HOW THE HELL DID YOU PACK?? It’s the question my husband and I get asked most often about our year-long, round-the-world trip, right after What is your favorite place? (admit to me which child is your favorite and I’ll tell you which stop I like best) and How have you two not killed each other? (we have, multiple times). To be completely honest, I am a horrible packer. Despite traveling for the past year, never staying in the same place for more than four weeks and averaging 4 or 5 nights in most, I still carry around entirely too much. Our trip looks like this: 2 months in South and Central America, 3 months in Europe and a bit of Africa, 3 months in Asia, 2 months in Australia, New Zealand and Tonga, then 2 months traveling around the States. All the time, chasing summer, dealing with the cold (Patagonia, New Zealand) only when we absolutely have to. (BTW, all of this with four pairs of shoes. FOUR. More on that later.) My vehicle of choice is a carry-on suitcase — this beautiful dark green one by Tumi — which has to be checked in because the zipper’s too expanded for it to fit into the overhead bin on planes. That said, I did still manage to get everything I need for our RTW adventure into that suitcase, with the occasional help of an Everlane twill tote, that I can also use during the day (the ziptop is key) and easily packs away into my suitcase when I don’t need it. The Husband carries this black Tumi duffel, as indestructible as my suitcase, which he also checks in but would be a carry-on bag under normal, non-RTW circumstances, as well as a Swiss Gear backpack with laptop pocket, to hold all of our cameras, laptop and electronic gear. It is therefore never checked in. That thing is heavy, but the only way we can cart around everything we need. Six months into our trip we picked up a guitar in Paris, bringing our number of bags up to five and turning our once-Socially Acceptable travel look into Homeless Gypsy Caravan. All of that said, there are a few things without which I will never again roam, thanks to this trip, and that I think every traveler should have, whether taking a journey around the world or just going away for a week-long vaca. And the winners are:
GoPro Silver Hero 4. The perfect camera. The pictures are incredible, both in and out of water, and the video and sound are unmatched (the timelapse feature is my favorite). Plus the camera is so small, it fits inside your pocket so you don’t scream tourist. Unless you really want to. While you’re at it, get this SBONY Monopod/Tripod combo to go with it. You can use it as a selfie stick, a monopod to get shots from high places or out the car window while you’re driving beautiful back roads, or as a tripod, which you need when setting up for timelapse (or any) videos. Also, bring along the Floatpro Floating Wrist Strap, because the only thing sadder than your vaca ending is watching all of your pictures sink away from you into the deep blue sea after you’ve just fumbled the camera off the side of the boat. Don’t be that guy.
Packing cubes. These changed my life. I was a fairly organized packer before but this has brought me to a whole new level. Roll your clothes to keep them wrinkle-free and then pack them into the cubes. Arrange them by pants, shirts, beach, hiking, whatever makes sense in your crazy head. Then, rather than messing up your bag when reaching for the shirt at the very bottom of the pile, pull out the cube with the needed item inside. The rest of your clothes inside the bag stay neat. Just the sight of the cute, clean cubes nestled together makes me smile and gives me a sense of accomplishment. #ineedabetterhobby
Suitcase bungee. I’m past the giant backpack phase of my life, so for anyone that has a wheelie suitcase, like me, this is a gift from heaven. We throw my husband’s heavy bag onto the top of the suitcase, strap this bungee cord contraption around the whole thing (I know this sounds like a typical Friday night for some of you) and away we go, without worry that the bag will fall to the side mid-roll and topple the whole operation. For those asking how I manage the wheelie on cobblestones or sand, please again see the word HUSBAND.
Silk sleeping bag liner. I do not carry a sleeping bag. I camp on occasion but this item has nothing to do with anything outdoors. This light little 4 oz. bundle comes in a carrying pouch the size of my hand and is a lifesaver when checking into any place with a questionable bed or linens. Sleeping on a train in Vietnam? You want this. Staying in a 2-star hotel (I don’t know why some places even bother with the stars) whose sheets or blankets are a) itchy b) brown or c) generally unappealing? Slip into this sleep sack and pull the offending sheets right on up over your silk-encased body (silk is lighter and easier to sleep in than the cotton versions). It’s long enough that your head doesn’t have to touch the pillow either. And on the chance that you DO go camping, this is perfect for extra warmth inside your sleeping bag.
