"Wow. So what do you pack for a year of travel?"
I get this question usually about 5 minutes into telling people about my upcoming trip. For me, part of travel hacking, especially for a long-term trip like the Year of Deviation, involves figuring out how to be as free and flexible as possible. This means unburdening myself from having to carry around lots of heavy luggage.
I laugh at myself looking back at how I used to travel. On a 5-week trip to England a few years ago, I checked an enormous suitcase, had a carry-on suitcase, and a backpack. I thought this was traveling light. But then I recall the checked bag was incredibly cumbersome at about 8lbs over the weight limit when I arrived at the airport. I almost got charged a hefty fee for that monstrosity if it hadn't been for some last minute adjustments.
Lugging all of that baggage around terminals, onto buses, into taxis, and over uneven, cobblestone English streets was just a nightmare. Why did I do that to myself? When I got there I ended up only using about 1/4 of the stuff. And I could have gotten by just fine on about 1/8 of the stuff. I vowed I would never burden myself like that again.
After reading many blogs on how to travel light long-term, I realized there is no singular or correct way to pack a bag for every traveler. I've read through packing list, after packing list, after packing list, and they were all different. They had some similarities, but generally they were tailored to the individual traveler. By reading through all of those packing lists, I was able to tailor my own list. So now I'm giving back and contributing my personal list to the travel blogging world. Perhaps it'll help you get started on your own list.
Below I outline everything that is going with me on my year-long trip. I have been configuring and reconfiguring my packing list for several months. After all, taking one carry-on sized bag around the world for a year means being very thoughtful about what to take and what to leave behind.
Starting with the bag: The MEI Voyager backpack. I learned about this pack through Onebag.com. After researching many bags, this is the one that I decided on because of its versatility (easily converts from backpack to shoulder bag), durability (sturdy YKK zippers, tear-resistant Condura material) comfort (supportive hip straps and padded shoulder straps), size (40L, 22' × 14' × 9', the carry-on limit), and design (doesn't really look like a touristy "backpackers" bag).
I've been testing this bag out on shorter, domestic trips since December 2012 and have been very happy with every aspect of it. The MEI Voyager has three compartments: a large inner compartment, a very small interior pocket (for quick items like keys, phone, wallet), and a single large outer pocket. The minimal compartments may seem inconvenient to some, but I appreciate the extra space and customizability that three compartments afford.
Packing cubes (and shoe bags) are zippered or draw-string inserts that help me customize and organize the contents of my bag into sections of my choosing. This is especially useful since the MEI Voyager has that large inner compartment that is just begging to be filled with "stuff."
All that stuff can get really annoying to rummage through without packing cubes to hold it all together. Eagle Creek cubes have been the best for me, especially their Spectre line which are super light and thin (less added weight to carry around).
Then, of course, there's my packing list. The following is the list of all the contents of my bag as of 4 days before my departure for the Year of Deviation:
Clothing & Accessories:
All clothing was carefully considered with a few key elements in mind. I looked for items that would be comfortable and light-weight, particularly the shoes. I needed items that were designed to last many wears and washes since I would be wearing and hand-washing the same clothing on a weekly basis.
I wanted items that wick moisture so I can wear them comfortably in hot climates and are odor-resistant so I can wear them multiple times without smelling (e.g., Merino wool items). I chose colors that can easily be paired with each other without clashing, that can layer, and that can be worn in different ways/for different looks.
The choosing process took a lot of trial and error. I had to be sure I loved every piece. My goal was to make every item like your go-to pants that look and feel good with anything you put on ever. To give you an idea, I edited this list up through the very last trip I took (Oregon) and I imagine it will evolve more as I travel.
- 2 pairs comfy sneakers/walking shoes, waterproof, odor-resistant (Naturalizer BZees)*
- 1 pair dress up/down shoes (Minnetonka)
- 1 pair flip flops (Airwalk)
- 3 pairs underwear (ExOfficio)
- 2 bras (ExOfficio) and 1 sports bra (Xersion)
- 4 pairs socks (Smartwool)
- 5 tank tops (2 Icebreaker, 1 Xersion)
- 2 short sleeve shirts (2 Xersion)
- 2 long-sleeve button down over-shirts
- 1 sweater/sweatshirt (Icebreaker)
- 2 pants, 1 skinny and 1 wide (ExOfficio)
- 1 leggings (Icebreaker)
- 1 black dress (Ibex)
- 1 swim shorts (also for sleeping and everyday wear)
- 2 bikini tops, 1 bikini bottom
- 2 lightweight scarves
- 1 multipurpose heavy scarf (doubles as satchel/purse/handbag)
- 1 rain jacket (Quikpac)
- 1 pair sunglasses w/ case
- 1 pair eyeglasses w/ case
- pouch with inexpensive jewelry
- Gloves and earmuffs (will probably leave behind in Iceland)
It's amazing how much we don't need regarding toiletries when we travel. Unless you're super specific about the products you buy, whatever you run out of you can buy anywhere in the world.
