Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Packing For A Six Month Trip

"We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls." - Anais Nin

My second blog post finds us at exactly 1 month before trip start. Minus a few technicalities, we've got almost everything ready. Living out of a backpack for 6 months is not easy, especially when you travel on a budget, and a lot of compromises in terms of comfort and style have to be made. We'll bring a minimum of worldly possessions with us and we have to make sure the items we pick are essential, functional, and not too heavy.

I've put together a "packing" list of all the things I'm bringing with me. Anne has the same stuff, more or less. I hope anyone planning similar trips will find this helpful. 

Electronic Gear

10-inch netbook - bought second hand on E-bay for ~$180. I don't care what brand it is, how it looks, if it gets stolen, as long as I have something on the road to check my email, write blog posts, upload photos, watch movies and call my family.

1 Terra-bite external hard-drive that will be filled with movies, music and will act as storage for all the photos I'll be taking during the trip. Anne also has a Dropbox account, but I'm a bit skeptical about the upload speeds we'll encounter in Internet cafes, so I figured better have some storage device on us. 

Canon S95 digital camera - a wonderful small camera with full manual controls. I am still torn about not bringing my DSLR, but it would be attracting unnecessary attention from thieves, plus it would be too heavy to carry and require too much care. Will also bring an extra battery and extra SD card. These are essential on longer trips (e.g. the 4 day Inca Trail hike, for example.)

Shitty old unlocked phone - I've had this Nokia phone for over 5 years, it's unlocked and good to go in any country in the world. Nobody would want to steal this piece of shit. It might come handy to get a pre-paid sim card in some of the places where we plan on staying for longer.

I've also just got a Kindle, the cheapest one for $79. I was not sure whether I should get one or not, but realized it's so worth it in terms of the amount of space and weight in my luggage that it saves. Perks of having a Kindle: you ca buy some Lonely Planet guides for only $5 each versus almost $25 for the real book version. The Kindle store also has some good novels available for free. Most of them are classic fiction, but I've found a few good ones I've been meaning to read for a long time. I've also downloaded some travel guides in PDF format that I can load up and read on the Kindle. I still love paper books more than anything and don't want to sound like a techie snob, but this is ultimately about the weight I am willing and capable to haul on my back for six months.

Essential Gear and Clothing


Travel backpack - After some research and in-store trials at REI, I went with the Atmos 65 from Osprey. A friend of mine already had the same pack but in smaller capacity, and what I really liked about it is the ventilated mesh back panel. Basically, this mesh panel creates an inch of space between your back and the backpack, so your back doesn't sweat like crazy touching the backpack. I've always hated how much my back would sweat and how when I took the backpack off, I would suddenly get cold once the sweat started to dry off. Not with this one. I've already used it during my trip to Romania over the summer and it's pretty amazing. My new philosophy when shopping for gear is to buy from REI, take it for a spin, and return it if it doesn't do what I want. REI has such a great return policy.

Day backpack - Upon returning an old camping backpack to REI, I was able to get a Pacsafe Venturesafe 25L in exchange. It's just a regular plain black backpack, but it has a few security "perks" such as lockable zippers, a metal wire mesh sewn through the fabric (so that a thief doesn't cut your bag while you've fallen asleep on a bus or train somewhere) and really nice comfortable fit. This will be my bag for the many long plane, bus, train rides, as well as for daily hikes and activities.

Money hiding belt - This one's a really important accessory. I went with a soft silk one, which feels very comfortable around my belly. Last time I went backpacking through Peru I had a harder version, made of a harsh knotty fabric and it was itchy and extremely uncomfortable. If you're gonna travel for a long time and need to wear this thing on you for extended periods of time, I recommend getting a comfy one, like the one I got. Totally worth it. Not as much for hiding money, but for storing your passport and other important documents.  

Other essentials
I'm not going to go into details about what clothes to bring, it's really up to you and the itinerary you have, but I'll mention a few essential items you must bring.

