Packing for a trip around the World

not my luggage (source: pexels)

Having returned from a 4-month trip around the world, I thought it’s time to give you an idea of what I brought, what I got rid of along the way and what I have added to my travel luggage. I have included links to the stuff I find useful just to give you an idea of what I’m talking about.

Packing for a trip around the world has posed some difficulties to my wardrobe. Luckily wer stayed only in warmer climates on this trip, so I could limit what to bring to warm weather. But I still needed to factor in different religions, cultural circumstances, colder weather in higher altitude, freezing air conditioners, 4 months of time, and limited space. Piece of cake, right? So here’s what I brought with me. Disclaimer: (Unfortunately), I had to pay for all the linked products myself. I am sharing my personal experience and only recommend products I have tested and liked myself – or otherwise indicate why I wouldn’t recommend them.

Packing Gear

border-crossing Panama to Costa Rica

We both have chosen trolley packs with wheels and telescopic handles and stowable backpack straps. Oliver chose a Bach Wood n Drift 75 bag and I lugged a Deuter Helion 80 (shown in the pictures above) around with me.

Bach Wood n Drift 75 Trolley/Backpack (Oliver): The stylish option, but not very practical. The Bach Wood n Drift has a volume of 75 liters, 2 gear- and compression straps, as well as additional zip pockets inside and weights 4’160g (empty). It doesn’t have a wide base, so you need to pack carefully to avoid it toppling over and this will not make you happy (trust me, I’ve seen the traveler struggle!) What I like about this bag: The design, the inner compartments (lots of room to put away little things), compression straps. What I don’t like about this bag: It’s unstable, it lacks a second handle to conveniently haul it into place and 2 months into our travels, the fabric already ripped and Bach is refusing to exchange it, eventhough it has a two year warranty.

usual room situation (with too much stuff)

Deuter Helion 80 Trolley/Backpack (Jeanine): The ugly, but practical. This bag has a wide, solid base and is super practical to pack and unpack. It has a volume of 80 liters, 2 compression straps, 2 zip pockets inside and weights 3’700g. I have had this bag since 2012 and dragged it 3 months across South America and 4 months around the world. Both wheels broke once, but can be easily exchanged (bring an extra set of wheels with you for longer trips because they tend to break in the most remote places!) What I like about this bag: it’s sturdy and only the wheels are the weakest link. It has a very comfortable backpack strap system, which can be stowed away in seconds. What I don’t like about this bag: It only has 2 inner compartments. If you like your bag tidy, you’ll need to stock up on little bags that hold your odds and ends. Plus, you’ll look like a weird giant turtle when you carry that thing. It’s a bit too big for most trips, as well. There’s also a 60 liter version avilable, which might be sufficient as well. Even though it’s pretty ugly, I’d still buy the Deuter Helion – it has been a very faithful companion so far.

during a lovely day-hike in Hawaii

Jack Wolfskin Rambler 25 Daypack (Jeanine): I’ve originally got this backpack for my trip through South America, when I knew I was doing some serious hiking. It has a good size for one-day hikes, but proved to be a bit impractical for this trip, where I’ve mainly used it as carry-on or for shorter hikes. The rain cover proved to be the best feature on this backpack for this trip (see picture). I did develop a little backpack-crush on the Eagle Creek Wayfinder 30L, when I discovered this backpack in a store in Bangkok. Sadly, I didn’t buy it and I’ve been regretting it throughout my whole trip. It seemed like the perfect travel-backpack. We ended up buying it as soon as we got back home and will test it throughout our next travels, so stay tuned.

NorthFace Flyweight Pack Daypack (Oliver): Now this little fellow is a true rockstar! We have used this backpack every single day on our trip and could not be happier. It’s sturdy, lightweight and folds up into a neat little package, when not in use. If you’re looking for a foldable daypack, this is your best bet!

Eagle Creek Packing Cubes: If I can give you one piece of advice about what to buy: get yourself some decent packing cubes! They’re super practical and one of the best investments we’ve made in terms of packing gear! I got different colors and organized them by putting all shirts into one, all bottoms in another one, dresses and sports gear in a 3rd and underwear/socks/small stuff in a 4th. Since they all have different colors, I know exactly which cube I need to pull out and my backpack is always well organized. I got them in size M, which fits perfectly into our bags and holds a lot of clothes (roll them!)

