Seven months ago I took off on a trip across Europe. I had almost no plans for what I’d do or where I’d go. I wrote this post about what I was bringing with me and why. Now I’m back in California for a month and I thought I’d open up my backpack and share what’s survived the trip and earned a permanent spot on my travel gear roster.
There are a few things that I might not buy again if I could do it over again —I’ve noted these with a “MAYBE” in parentheses. Also keep in mind this packing list represents a trip that spanned from March to September through England, Scotland, Germany, Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Georgia, Armenia, and Nagorno-Karabakh. A large theme that developed during my travels was trekking so some of the things I carried were specifically for that. The weather on my trip was mainly warm however it could be very cold at night and I sometimes experienced freezing conditions while in the mountains.
Before we dig in, here’s a few general takeaways from my trip for others in the planning phases of their own trip.
Flexibility trumped minimalism. Half way through my trip I switched to a larger pack (58 liters vs. 44 liters). This allowed me to carry some camping gear and pack up to five days worth of food. Knowing I could be self-sufficient when I needed to be significantly increased the range of places I could go and helped me get off the beaten path. It also reduced stress as I never worried about accommodation. I don’t look at my gear as an “investment” although eventually the equipment might pay for itself in saved accommodation costs. I prefer to travel overland whenever possible so having to check my backpack with airlines wasn’t a big issue for me. I’ve found this style of travel suits me much better and it has allowed me to have some truly memorable experiences I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
Quick-dry clothes! I do most my washing in the shower and have clean and dry clothes by the end of the day.
Simplicity is nice. I have three outfits: a travel outfit, a trekking outfit and a casual outfit. I enjoy not having to think about what to wear.
Do you need a laptop? Only if you plan to work while traveling. I personally wouldn’t travel without one but if you aren’t working I don’t see a reason to have one. A smartphone is enough.
Don’t bring anything you aren’t willing to lose. I lost a lot of things.
Keep it basic. If you aren’t sure what you might need stick to the things you already need for daily living. As you travel it will be very apparent if you are missing something and it’s easy to add things. This will give you flexibility to adapt your travel style as you go and only spend money on things you’ll actually use.
Ok now to the list…
WHAT’S IN MY BACKPACK SEVEN MONTHS LATER
I’ll start with the items that proved to be invaluable and then list everything else by category.
THE VIP LIST
I switched out my Tortuga backpack for this pack about three months in. The Tortuga backpack was an excellent minimalist pack for city travel but I found I needed more space for food and trekking gear. The extra space gave me a flexibility to explore places that I didn’t have before.
This is an all around solid travel jacket. It fits well, is comfortable and very warm. It’s impressively lightweight and takes up little space, but maybe what I appreciate most about it is how well it’s held up to daily abuse while trekking. Layered with my fleece, this has kept me warm in freezing mountain conditions.
It’s small enough that I always carry it around (which results in getting photos many others don’t) and the quality far surpasses my iphone. It’s straightforward but also has a lot of features built in which gives a lot of room for creativity and improvement. It’s made photography a lot of fun and has been the cause for my growing interest in learning to take better photos. The extra battery I got for it has been unnecessary as the battery lasts quite a while. I use this leather case to protect it when not in use.
This quickly became my home away from home. Since picking it up in Ukraine I’ve spent roughly 30 nights in this tent. It packs small, weighs less than three pounds and sets up in five minutes. There is enough room to fit my pack inside the tent when sleeping.
iphone 5s – I learned how difficult travel can be without this bad boy after I left my iphone in the backseat of someone’s car. You can travel without one…but I don’t know why you would want to. I mainly used it for GPS maps, as an audio player and to find wifi.
Prana Brion Pants – I love these pants. I do everything in them —including sleep! They are super comfortable, really durable and look nice. I can’t recommend them highly enough.
2 x Orvis Invincible Wool Socks – I had three pairs but unfortunately lost one. They dry quickly, don’t retain odor and truly are invincible.
2 x Ex Officio Boxer Briefs – After losing a pair in Poland I tested their claim that you only need two pairs for a while. It’s doable but I’ll be returning to three. I didn’t like the sport version which gave me wedgies.
Sleep mask & ear plugs – Critical if you value your sleep.
Pocket-size notebook – I almost always carried a notebook with me for keeping important notes, recording ideas, journaling and communicating with locals.