Hand luggage scale. So you never, ever, EVER again have to scramble at the airport to transfer items from one bag to another, or worse, throw them away completely. And extra batteries to go with this, as you will inevitably forget to remove the existing ones, the scale will turn on in your bag and you’ll be stressed out the next time you try to use it and realize the battery is worn down. As you’re already late for the airport.
64GB thumb drive. Everywhere I go, I find friends or family who offer me movies, music and TV shows from their own collections. “Do you have a thumb drive to put these on?” Plug this small baby into your laptop and BAM: you’ve got entertainment on the plane, while waiting for your next train or in bed on a lazy night in. You can also upload pictures to share with others or store some of your own here if your laptop gets too full while on the road.
Headlamp. When my sister gave this to us before we started our RTW trip, I laughed her out of the room. I’m not going camping, I told her, nor am I planning to work in a mine. I, of course, am an idiot. This is one of the handiest tools out there. Everyone should have a flashlight when they’re traveling, and this allows you to have that, hands-free. I’ve used mine to read or go to the bathroom in a hotel in which the lights go off after 10pm, to go on late-night walks on the beach or to find my way home even later-night from the bar, to pack my bag in the early morning hours while my husband is still sleeping (no I wasn’t running away, it just takes me longer to pull my crap together, so I don’t wake him up til the last minute) and most recently, to hang up birthday decorations for my mother in a darkened living room while my parents slept just feet away. I am telling you, you will use it. And if nothing else, you can wear it when you’re manning the grill for dinner.
Ultra light down jacket. If you’re going somewhere warm but think you may need cool weather coverage at some point — hikes in Patagonia, cool nights in San Francisco, spring days in Paris that haven’t warmed up to summer just yet — then Uniqlo’s Ultra Light Down Jacket is for you. It packs up into and comes in a pouch about the size of your hand, just like the silk sleeping bag liner I talked about earlier, and weighs even less. It’s waterproof and looks nicer than a fleece or hoodie, so you can wear it out at night without feeling like you just got off a tour bus. Or hiking trail.
Kikkerland Universal Travel Adaptor. The flattest, most compact adaptor I’ve seen, and it converts to fit any outlet in any country. Heads up: this is NOT a voltage convertor. Most electronics today — cameras, phones, iPads, laptops — have dual voltage chargers, so all you need is an adaptor so you can plug your device into the wall. If you really need to use a hairdryer, flat iron or electric razor (the three most common reasons for convertors), buy the item when you get to your destination. Save yourself from shlepping the heavy convertors and take one step toward world peace by sparing your hotel/apartment hosts the frustration of blown fuses. The convertors rarely work with appliances that require heat anyway.
iPad mini. Even moreso than my beautiful 13″ MacBook Pro, which I love and cherish, the iPad mini is the perfect travel partner. A compact way to watch movies and TV shows, listen to music, look at photos or read books (thanks to my New York Public Library card I was able to borrow books online all around the world), without ever having to take the more cumbersome laptop out of the bag or worry that I’m running down the battery on my phone. This little gem is prettttty awesome. And the battery life, at least on mine, in insanely long.
A deck of cards. This last one is something I’ve always traveled with, and the first thing The Man and I go for when waiting anywhere, for anything. I grew up with my parents carrying cards on the road, and when I started traveling alone, I did the same. For Christmas this year I gave Anthony a deck of cards, personalized with photos from our trip, as the deck we’ve been using is so worn out. Because sometimes when traveling, you run out of power, the movies end or your book gets boring. And a lot of times, it’s just nice to go back to the basics.
So that’s my list. Getting back to the four pairs of shoes during our time on the road, they have been the perfect combination — flip-flops, tennis shoes, ballet flats and a nude sandal. They’ve served every purpose and their small number makes life so simple.
Your feet will thank you for leaving the heels at home.
To see this article as it appeared on Huffington Post, click here.