Packing - it's one of my favourite topics.
It's also something that stresses a lot of people out. How can you fit everything you want into a bag that's small enough for you to carry around? The bad news is that you can't. But the good news is that you can fit most of the things you need, and you can buy almost anything else your heart desires on the road.
FYI: you will be able to tell now whether this post will be of any interest to you. I love packing lists and gear blogs, so this is the kind of thing I would LOVE, but if you're here for travel stories and pretty pictures, do yourself a favour and move along because this really just is a list of everything that's in my bag. Everything.
Our general packing philosophy
We both try to pack fairly light, knowing that there's nothing worse than lugging a heavy bag that bigger than you around. The holy grail really is being able to travel with carry on luggage only, but at the moment, we settle for just travelling light. We pack very few 'just in case' items, knowing that there really isn't anything you can't buy in most places in the world. So far, we've been lucky that we've travelled to warm countries, so we haven't had to carry much in the way of bulky winter gear.
It all starts with the bag
It really, really does. Don't buy a bag that fits the stuff you want to take. Buy a bag that you're willing to carry, and make your stuff fit. My pack is a well known and popular pack among light travellers - the Osprey Farpoint 40. It's a 40L pack, and fits the carry on size limits for most airlines.
I love it. I lusted after it for years, and finally decided to get it for this trip. Best decision ever. When I bought the bag, I had great visions of being able to travel carry on only, but the reality is that carry on travel is really hard. While my bag could fit the size dimensions for most airlines, many have a weight limit of 7 kgs. There is just no way I could keep the weight of my bag that low, especially when you consider that in addition to my Osprey, I carry a handbag containing all my electronics.
That said, having a small bag is great. While it took a while for me to nail the packing tetris, I now have a it down to a fine art. Using packing cubes (more on that later), I can have my bag packed in 5 minutes flat, and know exactly where everything is.
The bag itself is made of durable, lightweight fabric, measuring 54cm H x 35cm W x 23cm, weighing in at 1.44kgs. It has a wire suspension frame, padded shoulder straps and hip belt, and a mesh back panel to help with back sweat (which is fighting a losing battle, but it's nice of them to try). The pack comes with a detachable long strap, and all the straps can be protected by a zip up panel if you're putting the bag on a plane or under a bus.
The pack unzips on three sides for packing, and contains a large main compartment with two compression straps. There is also a separate large front pocket containing a padded sleeve for laptops (although I don't use this - this is one of the flaws in the bag I think. I assume this pouch is intended to be easy to access, but its position in the bag means that there's a real risk that your laptop could be bent or damaged if your bag is quite full).
Basically, this pack ticks all the boxes for me.
- It's a great size. 40L is large enough for me that I'm not cramming everything in and having it burst at the seams, but not so big that I'm carrying more than I can lift.
- It unzips completely. Don't even consider a top loading bag - it's hell when you want to access something at the bottom of your pack in a hurry.
- The main pocket is large, so it's easy to use with packing cubes. Bags that have lots of smaller compartments may seem like they'll be great for organisation, but in reality, a large main pocket gives you more flexibility in terms of fitting all your gear in.
- It's comfortable enough when it's on that I feel like I can happily walk around while carrying it, even when it's full.
Don't get me wrong - it's not perfect. I already mentioned the laptop pocket, but since we're not travelling carry on only, I probably would never pack my laptop in there anyway. It's also quite a short pack, which means that it sticks out quite a lot once it's full (rather than being tall and thin). But all in all, I love this bag, and if I was buying another pack today, I'd buy the same one. Hell, don't take my word for it - google Farpoint 40 review, and you'll find hundreds of travellers with glowing reviews.
Packing Cube 1
I've briefly mentioned packing cubes, but now's the time to go into detail. You have no idea how much these bad boys will change your life. Before our honeymoon, I'd never used packing cubes - they always seemed like a waste of space. It is true that you lose a bit of space by using packing cubes - if everything is packed into smaller cubes, you can't cram stuff into the tiny little nooks and crannies in your bag - but you can cram stuff into the cubes, using them as a kind of compression sack, so it can even out.
That aside, packing cubes are invaluable when you're living out of a bag in small rooms and moving around a lot. You can get stuff out of your bag easily without having a gear explosion, and packing your stuff back in is just a matter of putting the cubes back in their pre-assigned tetris places in the bag.
They come in a huge array of styles and sizes. Our are from Kathmandu, and are partly made of mesh to allow the stuff inside to 'breathe' and stop your clothes from getting musty. We each have two medium, and one long skinny one. Here are some similar ones available on Amazon.
ANYWAY! On with what's on my bag!
My first packing cube is the long, skinny one, and it contains my underwear, bras, socks, swimsuits and pyjamas. For this trip, I have packed:
- Underwear x 5. This is unremarkable underwear bought from Cotton On in New Zealand. Don't bother with anything lacy or fancy - it with get ruined in all the laundry houses while you travel. These are boring Nana cotton underwear, but I can't think of anything worse that sweating like a pig on an overnight bus with a scratchy lace thong up your arse. But you do you! Underwear is something that you don't really want to pack light though - it will be your rate limiting factor when it comes to days between trips to the laundromat. That said, undies are super easy to wash in the sink and leave to dry overnight, so hopefully you'll never really be caught short.
