Planning and packing for a 3-month trip takes a whole lot of work. Here are some notes on how we did it and what we’d recommend.
Marcus and I host what we call our “G2 Summit” twice per year. We spend a weekend going through our accounts and seeing how we’re doing on debts and savings compared to our last projections. Answer: never as well as we hoped. With massive student loans and significant healthcare bills, my net-worth will be deep in the red for years to come. That said, we can’t wait until we’re elderly to start living. So, we build our budget as if bonuses and tax returns don’t exist (and sometimes they don’t), and we set that aside for travel.
We also take advantage of credit card points. If you’re not already aware, some folks are effectively professionals at accruing and utilizing credit card points – much the way that some folks are effectively professionals at couponing. We are not professionals. But we’ve been strategic enough with points and sales to land ourselves some great deals over the years… 8 free flights from JetBlue, $212 direct flights to Hawaii, etc.
Back when Marcus and I split our time between NYC and DC, we took the long road to 20 free Amtrak tickets. Here’s how we did that: Both people look at the Amtrak credit card online, but don’t bite. Then wait, 1 month, 2 months, 3, 6, as they send you increasingly good offers in the mail to sign up. When you think you’re at the max offer, one person signs up, then refers the other. The other signs up with the referral code and the same max offer. Boom. Life split between two cities is suddenly bearable for another year.
To folks following along, Starwood Preferred Guest credit cards were all the rage 5 years ago. Follow the same path: Put as much of your wedding on the cards as you can and pay it off right away. Merge your points. Boom. Your honeymoon is covered.
Major home improvements? If you can get those onto a points card, that’s gold, so long as you can pay it off again right away.
But as seemingly every Millennial knows right now, the Chase Sapphire Reserve is the unbeatable credit card of the moment. If you’re a couple and both sign up, you’ve got $3,000 for travel expenses before you downgrade yourself to a free card next year.
If we’re talking openly about money, though, we simply have to point out that the biggest contributing factor to our ability to travel – or really anything else – is the fact that we’re a couple. Everything is cheaper on a per-person basis when you’re sharing. So, if you don’t have a romantic partner, find a best friend. It makes all the difference in the world. And not just with money.
I was just reading in an in-flight magazine about the 1970s “Overlanders” – Hippies who caravanned from Europe through the Middle East to India, inspired by Kerouac, fueled by drugs, and seeking enlightenment. Before some very questionable meddling in the region by the US and Russia, amongst other things, it was apparently quite possible to travel in and through the Middle East from Europe to Asia. Just a decade later, that became impossible, and now it’s even hard to imagine.
Simply flying over the Middle East now is something that, I suspect, triggers at least a few worries in most Westerners’ heads. Our flight from Paris to Colombo stopped in Doha – one of the world’s largest and busiest airports. (Other common stopovers between Europe and Asia are Istanbul and Dubai.) But just a few weeks before we began our travels this summer, Qatar’s neighbors sanctioned the use of their airspace by all planes (and then just Qatar Airlines) flying into and out of Qatar. If you take a look at a map of Qatar, it’s easy to see how that’s a big problem.
Our flight, which was with Sri Lankan Airlines but operated by Qatar Airlines, went ahead as scheduled. We flew at 39,000 feet and seemed to follow directly along the Iraq-Iran border, which made me wonder if we were flying a bit higher and a bit more precisely along that border for a reason. Nevertheless, it was interesting to watch the in-flight map and see Mosul, Kirkuk, Baghdad, Basrah, Tehran, and Esfahan below.
Getting to the point, when you plan a global trip these days – unlike the 70s – most of us start by eliminating war-torn countries, including almost the entirety of the Middle East. 18 months ago, that would be about the extent of the redlining that had to be done. But then Zika happened. And while we’ve mostly heard about Brazil, the Zika map actually looks like this.
