After a series of emotional, introspective posts, I thought it might be fun to change things up a bit. So in this entry, I’ll be starting a series on a fun subject many I’ve met on the road have urged me to write about. One driven less by my mind and heart, and more by my back: how I pack for travel.
To make sure this post doesn’t get too long, I’m breaking it up into bite-sized chunks. Here in Part 1, I’ll cover my strategy for how I approached the problem, starting from zero. In Part 2 (which you can read here) I’ll go into detailed specifics about what I’m carrying and why. Then in Part 3 (read here) I’ll demonstrate how I put it all together on a daily basis.
First, I started with a simple constraint, or a philosophy, if you will: I didn’t want to check a bag if I didn’t have to. I had a number of reasons for this, some of which I’m sure you can relate to.
– Hidden checked-baggage fees
– Lost, missing, or delayed bags
– Property theft by baggage handlers
– Damaged pack exterior, or damaged items inside
– Waiting in long lines during flight check-in
– Waiting to pick up my bag at my destination
And cargo gnomes. Obviously.
Eliminating checked baggage meant taking a carry-on, which most airlines generally limit to 44-46 liters in volume, or 9” x 14” x 22” (22cm x 35cm x 56cm), more or less, in dimension.
For a tall guy planning to travel around the world and anticipating a 4-season experience, that isn’t a lot of space! But I felt that the cost, convenience, and weight advantages of carry-on travel outnumbered the drawbacks. So I decided to try my best to make it happen.
Fortunately, if there’s one subject travelers like to talk about, it’s packing! A quick search for “rtw (‘round the world) packing list male” yields 600,000 results! – http://bfy.tw/8mnS – A similar search for “female” yields about 400,000 results. And in both cases, the top 5 results are great guidelines for long-term and even minimalist travelers.
But by far, the blog post that helped me the most was this one:
As a video blogger and “digital nomad” who works as he travels, Nick carries more tech than I do. But I referenced this outstanding page frequently when it came to discovering small, lightweight, durable, and high-quality travel items that I could use to optimize my load for weight, size, and versatility.
Looking over this list now, I can see at least 6 or 7 items that I purchased immediately after reading the post, and 3 or 4 more I wish I had because I ended up buying them along the way, anyway!
The one limitation of his list, though, is that it’s hyperminimal for clothing. He opts in favor of mostly camera and laptop gear in a 22 liter pack, which is really wild because it leaves very little room for clothes.
For example, apparently he only travels with 3 shirts. Total. And 2 pairs of underwear. I felt a similar approach would have limited me to less extreme climates and locales near sinks for daily washing. I also knew I wanted to buy the best gear I could afford ahead of time in the U.S., rather than hoping I could find the right item for the right price if/when I needed it elsewhere in the world.
So for a broader overview of what I might’ve needed for a wider range of experiences, I complimented the above post with the following two pages:
Between these three very comprehensive sites I was able to imagine pretty clearly what I wanted to carry, and what I didn’t.
Another unexpected advantage of going carry-on only was that it dramatically limited my choice of backpacks.
To see what I mean, walk into REI and look at the range of backpacks on the shelves. Literally racks and racks of them are available in all sizes, from 20 up to 80+ liters.
I’m not sure about you, but I sometimes suffer from analysis paralysis. I’m daunted by the possibility of having to evaluate numerous packs by size, weight, organization, comfort, and features, not to mention colors! Choosing carry-on only limited my options.
I narrowed the pool further by opting only for packs with a “front-loading” (sometimes called “clamshell”) design, which I strongly recommend for all travelers. This style of backpack resembles a suitcase in that one big, central flap opens up all the way to reveal everything inside the pack. This contrasts with the typical “top-loading” outdoors packs in which, to get at something at the bottom of the pack, you first have to take everything else out.
For a short hiking trip, that’s no problem. But months of digging, potentially sometimes in a hurry? No thank you.
Finally, I added an optional third filter: an inner laptop sleeve, since I knew I’d be traveling with a small MacBook. This wasn’t a strong requirement, so I was willing to discard it if necessary. But any pack with that feature earned closer consideration.
Applying those three filters (volume + design + laptop sleeve), I ended up with 4 choices:
For well-reviewed, affordable, front-loading brands, at the time that was basically it. That’s the bad news.
The good news? That number of packs is totally reasonable to put on my credit card to order from Amazon, try out, and return the ones I didn’t like! So that’s what I did.
Sorry not sorry. 🙂
Once I had the packs in hand, I used a “knockout” strategy, searching for details of each pack that might make them unsuitable for my needs. This was faster than doing a pro/con evaluation.
Here were my conclusions in brief, for those interested:
Tortuga Outbreaker 45: not suited for outdoors use; nonsensical inner compression system; fugly
Osprey Porter 46: though I’d owned this pack before and liked it, it’s definitely not suited for outdoors; tiny hip belt means potentially huge discomfort
Osprey Farpoint 40: small; not great for outdoors use
Kelty Redwing 44: Uh… nothing. And it includes a laptop sleeve! And it’s made in the USA! And I even like the colors!
So thankfully, after just one round of searching, the Kelty Redwing 44 showed itself to be everything I needed, and nothing I didn’t.
The only possible downside is that the design is only 3/4ths clamshell, so it doesn’t zip all the way open. But 3/4ths is close enough.
Fun side note, I learned later that the 50-liter model of this pack has also has a good reputation in the “Prepper” world. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, Preppers are an eye-opening subculture devoted to planning ahead for end-of-the-world scenarios where civilization is in turmoil and it’s time to either hunker down, or hit the road with only what you can carry.
Though it’s a controversial topic, as you might imagine this group can be pretty demanding when it comes to their gear. Probably because REI might not be open during the zombie apocalypse.
So while I wouldn’t necessarily think to consult a Prepper for his or her advice on global travel, their stamp of approval was a surprising bonus!
AN UNEXPECTED FRIEND
After getting clear on my needs and pack, it was time to move into the details.
While researching long term travel, I noticed one surprising item that seemed to be on many travelers’ lists. This piece of gear turned out to be as useful as it was unexpected. I’ve written about them here.
*heavenly trumpets blaring*
During a previous 7-week trip through Europe in 2004 (the first time I ever traveled) I used one or two of these to store loose, infrequently-used stuff. But I had no idea how essential several could be as a cornerstone of a long-term packing strategy.
Once I get into my actual pack-management technique, you’ll see why my travels would be 300% more challenging without them.
Until then, I highly recommend packing cubes as an inexpensive and absolutely vital piece of kit for organizing your belongings, for any traveler on any length trip using any size suitcase or pack.
You’ll see why as we get into parts 2 and 3. Stay tuned!