Eagle Creek Pack-It Sac (waterproof): We bought 2 of those. One for small items and one for all the chargers/cables we’re lugging around. We got the waterproof ones because bags can end up in water (rain, bumpy boat rides) and you don’t want your electronic cables to get wet.

Victorinox Travel Organizer: Helps keeping all your important documents in one place. I’ve had a cheaper one before, but this broke pretty soon and then I’ve got this one and I’m super happy with it so far. It has RFID protection, a lot of compartments for cards and papers.

Drybag: We took a freebie on our trip and have used it several times (i.e. when hiking in Wadi Shab, Oman or kayaking in Nong Khiaw).

Small lock for backpack: Make sure it’s a TSA lock, I needed to use zipties for certain legs of the trip because non-TSA locks weren’t allowed and I haven’t gotten around to buying TSA lock yet.

Clothes/Shoes

all my stuff in handy packing cubes

Packing clothes for 4 months was a bit of a challenge to me, to be honest (and I think I’ve spent way too much time thinking about it) I’m not a minimalist packer and will never be. I’m just not the type of person who is willing to run around in the same 2 shirts for 4 months and neither the person who is willing to run around in multi-functional gear that screams TOURIST all over them (I mean, I’m white and 1.78m tall, so who am I trying to kid, right? But I hope you get the point ;-)) Nevertheless, I also try to only bring items I can combine in at least 3 ways, that aren’t too expensive, because they will likely be ruined over time (I’m looking at you, laundry service!) And last but not least, clothes in which I still look somewhat put together.

I have basicallly searched the internet high and low for some good quality (travel) clothes – and I couldn’t find them. There are some, but they’re either very expensive or very ugly. I will continue to search and if you have any recommendations, please share them with me! Here’s what I brought on this trip and my conclusion what I could have done better:

7 T-shirts – Conclusion: I think 5 would have been enough
3 shirts (no sleeves) – Conclusion: 1 tossed one out, because I didn’t like it.
2 pairs of shorts – Conlusion: Didn’t get to wear them anywhere in Asia, but wore them in the US and South/Central America. 2 is a good amount.
2 pairs of light cotton pants – Conclusion: perfect! Wore them every day in Asia, but never in Shouth/Central America (where I wore the shorts). I got mine from H&M and they’re actually holding up pretty good!
1 pair of jeans – Conclusion: a second pair of long pants would have been nice for places with colder climate
1 pair of trekking pants – Conclusion: what is it with trekking pants that they’re so incredibly ugly? I hate them and wore them once, because I was too afraid of leeches latching themselves on my legs. Does anyone have a recommendation for nice-looking, comfortable trekking pants?
1 pair of leggins – Conclusion: smart pack. I have used them as PJ pants or under dresses, when it was colder. Combined with a comfortable dress and a cardigan or hoodie they make a comfortable outfit for long-haul flights or overnight bus rides. But you probably already knew that, right?
1 pair of yoga pants – Conclusion: I have used them for yoga, running, hiking, hanging around, flying,… pack a pair! One is enough.
2 sport shirts – Conclusion: I’ve used both, could have done with one (quick-dry)
1 pair of sport shorts – Conclusion: perfectly suitable.
3 dresses (1 long, 2 knee-length) – Conclusion: I’ve used them all regularly, but wasn’t too happy with my choice of dresses and therefore bought 2 more along the way 🙂
2 cardigans – Conclusion: I brought one midlayer cardigan for hiking and a regular one for colder days. A second regular one for colder days in the city wouldn’t have hurt.
1 raincoat – Conclusion: A necessity, glad I brought it.
1 foldable light down jacket – Conclusion: Same here. Glad I brought it, eventhough I don’t like wearing it anymore.
2 bikinis – Conclusion: 2 would have been perfectly fine, but Hawaii happened. Now I have 2 more. I kept the old ones for the sea, because salt water damages them pretty fast.
1 scarf – Conclusion: Life saver, pack it!
4 pairs of socks (long and short) – Conclusion: pack more than you think you will need. Every time we gave our laundry to wash, we had one sock less.
1 pair of wool socks (because AC and I HATE cold feet) – Conclusion: Didn’t need them. Normal socks work just fine.
1 pair of trekking shoes – Conclusion: A necessity if you plan to do some hiking.
1 pair of ON running shoes – Conclusion: Best traveling sneakers, in my opinion. A second pair of shoes would have been nice for a change.
1 pair of flip flops – Conclusion: one pair is enough.
1 pair of sandals – I actually brought 2, but one pair broke the first week into our trip and I’ve barely worn the 2nd pair. As mentioned above, I would have liked to have a second option for closed shoes (i.e. a ballerina or a nicer pair of sneakers)
1 basecap / 1 foldable straw hat – Conclusion: I’m not a hat-lover, but I need them. I brought one for trekking and one for the beach and I’ve used both.

