Two of the most frequent questions that we heard about our trip were “What did you pack?” and “How did you live out of that backpack for four months?” Prior to our departure, these were two of our primary questions as well and we struggled to find appropriate guidance. Many hard-core backpackers suggest packing just two pairs of underwear (wear one, wash one) and have strong rules against jeans or really anything that is not quick-dry. Although we were serious about traveling light, we couldn’t quite identify with that level of stringency. We bought several travel-related items before we left, but we didn’t go overboard because we agreed that we could buy things that we need or really miss while we were on the road. We also decided that it was more important to us to feel comfortable and somewhat stylish than it was to reduce our load by 1.4 ounces. So we each brought a pair of jeans and some cotton pieces along with our quick-dry items and deservedly popular Ex Officio undies.
While on the road, we picked up a few new items either to supplement or replace some of what we had in our original collection. I have to note, though, that one of the biggest learning experiences of the trip was how little we needed during those four months. And one who loves her clothes, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I really didn’t miss my wardrobe back home (until the very end of the trip, that is, while inter-mixing with all of the stylish ladies in Tokyo). It was a powerful lesson in how little each of us really needs to be happy and satisfied.
With all of that said, here is our post-trip summary of what we packed, what we found really useful, and what we either never used or wouldn’t really recommend.
Master packing spreadsheet: This shows what we had in our individual packs, with brief notes about how often we used each item.
Most Useful Items:
These were always mentioned on the various travel blogs we read while researching the trip and we have to agree: they are a godsend when traveling with a backpack. They basically function as dresser drawers and make packing and unpacking easy and efficient.
Ex Officio undies
These items also incite passion on the travel blogs. Some people swear that you need just two pairs of these undies for a multi-month trip, as you can wash one pair every night while wearing the other pair. We each bought two pairs, but chose to supplement them with a few additional pairs. I must say, though, they are extremely comfortable and do dry quite quickly.
We each brought a quick-dry towel that was necessary in several of the hostels we stayed in, as well as our overnight train ride. Although these never really cover you up, they are remarkably absorbent and dry in a handful of hours. The Rick Steves version also comes with a handy carrying case.
Although not the most stylish footwear choice, these functional shoes are comfortable, airy, and sturdy. We wore them all the time in SE Asia and Europe.
We each brought two small locks to secure the zippers on our large pack and small daypack. Many of the hotels and hostels had small safes where we would keep our essential documents, but these locks added an extra layer of security and peace of mind. Although we brought a more robust PacSafe, we never actually used it on the trip.
We were very glad to have these during several overnight stops on the trip – most memorably on an overnight train ride in Vietnam and a few hostels along the way. It’s made of a lightweight silk that is very comfortable and shields you from suspicious bedding.
Eye mask & ear plugs
For a light sleeper like myself, both of these items were key in certain hostels and centrally located hotel rooms (such as the lovely spot in Montalcino that was just one block from church bells that rang every hour throughout the night).
We debated whether or not to bring a laptop on the trip, and in the end were very glad we decided to bring it along. It allowed us to work on the blog during train rides, listen to music via iTunes in our various hotel rooms, and feel confident about entering credit card data for hotel or plane reservations. We brought my 13-inch MacBook and this handy carrying sleeve.
Guidebooks & travel sites
We are huge fans of Rick Steves and all of his Europe guidebooks. At several stops outside of Europe, we found ourselves wishing that he covered more of the world. He provides interesting and useful advice, history, self-guided walking tours, etc. Among the web sites that we used frequently on the trip were: TripAdvisor (a trusted resource for non-biased hotel reviews, although you do have to watch for fakes), HostelWorld (provides overviews of hostels and similarly non-biased reviews … we found it advisable to steer clear of those hostels that scored high ratings in the “Fun” category), Expedia, and AsiaRooms.
This last-minute buy proved very useful in helping to keep all of our various documents, tickets, and paperwork organized and accessible. It held everything from our paper tickets to our international drivers license, immunization record, extra passport photos, and actual passport. Given its contents, this was one of the items we guarded most closely.
Also see our State of the travelers address.