  • hiking boots - make sure they're broken in, not bought 2 days before your trip starts.
  • comfy walking shoes - your gentle 9to5er yuppie feet are not accustomed to walking for hours, so make sure to bring super comfy shoes. I'm bringing a 2 year old pair of mega-broken-in Onitsuka Tigers; they're the best shoes ever. 
  • rain gear - ou'll definitely need it, so bring it. I have a set of jacket and pants and I recommend that over the stupid yellow poncho that all tourists wear. Proper rain gear covers you head to toe and you won't even feel any discomfort. Good rain gear is underrated.
  • a hoodie - this is my ultimate wear all-day every-day item on a trip. It's awesome because: a) you can layer it: zip up when it's cold, zip down when it gets warmer, hood on when you wanna take a nap on the plane or bus. Inconspicuous, gender-neutral and cool. 
  • plastic flip-flops - must haves for those times when you want to take showers in nasty hostel bathrooms and don't want to touch all those germs and fungi with your bare feet. Seriously, if you forget them, buy them as soon as you get there. Toe fungi are nasty and hard to get rid of. 
  • travel towel and pure castile soap - a fluffy real towel will probably occupy 1/3 of your backpack. Big no, no. Get a travel towel, like the one I got (see in this photo). Travel towels are made of microfiber or other similar materials and take up very little room in your backpack. They tend to stink up faster, but if you're in a really hot climate, might even wash it every few days and let it dry out. I also got a big bottle of pure castile soap, which can be used to wash clothes, your body, face, hair and everything else you want to wash. 
  • a pillow case to use in hostels - that's just my own personal oddity, so feel free to ignore it, laugh at it or follow it. I can't sleep well if I put my face on an "unknown" pillow case. Especially some $4/night hostels in South America where you don't know if the bedsheets have been washed before given to you. So what I usually do is sleep inside my own sleeping bag and slip my own pillow case on top of the pillow the hostel is providing. Then I can bury my face in it and sleep like a baby. Speaking of, don't forget to bring some ear plugs. This hostel in Lima I once stayed at had insane street traffic noise. Another hostel I stayed at had loud people coming into the room late at night. if you're a light sleeper, you need ear plugs. If you have one of those modern down/feather sleeping bags, best place to keep your ear plugs is inside the zipper pocket on your bag.
  • neck pillow for airplanes - I used to think these were "gay" but man, they are such a life (and neck) saver! If you've ever been on a 12-hour flight, you know what I'm talking about. Anne and I will be on two 17-hour flights back to back and we really need these babies for our own sanity.


  • pocket knife
  • can opener - a Swiss army knife would have both a knife and a can opener, but I'm not a big fan of those. They're nice, but the knife is always too small to be useful.
  • alarm clock (that runs on AA batteries)- for those times when you have to wake up at 4am to catch an early flight.
  • a roll of duct tape - laugh, but when your backpack strap breaks, when a thief cuts your luggage, when your bag gets caught on the airplane carousel and rips, that roll of duct tape will come in very handy. Generally speaking, it's the only tool you need to fix anything that breaks.
  • power adapters for different countries - I have this nice Tektonic kit I got in France a few years ago and it's got adapters for all different plugs around the world.
  • headlamp
  • sound splitter - for when you want to watch a movie on your laptop with a buddy and you can both plug in your own headphones. A sound splitter is super small, cheap (about $12 at Radio Shack) and totally awesome. 


  • for traveler diarrhea
  • for malaria
  • for altitude sickness
  • birth control
  • pain killers
  • insect repellent
  • sunscreen
  • band-aids
  • antibiotic cream
  • water purification tablets (Micropur)
  • prescription drugs if you have any (e.g. birth control)
  • contact lens liquid if you wear contacts
  • certificate of all vaccinations (staple it inside passport)
  • printouts of plane tickets and itinerary
  • extra passport photographs for visas
  • 2 color photocopies of everything important (also have digital copy in email account)
  • written down important phone numbers and insurance numbers (easy to access when there’s no Internet available)