- Bras x 3 (2 x normal, 1 x sports bra). I actually started this trip with 6 bras, but tore one in the zipper of my bag before I left home, and ditched two more when I was in Bangalore. I thought that I needed as many bras as underwear, because I have an obsession with my bras and undies matching. On this particular trip, I've managed to relax my standards a little. I realised that my bulky bras were taking up unnecessary space, and my standards of hygiene have slipped enough that I managed to get a few days' wear out of them. Last time, I took what I thought were appropriate bras, but the strap style I chose meant that when I paired them with the tee shirts I'd brought, my bra straps were almost always visible. This time, I opted for some pretty plain cotton bras (again, from Cotton On). They're moulded (because I have no boobs without some help from a bra), but don't have underwire, which means I can shove them in my bag without worrying about snapping anything. I made sure to choose plain, light colours (grey and peach) so that they wouldn't show through my shirts, but again avoided anything fancy or white, knowing that they wouldn't last long. In hindsight, I probably should have packed another sports bra, given that we're planning to do some trekking in Nepal, but I figured that I could buy another one before then.
- Socks x 6 (3 x ankle, 1 x thicker hiking style ankle socks, 2 x low cut invisible socks). I probably don't need this many socks, because I very rarely wear shoes (usually only when hiking, or on travel days when I have to wear shoes that won't fit in my bag), but they don't take up much room so I'm holding on to them. Again, in hindsight more hiking socks would be a good idea, but I'm assuming that until we get to Nepal, we won't be doing any multi-day hikes, so I'll just restock if I need to.
- Woolen gloves x 1 pair: Normally, I'd also bring a beanie, but I didn't have one thin enough so again, thought I'd just buy one if it became necessary. These gloves are thin and work with touch screens (eg mobile phones). I haven't used them on this trip yet, but the times when I wore them on our honeymoon I was so grateful for them that I'm more than happy to carry them!
- Buff x 1. Buffs are awesome. I always wear mine while we're hiking, whether it's around my neck to stop me from getting burnt (or indeed cold, but sitting here in the tropics it's hard to remember a time when I was ever cold) or as a headband to keep my hair and sweat out of my eyes. These things can be styled a million different ways to meet whatever your needs may be, and they take up next to no room, so I have one with me every time I go on a trip.
- Swimsuit x 1. Since we're spending most of the beginning of this trip travelling in conservative countries, and we're not huge beach people, I only brought 1 one piece swimsuit. It's a little bulkier than a bikini, but I think everyone, including me, is more comfortable when I'm in a one piece. If you're planning on spending a lot of time at the beach, it's worth packing a spare - there's nothing worse than putting on a wet swimsuit. If you're clever, try to find a sporty bikini where the top can double as a bra - multipurpose!
- Pyjamas x 1. Just before we left home, I got some awesome Peter Alexander cat pyjamas from my godmother, so naturally they went straight in my bag. Last time I just brought a pair of Peter Alexander boxer shorts (sensing a theme here?) and paired them with whatever top I had lying around, and equally you could get away with a singlet and a pair of underwear. Really, your pyjama preference is very much your own, and the only time you need to consider others is if you plan on spending any time in dorms - for Christ's sake DO NOT sleep naked in a dorm.
Packing Cube 2
My next packing cube is one of the medium ones, and contains all my tops - it just makes sense to keep them all together.
- Cotton tee shirts x 3. These are reasonably loose fitting, thin and cheap, and I picked them up from Cotton On before I left New Zealand. I got white, black and grey, so that they would match basically anything. Now, 2 months into the trip, the white tee shirt is almost on its last legs - it's stained orange from all the dust and dirt over here. I recommend getting a higher cut neck to avoid unintended cleavage displays while in conservative countries.
- Singlets/tank tops x 2. I started with 3 (one white, one dark grey and one khaki), but I had to ditch the white one pretty early on because it got so stained so quickly. I generally only wear these in big cities where locals are wearing western clothes, or with a scarf. They're reasonably low cut, and showing shoulders can draw a bit of attention, but with a scarf to cover me up a bit, I feel far less naked. Again, these are loose fitting and thin, and were so cheap they're practically disposable from Cotton On.
- Satin camisole x 1. This thing is really thin and small, and I brought it with me to wear under sheer tops so that you can't see my bra. I wouldn't wear this on its own - spaghetti straps and a v neck are not appropriate for travel in conservative countries!
- Dri-fit sports shirts x 2. I actually bought these in India, when it became clear we'd be playing a bit of frisbee during our travels. They're also okay for hiking, because they're pretty thin and absorb sweat well. Unless you're planing to play sport or something similar, I'd give dri-fit fabric a miss. On our honeymoon, we both thought it would be great because it dries so quickly and would be easy to wash, and it doesn't matter if you sweat, but anyone who wears it a lot will know that most of these fabrics (especially the cheaper styles) smell REALLY BAD as soon as you start to sweat. You don't notice it so much when you're at a sports tournament or training, but when you're walking down the street or sitting at a cafe... You'll notice. We both ended up ditching most of our dri-fit gear as soon as we got to Thailand on our last trip.
- Merino tee shirt x 1. Brought from Kathmandu in NZ on sale, so not terribly expensive, but I wear it hiking at home all the time. Everyone knows merino is awesome. It keeps you warm, keeps you cool, keeps you dry, and doesn't smell. I brought this mostly for hiking and as a warm layer, but I can wear it any time.
- Long sleeved merino x 1. As above, merino is the best. Also, on this trip, I decided not to bring my down jacket, just my down vest. As such, I thought this would be a good layer to wear underneath in the event of cold weather. It's got quite a bit of wear so far, as the nights can be chilly when you're up high!
- Thin long sleeved Indian-style top x 1. This was actually a gift bought for me by my mother-in-law while we were still in Sri Lanka. It's been a great addition to my pack! The long sleeves allow me to be covered up, whether to protect myself from sun, mosquitos or prying eyes, but it's thin enough that I don't overheat. I'll often pair this with my satin camisole at night for dinners so that I'm protected from bug bites without being too hot.
Packing Cube 3
This one is another medium packing cube, and in it lives all my pants.