Backpack rain cover – This came in handy several times as I carry books, maps and electronics in my backpack.
Packing Cubes – I use Tortuga’s set of three packing cubes although there are cheaper options and I think any would would work just fine. I don’t understand why there’s even a debate around whether they are worthwhile.
Outlander Daypack – Having a compressible daypack that I could use to carry my computer around was necessary however I don’t recommend this one. The interior lining has been shedding off since the beginning which makes an absolute mess and the threading has recently failed. I’ll be looking for a different solution.
Cheap waterproof jacket and pants – It sucks to be wet and cold.
Marmot Fleece Jacket (MAYBE) – It was fine for summer in Europe but I’d probably want something a bit warmer in colder climates.
Outdoor Designs Fuji Gloves (MAYBE) – These were nice to have on cold mornings and evenings camping. I ended up getting a second pair of gloves that were also waterproof as I had to walk in the rain at times. I’ll only keep one pair in my pack going forward.
2 x Under Armour T-shirts – I wore these shirts most days and including whenever I was traveling or trekking.They dry quickly which allowed me to wash them frequently.
Favorite cotton shirt – It’s nice to have something comfortable and casual to wear.
Long sleeve cotton shirt (MAYBE) – I wore this shirt mainly when going out in the evenings and it was nice for that but it takes up a lot of space. I’m not sure I’ll hold onto it since I’ll be heading to warmer climates.
Dark blue jeans (MAYBE) – It’s nice to have a pair of jeans for dressing casual but they take up a fair amount of space. I’ll probably bring them with me again though as I wore them fairly often.
Columbia Convertible Pants – Great for trekking and doubled as my main pair of shorts.
Cheap pair of cotton shorts – Nice for sleeping in.
Leather belt – I got tired of the basic, light-weight nylon belt I had and bought a leather belt in Romania. I’m always wearing it so it doesn’t take up any additional space.
Dry Max Socks – It’s nice to have some light, breathable socks for when it’s hot. I’ll add a second pair of these to the mix before I leave.
2 x Hiking Socks (MAYBE) – These are basic hiking socks. It was useful to have a couple extra clean pairs on long treks and they don’t take up much space.
Board shorts – I used them for swimming and running occasionally.
Beanie – This was absolutely required for camping in colder climates.
Mesh baseball cap – I wore this more than I expected. It was great for trekking as well.
Military style ripstop boonie hat (MAYBE) – Having two hats is a bit of a luxury but I used this while trekking enough to justify carrying it around.
Olukai Ohana Sandals – They are comfortable and don’t retain a lot of odor or get moldy after being wet which means they double as shower shoes.
Merril Moab Rover – I wore these everyday and they also saw a number of rugged multi-day treks. They are comfortable, lightweight and water-resistant and are a good all-around shoe for someone who expects to be outside walking a lot but doesn’t want to lug around heavy hiking boots. After seven months the stitching has come loose in a couple areas and I’ve found it worth it to have them restitched. I expect I’ll get at least a few more months out of them.
Memory card reader – For syncing my camera with my laptop
Flash drive – I used it once but it’s so small it doesn’t hurt to have.
2010 Macbook Pro w/ neoprene case (MAYBE) – I absolutely will bring a laptop with me but I hope to swap it out for a smaller and lighter macbook air. This computer was the heaviest single item I carried and it felt ridiculous to be carrying it with me on long treks in the mountains. Whatever computer I bring I will make sure it has a case to protect it while in my pack which can be a rough place to live.
LED Headlamp – Great for camping and navigating dark, strange rooms I wasn’t accustomed to when I had to pee really bad. I’d carry it even if I wasn’t camping. No need to carry extra batteries —you can pick them up almost anywhere.
Universal travel adapter – This one has been fine.
Timex watch – My first Timex crapped out on me. I went without one for a while but found I really relied on it so I got another one. I was willing to give Timex a second chance because they are affordable, waterproof and have the following features which I use: two time zones, indiglo and alarm. I never take it off.
Headphones – I’m on my 3rd pair of head phones. I put them in a case now to protect them when not in use. I wouldn’t even think about buying a nice pair…too much risk they get lost or damaged.
Kindle – My Kindle Paperwhite met a tragic end when I left it on a flight in Ukraine. I carried books around after that but prefer the variety and convenience that a Kindle offers and will replace it before I leave.