While we’ll happily travel to all of those places after we have kids, we aren’t risking it now. So, our trip planning had to flip from “where do we want to travel that will be more difficult after we have kids?” to “where do we can we travel that won’t threaten our ability to have (healthy) kids?” Out went almost all of the developing world.
The one questionable place we put on the list was Sri Lanka. If you zoom in closely on the CDC’s map, you’ll find that Sri Lanka is almost magically untouched by Zika at the moment, despite being fully surrounded by large countries and island nations at risk. The carrier mosquitoes live here and are currently causing another rampant outbreak of dengue fever, but no one seems to have transferred the Zika virus to this island’s mosquito population. Yet. Nonetheless, I am currently wearing 4! mosquito bracelets and am slathered head-to-toe in bugspray. Which may ultimately be more dangerous to future babies than the mosquitoes in the first place.
For trip planning, we recommend the following websites and apps:
- Lonely Planet - I thought the digital age (ex. TripAdvisor) had made Lonely Planet obsolete, but I've come to the conclusion that Lonely Planet books are still the best and easiest way to plan your trip itineraries. Suck it up and buy them early in your planning process. Get used copies of recent editions, if you can. If you're doing all of your planning ahead of time, you can photocopy or tear out parts that you want to bring along, or you can pack them and leave them behind in the place you're traveling to lighten your load. Pre-internet, I used Lonely Planet for restaurant and lodging recommendations, but now I mostly go to the interwebs for that part. That said, there aren't a ton of great online options for restaurant recs, either, as I'll explain below.
- TripAdvisor - I use TripAdvisor constantly for reviews of restaurants and lodging. It's not flawless -- there are plenty of fake reviews posted by the companies themselves and there are many differences in opinion out there. Also, you will only get recommendations on touristy restaurants here, as the reviews are written by tourists and not locals! But it's globally available and the reviews are in English.
- Spotted by Locals - Since Yelp is predominantly an American thing, it won't help you out much elsewhere in the world, except in the cases where traveling Americans have provided reviews of the places they went while traveling. For that reason, what you'll find there is very similar to what you'll find on TripAdvisor, as far as restaurant recs go. In Europe, FourSquare is more popular, and you can use it. But even that doesn't seem to have as much widespread use as we're used to seeing State-side. So, Spotted by Locals is where to head -- if your city is covered -- for restaurant recs by non-tourists.
- TripIt - I've had this app on my phone for years and never bothered with it for domestic travel. But for a complex, multi-week, round-the-world trip... It's amazing. As you book flights and hotels, it'll skim your email and create a full timeline itinerary for you to follow along. It always has your flight numbers, confirmation numbers, directions to your hotel, and anything else you might need already downloaded and listed right there. Share your items with your traveling partner, and you both have access to all of the necessary information with one click and never have to dig up an old email again.
- Google Trips - I'd been wondering about how useful Google Trips would be when it came out, and I will give it a B. Download the packet of information for the cities you're visiting, and Google Trips effectively works like an off-line, off-paper travel guide. The best feature, in my opinion, is that it tells you how to get from the airport or train station to downtown with one click of a button, even while you're still on the plane in airplane mode. But it seeks to tell you much more than that, particularly all of the most famous tourist sites for the city you're going to. It's mostly effective at that. I actually am more interested in the curated lists of sites that it makes that are specific to each city ("hip souvenirs," "karaoke bars," etc.) It's pretty great for some cities already; not so great for others. Keep an eye on it for the future.
- HostelWorld - As I think I mentioned in another post, hostels are not what they were 15 years ago. Somewhat nicer, much more expensive. Nonetheless, HostelWorld will help you sort through it quickly.
- Booking.com - As far as I can tell, Booking.com owns the market on international lodging. Skip your typical Kayak and Hotels.com searches and go straight here. Their site is complex, but it also has great search and filter functions as well as alternative lodging options. It'll save your past searches for you, making it easy to pick up where you left off previously. They'll price guarantee, too, which gives a bit of peace of mind, but I've never needed it -- they've always had the best price that I've found.
