Packing: What and why to pack it

NOTE: We don’t put advertising on this site or have paid trips, this site is for your enjoyment and preparation.  That said, if you decide to buy anything we list below, please do it directly from the links we include.  You get the best price offers and we get a commission.  This keeps us traveling, trying things and sharing our knowledge with future travelers.

We have traveled to a wide variety of places, from mountaineering in Ecuador, to running marathons in Minneapolis, Boston and Paris, to a five star hotel in Zanzibar, to camping in Patagonia.   Over the years we’ve encountered all sorts of situations and whittled down our packing essentials to what we really need.  This packing list is not suitable for serious camping (Appalachian Trail, etc) or first-world luxury travel.  We bring gear to be prepared for anything, anywhere, anytime that weighs the least.

There are many other gear and packing lists on the internet.  Read several lists and consider this:

  • How close are the activities and seasons mentioned to those you are planning?
  • What was the writer’s travel experience prior to the trip(s) of their blog?  This is important, because the more someone travels, the more they value key items and understand the rest is flexible.


  1. Never be cold or wet.  Most of the world is poorly heated and insulated.   Getting cold and/or wet increases your chance to get sick, with limited means of recovering.
  2. The world is your supermarket.  Forgot something at home?  Need to change plans?  Buy it when you need it.  Do not pack for improbable or remote possibilities, pack for the bulk of your trip and get other stuff as needed.
  3. Do not take anything you don’t want to lose, break or destroy.  If you put it in your bag mentally separate yourself from it: it’s gone; it’s broken; it’s destroyed.  The point of your trip is the trip, not the stuff you bring along.  Your things will get stolen, broken or lost.
  4. Pack light.  If you are uncertain about something: don’t bring it.  Packing light is risk mitigation and trip happiness insurance, here’s why:
    • The more you carry, the less able bodied you are.  If you have a 50lb pack on your back and a bag on your front, you are as defenseless as Pac Man.  Not only are you less able, but you are also a better target, who are you gonna rob?  The person with a lot of stuff or a small bag?
    • More stuff, more headache.  The more you have, the more you have to keep track of…when your alarm breaks your passed out dreaming with 5 minutes to make the 15 minute trip to the train station, you need to be able to quickly get all your stuff into its bag and not forget something.  Your hungover hurting head will forget something…and you never forget the worthless things.


  1. A comfortable backpack which holds all you intend to travel with minus your boots (if you are bringing boots).  This should not exceed 60 liters.  We love Osprey Atmos packs because they have ventilated backs.  This means we arrive at our destination without sweaty backs.  We have met many people with the Atmos on the road and they all say one thing, “the most comfortable pack I’ve ever owned.”
  2. A duffel bag that holds your backpack and is water-resistant.  There is no duffel bag better than the North Face Basecamp Duffel.  This bag will allow you to safely keep all your possessions in a shapeless bag with one lock.  When you need to take a short trip you can leave this at a hostel/guesthouse and just take your backpack.
  3. Camera.  (see my article, Camera for a Trip of a Lifetime, for more info).  There are many great cameras out there today.  Having spent thousands upon thousands of dollars in camera equipment in life, I swear to you, there is no better, small camera than the Canon S100.  A full 10 kilos (22lbs) or 1/3 of the things we carry is camera equipment, for most people an SLR and lenses is total overkill.  Buy the s100 or Lumix LX-5, take amazing photos, don’t break your back…be happy.
    • If you must have an SLR, don’t skimp on it.  Buy the lens with the largest maximum aperture you can afford.  This will allow you to take better low light photos and create unique perspectives.  Realistically, you will need to spend at least $2,500 on a camera to equal what you can get with the above Canon point-and-shoots.
  4. Gore-tex pants and jacket.  This is something we swear by.  It will keep you warm and dry in the worst situations and packs down very small.  Look at the Gore-Tex Paclite if you won’t be doing serious outdoors stuff, incredible.  Completely worth the price.
  5. A Leatherman Juice and camping Spork.  This is the ultimate money and lifesaver.  With these two tools you can buy food and eat it anywhere (train, bus or hotel), which will save you money and open wine bottles when you really need it.
  6. Backup devices for your laptop and digital devices.  Check out thinkCHUA’s article on how to backup your photos and computer on the road.
  7. Eye mask and earplugs.  Trains, buses, hotels and wherever you may find yourself sleeping may be bright and loud.  These are arguably the most important small items for travel.  REI offers this great eye mask and these are tiny, awesome, earplugs.

That’s it, the rest is up to you.  We carry 4 days worth of clothing and LOCAVORista loves her Patagonia wicking/fastdry underwear and packable stylish dress.  thinkCHUA loves his North Face zip off pants with safe, deep, zipper pockets and his full-size pirate flag he flies at every opportunity.



Congratulations!  You’re now ready to take a trip around the world on your own as you’ve completed our preparation section.  To return to any of the articles click below.

  1. Planning and Preparation Overview
  2. Saving Money: How we did it and how you can too!
  3. Worldly Possessions: What to sell and keep while you travel
  4. Cost and Budgeting: How much will do you need to save?
  5. Logistics: Health, insurance and the nitty gritty
  6. Packing: What and why to pack it



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