Toiletries

We were in Hawaii by the middle of our travels, so I had packed about half of what I thought I would need until then and planned to stock up on anything that I might run out of. I would have had plenty of everything if my shower gel wouldn’t have spilled out all over my bag and we’ve only needed to buy a new toothpaste. What I’ve brought with me was:

Small brush and a foldable travel brush – Conclusion: absolutely sufficient.
2 small bottles of shampoo/ 1 big bottle of shower gel – Conclusion: This took up a lot of space and after 4 months of seeing plastic everywhere, I’m currently researching natural options. If you have any recommendations, please let me know!
2 toothbrushes – Conclusion: bring one and stock up along the way. A toothbrush is something you can find anywhere.
Small container of body lotion – Conclusion: Waste of space. Tossed it.
1 Deodorant roller – Conclusion: One roller does go a loooong way.
Small perfume dispenser – Conclusion: A nice to have if you want to feel fancy every once in a while.
Mascara/eyeliner – Conclusion: Rarely used, but nice to have for the above stated reason.
Small lipstick – Conclusion: same as above.
Tweezers/Nailclipper – Conclusion: did you know that your nails grow at the speed of light when you are outdoors all the time?
Razor and extra 2 extra blades – Conclusion: Bring more extra blades.
Night/Day cream – Conclusion: A little tin should do if you’re traveling in warm climates. I was wearing sunscreen all the time, so I used the night cream more than the day cream.
Sun protection for hair/scull – Conclusion: I haven’t used it as much as I thought I was going to. It’s not a necessity.
A travel-size dry shampoo – Conclusion: used it several times, doesn’t need to be bigger.
Nail polish remover pads – Conclusion: Very useful if a pedicure doesn’t turn out the way you like.
Make-up remover tissues – Conclusion: I’ve used them mainly during long-haul flights.

A word about packaging: Having been close to the sea during big streches of our most recent world trip, plastic was an unavoidable topic. I have been on some of the most remote islands and have snorkeled in different seas and couldn’t get around the fact that there is SO MUCH PLASTIC EVERYWHERE! If you start to pay attention to it, it almost drives you crazy, because you start to see the plastic wrapping, plastic bags, plastic bottles and plastic everything everywhere! In addition to this, lots of our toiletry products come in plastic containers, too and have harmful ingredients (plus micro-plastic) inside. I have not been paying enough attention to both things and when I came back home, I’ve started to reasearch alternatives to products and packaging. I’m currently looking for and testing travel- and eco friendly toiletries like deodorant, shampoo, and soap and will share my findings. If you have any useful tipps or product recommendations, please share them with me in the comments below!

Useful stuff

Every long-term traveler know that there are some small items that make your traveling life a lot easier. You’re basically living on the road, shared spaces, tiny hotel rooms and you spend a lot of time going from one place to another. Also, space is very limited and you need to rely on your stuff that it won’t break a week into your trip. So here are some of my everyday travel gadgets I bring on every longer trip:

Clothesline: I’ve bought this clothesline for our trip around the world and this has been a game changer. I found a place to hang it up pretty much everywhere and was able to hang up some essentials, that needed hand washing between the laundry services.

