We’ve gotten a lot of questions about this semi-insane, once-in-a-lifetime adventure we’ve just embarked on, but one of the most frequent is about what we chose to pack. It’s a good question, one that we’ve spent so many hours researching that I may or may not have gone a little crazy. The short answer? Very little. Obviously, I don’t mean ‘nothing’, but compared to the amount of stuff the average person has access to in their home on a daily basis, we’re taking very little with us.
Round-the-world (RTW) travel requires some level of minimalism, a word that still makes me shudder when I say it. Think about it–how many pieces of luggage can you really carry around and properly track? With luggage fees what they are, carrying more than one bag would get pricey very quickly. How many clothes do you wear on a regular basis? If we’re honest with ourselves, most people repeat the same 2-3 weeks worth of clothes on a continuous loop each season. What CAN’T you buy on the road if you need a replacement? While some things (read: legal documents like your passport & expensive things like your laptop) are hard to replace/replenish along the way, most things are available in most countries. There are, of course, exceptions, and these are the kinds of things you need to plan for.
For anyone who even remotely knows me, you know I don’t have a minimalist bone in my body, so mentally preparing for this has been rough to say the least. But I did it! My VERY detailed packing list (and thought process) is here for anyone who is curious or trying to plan their very own RTW trip (do it!). Some items were not ‘necessary’, but a girl has to have some limits. From what I’ve read, I may end up paring this down even further as we go along (future Sally will apparently be much more zen), but I’m pretty damn proud of myself for right now.
First: what kind of luggage do you want to take? There are endless blogs about world travel and all of them touch on this topic. People use everything from huge backpacks to duffels to rolling suitcases, all depending on the type of trip they’re embarking on. My decision? Hardside rolling suitcase all the way. Some people are adamant that a rolling suitcase will be a nightmare on any uneven ground, but the reality is that it should be fine most of the time. Plus, my 5-foot frame can’t reasonably support a giant backpack carrying everything I need–I may be able to handle the weight but my 30 year old bones would make me regret it! After a little research, I decided to go with a 24″ Samsonite Hardside Spinner; I felt anything larger than 24″ would become unwieldy (and allow me to overpack which is not good on small inter-country flights in Asia) and a hardside suitcase would help protect my belongings better. I also got a small Osprey backpack to serve as a carry-on for flights as well as a daypack as needed. I am very proud to report that all of my belongings fit within these two pieces–I would like a trophy.
Now, onto the good stuff: what to pack?! After doing some research, it became clear that my closet was NOT filled with items appropriate for RTW travel, and so most of the clothing I decided to take on this trip is new. Things to consider: how easy it is to hand-wash, how quickly it air drys, is it comfortable, is it versatile (climate), etc. It’s not easy to find clothing that meets all of these criteria, so online shopping is your friend. I spent an obscene amount of money and time on Zappos and Amazon, ordering 5-10 items at once, only keeping 1-2 after trying them on, and returning everything I didn’t like for a full refund. I honestly don’t think I could have shopped for this trip in retail stores…the internet is magic. In the end, I decided to bring enough clothes to last ~10 days between laundry runs. Outside of clothing, there’s of course footwear, toiletries, meds, electronics, etc to think about–all of that is outlined below too. [NOTE: Blog visitors of the male variety–you are more than welcome to read through this list, but please note that I am not at fault if you “read about ‘girly’ things you didn’t want to hear about.”]
CLOTHING (et al)
We knew we’d be experiencing temperatures between high ~40s and 80s+ throughout the year depending on location, so I was careful to select things that would be versatile and would layer easily. The reality is that when one of these items is over-worn, I’ll throw it out and buy something to replace it with along the way…and that’s ok. Can’t have any emotional attachments!
- 2 pairs of capris (denim)
- 3 pairs of long pants (1 denim, 1 nylon, 1 linen)
- 2 pairs of yoga pants, because I finally gave into this tragic fad of non-pants as pants 🤦🏽♀️ (my plan is to only wear these for long flights but the reality is that my judgment on this will likely deteriorate)
- 1 maxi skirt
- 1 knee-length black dress (for when we’re feeling fancy 💁🏽)
- 5 short sleeved tops (t-shirts)
- 1 long sleeved shirt
- 3 tank tops
- 5 pairs of merino wool socks (these are apparently the best socks in the world for RTW travel because they dry very quickly–essential for hand-washing laundry days)
- 10 pairs of underwear (2 ExOfficio pairs after reading about them on various other blogs but being too cheap to buy more than that until I know they are as magical as people claim they are)
- 2 regular bras (1 black, 1 beige), 1 sports bra (for when I pretend to be outdoorsy)
- 2 slip shorts (because any woman without a thigh gap will understand that there’s nothing cute about thighs rubbing together in 80+ degree heat 😒)
- 1 sarong (which I’m hoping will serve as a full beach cover up and beach towel when necessary)
- 3 bathing suits (I originally planned for 2 but decided to add a slightly older one that I don’t mind ruining, e.g. when we give baby elephants a bath in Thailand! 😃)
- a pair of shorts & a t-shirt for PJs
- my favorite robe (thanks, Swati!), to make me feel at home even though I’m not home
- a SCOTTeVEST travel sweatshirt (because there’s no such thing as too many pockets), a fleece, & a rain jacket, to serve as layer-able outerwear in colder climates
This one was tough…no cute sandals, no heels, no flats, nothing fun…I came to the harsh realization that my footwear needed to be primarily practical, even if it was boring and/or hideous.