- AirBnB - Oh, AirBnb. What it could be and what it is. On a trip like this, AirBnB is absolutely a must. It can be downscale, upscale, private, shared, well-located, or out-of-the-way. It rarely is exactly what you hope it's going to be, and the bathrooms are too frequently dirtier than the worst budget hotel. It all depends on who you're renting from and whether they actually live in (at least occasionally) and truly care about their property or not. We've had some amazing AirBnBs. We've had some iffy AirBnBs. We've met some awesome people by sharing their homes. Most often, we take a full space to ourselves, enjoy the privacy and take full advantage of the kitchen and laundry. We've always gotten a better deal than a hotel. Truly, my only complaint is that you don't get a commercially clean bathroom. In addition to lodging, AirBnB now offers "experiences," which are generally tours, bar-hops, cooking or art classes, etc., run by locals. Only available in a few cities so far, these are a truly wonderful way to enjoy conversation and try new things with other people while on a long trip.
- WithLocals - Similar to AirBnB "experiences," this site will connect you with locals running tours, bar-hops, cooking or art classes, etc. But without the social network aspect of AirBnB, this may more quickly be overrun by highly commercial outfits.
- GetYourGuide - Tours.
- Rome2Rio - This is a great site that we keep landing on again and again, which attempts (successfully, as far as we've tested) to tell you how to get between any two places on earth by the various transit methods available. Yes, Google Maps tries to do that, too, and we definitely use Google Maps when out and about. But Rome2Rio seems to have a better web-based user interface and covers more transit options.
Purchasing & Packing
There’s no doubt that a long trip abroad is easier and more comfortable if you bring the right things (and only the right things). What the right things are depends a fair amount on the nature of your trip. Will you have to transport your luggage to many different places? Will you be crossing between various climate zones? For our trip, it’s “yes” to both.
Our 3-month around-the-world trip is taking us through 25+ cities, which means repacking and carrying our luggage every few days. And while it’s summer everywhere we’ve been in the past few months, we’ve been in distinctively cold and wet climates, hot and dry climates, and hot and humid climates. In Norway, we slept in a tent in 40-degree rain. In Morocco, the temperature didn’t drop under 110 degrees until our last day, and the lack of humidity left us cracked and dry. In Sri Lanka, we were constantly soaked through with sweat and fighting off mosquitoes, though it was only about 85 degrees out.
And what do you want to do on your trip? Camp? Paint? Surf? Read? Design? Stay Connected? Then you’ll need to pack accordingly.
I like to say that Marcus’s environmentalist M.O. is “minimalist” while mine is “pack rat.” (In terms of evolutionary psychology, we think Marcus is a fleer and I’m a burrower.) He figures that if he never acquires much and lives on as little as possible, then his impact is low. I figure if I acquire hyper-versatile, long-lasting items, reuse my scraps, and never throw anything away that I might need in the future, then my impact is low. :) Well, low-ish for an American. Needless to say, this difference makes homemaking and packing a challenge!
Luckily, we already owned most of the things we needed for this trip. But there were certain things worth buying, in the end – most notably, travel clothes. I was the one who was initially resistant to this. After all, I already own clothes; part of the joy of being a packrat is using up the things you already own. But Marcus knew that travel clothes would mean more comfortable travel and ultimately lighter luggage. Travel clothes are lightweight, breathable, smell-resistant, and, most importantly, they dry very quickly when you wash them in the sink and hang them up in your room overnight. If you’re like me, you’re thinking “so, cotton?” No. Cotton is exactly wrong.
Here’s what we packed for our trip with some notes. Much of it, we already owned; some of it we bought for this trip. If you want to more recommendations (non-travel-specific), I occasionally update this Pinterest board with products that I am especially happy with. Enjoy!