- Loose fitting 'travel' pants x 4. You know the ones I mean. The ones you see every girl with a backpack wearing. I have four pairs - 1 x thin black pair, 1 x thicker black pair, 1 x black and white patterned pair, and 1 x blue patterned pair (just acquired in Goa). Since we're travelling in a country where I feel it's both respectful and wise to be covered up, I'm carrying quite a few pairs of pants. I had 2 dresses with me when I was in Sri Lanka, but after carrying them around in India but not feeling comfortable wearing them (both were too short), I decided to ditch them and add another pair of pants. Sure, you look like a bit of a dick wearing them. But everyone else is wearing them, and they're comfy as hell, so who gives a shit. And you look like less of a dick than the people I see wearing jeans in 35 degree weather. The thicker pair have come in handy in cooler climes, but they aren't so thick that they can't be worn when it's warmer too. The main reason I ensure that all my tops are plain is that it can be hard to find plain pants when they inevitably fall apart on the road, so keeping your tops neutral gives you more choices with your wardrobe. Two pairs I got from boohoo before leaving NZ, one pair I got in Laos for about $3, and the last pair I picked up in Goa the other day,
- 3/4 yoga tights x 1. Mainly, I brought these for layering. I wasn't sure how people dressed for outdoor activities here, and my sports shorts come to slightly above my knees, so I thought I could wear these underneath to cover up. As a bonus, I can layer them under my other pants for warmth. They're from Lulu Lemon, because I'm a slave to advertising.
- Jogging shorts x 1. I really only brought these to wear over a swimsuit for when I want to run around on the beach without feeling like I'm letting it all hang out. I took them on our honeymoon and didn't really wear them then either, but they don't take up much room so they've stayed in. Also Lulu Lemon.
- Frisbee shorts x 1. Basically loose fitting stretchy knee length shorts. Great for hiking, playing frisbee, and slouching around in.
- Not packed in a pouch: cap x 1. I also brought a floppy felt sunhat, which was great because it gave more coverage than my cap, and felt a bit less dorky, but I could still fold it up and shove it my bag. Sadly I left it in the van in Sri Lanka, so I'm down to just my cap. My only hat-based advice would be to avoid bringing a hat that has to be on either your head or carried (ie can't be packed). It's a pain in the ass to constantly be worrying about crushing your hat while you're schleeping all your bags around, climbing on and off buses (I'm looking at you, straw fedora things). You want something you can throw in a bag when you don't need to be wearing it.
Mini Compression Sack
One of my favourite stuff sacks ever is my Sea to Summit Ultra Sil Compression Sack in size XXS. This thing is an amazing way to get a tiny down jacket to be even tinier. Since I only brought my down vest on this trip, this time, the compression sack is holding:
- Kathmandu down vest x 1. Since I figured we were going to be staying in pretty warm areas for the duration of this trip, I hoped that with clever layering, my down vest would keep me warm enough. Worst case scenario, I can pick up a jacket somewhere. I got my vest from Kathmandu, because they have sales every 5 minutes so you can pick stuff up for pretty cheap. In addition, if you join their summit club (for free), you accumulate points when you spend money to earn gift vouchers, and you even get extra discounts. Score. While Kathmandu's prices are pretty competitive, down clothing can be expensive, and really is an investment. It's worth doing some research to learn how to take really good care of it. For example having down stuffed in a compression sack for extended periods of time isn't very good for it....
- North Face goretex jacket x 1. Since I had some space left in the sack because my vest is smaller than my down jacket, I've used it to hold my raincoat too. It doesn't matter where you're going, don't leave home without a good raincoat. Some will argue that you can get by with a cheap poncho, but I honestly think a really good raincoat is an investment. Learn how to take care of it, and it will last you a lifetime. I didn't know that goretex needed to be washed (for some reason I thought that washing it would strip it of its waterproof coating), so my first goretex jacket basically dissolved at the seams from sweat, dirt and insect repellent. As with down, do some research and learn to look after your expensive gear - it is so, so worth it.
- Birkenstock sandals. Obviously. There's a reason everyone has them. Just give in already. They're comfy as hell, and when it's hot, no one wants to be wearing sneakers. Jandals are ugly and uncomfortable (although I'm sure many jandal lovers will cringe at the sight of my beautiful Birkenstocks), and a surefire way to get a stubbed toe on uneven streets.
- Allbirds merino wool runners. These are a new addition to our packs. I cannot adequately describe to you how much I love these shoes. They market themselves as the most comfortable show in the world, and my god, they aren't exaggerating. The soft merino wool hugs your feet like a cloud. They can be worn without socks (although I wear socks to stop my feet from getting smelly), and can be thrown in the wash if they get dirty (just handwash them, or cold wash them on a gentle cycle, and they dry in no time). Best of all, they pack down small and weigh next to nothing. This trip, I really wanted to have an option for shoes that wasn't sandals or hiking shoes, and these filled that niche perfectly.
- Solomon Speedcross trail running shoes. These are my compromise since I can't travel with hiking boots. They're sturdy and have great grip, but they're small and light enough that I can fit them in my bag when I don't need them (although I usually wear them on planes or buses to free up space in my bag). They're super comfy for hiking and I love them!
- Nike Mercurial X indoor soccer cleats. These were recently added to my bag in light of a tournament we've signed up to play. I opted for turf shoes rather than cleats because the ground here is so hard, and they pack smaller into my bag. They're white and sparkly and I LOVE THEM.
All of my toiletries are packed into a Kathmandu toiletry bag that I'm very sad to see they no longer sell. It's made up of two large separate compartments that can be zipped together to make it a single unit, or not if you prefer. I like that it gives you more flexibility when it comes to making it fit in your bag. I never have them zipped together. Both sides are lined with waterproof material, but if you're really worried about leaks, it pays to either put the stuff inside into plastic bags, or to wrap your whole toiletry bag in a plastic bag.
