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Packing and the Pack List

Pack light & pack tight

If your body allows for it, I suggest carrying-on ONE backpack and not have any checked baggage. And make sure the pack is something less than the maximum allowable carryon-size (usually that’s less than 45 inches, l + w + h, though less is more. Packs are often listed in liters. So you’re looking for a pack of no more than about 42L. And if you can go smaller, do it. Trust me. I'm a doctor. There are many, many different types of backpacks nowadays – from utilitarian to hipster – and just as many YouTube channels dedicated to reviewing them. A backpack exists for every type of person. Find what works for you and use it.

 

Hack: if you must get a larger pack, strong compression of the pack can make it look smaller and more like carryon-size. This is how I used Osprey's Porter 46 for many years and was never asked to check it, even on smaller airplanes.


The main trait to look for when selecting a pack is comfort for you. A bag can look nice but end up not fitting correctly when full of your stuff, rubbing you raw in places you never thought possible. Or worse, it can’t handle what you pack and breaks/rips in the middle of your excursion. Not fun. I’ve been there. I recommend trying on the pack and walking around for a good half-hour with it fully loaded before purchasing it. Sit down...stand up...walk up stairs. Stand motionless for twenty minutes to replicate all the queuing (lining up) you’ll be doing. Otherwise, what looks great could turn out to be too wimpy or worse yet, very uncomfortable – important things to know before you’re on the road.

My rollerbag rant: Some reasons I stay away from suitcases and rollerbags include: unwieldiness in airports/non-paved roads/cobblestone streets/in stores, difficulty lugging up stairs when no elevator, usually hard-sided (not flexible in overhead bins or luggage racks), they can tweak your back/arms, and, perhaps most important, they leave you with only one hand free. Convertible rollerbags are worse, since they just add more weight, and you rarely switch between the two modes. Still, YMMV...


Whenever traveling, especially internationally and for leisure, if you do NOT check any bags, there’s less stress when travel mishaps occur (and they inevitably WILL), because you don’t have to worry if your stuff will make it on the same flight or be lost or delayed. Similarly, having everything with you on you – makes hopping an earlier flight easier (when possible), getting you to your destination quicker, allowing you to spend more time at your chosen location. Not to mention you will never have to wait at baggage claim for your luggage to (hopefully) arrive (and then have to re-check it on some connecting flights).


In the packing department, I’ve downgraded since beginning international travel in the late 1980s. I used to take two bags when I traveled: a backpack and a smaller butt bag-type. Nowadays it’s just one small backpack. No matter where you’re travelling, what you're doing, or for how long you’ll be away, one under-carryon-size pack is usually plenty, even for a larger-framed guy like me.


What I use: Though I’ve used different brands of packs (Northface, Victorinox, Oakley, Osprey, Quest, REI...), I’ve found the Cotopaxi Allpa35 to work extremely well for me. My go-to bag used to be Osprey's Porter 46, but I rarely packed it over two-thirds full. The Allpa35 actually fits my larger frame better than the Osprey, and I'm a fan of its no dangly bits design. Plus, it can fit in the overhead bin of commuter jet (squished, if packed full). It also has a padded and dedicated laptop compartment and comes in all sorts of designs and colors. My wife found the Cotopaxi so nice, she actually gave up her long-time favorite Victorinox “Deluxe Travel Laptop Backpack” from their Altmont 3.0 series for the Allpa28. She loves its organizational structure and the company’s message. So now, even when we’re gone for months at a time, we use our Cotopaxi-s.


The best travel advice I have for people unaccustomed to traveling light is: Layout what you think you are going to need. Then, leave half of it home and take more money. Have you ever heard anyone say, “Next time, I’m going to pack more!”? A smaller bag is essential and can fit all you need. Still having a tough time giving up your larger (roller)bag? Peep these tips:


Tip 1: Pack the same amount of clothes whether a week-long trip or a several month excursion. The only difference between the two is that you’ll wash clothes more often on an extended excursion. Though your hotel can often launder anything, it can get expensive quickly. So, you might decide to launder certain items in the sink or at a local laundromat – and both represent very great cultural experiences. You could also stay at a hotel with washing facilities.


Tip 2: If you forget something, don’t worry. You can always buy sundries or clothes in the country you’re visiting (or ask your hotel for a complimentary sundry set). And clothes bought during travel can be great and unique souvenirs. Imagine your friends asking, “That’s a great shirt! Where did you get it?” You reply, “Oh, I found this little shop in Paris...” Plus, shopping abroad is a super fun experience in itself, even in department stores.


Tip 3: If you have extra space in your bag, that’s OK. You do NOT need to fill your bag.


Tip 4: To save time and headaches, work to make sure all your clothes are lightweight, packable, mostly wrinkle-proof, & color-coordinated. That way you’ll never have to worry if your clothes are going to match or if they need to be ironed. As long as you don’t stink, no one will care if you’re wearing the same jeans or top for a week.


Tip 5: Just because your pack is not full does not mean you need to take more. See Tip 3.

Packing List

 

If traveling for a fortnight or less, I usually wear one outfit from this list. If I go for more than a fortnight, I will wear an outfit in addition to this list. I also dress mostly business casual when I travel, as I like to look nice and professional when traveling. I see travel as a privilege, and dress respectfully to show that. Just because you travel with only backpack doesn’t mean you can’t look sharp! And believe me: even for a larger guy like myself, everything fits in a less-than-carry-on-size bag with room to spare. Just keep it simple.


Clothes (I usually roll mine): 

  • 2-3 Pair Trousers, one casual/nice-ish type, one casual/jean-ish.

  • 1-2 Wrinkle-free/wrinkle-hiding nice skirts/travel dresses (ladies).

  • 2 Nice/dressier shirts/blouses, long or short sleeve, your choice, depending on climate.