- Uniqlo Airism, Heat-Tech, and linen shirts - Clothing marketed as travel clothing costs a fortune and is often ugly. We did tons of research and discovered that Uniqlo has 2 lines of very affordable basics that are made of travel-appropriate materials. They're lightweight, breathable, smell-resistant, dry very quickly. They're simple, attractive, easily mix-and-matched, and they're pretty cheap, too! Airism will keep you cool; Heat-Tech will keep you warm. Go ahead and buy a selection of their shirts in every color they have except white, which will stain and grey during your trip. Your options will be black, grey, and tan, with a rare navy or brown available. So, yes, you'll match your travel partner and may feel somewhat bored, but you can add flair other ways. We also highly recommend a linen button-down shirt and an Airism hoodie for layering. Leave your bulky hoodies and cotton cardigans at home; they will neither pack nor breathe nor dry.
- BlackDiamond, Volcom, and Land's End bottoms - I already owned an ugly pair of khaki-colored, cargo-style hiking pants and a pair of Land's End black "travel chinos" that I bought for a work trip to Haiti some years ago in hopes that they'd take me from the office to the field without changing. So, I packed up those 2 pairs, plus a pair of jeans, a pair of jean shorts, and a pair of khaki shorts and called it a day. My verdict is this: my hiking pants really are ugly and my Land's End pants are actually pretty great. They're breathable, lightweight, resilient, and versatile. Would recommend. Marcus had higher aspirations, though -- to have one pair of pants and one pair of shorts to conquer it all. The man is now an expert on pant fabrics, cuts, and the market for travel pants, and he is extremely pleased with his 2 purchases: a pair of BlackDiamond travel pants and a pair of Volcom hybrid shorts / trunks. I did convince him to bring a pair of jeans on the trip, too, however, and he's glad that he did.
- Dresses - We ladies are lucky in that we have a greater variety of clothing to choose from, and dresses, in particular, pack quite small. I got a black-and-white striped maxi dress from Target for $30 and found a white-and-black striped knee-length summer dress in the back of my closet and packed both. Neither clean or dry quickly, but I also haven't needed to wash them often on this trip. I wore these 2 dresses in all countries, with layers over and under where necessary, to meet the cultural and climate requirements, and was impressed by how much variety I was able to create.
- Sports underwear and bras - Your supply of clean underwear is your ultimate limiting factor when traveling. Hell, that's true at home, too. Even if you hope to be able to have access to a washing machine about once per week and so bring 7 pairs, it's absolutely critical to have underwear that you can wash in the sink and dry overnight. It's also really important for the ladies, in particular, to have clean and breathable underwear to prevent UTIs and similar when traveling. Handwashing never works as well as a machine, I'm afraid, but it'll get you by. For travel underwear, you can dish out something like $30/pair for super-cute undies from Patagonia and similar. Or you can go to Target and buy a few 3-packs of Champion brand sports underwear for $5. They breathe, stretch, wash, and dry just as I hoped. Marcus, on his travel-clothes kick, invested in some of Uniqlo's Airism underwear and has been happy with his purchase. But they didn't make a similar line for women when we were shopping, and I trust the athletic companies on this one. I packed 1 sports bra (non-cotton), but I didn't want to wear a sports bra everyday while traveling. I didn't want to wear lace, underwire, or cotton bras while traveling, either. With a bit of searching, I found these shockingly cheap Kalon comfort bras that land somewhere in the middle. You can run, sleep, swim, or dress up in them if you need to. You can sweat through them and wash them overnight. No, they won't be your go-to bra at home, but for travel, they're awesome. And ridiculously cheap!