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 1 pair of Birkenstocks (yes, I’ve done the unthinkable and am now a proud (?) owner of hideous yet comfortable crunchy-granola shoes ✌🏽)
- 1 pair of flip-flops to serve as beachwear and/or shower shoes
- 1 pair of water shoes for our many upcoming water activities (these are pretty unnecessary but I’m terrified of the ocean floor 😱)
TOILETRIES (et al)
Anyone who has traveled with me knows that I usually bring every imaginable toiletry with me, and this time was almost no different. I did cut down a bit and I certainly didn’t bring the quantities I actually need for the year (that would require an entire suitcase!), but I’m a woman who likes to be overly-prepared, and it’s too late in life to change who I am. Other RTW travelers claim you can use some of these toiletries for multiple purposes (e.g. soap as 1) body wash, 2) face wash, and 3) shampoo) but I’m not there yet.
- toothbrush with cover (because germs are gross)
- floss (because one day I’m going to be a real grown up who flosses every day)
- body wash
- face wash
- disposable razor (I decided it would be easier and cheaper to find disposables across the world than cartridge replacements)
- body lotion (because no one likes being ashy & I’ll need to rehydrate my skin after too much time in the sun 😎)
- daily facial moisturizer with SPF
- make-up (yes, I’m bringing make-up even though it sounds ridiculous; I went from 3 overfilled make-up bags to a single small pouch, so I think I deserve a prize 💅🏽), including loose power & brush, blush & brush, eyelash curler, mascara, 1 eye shadow pan & brush, lipstick x 2, eyebrow liner, black eyeliner, & concealer
- make-up remover
- tweezers (because messy eyebrows aren’t cute and splinters are the worst)
- cotton balls & q-tips
- hair brush
- hair ties & bobby pins, for when I figure out how to put up my newly Japanese-straightened hair
- dual-voltage travel-size blow dryer (I went back and forth on this one and decided to bring it because I wouldn’t want to air dry my hair in some of our colder destinations AND it’s technically better haircare if I take the 5 minutes to blow dry it)
- dual-voltage travel-size hair straightener (for when my pesky roots grow in; BTW the one I found is adorably small and gets super hot, a win-win so far)
- travel-size hair gel, for when fly aways are out of control
- rosewater toner & evening face cream, because I need to look #29forever
- emergency stash of tampons & panty liners (because you never know when reality will strike) – FYI, this should be easy to replenish in most of the world but not everywhere, so it’s important to plan ahead
- nail maintenance supplies (nail clippers, cuticle cutter, nail file)
- contacts – I wear dailies (and decided it would be a good idea to stick with that for a trip like this with potential cleanliness limitations) and packed a 6 month supply for leg 1, left a replenishment supply in Luxembourg for leg 2 (post-Christmas), and left a second replenishment supply with my mom for leg 3 (post-April)
- last but definitely not least, a package of baby wipes (because they’re good for everything)
I am a firm believer in being prepared for any medical dilemma, so I brought a little of everything. OTC drugs are easy enough to find/replenish in most places, but prescriptions are where things get tricky.
- Birth control – this was a tricky one. I’m on the pill and didn’t want to switch for lots of reasons, so I had to purchase a year’s supply ahead of time to ensure I would have it without issue everywhere I went. It was pricey to pay for them out of pocket (my insurance wasn’t going to cover that much advance supply and I’ve been #funemployed since June anyway) but a sweet coupon from GoodRx made a big difference–fully recommend this site for anyone having to pay for any kind of prescription out of pocket!
- Antibiotics (we brought Cipro), for the inevitable traveler’s diarrhea 💩
- Antimalarials (we went with Malarone) – this was more important to me than Ben because I’m SUPER prone to mosquito bites, but we’re only taking a 2 week supply and hoping to replenish in Asia for way cheaper (prices in the US are horrifying and my insurance refused to cover it because I didn’t HAVE malaria 🙄🙄🙄)
- Sea sickness patches (we don’t have a ton of boat time planned as of now, but just in case 🤢)
- Multi-vitamin (because one day I want to be an adult who is healthy-ish)
- Antacids (because #thisis30 👵🏽)
- Benadryl & hydrocortisone, for my inevitable mosquito-bites-turned-welts & unexplained-skin-rashes-from-new-laundry-detergent-exposure
- DayQuil & Mucinex, for when the guy next to you on the plane has the plague and sneezes/coughs on you 😷
- Pain meds (NSAIDs, aspirin, etc), because I’m not letting aches & pains ruin my day!