Side 1: toiletries
For this trip, Zev and I made the choice to try out some solid options from Lush, when we thought we might be travelling carry on only. Even though that didn't pan out, we're both loving our new solid toiletries! My only word of warning would be that some of the Lush products are more 'melty' than others, so keep that in mind when making your selection if you're travelling to a hot climate.
- Lush Jason and the Argan Oil solid shampoo. Holy crap this stuff smells amazing, and lathers up a storm. I've had a little trouble with it retaining its structural integrity in the humidity, but overall I've really enjoyed using this shampoo. I love feeling safe in the knowledge that I'm not going to open my bag and find it filled with Pantene after a long bus ride... I certainly wouldn't go so far as to say that my hair is in the best condition of its life or anything, but it's clean, and I think that anything beyond that when you're living out of a bag is a bit too much to ask. When we left home, I brought a small liquid travel shampoo with me (one of the 100mL Essano Argan Oil ones), and I used that first so that I could make more space in my bag.
- Lush Big solid conditioner. For me, this was a dud, and I ditched it. I didn't feel like it was doing anything for my hair in terms of conditioning, and I found it frustrating to use (if I tried to put it on my hands and rub it in my hair, I couldn't get enough on my hands. If I tried to put it straight on my hair, but it ripped my hair out. Since I ditched it in Bangalore, I haven't been using conditioner. My hair is starting to get pretty dry, but honestly, my hair is pretty average at the best of times, so I'm not sure anyone else would notice. Again, I brought a small liquid travel conditioner with me (one of the 100mL Essano Argan Oil ones), and used it first to make space in my bag. I may consider buying a small bottle of liquid conditioner again soon to give my poor tortured hair a treat.
- Lush Bohemian soap. I actually originally bought this lemongrass scented delight for Zev, but ended up having to steal it back (don't worry, he has a Sea Salted Caramel one that he loves more) after my balls up with body wash. My all time favourite Lush line is Snow Fairy, so I was delighted to discover that they had released a Snow Fairy naked shower gel - a solid packageless bar that turns into a gel when lathered. This stuff smells like cotton candy, and the 12 year old in me does cartwheels every time I get a whiff of it. I excitedly snapped one up and couldn't wait to try it. I was so disappointed when I used it in Sri Lanka and found it super waxy and weird. It didn't lather, instead it coated my skin until I was stained pink and water beaded on me like an otter. After getting out of the shower, I dyed all the hotel towels pink wiping it off... Some quick internet sleuthing informed me that I'd made a rookie mistake. Rather than grabbing the naked shower GEL, I'd grabbed the naked body CONDITIONER - these are like leave on moisturisers that you massage on in the shower. Since I was not a fan, I took one last good sniff of candyland before abandoning it in the hotel room in Sri Lanka... Since then, I've been using the Bohemian soap and loving it. I mean soap is soap really - it does the trick - but the lemongrass aroma gives me a nice little pick me up in the mornings while I scrub.
- Lush Coalface facial soap. This has been the total standout from the Lush goodies for me. I was worried about using soap on my face because I've had issues in the past with getting really irritated skin, but this stuff has been an absolute dream. While the smell took a little getting used to, I really like it now, and it feels great while I'm giving my face a scrub. On our last trip, I basically had at least one pimple at all times (trust me, there's photographic evidence) from a combination of humidity, stress, lack of routine, food and lack of exercise. This time, I've rarely had a spot, and I think it's down to this little beauty. The charcoal helps to soak up oil without drying out my skin too much. Coalface will be remaining in my permanent rotation, even when we're back in New Zealand.
- Spray bottle of leave in conditioner. I wish I could be more specific, because this stuff is amazing. It smells great, and I can feel the difference in my hair when I've used it. Sadly, I got it from the hairdresser a while ago, and decanted it into a 100mL travel spray bottle so that I could bring some with me. A couple of sprays on damp hair is all I need, so it lasts forever. My advice: if you have a leave in conditioner that you love, bring a small amount with you. Your hair will thank you.
- Essano Rosehip Micellar Water (100mL). This came as part of a travel pack, and I brought it to use to remove makeup and generally wipe my face off when I'm feeling gross. I haven't used it a ton, but it's pretty small and there's room for it in my bag, so I'll keep it.
- Essano coconut oil body lotion (100mL). Again, this came in the travel pack. I actually brought it thinking I'd use it quickly and get rid of it like I did with the shampoo and conditioner, but it's lasting forever. Which is good, because the Lush solid moisturiser that I absoutely LOVED melted pretty shortly into the trip, so it's the only moisturiser I have now! I'm sad I can't find the link to the Lush stuff because it smelled like green apple, and had coconut oil in it so it made your skin feel like butter. Sadly, it just couldn't hack the heat! Anyway, I don't feel any particular affinity to Essano or this moisturiser, it just happened to be what I ended up with, but whatever you choose, it's a good idea to have some moisturiser on hand, especially if you'll be spending a lot of time in the sun.
- Essano rosehip pure defense SPF15 moisturiser (100mL). Again, this stuff seems to be lasting forever! A little bit certainly goes a long way. I love that it has sunscreen in it so that I still have protection even if I think we won't be out in the sun for long. A good face moisturiser is heaven when you're feeling crappy, so bring a little of your favourite with you.
- Essano rosehip oil (20mL). You could use any oil you want, but I use this all the time. I use it every night and morning to massage into my earlobes so that I can get my ear gauges in and out without drama. I also use it on particularly dry skin spots (elbows, knees, face), and in the past, I've put it on the ends of my hair, left it on overnight and washed it out in the morning.
- Deodorant. I bought a Lady Speed Stick solid deodorant thinking about carry on considerations, but have really regretted it. 1) roll on deodorant is smaller than 100Mls anyway; 2) the deodorant is HUGE and doesn't fit in my toiletry bag that well; 3) putting on solid deodorant when you're sticky and hot is like rubbing a block of cheese under your arms. I hate it, and I can't wait until I've used it all up so I can get rid of it.