Basic sleeping pad – I bought one for $10. I kept telling myself I’d upgrade it later on but never did as I found the basic one was good enough.
Silk Sleep Sheet – This added extra warmth on really cold nights and also kept the inside of my sleeping bag clean. I occasionally used it on it’s own when the bedsheets where I was sleeping were questionable.
Quick Dry Towel – I got the large size and it’s perfect for me.
RFID Blocking Travel Belt (MAYBE) – I use this to organize all my cards, cash and important documents in my pack and for that reason it’s been useful. I never wear it and the “RFID blocking” feature is basically cardboard cases for your passport and cards so that’s not a huge help.
Sink Stopper & Wilderness Wash (MAYBE) – I’ve only used these a couple times. Usually I just wash my clothes in the shower or if they are beyond that I do a load of laundry. They take up very little space though and I like knowing I have the option so I’ll hold onto them.
TSA lock & cable – I’ve never had reason to use the cable but the combo lock is useful in hostels for securing my stuff. I really like that there’s no key which I would definitely lose.
Sawyer mini water filter – It was essential for the treks where water sources were questionable. The one time I didn’t use it I got sick. I will probably bring a Steripen as well for my trip to Asia as the mini water filter isn’t convenient for quickly sterilizing water from a sink or bottle.
UV sunglasses w/ case – I lost both original pairs of sunglasses that I brought with me. Having a case has been a good decision.
Dry bag – I wouldn’t dare carry my computer without this.
Quechua Forclaz Light 5 sleeping bag – Paired with my silk liner this kept me warm in conditions that reached a little below freezing. I’d want a warmer bag if it got much colder than that.
2 x Water canteens totaling about 2.5 liters – I bought a fancy water bottle for my trip and then lost it almost immediately. I found 2.5 liters to be the right volume for me for when I had a full day of trekking with little or no water on the trail. 1.5 liters is probably enough otherwise.
Primos Stove, 1 liter cook pot, lighter, plastic spork and 2 foldable cups – It’s comforting to be able to cook up a hot meal and make tea and coffee while on the trail.
Thank you cards – It’s really nice to be able to leave a note for people that have helped me along the way.
Toilet paper & baby wipes – I started carrying these around when camping but quickly realized it was a good thing to have with me all the time.
MacGuyver Kit – Duct tape, bottle opener, ziplock bags, sewing kit, extra pair of shoe laces, twist ties, safety pins, 10 feet of parachute cord. I used everything except for the shoe laces and twist ties.
Ibuprofren, Tylenol & prescription strength painkillers, emergency antibiotics, charcoal pills, Imodium, first aid kit with extra bandages & Compeed plasters – Not things you want to be without when/if needed.
Electric beard trimmer – It’s nice to be able to clean up a bit and not look like a complete bum all the time.
Baby powder – I used this to deodorize my shoes and keep my feet dry when trekking to avoid blisters.
Small pill organizer, chapstick, sunscreen, hand sanitizer, toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant, q-tips, floss picks, comb, nail clipper, file & tweezers
MONEY & DOCUMENTS
$200 Emergency fund
Chase Sapphire credit card – Best travel card out there.
Charles Schwab debit card – No atm transaction fees.
1 extra debit card and a couple extra credit cards – Back ups in case I lose the two above (which I of course did).
Passports, driver’s license, immunization card, travel insurance card w/ digital copies of each.
IN AND OUT (Things that could often also be found in my pack)
Books (Meditations, Mrs. Dalloway and On the Origin of Species at the moment) – Call me old-fashioned but I like having at least one physical book with me. I had three because I didn’t have a Kindle for the last month of my trip.
Food (oatmeal, cinnamon, nuts, dried fruit, rice, beans, fruit) – Since I am gluten-free it’s good to have readily available options in a pinch. Oatmeal w/ nuts, fruit and cinnamon was my staple breakfast many days on the trail and off.
Bottle of local wine
Butane fuel canister – For powering my portable stove when trekking.
Plastic bags – Very practical when camping.
Instant coffee & green tea – I usually have some of each on hand.
Dark chocolate & Snickers – These bad habits get me through long and bumpy marshukta rides.
And that’s it!
**Photo taken during a 5 day trek in the Svaneti region of northwest Georgia (the country).