- Antibiotic ointment for the inevitable cuts and scrapes (don’t worry, we also got tetanus boosters)
- Speaking of vaccines, I also got vaccinated for typhoid fever, Japanese encephalitis, polio (booster), and yellow fever (already had Hep A). I feel ready for the apocalypse. 💪🏽
- Last, but not least, Xanax – because I won’t be able to sleep in the Australian bush any other way 😳😒
- mini sewing kit – generally superfluous but we’re on Day 1 of this trip and it’s already going to be useful
- double sided tape – I swear by this stuff…it’s helped me prevent many wardrobe malfunctions in my life
- collapsible water bottle – it’s better for the planet AND for your precious suitcase space
- a Zap-It for mosquito bite relief – might sound crazy but I’m incredibly prone to mosquito bites (it’s Day 1 and I’ve already gotten a few) and they often turn into welts, so I’m hoping this at helps me from scratching my skin off
- a small, cross-body purse for every day use – I decided to try one of those ‘anti-theft’ ones but I don’t think its special powers will be necessary for most of the trip; I also brought my favorite Coach clutch for even more minimalist days
- entertainment in the form of a deck of cards & UNO
- travel notebook – the goal is to use this to jot notes down throughout the trip and use it as a diary of sorts … need to get into the habit of writing on paper again first!
- travel pillow – I wasn’t sure this was necessary but brought it anyway to see how it worked out…I may very well chuck it if I don’t use it enough on the next few flights
- jewelry – I brought only the basics (couple pairs of stud earrings) plus a couple sentimental pieces. Lots of people asked if I would be storing my engagement ring at home for fear of losing it or having it stolen but I decided to keep it with me – my hand feels odd without it and we’re not really going to many places with significant crime risks, so if/when that time comes, I can easily lock it up in a hotel safe, etc.
- a beach towel – I didn’t plan to bring of these under the assumption that I would find one most places, but some friends gifted me this amazing sand-free Tesalate beach towel and I’m so glad I brought it! Used it today and it was magical.
I am not the electronics guru in this relationship, so I’ll leave it to Ben to go into detail about the camera & GoPro. Here are the electronics I did bring:
- my iPhone (w/ 2 charging cords & 2 pairs of headphones) because you can’t live in 2017 without a cell phone; I switched from Verizon to Project Fi (by cheating the system), as they appear to have the best international plan available
- my Kindle Paperwhite – I already swear by this and it was an obvious necessity for the trip–I have grandiose goals of reading 50 books this year (more on this in a future post)
- my Macbook + charger – useful for research and planning our days as we go along plus for writing blog posts 😉
- my Apple Watch + charger – this isn’t something that I think is necessary but it was a recent gift that I’ve grown to enjoy so I brought it along; for the purposes of travel, the biggest upside/use is the step tracker
- a battery pack for recharging electronics on the go (I don’t typically use these but it seemed like a good idea to have for this trip given how overused our phones might get throughout a long day)
- last but most certainly not least, my LugLoc – this little luggage tracker is my most important travel accessory (except for my passport I suppose) after my dreadful missing luggage debacle last summer. Never again will an airline employee tell me ‘We don’t know where your bag is’ because I’ll already know 😏
These are essential and irreplaceable:
- international driver’s license – we got ours from AAA, and you need a ‘regular’ driver’s license to apply for one of these
- immunization records – given how many countries we’re traveling between, it’s best to have proper documentation of which vaccines you’ve received, especially for yellow fever, which is required by several countries if you travel to an at-risk area beforehand
- extra passport photos for non-electronic visa applications (these are neither essential nor irreplaceable BUT visas are certainly important and something we thoroughly researched before starting this journey)
With everything you need to carry with you, a RTW suitcase must be properly organized, something I was born to do. I managed to fit ALL of my clothing items (except for the outerwear) in two packing cubes–one for clothing and for undergarments, swimwear, etc. The specific ones I bought aren’t available anymore, but the company has other options and mine are MAGICAL. I don’t know how I ever lived without them. I also used a toiletry bag (thanks, Neha!), a small make-up pouch, a pill box (pill bottles/boxes are space suckers), nylon shoe bags (because dirty shoes shouldn’t touch the rest of your stuff, duh), and countless quart-sized Ziplock bags to keep everything organized. The cubes allow me to keep my clothing folded and minimally wrinkled, AND they provide a place to store dirty laundry until you have access to a washer/dryer. I cannot rave about these enough! Everyone should use them.
That’s all folks! If you read this far, you deserve a trophy. I’m off to drink some wine. 🍷🏝