What kind of bag to bring?
The backpack vs. the suitcase. Many, many travelers prefer the big backpack that you can hoist on to your body and be hands free and on the move on stairs, trains, boats, etc. A small suitcase with wheels (rollerboard) can also be fine if you are not roughing it too much and not going off the well-trodden path—basically anywhere with pavement (and not too many cobblestones) where you can still wheel your bag about. And being the indecisive gal that I am, I went for both. My bag is a suitcase with wheels, but also converts into a backpack if necessary. It has a daypack that zips to the front of it that I can remove once I’m settled in a town and touring around for the day. But I also had to bring a medium sized backpack because of my larger camera and other electronic goodies. Only a few times did I have to use my suitcase as a backpack: in Costa Rica when I had to board a motor boat in knee-high water, boarding some ferries with very steep stairs (very hard to lift my bag up these without toppling over), and on the rocky, gravely roads in Puerto Montt, Chile hiking uphill to my hotel.
What to Pack?
You’ve heard it time and time again: less is more.
Two of the most important things to remember:
**Everywhere you go, you can normally buy things that you might need and oftentimes cheaper than in the US.
**People do laundry all over the world…and so can you. Pack clothes only for about one week or less.
Random Packing Tips:
- Easy Luggage Tags—Use a business card or return address labels. TMI: don’t put home address—that’s just too much information. The best thing—have your email address and/or mobile phone number (your home phone number won’t do much good when you’re away, will it?)
- Contain and Separate: Use those vacuum-seal compression plastic bags for your clothes – the ones that you seal like a Ziploc bag and roll up to force the air out. I had one smaller one for t-shirts and a larger one for long sleeve shirts. I also use a couple Eagle Creek packing ‘cubes’ – one for underwear and one for pants. Not only do these save space in your pack, they help you keep your sanity every time you pack and unpack and pack and unpack again. This way, you don’t really have to think – you just keep everything in the same place all the time. Trust me, it makes life much easier this way.
- Less is best: Pack what you think you need and then eliminate half of it. Remember, you will be dealing with all this crap everyday. It is your home and your best friend. You don’t need the added mental stress of worrying if your pack will close each and everyday. Or worrying what kind of overcharges you will incur because your bag exceeds the airlines’ lovely limit. Plus you need to leave a little space for things you may pick up along the way (even though on longer adventures – you will have to mail most things home).
No matter how long your trip, pack the clothes you need for less than a week. This is a suggested list close to mine – give or take, more or less (tailor to your trip/weather):
- 2-3 pairs of cargo/hiking pants
- 1 pair jeans
- 3 pairs of shorts
- 1 sports bra
- 2-3 bras
- 10 pairs undies
- 1 bikini
- 1 pair boxers/PJs
- 1 running top
- 1 pair of running shorts
- 0-1 sweater
- 1 fleece zip top
- 4 pairs socks
- 4 t-shirts
- 4 tank tops
- 1 short-sleeve button down shirt
- 1 skirt
- 2 long sleeve athletic tops
- 1 baseball hat
- 1 pair nicer sandals
- 1 pair hiking sandals
- 1 pair flip-flops (great to wear around grotty-floored hostels)
- 1 pair Cole Haan/Nike Hiking Boots
- 1 pair New Balance Sneakers
- 1 jean jacket/light jacket/or just use fleece
- 1 packable rain jacket(a must and one of my faves in Central/South America and rainy spots)
(When I did find myself in colder climates, I simply bought a cheap coat, scarf and hat at a street market.)
Other items that are sure to help:
- Small micro fiber quick dry towel: great for those hostels that don’t supply towels
- Sleep sack (sheet sewn together on 3 sides like a sleeping bag): great for those hostels where you just don’t trust the sheets
- A couple locks (I always locked my bag when leaving it in my room if there was no storage locker)
- A couple scented tea light candles: to freshen up those stinky rooms
- Swiss Army knife or Multi-tool
- Mini roll of duct tape: 1001 uses including patching holes in screens to keep out the mozzies!
- Half a roll of toilet paper squished flat: a necessity in some spots of S. America and Asia
- A couple Ziploc bags: so many uses!
- Timex Watch: also plays roll of Alarm Clock (I pretty much wore mine non-stop…even to bed. Except if I slept with my arm under my pillow—then I’d miss the alarm. But it’s great and of course—takes a licking and keeps on ticking)
Pack lotions, shampoos, sunscreen, etc. in small plastic bottles. Along the way you will be able to beg, borrow, steal to refill.
Soap: bring one bar—get the rest at any hotels along the way
I save half or nearly finished toothpaste tubes to use for travel—it’s the same as buying those mini-tubes.
Don’t forget: Passport, tickets, and a couple photocopies of each (packed separately & also scanned and emailed to yourself & saved in a web-based email account that you can access anywhere), Immunization Card, extra Passport Photos (for VISAs you have to get along the way)