  • 3-5 Lightweight, nice (not old), not white T-shirts and/or polo’s, depending on trip length.

  • 1 Layerable, lightweight, long-sleeve shirt such as a Henley, turtleneck, or a lightweight sweater (I usually wear it when in transit – airplane, bus, ferry, etc.)

  • 1 Jacket/coat, waterproof, packable, & lightweight (always plan on rain...). I usually loop it through the pack’s carrying handle (or wear it if weather is cooler) rather than pack it in my bag, because it can get a little cold on most flights. Plus, it can make a nice pillow…layers, layers, layers...

  • 1-2 Lightweight shorts (doubles as swimsuit and pajamas, though maybe not in the same day).

  • 1-2 Swim suit (if shorts can’t double).

  • At least 7 pairs of socks (small to pack and clean socks make a world of difference!)

  • At least 7 pairs of underwear (small to pack and clean underwear make a world of difference!)

  • 1-2 Shoes. A pair of comfy, low-profile tennis-type shoes and/or a pair of waterproof-breathable shoes that can be used for moderate hiking and playing soccer with kids in the street. Unless you are planning on hard core trekking in some far-flung region or you’re attending a formal event, you don’t need anything special. I take what I normally wear when I go wandering around my own locale.

  • 1 Walkable sandals/flip-flops for shower floors, beaches, etc. (optional).

  • 1 Belt (reversible is nice).

  • A few scrungees or hair clips/ties (long hair).

  • 2-3 Brassieres (ladies).


Other Items:

  • Smartphone. These are a necessity today, and a nice one can replace your need for a camera. Plus, if you have global coverage (like T-Mobile offers for free), you can stay in contact basically wherever there is cell service or WiFi. You can purchase SIM cards for the country youre visiting at every airport. And having a digital map with directions right in your hand is super nice nowadays!

  • 2 Pair of earplugs. These are INVALUABLE! A good set of noise cancelling headphones can also work well.

  • 1-2 Really, really good Guidebooks. I use Green Guides for driving and a good overview and Blue Guides for History/Art/Architecture/Archeology. Rick Steves, Rough Guides, or Lonely Planet usually have the most up-to-date travel info. Footprint guides are also great, especially for South America. Whichever you choose, ALWAYS buy the most recent edition of it. If you don’t make reservations beforehand, this $30 investment can be the difference between finding a good place to sleep and eat or spending the night in a train station eating crisps for dinner. You can also have these digitally nowadays, taking up less space/weight in your pack!

  • 1 Map of the region. A GOOD MAP IS ESSENTIAL, but can also be picked up en route, in country, or downloaded to your smartphone (but check your data allowances).

  • Downloaded books, podcasts, audio tours, and other media, either to your phone or laptop. These can enhance a trip (audio tours/podcasts) or be used for relax days (and you should take at least one relax day for each week you spend abroad). But do not sacrifice a day exploring to finish a book (or movie). The book will always be there. The chance to explore might not!

  • 1 Pit Jit (deodorant).

  • 1 Each: Comb/Brush, Razor, & small Travel Tooth-stuff. If you run out, just pop into a neighborhood department store/pharmacy – usually a great cultural experience in itself!

  • 1 Camera, with charger and extra battery & memory card – if not using smartphone.

  • 1 Small, reliable, tough flashlight w/new batteries – if not using your smartphone.

  • 1 Each, Travel Journal & small notepad – even if you’re using your smartphone.

  • All necessary adapters and chargers for electronics.

  • 2 Pens...make sure they write in hot, humid, & cold weather, and that they don’t “run” or “bleed” when wet. I also just throw in a sharpie...they’re useful for a lot of things.

  • 1 Prescription glasses or contacts (w/accompanying solution), as necessary.

  • 1 Sunglasses (in carrying case and with microfiber cleaning cloth).

  • Any prescription medicine you need, clearly labeled and in the original bottle (most every country has basic OTC meds).

  • 1-2 Face Masks. Just in case wherever youre going requires them, or if you feel a little ill, you can wear one to protect other people, as some cultures have done for decades.

  • 1 Waterproof, reliable watch with alarm (or smartphone – your clock & alarm will work in airplane mode so you don’t rack up international data charges).

  • 1 small package of wipes (optional, but better than hand sanitizer and can leave you feeling fresh after a long, hot day if you can’t get to a shower immediately).

  • Several small packages of Kleenex (optional).

  • 1 Small towel &/or large washcloth (I take a discrete bandana, although we found these really neat full-size microfiber towels that pack down to nothing, are super absorbent, and dry fast. We take these everywhere now).

  • 1 Pair of small binoculars (optional, but great to get a close-up look at ceilings and art in cathedrals, galleries, and museums, plus birds, animals, landscapes...)

Make sure you do NOT forget these items (should be kept on your body):

  • Passport (scan a copy/take a picture with your smartphone and email it to yourself in case yours gets lost or stolen).

  • Wallet w/credit cards (Debit card for cash at ATM and at least two different credit cards (e.g., one Visa and one Mastercard) – one for daily use, another as a backup, and cash (US$200-$500 emergency fund). Yes, you will likely be charged a fee to withdraw cash via your ATM/debit card, but if you need cash, it’s still the most efficient and cost-effective way to get cash.

  • Plane/Rental Car tickets/rail pass/reservations (or receipts if you have e-tickets – can always scan and/or take screenshot of these).

 

As one of my mentors said a few decades ago, “If you have your passport, money, and tickets, you can go anywhere.” I would amend that today to, “If you have your passport, smart phone, and credit cards, you can go anywhere” – presuming you have enough credit on your cards!

If you have questions, please drop me a line. My other pages have even more information about traveling frugally, plus other fun stuff. Indeed!

Packing List
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