, China, Myanmar and Brazil were the countries I visited that required visas in advance)
- Second valid passport (see below)
- Yellow immunization card with proof of all vaccines
- Driver's license
- 3 credit cards
- Extra passport photos (for obtaining visas on arrival)
- Travel neck wallet (to carry your passport and credit cards securely in questionable areas)
- Moleskin journal + pen
BEFORE YOU GO
It's a good idea to email yourself and a reliable family member a PDF with copies of the following documents: passport + visas + driver's license + immunizations + credit cards + Will + Advanced Health Directive.
If you're worried about getting sick in places where sanitation is a concern, this is a great book to read before your trip: How to Shit Around the World: The Art of Staying Clean and Healthy While Traveling by Dr. Jane Wilson-Howarth. The key to avoiding sickness is to be sure to eat fresh hot-cooked foods. The heat kills those nasty foreign bacteria.
Bet you didn't know acquiring a second US passport was even possible! Well it is, but you have to apply and pay for it. If you'll be traveling in the Middle East or if you'll need to send away your passport to obtain a visa in advance while on the go, the State Department will offer you a second limited passport. The catch is, it expires within two years versus the regular ten. You also have to be careful while traveling with two valid passports. Should a foreign customs officer find both, it could cause some confusion and suspicion. The government recommends that you always carry each passport in a separate bag.
VISAS IN ADVANCE
Be sure to start research on this a good six months or earlier in advance of departure. Requirements vary from country to country, but if you're visiting several places that require advance visas, it may take a few weeks to process each. If you're an American citizen, you can double check requirements with the State Department here. Large countries that notoriously need visas before entering include: India, China, Brazil, Myanmar, Vietnam, Bhutan. Many countries charge a fee for a visa upon arrival at the airport, but you don't have to worry about those until you get there. Check out this mini guide to see when you do and don't need a visa.
Visit a doctor and double check your vaccinations well in advance of your trip as some require follow-up doses as much as six months apart. Some countries in South America require proof of the Yellow Fever vaccine upon arrival. Other vaccines vary depending on country and risk. I keep the following vaccines up to date: Yellow Fever, Typhoid, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Polio, Tdap, Meningitis, MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella). Additional vaccines that I chose to bypass because of my travel itinerary and cost were: Japanese Encephalitis and Rabies. But your doctor knows best. Visit the Centers for Disease Control Prevention (CDC) for more info.
TRAVEL MEDICAL INSURANCE
While I haven't needed it yet, I think travel medical insurance is a good idea in case of a major emergency. After some research, the IMG sponsored Patriot International Travel Medical is the plan I settled on. It's reasonably priced and would cover me in case something really big, bad and expensive happened. If you're not sold on that plan, here's a useful comparison site with more options.
CELL PHONES ABROAD
I extracted my iPhone from the wrath of AT&T, managed to get them to unlock it (good luck!) and ported my number to Google Voice. This allows me to retain my phone number while receiving both voice and text messages in my email inbox. It also allows me to swap SIM chips while traveling from country to country. Side note: after the process of breaking free from my contract as well as my newfound understanding of how cheap cell phone services are in other countries, I have realized that I will never be signing another annual contract with a US cell provider again.
It's really cheap and easy to buy SIM cards in pretty much all countries (besides the US). In many instances you can even just buy a SIM card as you're exiting the airport of your respective destination. In particular, I recommend doing this immediately in India in order to avoid a day's worth of paperwork (including the otherwise required copies of a local residential utility bill).
VIRTUAL LIFELINE BACK HOME
I found it extremely helpful to have a reliable family member back home on the ground who was willing to be on call for various random tasks. For example, were it not for my helper who routed my tax papers to my tax lady, I would not have been able to file my taxes remotely. When our credit cards were stolen, my helper was able to FedEx one of the replacement cards to me. It's a good idea to re-route your mail to this kind person, and thank them profusely for being your virtual lifeline back in the homeland.
Don't stress out too much. Once you're on the road, you'll realize that you don't actually need that many things to get along. The lighter the pack, the better. Even if you discover something's missing, you can almost always buy it wherever you are. I was surprised to find that I can get by just fine with a few basic clothing items. Hand-washing becomes a habit, too. When you wear a limited amount of clothing for nine months straight, and when you travel in countries where washing machines are nonexistent, things begin to wear thin (I still find the Indian washing technique of slapping cloth to rock both amusing and perplexing). Chances are, you'll be happy to leave behind a T-shirt here and there and replace it with a new one anyways.
Still worried about what to pack? Is there something I didn't cover here about long-term travel that you have questions about? Feel free to contact me about your travel packing list, or leave a note below.