How to pack for a year?

A friend has asked how we pack when travelling for such a long time… here is an attempt to answer!

Packs vs. Suitcases

For all my previous travels around the world I took my trusty Fairydown pack I got for my 21st birthday. I couldn’t imagine travelling again with anything but a backpack! But given my pack was now 17 years old and time has brought with it advancements in durable but light material, we decided to invest in new lightweight packs. Antony had a couple of old packs which were ideal for hiking but not for travelling.

We both bought Osprey travel packs, which came with clip on the front (or zip on the back) day-packs. Mine is the women’s Wayfarer 70 L bought online from Torpedo 7 ($245 NZD – including delivery). Unfortunately Antony’s Waypoint 80L men’s version was not on special so we bought that at Bivouac for around $350 NZD.

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The day-packs are fantastic and we use them, as the name suggests, every day! With lots of very practical pockets in the right place, a protected pocket for our laptop and tablets and durable waterproof zips etc. a quality day pack is just as important as the big pack itself and we are really happy with ours.

Day pack handy when hiking in Georgia.

Day pack handy when hiking in Georgia.

Now 8 months into our travels, everything is holding up really well. I love when we are moving from one place to another in busy train stations etc that I can clip my day pack on to my big pack so it is on my front. That means I can easily access tickets and water and whatever else I have in the daypack, and keep my valuables safe. There’s a small pocket at the top which is perfect for passport, lip balm, a pen and tickets. Everything has its place which makes it wasy to find what you need.

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The large packs are basically one big room that zips open down both sides so you can pack it like a suitcase if you want. Or do the zips up and stuff it from the top.

I like the flexibility that a pack on your back gives you in terms of wearing it rather than dragging suitcases up stairs, on and off trains and along cobbled streets or gravel roads. That said- I usually wear my quick dry, size too big shirt when carrying the pack from one destination to the next as I end up rather hot and sweaty! If it’s raining I can pull out the orange rainproof cover I keep in the top little pocket of the pack and protect the pack with that. We’ve hardly seen any rain though and Antony has got by fine without one of these.

Packs are more practical than suitcases when you are staying in caves or wandering on gravel roads!

Packs are more practical than suitcases when you are staying in caves or wandering on gravel roads!

When checking in our big packs for flights or on bus trips we can pull out a cover that zips up our straps so they don’t get caught on things and the soft cushy back doesn’t get dirty – it can then be carried by a strong handle at the top of the pack or one at the side.

Back of the packs - mine is zipped up hiding the straps.

Back of the packs – mine is zipped up hiding the straps.

We have taken a number of flights on budget airlines around Europe and have often paid more per checked in luggage item than the ticket itself. Depending on where and when we travel next, it would be ideal to only have one pack to pay for and the other luggage could be carried on. ‘Sherpa Ants’ could carry the big pack and I get away with a small one perhaps… we will see!

Packing made easy

The best tip I got before leaving was to buy packing cells. We entered a Kathmandu store in Wellington when there was a great sale on and got them for a few dollars each.

Packing cells

Packing cells

I bought a few different sizes but next time I would leave the large one behind and take more small and medium ones. I use one for clothes I don’t need at the moment (i.e. gloves, winter woollens), one for underwear and socks, one for tops and one for bottoms, PJS and scarves. It makes unpacking and packing again very easy and it’s fast to find what you’re after. I have an old drawstring bag for dirty clothes and my puffer jacket is in it’s own bag. My one sweater I either have in my day pack or stuff in the pack on its own, same for the raincoat.

What to take?

Clothes
I can say now 8 months after we left that what I have in my pack is not what I started with! First I had ‘Iran appropriate’ clothes that after Iran I either sent back to NZ or gave away. I also had clothes that fitted when I left home in December but soon became far too small as I gained weight! Let’s just say all 10kg I lost in the year or so before I left, I am pretty sure have all returned!

I sent home some clothes, others I have in a packing cell of ‘clothes I can’t fit but want to keep’ and others I have simply given away or thrown out. In fact I do not have any of my three pairs of trousers I left with. Two were my favourite most comfortable pants at home so it was rather sad to part with them. I have been op-shopping here in Denmark and bought replacement pairs that are several sizes bigger than those I left with. I was pretty happy with my pair of jeans for 15 kroner ($3.10 NZ) that are exactly the right length, hardly worn and quite loose around the middle. (Thank you Rudkoebing!) I would never have thought I’d travel with jeans (too heavy) but they go with everything and you can wear them for ages before needing a wash.. and most importantly they fit me! Given we are heading for cooler seasons now, I got 2 other pairs of lightweight pants at Danish op shops as well… for the grand total of 45 kroner ($10NZ).