- Pimple cream. I just bought some generic brand pharmacy pimple cream in anticipation of my zit problem from last time. Luckily, my coalface soap has meant that it's hardly been used! But it's nice to know that it's there regardless.
- Razor and blades. Initially, I brought a safety razor and blades from NZ, thinking that I was being so clever and saving money on razor blades. I'd used it before and was confident I wasn't going to give myself a grave injury. It just took me so much longer to shave my legs safely (and well) with this that it was ridiculous - I'd run out of hot water every time, and was giving myself razor burn. It wasn't long until I abandoned these in a guesthouse and dragged myself to the supermarket to for over my hard earned pennies to Schick. As an aside, it seems like razor blades seem to be about the same price everywhere in the world, so don't bother bringing a huge stash with you from home unless you're absolutely attached to your razor blade handle and wouldn't consider replacing it if you can't get the right blades for it.
- Nail clippers and tweezers. Never leave home without tweezers. And nail clippers, obviously. I wish I'd brought a nail file because I can't seem to find one anywhere here, but it's not the end of the world. Nail scissors would also be good - but Zev has a Swiss Army Knife, so we can make do with that.
- Toothbrush and toothpaste. We actually bought both of these over here. At home, we subscribe to Toothcrush, a toothbrush delivery service that delivers a new bamboo-handled toothbrush right to your door every month (or in whatever intervals you choose if that's too much luxury for your taste). We absolutely love this service, and can't wait to sign back up when we get home. The bamboo handles are completely compostable - you can pull out the bristles and throw them in the bin, and you're good to go! Toothbrushes contribute enormously to landfill waste, so we're doing our part to reduce it. Sadly the toothbrushes don't last quite as long as their plastic counterparts (hence the monthly delivery), so we've had to revert to plastic on our travels, but rest assured Toothcrush - we'll be back.
- Shower cap. I got a sturdy non-disposable shower cap from the pharmacy after years of using flimsy hotel ones and I will NEVER LOOK BACK. As someone who straightens their hair, a shower cap is a must if you don't want to be straightening (or dealing with the bird's nest) every day.
- In a separate ziplock bag: 1 large tube of sunscreen, and one bottle of insect repellent. Suncreen can be expensive and very hard to find in some parts of the world, so come well stocked if you can. Insect repellent is also very important, not only for comfort but for protecting yourself from mosquito-borne disease.
- In a separate pouch: tampons. So many tampons. I never ever ever want to run out. I've read that tampons can be hard to come by in some countries, and while I haven't been looking very hard because I have SO MANY in my bag, I certainly haven't seen any in India. Just do yourself a favour and bring them with you. If you use applicator tampons, consider learning to DIY (with very clean hands of course) because you'll just save so much room. Another excellent option in a moon cup, or diva cup. I had all the best intentions of trying one out before we left home (I have loads of friends who swear by them), but I didn't get around to it, and didn't fancy trialing one on the road. But it's on my to do list for sure!
Side 2: cosmetics etc
On our last trip, I was the most practical person you've ever met. Lots of functional clothing, no make up... And if you know me from home, you know that's not that weird. I don't wear a huge amount of make up at home, I'm not particularly girly, and I'm a pretty no nonsense kind of person. But there's something about knowing that you COULD look nice if you wanted that's incredibly comforting. By 5 months into our last trip, I was wearing frisbee shorts, a plain tee shirt, and hiking shoes every day, I had a 4 inch strip of grey regrowth in my hair, and my face hadn't seen make up since leaving New Zealand. I look back on photos and cringe. It's not even about how I look (which isn't great!) - it's about how I knew I felt. This time, I decided to take better care of myself - or at least have the option to. Many will scoff at bringing some of this stuff when you're trying to travel light but honestly, if you can fit it in, and you're happy to carry it, then you bring whatever sparks joy.
- Travel sized hairbrush. Got this for free at a movie screening 2 nights before I left home, and I love it. My hair is a knotty crap bag, so it's great for ripping the tangles out of my unconditioned hair after a shower.
- Ziplock bag containing cotton balls and cotton buds/q tips.
- Bottle of Renunail nail stengthener. My nails are shit from years of biting as a kid and constant handwashing as a nurse. I absolutely swear by this stuff. Without it, my nails will not grow. Using it, within a week I have normal people nails. In New Zealand, I've seen it called Revitanail, and Revivanail too - not sure what the deal is with the branding, but there you go.
- Nail polish remover (100mLs). With the polish above, once you get too many layers on, it starts chipping, so I need to be able to remove it and start again once this starts happening.
- Maybelline Baby Skin instant pore eraser. If you're going to attempt to wear make up in hot cilmates, you're going to need a primer. To be honest this was a last minute buy, chosen only because it was cheap and the tube was pretty small. I haven't used it much, but it seems to work, and my skin certainly feels less oily while I'm wearing it.
- Garnier Skin Active BB cream. I can't think of anything worse than putting on full face make up, especially foundation, in stinking hot whether. Hell, I only use this if we're going out somewhere nice at night or if I need a little pick-me-up. I reckon BB cream is the business for evening out skin tone and giving you light cover without feeling like your face is going to melt off. I feel no particular affinity to this specific BB cream, but I do like it. I tend to buy whatever's on sale. If you can find one with SPF, even better.
- Soap & Glory Hocus Focus illuminator. I actually bought this in an airport on our last trip because I felt so shitty about myself that I just wanted something, ANYTHING to make me look like less of an old woman! This is a lightweight liquid illuminator that I use on my cheekbones and eyelids for a bit of shimmer. I also brought a MAC bronzer with me that I've had for a hundred years, but made the rookie mistake of not putting a cotton ball in the compact so it smashed on the flight over. RIP.
