As we unpacked our packs for the last time a few weeks ago I realized how many of the items in there had stood the test of time and had earned their passage on our RTW journey. There were also a few new things we had picked up along the way and I quietly chuckled as I remembered those items that were ‘voted off the island’ and did not make the round trip.
Making the packing list was one of the most stressful parts of planning to leave. I read tons of blogs and referred to their lists endlessly, worried about packing too much or too little. When I finally posted our almost final version almost all the comments stated that perhaps we were over packing. They were right. Here’s a look at some of what worked, and what didn’t.
How We Carried It All
Choosing our packs was a big decision and, luckily, we were happy with our choices for the whole trip. J’s Osprey WayPoint 60 was a winner. He would stuff it jam packed and it always looked like a nice, compact package because the compression straps on it pulled everything together. My MEC Pangea 60 looked a little sloppier, but I loved all the pockets in the interior! Everything had a place and I always knew where to look for what I wanted. The straps at the bottom of the pack were perfect for carrying my small sleeping bag.
Inside we used packing cubes to keep it all organized. I labeled mine so I could easily identify what was inside then I could quickly find whatever I was looking for and just pull out the one cube rather than unpacking the whole bag. We used two of these for toiletries rather than a single, bulky toiletry bag. There was never any arguing over who would carry the heavy toiletry bag – it was always evenly distributed between the two of us.
I used the daypack that came with the pack and found it to be more than enough. It didn’t look very big but I managed to keep all I needed in it – I even used it for a couple of multi-day treks. J’s daypack was bigger so he took care of all the electronics (which we never kept in our big packs). We did find though that we wanted something a little less ‘backpackery’ for running around cities and towns and so we found a messenger bag that worked really well. We then used it as the main around-town daypack and it packed nicely onto the outside of J’s big pack for long haul travel.
What We Wore
Whittling a regular wardrobe down to a traveling wardrobe is difficult. It’s hard not to pack too many clothes. There are countless situations that can be imagined where this item, or that item are absolutely necessary and so must be packed. We did our best and, even though we left many items behind in hostel rooms, other pieces were worth their weight in gold.
Despite what was packed in the bags, we wore the same clothes over and over and over and over again. Just like home we gravitated to our favorites and other pieces made their way to the bottom of the pack and were seldom worn – these were eventually left behind. In the cooler climates we layered clothes to stay warm and, once we hit the heat, we picked up some lighter weight clothes to stay cool.
Some pieces were just bad ideas from the start. We packed running shoes and running clothes but didn’t run enough to keep them so we sent them home before leaving South America. I had packed some shoes for going out in but soon realized that even when we were going out the shoes looked funny with my quickly fading clothes and so I never wore them and eventually sent them home too.
Keeping Neat And Clean
We kept our personal care items to a minimum. Shampoos and moisturizers and lotions and potions are all very heavy and can take up a lot of space. We used shampoo for every cleaning need (body, hair, shaving, laundry, dishes), I packed only face powder and lip gloss for makeup (and hardly ever used either), we had only one small tube of moisturizer and we shared deodorant (always trying to find one that didn’t smell too ‘girlie’ or ‘boyie’). My routine has always been fairly fuss-free but this took it to a whole new level! It did show me though that I don’t need all those products to be clean and look good – our bathroom cabinets at home now are much emptier than they were before we left.
A note about feminine hygiene. I was able to find everything I needed everywhere we went. I had to be prepared, and public facilities abroad are not what they are here at home but I never had any trouble finding what I needed – supplies are easy to find, and not expensive, in any large town or city.
The Medicine Cabinet
We packed our traveling medicine cabinet to take care of any ailments that we normally treat at home – with a few exceptions. We carried all the normal pain relief, decongestant, antihistamine, anti-diarrhea and ‘can’t sleep’ medication plus some antibiotics ‘just in case’.
I agonized over anti-malarial medication and ultimately decided that we would take only enough to cover our time in Laos. Not everyone will agree with my decision but, based on my research and consultation with a travel nurse, it was where I felt the greatest risk was. In the end we saw so few mosquitoes that we did not take the medication (but were diligent in applying mosquito repellant at dusk when they would be evident).
We had one other complication to deal with in our medical bag. I have Crohn’s Disease and so had to carry enough medication for the whole year as I could not be sure that the medicine would be available, or reliable, in other countries. I packed it all in original containers with original labeling and carried a note from my doctor indicating my condition and explaining the need for the medication. The pills held up well in all the different climates and I was only ever asked about it once during a Provincial border check in Chile – the pill vials showed up on an xray machine and the guards questioned what it all was. I explained that it was medication and they gave me no trouble.
The EEE PC we carried was fabulous!! We used it to write the blog, do research, watch movies, play games, track the budget, Skype home…it was indispensable. The size and weight made it travel friendly, it withstood all the bumping and abuse, and the battery life (6 hours!!) was amazing. Not having to spend time in internet cafes was totally worth it – we could do everything ‘offline’ and then upload once we were in a wifi zone again. One could travel the world without one…but I wouldn’t.
Our camera was a Panasonic Lumix point and shoot and worked well for us. Sure the pictures aren’t as nice as those from a digital SLR but then we weren’t lugging a huge camera around either. This one fit into the daybag nicely and could be easily carried. I have no complaints about the pictures I took – in fact my only complaint is that I didn’t take enough pictures. I should have taken more – more street scenes, more daily life, more special shots, more people pictures – all too often the unfamiliar became familiar, the strange became not-so-strange and the weird just seemed normal and I would forget that one day all this would be unfamiliar, strange and weird again and that I would want a picture of it! That’s my advice – take more pictures than you’ll ever think you’ll know what to do with.
The iPod didn’t get as much use as I would have thought. I used it when flying and once in a while to listen to music on a bus but, mostly I feel ‘tuned out’ when I have it on and so don’t like it – I prefer to hear what’s going on around me. We did use it (with an earphone splitter cable so we could both listen at the same time) to listen to podcasts on long bus rides.
The ‘Bits and Bats’
First Aid Kit. Didn’t use at all I don’t think…but good to have anyway.
Steripen. We were very good about sterilizing our own water for the first half of the trip. I didn’t trust it to clean Indian water and then I think we just got lazy and didn’t really use it after that.
Sleeping Bag. I used it quite often if I didn’t like the sheets (or none were provided) or if we needed just a little bit of extra warmth. It wasn’t big enough for trekking – we rented bags for the treks we did.
Documents. We carried photocopies of our ID papers, passports, medical papers, insurance papers etc. We each carried a whole set of each others papers in case one bag was lost/stolen.
Ziplock Bags. The value of ziplock bags cannot be overemphasized!!
Cribbage/Backgammon Board. We played tons of games to pass the time. Often times people would gather to watch and we taught one or two people who to play – language barriers aside.
Books. Book exchanges were our friend. We carried four novels and just switched them out whenever possible. It’s amazing what I will read when there is no other choice.
Earplugs. There is always a crowing rooster and a barking dog. Enough said.
In the end, I think we did a pretty good job. Sure there were items that should never have made it onto the original list – I know, I know…the ‘cute shoes’ – but not too many. Our packs were never over stuffed or over weight even on severely restrictive airlines in Asia…we saw plenty of people frantically weighing their bags and ‘repacking’ in the airport – we averaged about 14 kilos each. No packing list is ever going to be perfect but I think we did pretty okay. For a detailed look at what worked and what didn’t have a look here where I annotated the original list.