- Thinx - Tampons are not a worldwide phenomenon, so if you are a menstruating human who prefers them, you need to pack most of the tampons you'll need for your long trip at the beginning. Certainly, if you're traveling in Western Europe, you can top up at the store without a problem, but I did, as expected, find myself running low in inopportune places. So, before I left, I invested in a pair of Thinx, and I'm glad I did. They do work, but you can't wash them at night and have them dry by the next day. It also doesn't make a lot of sense from time, money, or practicality to travel with several pairs of them, either. But 1 pair for emergencies is a great investment. For those of you who use diva cups or similar... I'm afraid you'll need to do some reading about those and travel. With the water quality and dirty bathrooms I've been in this summer, I shudder at the thought of trying to clean those well enough!
- Kirkland (CostCo) and Champion socks - For cold weather, merino wool socks are a necessity. I really had no idea what I was missing all of these years that I just wore thick or layered cotton socks to go sledding. Anyone who has a basic familiarity with winter sports knows this. It is no secret or mystery. But in case you're like me and want to shrug and say "why do I need more socks? I own socks," just go ahead and buy the wool socks. They're not that expensive and your feet will feel like normal feet even after a day of soaking in snowmelt or a night of camping in the bitter cold. Like everything else mentioned, you can spend $30/pair for wool socks. But if you read around, you'll find a very loyal following for CostCo's Kirkland merino wool socks. If you can't get to CostCo, you can grab them on Amazon, but search under women's socks rather than men's, and you'll save yourself $10/pack. Marcus and I have vastly different sized feet, but my Kirklands fit both of us just fine, so he bought himself the same ones. For everyday socks, especially in hot weather, I recommend simply picking up some cheap packs of Champion brand quick-dry running socks at Target when you get your underwear.
- A buff - I didn't know what these things were called; REI informs me that they are called "buffs," though mine is a cheap one that I grabbed somewhere a long time ago. It's a scarf, headband, and a sweat rag. If you're in college, it's also a tube top and a mini skirt. Any which way, it's good to have one around.
- Running tights & long johns - To hike and camp in a range of temperatures, I brought along my winter, thermal running tights and a pair of $3 Fruit-of-the-Loom fleece long johns. Looked like an elf, but I was thankful for every layer in the 40-degree Norwegian rain.
- Trail sneakers - In order to handle serious hiking, city streets, and the occasional run with a single shoe, Marcus and I both used trail sneakers as our primary travel shoe. I owned an old pair of New Balance's that were marketed as "trail running shoes," and Marcus did heavy research before picking out a pair of Salomon's that were marketed similarly. With new shoes, Marcus had much better tread, stability, and water-tightness than I did on our hikes. But we both fared fine. That said, true hiking boots (as well as hiking poles!) are absolutely warranted for all of the hikes that we did this summer. If you can afford them and pack them, you will be better served by them.
- OluKai Luana sandals - While Marcus committed himself to one pair of sneakers and a pair of flip flops for camping showers, I wanted something that could be dressed up, that was still rugged, that had good support, and that was waterproof. I did a lot of research on sandals, trying hard to avoid the Teva look, and discovered the Hawaiian brand OluKai for the first time. My Luana's are fake white leather with solid soles, a bit of tread, and padding in the right places. They never slipped, stretched, or cut up my feet. And they don't, IMO, look like Teva's. I'm very happy with them.
- B&Co rain boots - After our first hike in Norway, my old trail running shoes were soaked through and caked with snow and mud, and they took many days to dry out. Worse still, it was raining non-stop and our campsite was a cold mudbath. I could have sullied a new pair of wool socks each time I needed to get out of the tent by shoving them into my wet shoes or walking around the campsite in sandals, but that would have been even more miserable. So I went directly to the shoe store in Norway and bought what is apparently quite a popular shoe there -- rain boots! These ankle-high rain boots are a bit bulky, but they are flexible and can be squished down fairly flat for packing. More importantly, they are my favorite shoe in the world now. They are really easy to get on and off while you're climbing out of a tent and it doesn't matter how mucky out it is, your feet stay clean and dry. Spray them off with a hose, and you're ready to go. I love them so much. Did I mention that I love them?