- For some strange reason, liquid eyeliner x 2. Not sure how that happened, but there you go. One is the L'Oreal perfect slim, one is the L'Oreal Superstar; both black, both awesome (and rarely used).
- Revlon Colourstay eyebrow liner (dark brown). I think this thing is so old that they probably don't make it anymore, because I can't seem to find it online. When I bought it all those years ago, I bought it too dark, so I have to huge a very light touch when I do use it. Generally speaking, my brows get a bit unruly, so I mainly just use the spoolie brush on the other end to coax them back into place.
- L'Oreal Miss Baby Doll waterproof mascara. No one will ever convince me that L'Oreal don't make the best mascara in the world. I've used them for years and I love them. I chose waterproof for this trip for sweat reasons, but it still comes off pretty easily with micellar water followed by a shower.
- Burt's Bees tinted lip balm x 2. This is a new discovery for me, and I'm never looking back. I don't really wear lipstick because I think it makes me look weird, so this is a nice compromise. They smell/taste great, and leave a light colour on your lips that works for day or night.
- In its own pouch: GHD hair straighteners. I actually have the thinner GHD mini stylers, because I have reasonably fine, short hair, and they take up slightly less space. As I mentioned, on the last trip, I didn't take much in the way of vanity items, and in most photos, I look like I've been dragged through a hedge backwards. And to anyone thinking 'Hey, beachy waves are in!', fuck off. It would take me longer to achieve beachy waves with this dry frizzy pile of twigs I call hair than it does for me to just straighten it. This time, I brought my straighteners, and I haven't looked back. I certainly don't straighten my hair every day, or even hope to achieve hair that looks insta-worthy at every opportunity. Mostly I'm just happy if it's straight enough that I can get it into a ponytail without snapping a hairtie. You can buy cases for them, but I made mine by folding a potholder in half and sewing it on three sides. It took 2 minutes, and now I can pack it while it's still warm without fear of it melting everything in my bag. Plus it keeps the cord tidy and protects the ceramic plates. Winning all round!
What you need for your trip will 100% come down to where you're going and personal preference. But I'll run through what Zev and I are travelling with to give you some ideas.
- Paracetamol and ibuprofen. As much as you can carry. These are your best friends for headaches, back pain, sprains and bumps. Paracetamol is a painkiller and helps to bring fevers down (great for an on-the-road cold that makes you feel like you want to die). Ibuprofen is a painkiller and antiimflammatory - great for rolled ankles or mystery party bruises.
- Chewable antacids. Good for upset stomachs from too much spicy food!
- Loperamide/diamox/immodium. Pray that you won't need it. Helps to slow things down when your poop chute is moving a little quickly for your liking. Don't leave home without them - diarrhea can be serious business. If you find yourself sick in an area without a reliable water source, get out of there ASAP. Dehydration can be fatal.
- Codiene. This is a must have for me, because I get migraines that completely cripple me. If I treat the symptoms early enough, I can stave them off, but if not, you can kiss a couple of days goodbye.
- Antihistamines. Great for any niggling itches or allergies, including runny noses and itchy eyes.
- Ondansetron wafers. This antinausea medication can be great for my migraines because they dissolve on your tongue. Often, I'm so unwell that I can't swallow a tablet without throwing up. They're also pretty good for motion sickness, if it comes on unexpectedly I haven't planned ahead enough to take a tablet.
- Stemetil. Another antiemetic. This one is good for migraines if I can get one in me early enough. It means I can save my wafers for when I really need them.
- Cyclizine. Yet another antiemetic. These are actually antihistamines that cause drowsiness, but they're widely used to treat nausea. These are what I tend to take before bus rides because they make me tired to I can sleep though it.
- Ciprofloxcin. Antibiotic good for the treatment of bacterial diarrhea.
- Metronidazole. Antibiotic used to treat giardia.
- Diamox. Used to treat altitude sickness. Only brought with us because we're going to Nepal.
- Bandaids and tape (not pictured).
Small zippered pouch
- Black Diamond Spot headlamp. This was a birthday gift from my Dad, and I love it. Zev and I have had quite a few headlamps over the years, but this is the one that's finally made our hearts sing (he has one too). At 300 lumens, it's as bright as you could even need, but with some nifty power tap technology, you can dim it to avoid blinding people and save battery power. This has come in really handy when navigating unlit back roads from guesthouses to restaurants at night, and for dealing with the frequent power cuts we've experienced in Sri Lanka and India.
- Small Black Diamond convertible torch/lantern. I've searched to try to find this online, but it looks like they don't make it any more. It's pretty nifty - one end is a standard torch/flashlight, but if you pull the ends apart it can be a table top lantern. It doesn't get much use, we normally use our headlamps, but it lives in the pouch with my headlamp so it ended up in my bag.
- Spare batteries.
Extra bits and pieces
Most of this stuff either goes in the mesh pouch on the underside of the main flap of the bag, in the large front pocket, or randomly shoved in any little gap in my bag that I can find.
- Page a day Moleskine diary (soft cover) and pencil case with pens. I keep a rough diary each day to help jog my memory for blog posts, to record our expenses, for planning onward travel, and generally make notes.
- Earplugs. I use these less now that I have noise cancelling headphones (more about that later), but these are an absolute lifesaver in noisy guesthouses or on overnight trains or buses. I just use the cheap foam ones that I somehow always manage to find in my house despite never having bought a pair.
- Sea to Summit X cup. Zev and I both have these for hiking at home, but decided to bring them with us. They've actually been really handy - two of the Air BnBs we've stayed at have had kitchens but not much in the way of dishes, so we've been able to make a cup of tea in them. There have been times when I've wished I'd brought the whole set (I left the bowl and plate, plus my titanium cutlery at home), but the cup has been a good packing addition.