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Surprising additions to our travel packs – jeans & a travel yoga mat (Antony really wanted a yoga mat!).

20160815_092346All my tops from home also became too tight and have been replaced with 2 loose, cheap tops from H & M and an op-shop find which I’m growing to love. Recently, for the first time in my life, I decided bras were optional! No point being squeezed into something unnecessarily! Until I got to Denmark that is and shared my bra issues with a friend who promptly saved the day with ‘bra extenders’. I had never heard of these before but they attach to the catches at the back so make that part less tight and thus the bra a lot more comfortable. I also used a little traveler sewing kit to keep the underwire under control by sewing up the holes it had made in trying to escape.

The x3 rule?
Those who want to travel really light can adhere to the x3 rule. e.g. wear 1, wash 1, dry 1. But the way we are travelling does not require super light bags… and I can’t be bothered washing even underwear everyday. I have enough for 7 days. I have bike shorts for cycling (purchased after a day cycling without them led to bumps and redness and a lot of pain), leggings for yoga/ exercise/ workaway gardening work etc as well as shorts, a skirt and 3 or 4 pants. I have a number of merino wool singlets and long sleeve tops that can work as layers under or over other tops. Considering we have been in hot weather most of our trip I have mostly carried these around, using a long sleeve black merino and a red singlet merino the most. Merinos can be worn for days on end without smelling and they wash, dry and breathe well. I expect my merino supply will get busy in Oct & Nov! My puffer jacket has only emerged from its bag a couple of times too and I don’t think I’ve once used my gloves. My little luxury when traveling are my scarves– not necessary to have four but I like them all! Shoes wise I have my birkenstock sandals, one pair of walking shoes and slip on pump like red shoes (seldom worn, could do without). Antony just has sandals and walking shoes.

Other essentials
We have of course basic toiletries with us and can top these up from wherever we are when required. Been a bit hard to find natural products like we used at home for showergel, shampoo and tooothpaste though. I have one lipstick with me (hardly use) and 3 necklaces, 2 pairs of earrings now after the 3rd pair just broke 🙁 . There’s no need to lug female hygiene products around or worry about where to find what you like when you have a moon cup (can highly recommend to any woman reading this, traveler or not!!). We have a basic first aid kit with pain killers, anti diarrhoea pills, antihistamine pills and cream, plasters, tea tree oil (really handy), sunscreen etc. We each carry a travel towel and a silk sleep sack. These have been essential especially in Iran. Our black pak’n’save shopping bag from home continues to be handy when we go grocery shopping or are carrying food from one destination to another, also for beach trips. When not in use it can easily be stuffed into the pack.

Essentials! Shopping bag, First aid kit, toiletries & suncream, Sleep sack, Travel towel.

Essentials! Shopping bag, First aid kit, toiletries & sunscreen, Sleep sack, Travel towel.

I have used everything I have taken with me from home except a Kathmandu luggage lock thing, which is perhaps more useful if solo traveling.

Books & Technology

I still have my Iran Lonely Planet guide, it has been all over Europe! I haven’t surrendered it yet because I intend returning to Iran before our trip is over. We bought online PDF Lonely planet guides for Armenia and Georgia but haven’t used a guide for anywhere else. I have had at various times novels to read in my pack… I prefer a real book to reading on a device (although that would be very practical too!). Malta was a great source of second hand English books and I read a few there. I have 2 in my bag that I exchanged at our accommodation in France but have hardly picked up since (7 weeks ago!). I miss music- my spotify account doesn’t work outside New Zealand and I don’t have any music in any other space. I have a Samsung tablet with bluetooth keyboard case that I use all the time for trip planning and now blog writing plus a Samsung S5 phone which is our only camera. We got simcards in Iran, Armenia, Georgia, Poland and Denmark. Antony has a work laptop plus an old ipad for games/ ibooks and chilling. He left his phone in NZ and is enjoying being free from all the calls. All our photos get automatically uploaded to my google photos account whenever we have wifi and from there I make albums and share the photos I want to. We have no other photo storage. Google photos works really well, great app!

Well done if you have read all of this wordy post… if there’s something I didn’t cover or you want to ask please feel free in the comments… or share your packing tips! Our big packs when we have weighed in at airports are between 9 and 12 kgs each. Our small ones probably about 3- 5kg. It works for us with enough stuff without having too much or lacking anything.

Last picture here is of my St Christopher medal which was a gift from my colleagues, it is fixed to the inside of my pack and I really like having it there.

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