packing list

: : : Packing List

So, wondering how you pack everything you need for a year into one backpack?

Some people find this process challenging and stressful, but I love it. Travel stores are like Disneyland. I can get lost for hours in the isles of water filters, bag locks, country guides and rust-proof-pants. (I was even offered a job during my last escapade at REI). There is, of course, a lot of research that goes into picking each item that claims precious space in a pack. Learning how and what to pack from the process of trial and error is the natural way, but CAN lose its charm when you’re camping in the jungle and wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and realize you forgot your flashlight. It’s for this reason that I am offering up my own learnings presented in this basic “Packing List.”

But caution! This should only be used as a guide, and if it should fail you in anyway, please resist the urge to send me hate mail holding me responsible. That said, Happy Packing!

Clothing: The clothes you pack are highly dependent on many factors, including, but not limited to: destination, weather, activities, season, formality, style, length of stay, washing resources and budget. Here’s some general advice: Stay away from cotton. It’s heavy, it wrinkles, it’s hard to wash and dry and it starts smelling bad, fast. Opt for nylon or polyester blends, which dry super fast, are easy to wash, don’t hold stains and don’t wrinkle. Dark and neutral colors are best. I know it’s hard…but ditch the denim also. That stuff is heavy and takes days to dry. If you have the cash, the special “back-packing” clothing can be worth the money. On my first trips, I just brought a bunch of old stuff I knew I could throw away (and did). On my latest year abroad, I dipped into the savings account and invested in the gear with extra zippers, extra air-pockets, special linings, super fast-dry fabrics and easy-clean materials. The people who make this stuff KNOW what they’re doing. Everything took up about an inch of space in my pack and I was never too cold or hot, always dry (yea Gor-Tex) and my gear cleaned up in two minutes in the sink. AND it survived the year in perfect condition and sits ready for my next adventure. If you’re going though Europe or cities with kickin’ nightlife, you’re gonna need something that looks nice. The easiest way to do this is to just “go black.” I found that in Central & South America, there just isn’t as much shame in looking like a traveler. First time travelers ALWAYS pack twice as much as they need and end up shipping half of it home. Try your hardest to keep your selection simple and remember — you can almost ALWAYS buy what you need abroad (should you REALLY need it).

Super-Absorbent Travel Towel: Most of my tricks revolve around saving space in my pack, as this one does. You can get one of these towels at some travel stores and they usually carry them at those high-tech stores like Brookstone. Regular towels take up a LOT of space in your pack, take forever to dry and start smelling rank fast. These special towels are super-absorbent, very lightweight, and dry in an instant. I bought the smaller sized one in green (try to avoid white completely when it comes to packing) and it successfully survived my entire year in Central America in perfect shape.

Silk Sleep Sack: Okay. THIS is a luxury item. If you’re staying in hostels, you should have *or make* a sleep sack. For those on a budget, you can make one simply by sewing two sheets together or you can pick one up at any travel store. Many hostels charge you for renting sheets, and you can save big cash by bringing one of these. They also keep you safe from “suspicious” sleeping quarters. You don’t want to hear the stories of the things some travelers have “caught” in hostels. (Bed bugs are NOT only fictional characters in bedtime rhymes.) I also jumped in mine on long train rides, while sleeping in stations/on ferries and stuffed it as a pillow on bumpy busses and the like. My starchy cotton sleep sheet worked swell, but it wasn’t the most comfortable, it didn’t keep me warm and it took up a lot of space in my pack. Solution? The Silk Sleep Sack. *rolls eyes in ecstasy*. Silk insulates you better, cleans easier, takes up NO space at all in your pack…and FEELS absolutely incredible. Yes, it’ll cost you about 40 bucks more than the cotton one, but if you’re doing serious traveling, it’s worth the cost for the extra comfort and added space in your pack. (You can order one from REI online.)

Shoes: Shoes are heavy, hard to pack and stink when wet. I always end up ditching a pair. Again, pay the extra buck. Comfort counts here more than you’ll ever know. Here’s what I take: 1. A pair of Chaco sandals and 2. A pair of superb quality, hiking shoes/boots. My Chacos are my favorite shoes in the world. I’d cry if I lost them. These sandals work for beaches, showers, mountains, caves, rivers, and won’t even slip when you’re hiking in mud. Perfect for traveling, as you’ll notice when you see EVERYONE else on the road sporting them. (If you don’t bring sandals of some sort, make sure to bring something flip-flop-like for the hostel showers. Trust me on this.)

Money Belt: You have to bring a money belt. I’ve tried a variety of styles and have settled on the waist style in black (never looks dirty). Don’t get lazy and start wearing it outside your clothes — it will get stolen.

