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How to pack for a RTW trip: 100-day update

Backpacks fully loaded for RTW travelOne of the things we stressed over most before we left was what to pack in our bags.

Hey, we even worried about what bags to buy to pack all that stuff.

So, almost 4 months into the trip, how did we fare with what we brought?

Smart choices

Without a doubt, our Ex Officio quick-dry underwear is a winner (his and hers). These are extremely comfortable in both hot and cold weather, and you can wash them out in the sink and have them dry by the next morning. It is always a chore to find laundry services in each new town on a long-term trip, and knowing we can quickly wash out our underwear every day in the shower or sink means we never have to worry about clean undies. You have no idea how important this will be on your own trip.

The next best thing is earplugs. It doesn’t matter where you stay, there is going to be some noise. It may be from the street, from people in your hostel, or even a buzzing fly or mosquito in your room. In fact, you may use them in the daytime to combat loud music on the bus or other similar situations. Packing earplugs can mean the difference between a good night’s sleep and a bad memory of what should be a great place.

Last but certainly not least, we love our Steri-Pen for cleaning water. We often buy water, but sometimes we run out, or it is inconvenient or unavailable, and it is nice to run the water from the tap into our bottles, stick the Steri-Pen in, and have clean water in a minute. We both got sick at the beginning of our trip from drinking unclean water, and we can tell you this is NOT a fun way to lose weight.

Warren is a great photographer, and back in Seattle he used a DSLR camera with lots of accessories. He sold it and bought a small Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 camera for the trip. What he gave up in range with a zoom lens he more than makes up for in ease of use and the fact that he can bring it anywhere. If you bring a huge camera you will be too self-conscious to take it with you everywhere, plus it will add significantly to your baggage load. We’ve met several people on the trip who have had their cameras stolen, and we wanted ours to be easy to use and easy to hide when we weren’t snapping pictures.

All four of these things take up very little space in our luggage but make a huge impact on our enjoyment of the trip.

Standing up to wear and tear

Keanes with MothraOur Keen Voyageur shoes are holding up well to some pretty harsh abuse. They really only need a good rinse after trudging through the mud and muck, and after a lot of mileage they are still pretty comfortable.

Just before the trip I bought a Scottevest. This is a pretty cool item because it has tons of pockets that are fairly well hidden. You won’t look or feel like a fisherman in this vest, but you can carry quite a bit on you. I really only wear this on travel days, and it comes in very handy. I keep the essentials on me in case my bag gets lost – contacts, passport, a pair of underwear, etc. If I need to, I can actually pack the camera, iPad, sunglasses, iPod, hat, etc. in the pockets. You can learn more about this vest by watching the videos from Rolf Pott’s 6-week trip with just a Scottevest for luggage.

Hats are practical, but not always easy to pack. I have a straw hat I bought 10 years ago that rolls up nice and neat in the bag. I have worn this hat almost every single day of this trip, and you can probably find a similar one for well under $20. Don’t skimp on bringing a hat – believe me, you’ll need it. Warren bought a great “Indiana Jones” one at the Otavalo Market in Ecuador and wore it almost daily for 3 months. Unfortunately, he left it in the overhead bin on a bus a couple of weeks ago and has missed it ever since. His replacement hat folds up in his bag just like mine, which means he is far less likely to leave it behind again.

Didn’t last long at all

Some things just didn’t work out for a variety of reasons.

  • We gave up the laptop bag because it was too painful to carry with the large backpacks. We bought another small backpack which we wear on the front, and it is not quite ideal, but workable. We need a laptop because of Warren’s website work, but if you just want to stay in touch with friends and family on your trip, there are internet cafes everywhere and no need to bring your own laptop.
  • We ended up leaving several items behind because we lost a lot of weight or we found we weren’t wearing them enough to justify the space they were taking up. It is hard to know when you buy new clothes whether you will really like them long-term or not. Wear them before you go as a comfort test.
  • We bought several items of clothing with insect repellent/sunscreen built in. This may work for some people, but we find that they give off an odd odor when we sweat that is pretty unpleasant. Any benefit we get from the chemicals is far offset by how much we offend each other when wearing them.
  • The Ex Officio button down shirts we bought were very unflattering. They are boxy and always made us stand out in a crowd as “new travelers.” The longer we are on this trip, the more we just want to look like regular people.
  • The iPad was a dumb move. We sold my Kindle when we got it, and since wifi has been so weak in almost every place we’ve gone, the iPad has essentially become a very expensive book reader. Don’t overthink your electronics. Really, you can find internet everywhere you go, and having it is just one more thing we have to worry guarding from theft or breakage. (We are keeping it, though.)
  • Makeup was a dumb move, too. I’ve worn it 3 times since we left, and it just takes up room in the bag. I’m not sure why I’m still carrying it.

We should have packed

  • Warren in the rain

    Photo by Lea Tusseau

    Plastic rain ponchos that cover the backpacks as well. We both brought conventional rain jackets which we never wore, and they took up much more room than the folding plastic ones.

  • Better socks. Investing in the right kind of socks can mean the difference between enjoying an experience and feeling the pain of it for days afterward. Don’t skimp on good socks.
  • The really awesome Swiss Army laptop backpack Warren had in Seattle. It would have been much better than what we use now. RIP, Swiss Army bag.

Lessons on packing for a RTW trip

How does the saying go?

“Pack half as much as you think you need and twice as much money.”

We can vouch for that 100%. Don’t overthink what you need beyond the basics because you can buy almost everything you need in even the smallest town, usually at a lower price than you would find back home. Our biggest regrets have come from the extra things we brought, not the things we left behind.

We have both lost weight on the trip, and if you go from desk jockey to traveler you probably will, too. Count on the fact that you will have to replace your clothes as you go, either from wear and tear, the harsh local washing methods, or simply from weight loss. If you invest in expensive clothes, it will be harder for you to consider replacing them.

The other tip we would give is to make sure all your clothes coordinate so you can wear them in a variety of different ways. If they are a rainbow of colors it will be harder to make them mix and match to stretch your options. (I have a red jacket, an orange Scottevest, and tshirts that are purple, green and orange, so you can see that I speak from experience.)

Our future plans concerning our possessions include:

  • Getting smaller backpacks. Now that we’ve gotten rid of a few things, we see that we can have smaller bags.
  • Buying new pants/shirts/socks for our slimmer selves when we get to Lima.
  • Gloves for our upcoming trip to Antarctica (coats and boots are provided by Gap Adventures).

We’ll give you another update in a few months to see how our possessions are evolving to suit our needs.

If you’re on the road, what are some of your tips for packing for a RTW trip? If you are still in the planning stages, what questions do you have?

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