- Flip flops - Despite all of the other shoes, you still inevitably need a cheap pair of flops for the many gross showers that you will encounter on your trip. And you'll probably still get athlete's foot anyway.
- Puffy vest - I'm a big believer in the puffy vest. Yes, it's puffy. But it compresses! Marcus decided to brave Norway with just a fleece, but I knew I needed more than that... and yet not a whole winter coat. Thus, the puffy vest. I got mine years ago at Target for something like $15, so it was a foregone choice. But nearly every other hiker and camper we met had a "legitimate" rainproof, windproof, multi-layer jacket from Patagonia or a similar store. If you can afford that, great. If not, my $15 puffy vest over multiple long-sleeve thermal layers worked well for me.
- Rain jacket - For both the Norwegian mountains and the Sri Lankan monsoon, we needed to have waterproof jackets with us. I already owned 2 varieties of rain jacket -- one from Land's End that I bought for that same old trip to Haiti and one fold-up, ultra-thin rain jacket for road cycling. We brought both and used both, appreciating that each had different features. Which brings us to one of my rules-of-thumb: if you need more than one of something (because you're more than one person or just because you do), diversify.
- Beach coverups, exercise clothes, and pajamas - All 3 use-cases can be covered by 1 pair of soft running shorts and t-shirts.
- Hats and gloves - A wool or microfiber hat for hiking and camping is very important, as are appropriate gloves.
- Bathing suit
- Luggage and daypacks - We are traveling with one backpacking bag with detachable daypack, one rolling carry-on, and a second daypack. I already owned an old backpacking bag, but my research shows that the Osprey Farpoint 55 is the hands-down best bag available these days and is what I would buy if I were in the market to replace what I've got. For a rolling carry-on, I can't recommend this Eagle Creek Load Warrior 22 highly enough -- it has served us well for many years, and I continue to sing its praises on this trip. And if you're in the market for a second daypack, something water-resistant but laptop-friendly from NorthFace will serve you well from hiking trails to city streets to busy airports.
- So many different bags - In addition to your primary luggage and daypacks themselves, it's useful to pack a variety of other bags for organizational purposes. Luckily, they're small when not in use! First up, packing cubes are a small investment for the amount of sanity they ensure on a long trip. I recommend either Amazon Basics packing cubes or Eagle Creek compression cubes or using a mix. To keep shoes separate, I always save the fabric bags that sheet sets come in and use those. Also, bring a draw-string mesh laundry bag, a waterproof stuff sack, an insulated zippered grocery bag, and ziplock bags. That should cover a wide variety of needs.
- No jewelry - Do not travel with jewelry. Seriously. Everyone loses their wedding rings. And if you somehow don't lose it, you'll just attract attention and/or ding them up anyway. Leave it all at home.
- A Turkish towel or sarong - Another of my strong recommendations is to travel with a Turkish towel or sarong. It's a beach blanket, picnic blanket, airplane blanket, hostel blanket, camping blanket, and a towel. If it's a sarong (as opposed to a Turkish towel), it can also be a wrap dress, skirt, top, scarf, or hajib in a pinch.
- A camping towel - And yet, each person should still bring a small, microfiber camping towel.
- A water bottle - If you're 2 people, I recommend diversifying with one simple plastic squeezy one and one insulated metal one, so that you can tote hot tea, coffee, and even soup.
- Ear plugs and eye mask - Important to have on hand even for those who rarely need such things.
- Airplane pillow - This one looks strange, but I have tried so many over the years and I like this the most.
- A sleeping bag liner - I'm skipping over camping equipment in this post (check out my Pinterest board for camping supply recommendations), but a sleeping bag liner can be a great item to pack if you're worried about the cleanliness of the beds you'll be sleeping in. I am a huge fan of the Sea-to-Summit sleeping bag liners, predominantly because they improve the warmth of my sleeping bag dramatically.
- Rubber bands and a roll of packing tape - Not duct tape -- that has metal in it and can't be used for shipping, did you know?