- Ziplock bags and bag clips. We actually forgot these this time and had to pick them up on the road, and they were hard to find. They are worth their weight in gold. Ziplock bags are awesome for sealing away anything that can leak, keeping odds and ends together, and generally just keeping things tidy and organised. Bag clips let you reseal stuff, like snacks and laundry powder. We were really kicking ourselves when we realised we'd forgotten these, and spent ages scouring Sri Lanka until we managed to find a supermarket that was selling some.
- Silk sleeping bag liner. These were an amazing wedding gift, and probably one of the handiest things we have. They're great for places where your room comes with a sheet covering the mattress and no other bedding (it happens, trust us), keeping warm on overnight buses and trains, and protecting you from questionable bedding. They weigh nothing and pack up super small. Last time we brought sleeping bags, and while they were really lightweight and small, we didn't use them enough to justify bringing them again. Our sleeping bag liners do the trick - if you get cold, just wear more clothes to bed!
- Small tin filled with hairties, bobby pins and headbands.
- Tesalate sandfree towel. Another new addition to the bag! These super cool Australian towels don't get sand stuck to them, even when they're wet. I replaced our microfibre travel towels with these at Christmas. They're nice and big, super absorbent and dry quickly, but they're not soft and fluffy like normal or microfibre towels. In addition, they weight a bit more than microfibre towels, but they're still pretty compact. We've been at the beach for a week using them every day, and the sand-free goodness is amazing. After we spent weeks picking pine needles off our microfibre towels after our beach stay in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, we knew there had to be a solution! And they come in a huge range of really cool designs.
Bags in bags in bags
- Spare pouches for organising stuff on the road. One turns into my wallet when I'm using my smaller handbag, as my 'big' wallet doesn't quite fit in.
- Small brown leather (?) crossbody bag. I nearly didn't bring this, but I'm so glad I did. I have a larger handbag that I use as my 'daypack', but it's big, and can be overkill sometimes. I'm so glad I have this small bag for the times when we're popping out and all I need is some cash, my phone, and my 'emergency' pouch (again, more on that later). I picked it up one sale at Cotton On in New Zealand for about $5, and it's perfect. Here's a similar one on Amazon.
- Sea to Summit ultra sil packable daypack. At home, I have an older model Osprey Sirrus daypack for hiking which I absolutely love (back vent all the way), but I made the mistake of bringing it travelling last time. There were a number of issues. I hated wearing it around because, despite the back vent, I still got a sweaty back. It's turquoise, so even thought I KNOW I still look like a tourist wherever I go, I felt like this was a big, shiny tourist beacon. And last but not least, it has a wire frame around the outside which is great for making it easier to pack and more comfortable to wear, but terrible for shoving under the seats of buses. Most of the time I'd end up going out holding my phone and wallet, which isn't ideal. Or I'd ask Zev to put my stuff in his daypack if he was taking it, which made us sitting ducks if we got our bag stolen - it would have both of our phones and wallets in it. This time, I decided not to bring a daypack. Rather than double turtling on travel days (ie backpack on my back, daypack on my front), I now have my pack on my back, and my handbag over on shoulder, held in front of me so that I can keep an eye on it. Most days when we go out, I only take my small crossbody bag, and leave everything else in our room. Which brings me to my Sea to Summit beauty. I adore this thing. We still do stuff like hiking and cycling, and nobody wants to be doing that with a handbag. This big is big and strong enough to hold my water bottle, some snacks, my phone and wallet, but packs down into a pouch that's smaller than a mandarin, and weighs nothing. I haven't missed having a proper daypack at all.
- Small canvas tote bag. This actually came free from a grocery store in India, but I'd been on the lookout for one anyway. We'd been using my packable daypack whenever we went shopping to save on plastic bags, but sometimes the backpack style was inconvenient to carry home (eg if I was already carrying a handbag, or Zev already had his daypack on). This has been great for quick trips to the shops to get water and some snacks, and folds up to fit in to either of my handbags easily.
- Small pouch of dishwashing liquid (in a ziplock bag). We use this to wash our waterbottles, which get pretty manky if you don't keep them clean. Often your guest house or hostel will be able to wash them for you, but there's nothing worse than a stinky water bottle...
- Mesh lingere wash bag, used as a laundry bag. Generally, when I'm packing my bag, I don't keep my laundry in the mesh bag because I can't make it fit, so really I only use this to take laundry to and from a laundromat.
- Universal sink plug and elastic clothesline. I somehow lost the mesh bag out of this (hence the lingere bag), but these are an absolute must for doing in-room laundry (also for Zev to shave - most places don't have plugs). You WILL find yourself with no clean clothes at some point, even if you plan on using laundry services, so you might as well be prepared. With a universal plug and a clothesline, you can at least wash some undies and a tee shirt so that you're less of a sensory assault. The soap sheets that came with this were awesome, but you can use body wash or a bit of normal soap. We carry a small bag of laundry powder (secured with a handy dandy bag clip), but we do quite a bit of in room laundry.
- Scrubba wash bag. Hands down one of our absolutely-can't-live-without-it must-have travel items. We got this before our last trip, and it's probably been used more times than anything else we own. Basically it's a dry bag with a textured back that you fill with soapy water and your dirty clothes, and it becomes a manual washing machine. We probably use this at least twice a week. I was devastated when I broke the air valve in Sri Lanka (they're changed the design since we got ours, so the new one can't break like that), and I can't wait til we get to the US so that I can replace it (shipping is 4 weeks outside of the US, so we can't get one sent to us on the road - booooooo). We love our scrubba wash bag!!
So that's the contents of my main backpack! Here is all my stuff unpacked:
Here is everything tucked away in its cubes:
And here is my bag with everything in it!