Waterproof smartphone bag: A very good buy, since I’ve used it on several occasions. It’s 100% waterproof, you can control your phone through the case and you can even take it under water. I got myself a gooper Pocket case and would actually switch to a gooper Classic, if I were to buy a new one. When taking pictures through the case, you need to be careful to clean the case from fingerprints. The pictures can turn out a bit blurry when they’re taken through the plastic. Also: you can’t take underwater pictures (or at least I haven’t figured out how this would work on my phone)

Silk sleeping bag: I usually bring my sleeping bag on bigger trips, just in case. I rarely use it, but I have been very glad I brought it on various occasions (i.e. when sleeping at a beduin camp in Jordan or camping in the very hot Death Valley). I’ve had mine for nearly 10 years now, have washed and tumble dried it and it’s still in perfect shape and condition.

Travel towel: I have been travelling with a micro-fiber towel for the past years, but have never been truly happy about the feel of it. I researched for alternatives and came across the pandoo towels, which are made out of bamboo-activated carbon fiber (40%) and nylon (60%). It’s lightweight, compact, absorbent, quick to dry and more sustainable than other towels.

Swiss Army Knife: Did you see that one coming? Fun fact: I actually grew up in the town where they manufacture the original Swiss Army Knife from Victorinox, so I’ve had the full range of army knifes growing up. Funny enough, I took me a mighty long time to think about bringing it with me on my travels. But since then it’s my faithful companion wherever I go. I’ve linked the one I have. Bring along a small set of screwdrivers and you’re all set!

Salt/pepper dispenser: Before my 3-month trip through South America, I got a little salt/pepper dispenser from my mom. If you like to buy fresh produce and make your own lunch or dinner sometimes, this comes in very handy. I’d even add a little peeler and maybe think about packing some small portions of spices (they’re usually sold in big packs you don’t want or can bring with you)

Reusable bottles: I’ve been traveling with re-usable bottles since quite a while now and love them for obvious reasons. I got myself an insulated bottle last summer and honestly have no idea why I didn’t get one long before that. I have a 500ml 24 hours clima bottle, which truly holds up to the promise they make. Did you know that you can travel through security with an empty water bottle? And that you can fill up your water bottle either at the airports or on the plane? Game changer for long flights in this dry airplane air!

Earplugs: I became an earplug-loving person after a night couchsurfing in Finland. Somehow I ended up sleeping in a living room with 5 other people, wherefrom two were very loud snorers. After my thoughts kept wandering back to possibilities how to suffocate them in their loud sleep at 4 in the morning, I knew I needed to protect myself better from people like them, if I didn’t want to end up in jail someday. I found out that I can get custom-made earplugs at a local optician at a reasonable price and always was a very happy sleeper during my world trip, even when ending up in a hotel room right in the middle of party zone.

Sleeping mask: I have found that contoured sleeping mask works best for me and this one comes with a set of earplugs (I have already lost). I love and recommend it anyway.

Laundry bag: Take whatever works best for you, but bring along a laundry bag. The next laundry service might not be just around the corner and you’ll be glad you brought a bag to transport your laundry with you. The one I linked has a mesh front and back panels for breathability and packs flat for storage.

Headlamp: Never underestimate a good headlamp. I love the linked product

Other useful stuff: Bring some printed passport pictures for visas with you, a couple of zipties, extra batteries, a powerbank, hand sanitizer, and travel detergent for your in-between-laundry washes. I didn’t include the first-aid kid we brought along, because honestly, it sucked (read our emergency room experience in Laos to understand why). I don’t think you can prepare for what you’re about to run into and it doesn’t make sense to bring too much. My advice here is: bring some paracetamol, band-aids, meds against colds, disinfectant spray, and get everything else in the country you visit. Drug stores in foreign countries usually dish out medications we would normally need a prescription for at home and they’re a fraction of the price. Just be sure to check what you get with an expert before you take them – our prescribed antibiotics in Laos were actually double the amount a doctor at home suggested taking!

Do you have a travel-essential you’re missing on this list? Please share it with me in the comments below!


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