Daypack: A small daypack or backpack is a necessity. Something that you can use to carry your guide book, camera, water and poncho on short outings. Remember to sling shoulder strap bags across your body and to turn backpacks to the front in crowded subways and busy streets. Watch out for bag-slashers.

Camera: You don’t have to be a web geek like myself to recognize that digital cameras are THE way to go for the future of travel photography. No film, the guarantee of perfect pictures, and the ability to send photos home to family & friends instantly are just a few of the perks.

Leatherman Tool: It’s an insult to call a Leatherman Tool a pocketknife, but for lack of a better word I’ll use the term. They are the best and highest quality multi-purpose tool on the market. Get a “Micra” for your pocket and the standard sizes for your pack. This is THE travelers’ tool – all by all will swear.

Money: If you’re traveling in Europe, forget the travelers checks. What’s more important, is a debit card (accepted virtually everywhere), some hard cash (in small denominations) and a couple credit cards. Know your pin number. Everyone runs out of money — it’s a fact. You can make cash withdrawals on your credit card IF you suddenly “must” spend an extra two weeks in Amsterdam. Travelers checks are a necessity in Central America, South America (and many other countries). Do your basic research to learn availability of ATMs in you destination countries. Commonly quoted travelers’ rule of thumb: “When you’re ready to go, lay out all your gear and money and then RE-pack half as many clothes and twice as much money.”

Photocopies: Bring copies of your passport, airline ticket, rail pass, drivers license, student I.D., hostel card, ISIC card, etc. The sheer act of having photocopies — pretty much guarantees you won’t lose the originals. Give your copies to your travel mate or put them in a separate piece of lugg
age. Personally, I just make “virtual” copies and hold them in my e-mail inbox.

Ziplock Bags: In all sizes. Things will leak, explode, get wet and smell. But the Ziplock gods will spare you many of these messes should you pay them homage at the supermarket pre-trip.

Travel Alarm: You’ll need this when you fall asleep on the train in order to wake up in time for your stop. Even better if you just buy a plastic (to avoid the illusion of being expensive) watch with built in alarms.

First-Aid Kit: Make sure to include: Band-Aids in all sizes, bug-bite repellent and relief, scrape ointment, sewing kit, Tylenol, couple days worth of cold medicine, Pepto-Bismol tablets, malaria pills *if needed*, all your prescriptive allergy medicine and birth control. Infections never heal abroad. Take care of your scrapes.

Glasses: Sun AND prescriptive. Make sure to bring a sink plug if you have contacts.

Bathroom Bag: Get one made especially for traveling. The best are the ones with the hook on top so you don’t have to lay it down on any wet or suspicious surfaces. Put all squeeze bottles in zip-lock baggies during flights. Do bring a package of “Wet-Ones” to clean up hands and face when you’re waterless. Bring soap — liquid for the shower and a laundry bar for your clothes.

Travel Guides: Have each travel mate bring a different guide. I recommend both the “Lonely Planet” and “Rough Guide” series.

Distribution List: Before you leave, remember to put together an e-mail distribution list. One list of friends. One list of family. And content-appropriate news updates to each.

Travel Journal: Use it for everything: travel expenses, travel diary, scrap book, photo albums and address book. I tape/glue in old tickets and extra spectacular postcards and encourage new friends to get artistic. Bring a couple pictures of your home, family and best mates to share with new friends. My journals are my most prized possession from each of my trips and I look forward to reviewing them in my rocking chair when I’m 80.

Book: IF you do ever get tired of lookin’ out the window of the train/bus, and you’ve already studied the guide for the country you’re going to next, you might want some other form of entertainment. Hostels and other travelers are also always happy to trade and exchange literature.

Locks for your Pack: I use a small, code lock (preferred over key locks which can get misplaced too easily) that was attached to a metal cord. It was perfect and I highly recommended this method. I could tie it up to anything or just loop it through all the zippers.

Flashlight: For late night reading after “lights-out”, walking dark paths, or going to the bathroom in the middle of the night when you’re camping.

The Backpack: Paying a premium price for my premium pack was perhaps the best packing decision I’ve ever made. This is your most important investment for your trip. Spend good time researching the pack that meets your needs (and everyones needs differ). Talk to sales reps, guides and friends. Research and shop around. For all my travels I’ve used a very small Dana pack that was actually “molded” to my back. The added comfort was worth every extra penny. My pack and I have shared multiple adventures, I treat it as a best friend, and I won’t be the first traveler to admit to talking to it….or rather, “hearing” it calling me from the closet enticing me into my next adventure. And my best advice; Always listen to your pack.