- A compact umbrella
While I think it's silly to travel with make-up, my cheap-o Amazon Basics hanging toiletry bag is one of the very largest things I'm carrying on this trip. That is predominantly due to the massive amount of medicine that I have to carry for 3-months abroad. Speaking of medicine, I recommend using PillPack when traveling and when not. It's a very imperfect service still, but it remains worthwhile overall. And while having your medicines in daily packs takes up much more space in your bag, juggling dozens of bottles in a dark hostel room or camp bathroom is miserable. Another wise traveler's note: Never put your prescription medicine in your checked baggage, lest you want to end up in a true emergency when the airline loses your bags.
Moving on. In my toiletry bag, we have...
- Silicone travel bottles - Yes, these are worth the price-gauging. Check Target's travel-toiletry section and eBay in hopes of getting them for $1-2 per.
- Advil, Tylenol, and Pepto-Bismol travel tubes - I'm not big on pain relievers, but I was deeply grateful for some Advil to alleviate back spasms and knee aches after our hikes. Similarly, I didn't think there was any use in having Tylenol, but I sang a different tune after my double-ear infection gave me bad fevers. And then there's Pepto-Bismol. I don't go down the street, let alone across the world, without it. The little travel tubes that are the size of a lipstick are great to have on hand.
- Sunscreen, bug spray, bug repellant bracelets, anti-itch cream - Also bring an antihistamine if you are prone to bug bite reactions like I am.
- Toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, mouthwash, and gum in travel sizes
- Razor, tweezers, and nail clippers
- Hairties and bobbie pins
- Plastic comb
- Foot file - I know this sounds a bit silly, but a small flat foot file will help counteract the damage you'll do to your feet from heavy travel.
- Athlete's foot cream - Our feet have been subjected to extreme cold, heat, humidity, shoes soaked through in mud and snow, an assortment of traditional public baths in Europe and Asia, beaches, pools, and so many mildewy bathrooms. Despite best precautions, athlete's foot seems unavoidable to me on a trip like this. Other ladies tell me that UTIs and yeast infections are also unavoidable on trips like this, though I've been spared. That said, pack accordingly.
- Tea tree oil, white vinegar, baking soda, and all-purpose soap - It may sound like you're packing a chemistry experiment here, but these items can solve a lot of problems. A bit of tea tree oil in your body wash will help prevent athlete's foot in the first place, and it can be used to remedy many other infections topically or otherwise. A bit of baking soda can help you deep-clean your travel toothbrush periodically, it'll deodorize your stinky shoes, and it can also be used in a variety of home remedies. White vinegar sort of splits the difference between tea tree oil and baking soda -- you can disinfect objects or bodyparts with it, and you can put a bit in with your laundry as a freshening boost. These things are helpful if you're otherwise relying on all-purpose soap for most of your other body, clothes, and dish cleaning needs. All-purpose soap never works well, in my experience, and being able to get a bit of a deeper clean periodically on your trip with the help of the other items can be a savior.
- Hand sanitizer and baby wipes
- Shampoo, conditioner, and body wash
- First-aid kit with bandaids, medical tape, and ace bandage
- Snap Spectacles - Early on in our planning, Marcus announced that he wanted to buy a pair of Snap Spectacles for $130 for our trip. I thought he was joking and then I thought he was ridiculous. We both are openly embarrassed about how many gadgets we've acquired over the years, and while we love technological progress, we hate fads and adding to landfills with quickly obsolete junk. Despite owning camera phones and an older DSLR, Marcus was quite serious about the Snap Spectacles. And I was 100% wrong in my skepticism. While they may be the least practical thing we purchased for our trip, they may be the thing that has brought the most value. If you've been trolling our gallery throughout the summer, you've seen some of our videos go up, and we have hundreds of more clips still to post. I wish we had had Snap Spectacles at our wedding -- they are the easiest and best way to capture fleeting moments that I've ever seen, and we're going to enjoy the memories that we've snapped for the rest of our lives.
