Us with our packs, saying goodbye at the Pittsburgh airport. I don
In the beginning, I wondered how I would ever condense my life into one backpack and live for one year on the road with just a few items. Turns out it is easier than you might think, and just requires you to plan carefully, simplify and streamline. It was helpful for me to check out other people’s packing lists, so I wanted to return the favor to those who are stressing out about what to bring. Here are some overall tips for packing:
- It all adds up. My pack is about 26 pounds and Sean’s is about 31 pounds. We’re not sure how much the day bag and camera bag weigh, but they are not light. It was tough for me to carry my bag in the beginning, but it is easier now. That being said, it sucks being weighed down once you have to walk any sort of distance. We’re thinking about shedding even more items. We’ve learned that even a pound or two makes a difference.
- Your packing list can be fluid. I agonized a lot over finding the perfect items to bring. While it is important to find stuff that it is comfortable and durable, and bring as little as possible, remember that the packing list doesn’t have to be static once you leave. Most people refine their stuff over the course of their trip – it is always possible to send stuff home or buy new things. We sent things home several times; bought Sean the exact same pair of sandals in Spain two weeks in once he realized the ones he bought were too big; bought me fun Spanish sandals once I realized the ones I selected were uncomfortable; bought Sean new shorts to replace ones that were too big; bought the same camera and a similar camera bag when ours was stolen; and bought lots of toiletries and other tidbits along the way. The economy is international, and you will see many of the same brands across the world. You may not always be able to find EXACTLY what you would have got at home, but it will be close enough.
- Make sure ALL of our outfits are interchangeable and layer well. You will probably still gravitate towards your favorites, but it with limited options, it is important that everything at least doesn’t clash with each other. My outfits work pretty well together, but Sean feels limited sometimes. For example, his favorite shirt is gray, which won’t work with his gray pants. Make sure your clothes layer well also, because weather changes a lot.
- Color your world. For the most part, dark colors are best, particularly for pants, because they hide stains. Black makes me feel dressier, even if the outfit is casual, so I made sure I worked some black in. But you don’t want to bring all black – you will be under the hot sun a lot. I brought a variety – my pants are dark, and my shirts are black, blue, green, and pink. I am definitely sick of wearing the same stuff, but you just fall into a routine. I personally spice things up with jewelery.
- Err on the conservative side. Nothing too short or low-cut. You will have enough attention in certain countries as it is, so you don’t want to add to that.
- The Travel Diet. Some people gain weight when travelling, others lose it. We’ve been lucky and dropped a little weight early on. Even though we eat and drink a lot now, we figure our bodies were used to it because we fell into a routine of eating out way too much before we left. We attribute any weight loss to walking. We both had desk jobs, and are way more active now. Knock on wood that we don’t change again, because our clothes are feeling a little tighter after driving around Ireland and South Africa. It is difficult to buy the right size of travel clothes when your weight will likely be unpredictable. Try to buy clothes that can accommodate a gain or loss and remember a belt.
- Handwashing is the bane of my existence. There’s no way around it; you will need to handwash, so try to get items that wash easily and dry fast, especially socks and underwear. We usually try to machine wash every couple of weeks to get things really clean and wash hard to handwash items like jeans. Even then, a dryer is rarely available (and we don’t use one anyway, because we don’t want anything to shrink).
- Don’t be cheap. Make sure you get items that are durable – now is not the time to skimp. Our stuff and our clothes take a lot of wear and tear.
- Skip the cute shoes. No one has ever been glad they brought the cute shoes. Go for comfort instead. That being said, bring items you can live with, because you will be wearing them all of the time!
- Less is more. I have never read a travel blog or talked to travelers who wished they brought more stuff. There is no doubt about it that when you are carrying your possessions on your back, less is better. But most people need to learn this lesson for themselves. Don’t fret if you think you are taking too much – you can always donate it or send it home on the road.
- Everyone’s packing list is different. Some people can live on seriously minimal amounts of stuff; others require a bit more for their personal minimum. If you want inspiration for packing light, check out Hedgehogs Without Borders.
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