I do have a few issues that add to the bulk in my bag, though:
(1) my bad eyes require 2-week disposable lenses and other necessities; and (2) mosquitoes love me wherever I go so DEET is a must.
I also need to be able to do laundry anywhere at any time since my clothing is so limited. Some gear was added to this list to enable me to easily wash my own clothes.
- superabsorbent XL towel (Packtowl)
- wash cloth (Salux)
- hard perfume
- multi-purpose unscented soap (Dr. Bronner's)
- razor w/ 4 extra blades (Schick)
- shave oil (Somerset's)
- DIVA cup and wash (forget about tampons/pads!)
- hair paste (Joico)
- foldable toothbrush
- contact lens solution, case, and eyedrops
- 8 boxes contact lenses
- oil-based sunscreen (Riemann)
- hand sanitizer
- DEET insect repellent lotion (Ultrathon)
- DEET insect repellent wrist bands (Evergreen)
- nail file
- small manicure set
- laundry detergent sheets
- tide pen
- sink stopper
- mini sewing kit
For my gear, I focused on safety, necessity, durability, ease of use, and weight. I wanted to protect my gear from theft and harm. For example, the PacSafe bag net is for security when I need to leave my bag behind to venture out from a place I'm staying or to ensure my bag stays put on a crowded bus/train.
I cut down on weight where I could like bringing my Surface Pro 2 instead of a laptop. At only 2lbs, the Surface Pro 2 does everything a laptop can without the extra weight.
- 2 TSA-approved baggage locks
- anti-theft bag net (PacSafe)
- sleeping liner (Silk)
- waterproof smartphone cover
- pair headphones w/ case (Sol)
- digital recorder & USB cable
- 4-slot USB port
- smartphone car & wall chargers
- travel plug w/ USB input
- solar charger (XTG-SOL 1500)
- waterproof digital camera (Olympus) and charger
- float-able camera strap
- gripping camera tripod (Joby)
- tablet/laptop w/ keyboard, cable, cover, and mouse (Surface Pro 2)
- Windows phone (unlocked)
- lightweight, roll-up tote
- day pack (Rick Steves)
- collapsible water bottle (Platypus)
First aid kit:
I mostly used other people's lists and suggestions to put this together. Hopefully I won't need to use it too much. But just in case I'm in a country or a situation where it's difficult to get any of these items—I have them.
- Malaria pills
- Water purification tablets
- Ear plugs
- Tea tree oil
- safety pins and baggy ties
- Contact card
- 1 Pouch w/ important travel documents (passport copies, prescriptions, tickets, etc.)
- 1 wallet
- 2 money/coin pouches
- International Travel Translator
- blog and personal business cards
Many traveler bloggers suggest that I will end up finding that I don't need many of the above items as I progress through my journey. I will more than likely have to make edits to my bag as I go along. I'll end up sending home, selling, or donating several items as I travel. Discovering, "Wow, I actually need a lot less things or very different things than I originally thought," will be a part of the learning process as I deviate the norm.
I took all of the items above and put them all into packing cubes and shoe bags. I purposely left several items out of the packing cubes to go in the outer pocket or tucked at the top of the bag for easy access.
All packed up, the MEI Voyager is compact and secure with straps to hold it all together. I never had an issue with items moving around in the bag on test-runs. Everything always stayed in one place and remained organized upon arrival at my destinations.
So, what do you think your packing list will look like? Is your packing list similar to mine? What is/would be different?
UPDATE: How did the contents of my bag change over the course of the year? Find out in my most recent Packing List Update post!
*I tried to include links to items where I thought people may be curious to learn more. I don't receive any sort of compensation for mentioning/linking to any of these in this blog post. I suggest them purely out of the fact that they were highly recommended to me and/or have worked for me in travel test-runs over the last year or so. The upcoming year will be the true test.