- Hive, Bananagrams, cards - Easily packable and addictive.
- iPhones, Macbooks, iPad - Being computer nerds, we don't go anywhere without these things. We contemplated sharing 1 laptop and 1 iPad, but we each had personal projects that we wanted to work on during the summer, so 2 computers were necessary, plus the iPad for e-books, movies, and TV.
- Charging cords, plug adapters, voltage adapters, battery chargers, battery packs - If you're traveling with only Apple products, you shouldn't need a voltage adapter anywhere in the world -- just plug adapters. But if you bring a DSLR, as I did, you'll need rechargeable batteries, a battery charger, and a voltage adapter for that, too.
- DSLR, cords, SD cards - iPhone cameras have gotten so good at this point that they really put my older DSLR to shame. And you can get clip-on lenses for your iPhone, to boot, so unless you're a fine art photographer, I'm not sure it makes any sense to own or travel with a DSLR anymore. Nonetheless, I bought one years ago and thought I'd aspire towards some more sophisticated photography on this trip. Mostly, it just weighed me down. :-P
- Books, notebook, pens, journal - We may be technophiles, but I am still a believer in paper books and handwritten journals. I really ought to reconsider, given that my book collection takes up significant space in our home and our luggage, alike. E-books and audiobooks really are more reasonable for travel. That said, it's important to have a small notebook available while traveling and a few pens, at a minimum.
- Sketchbook, pens, pencil, watercolors, paintbrushes - If you're a painter or sketcher -- or if you aspire to be one -- then pack these up as small as you can and bring them along. I may not have used mine as much as I would have liked, but it is a longstanding tradition amongst many travelers and a wonderful way to spend time.
Traveling with some snacks on hand will help you get through tough spots when food is not readily available or appetizing. Of course, you'll buy more snacks as you go, but there are certain things that it's easier to get ahold of State-side and that are as reliable for commuting as hiking. It may seem odd to take up space in your luggage for these items, but I'd do it again. Besides, once you've worked through them, you have free space in your bags for souvenirs!
- Cliff Bars and Shot Bloks
- Gatorade packets or tablets - I could write an entire post on the difficulty of staying hydrated while traveling. My first kidney stone occurred shortly after my first backpacking trip, after all, and I'm more than a little worried about it happening yet again. Replacing your electrolytes can help with general hydration, but I especially recommend bringing these to help when you're recovering from dysentery.
- Pringles - No need to pack Pringles ahead of time, really. They're a rare item that is truly available worldwide, and while I don't eat them at home, they are wonderfully packable and familiar.
- Tea bags - Believe it or not, though our summer travels took us through some of the foodiest parts Europe and 2 tea-famous countries (Sri Lanka and Japan), I had a hell of a time getting a cup of tea most days. And forget about iced tea, which is very much an American thing. Save yourself lots of money and disappointment and pack a ziplock bag with your favorite tea to make wherever you find an electric kettle or microwave.
- T-Mobile and Google Project Fi - We use T-Mobile, which gives us unlimited international data at a somewhat reduced speed, and we can use that data on our phones or tether it to our laptops. On top of that, we can do free VOIP calls whenever we have access to wifi. For the vast majority of our trip, this was all we needed. Folks who don't have these things often will buy local SIM cards to gain access to local cell networks, and that's fine, too. Not knowing how our T-Mobile connections would serve us, though, we brought an extra phone to use as a mobile hotspot through Google's Project Fi network. At $10/GB, this is a decent option for keeping you connected without having to buy local SIMs. The key is to manage your data usage (especially background updates) carefully, though.
- Express VPN - For a bit more security on open networks and also to ensure that you can still stream your favorite shows from your subscription services while traveling, you need a VPN. This one has worked well for us at $2/month.
Need even more recommendations? Email me. That's all I got for now.