Which leaves us with what's in my handbag!!
My handbag itself is pretty freaking awesome. So awesome in fact that my sister and I have matching handbags. This is my daily use handbag at home, so I'm really getting my money's worth out of it. Which is lucky, because they're pretty pricey. But they're oh so worth it.
The bag is a FashionABLE Mamuye leather tote. The more beaten up it gets, the better it looks. I've read lots online saying that you should always use a bag with a zipper so that it's more difficult to get pickpocketed, but I carry my bag over one shoulder and in front of me, and I feel like it's deep enough that someone would really have to shove their whole arm in to find anything, so it's unlikely I wouldn't notice that.
It's a great size and fits loads in, but it's a single pocket (there's a small pouch near the top for phones etc, but in light of the risk of pickpocketing, I don't usualy use it while I'm travelling). Without some kind of organisation, it can be hell to find anything in it. Luckily I'm an organisation obsessive, so I keep everything in pouches.
In addition to being a fantastic travel tote, ABLE work with women around the world to produce their products to help break the generational cycle of poverty. If handbags aren't your thing, they sell loads of other great stuff, so please go check out their site and help to support a very worthy cause.
But what's in the handbag? Everything. It's so bloody heavy. Thank god for its strong straps!!
- S'well insulated drink bottle. I carry a drink bottle for a variety of reasons. Disposable plastic drink bottles are slowly destroying the planet. We all know it, so I won't bother going on about it. However I think the idea that we can eliminate them altogether while travelling in countries where we don't always have access to clean drinking water is a little unrealistic. So why do I bother with a drink bottle? Zev has a Camelbak All Clear UV water purification bottle. This thing is amazing, and purifies up to 10,000 bottles of water on a single charge, making tap water safe to drink. We try to use this for drinking water as often as we can, and always use it for treating water to clean our teeth. Sometimes though, it doesn't taste great, so you still want bottled water. By having drink bottles, we can buy one BIG bottle of water, and fill our smaller bottles for convenience, without creating 10 smaller bottles' worth of landfill waste. Then there's the other problem. Often, I'm not drinking because I'm thirsty, I'm drinking because I'm HOT. And there's nothing worse when you're hot than pulling a bottle of lukewarm water out of your bag. That's where the S'well bottle comes in. It keeps drinks chilled for up to 24 hours, and keeps drinks hot for up to 12 hours. And yes, I've tested it with both cold water, and hot chai. And it works. The only downside to this bottle over my usual choice of wide mouth bottles is that it can be a bit of a pain to clean.
Microsoft Surface Pro 4 with keyboard and pen, plus Logitech bluetooth mouse. I actually couldn't give you the specs on my laptop, because I don't know them. But you can do your own research on that anyway. I have mixed feelings about this laptop-tablet hybrid. Since our website is on Squarespace, which doesn't play nice with tablets, I really needed a laptop. My Surface has been pretty good, and does a great job of letting me keep the blog up to date, but it does have a few niggly issues that I never experienced on my Mac. That said, it was much cheaper, and I really needed it for uni and couldn't afford the Mac, so there you go! All I'm saying is that if I had the money, I'd probably get the Macbook next time around! I keep all this stuff together in a padded soft sided case.
- Seagate Go Flex Satellite 500GB hard drive. When we bought this before our last trip, it was a total game changer. We were both travelling with only iPads, so a wireless hard drive meant that we could stream TV shows and movies from the hard drive to our devices, and it was AMAZING. Also, back then, 500GB was a LOT of space. Fast forward a few years and you can now get hard drives with TBs of space for a fraction the cost, and my laptop has a USB so the wireless function is no longer necessary. But it's the smallest (physically) hard drvie we have, so we loaded it up with shows again and brought it with us. We also have two memory sticks (one 8gb, one 64gb) just in case.
- MI external battery pack. This was actually a leaving gift from one of my old colleagues before we went on our honeymoon, and it's another one of our most used items. Chargie box, as it’s affectionately known, is perfect for charging devices on the go while on long bus rides or in airports when all the power points are taken. We take a great deal of comfort in knowing that we can always have a charged mobile when we arrive in new places - no connectivity is a recipe for disaster.
- Belkin travel surge protector. We have the New Zealand version which has two New Zealand plug sockets and two USB sockets. This thing has really been a huge comfort on this trip with all of Sri Lanka and India's frequent power surges and blackouts. It's nice knowing that my laptop isn't going to blow up if I leave it charging. The NZ inputs mean we don't need extra adaptors, and the plug itself comes with adaptors for most countries. 4 inputs means no more fighting for plugs too. Yet another all around win.
- A thousand million charging cables. I pack the surge protector, chargie box, and all my charging cables into a pouch when I put them in my handbag, so they're easy to access and it keeps my handbag organised. Also good for clearing security at airports if they want to have a look.
- Bose QC 35 wireless noise cancelling headphones. I asked for noise cancelling headphones for my birthday, so of course Zev got the Rolls Royce version. These are incredible though, and I absolutely love them. I get quite a lot of anxiety about not being able to sleep because I am a REALLY light sleeper. Honestly, if someone breathes too loudly three rooms away, I'll know. These have more or less solved that problem. If I put them on with a podcast on, I can usually drift off to sleep, and when the podcast finishes, the noise cancellation keeps working so nothing wakes me up. They're pretty pricey, but for me, they were absolutely worth it!
- Kindle Keyboard. Honestly these are so old, Amazon don't even sell them any more. I am a voracious reader (I've read 16 books in the last 2 months), and the convenience of having lots at my fingertips has won out over my love for the feel of a real book in my hands. The reason I keep going back to the Kindle Keyboard is because I like the matte screen (I find it easier on my eyes), and I hate the touchscreen kindles I've tried. But I also have terrible luck with kindles. I smash the screens constantly, and am on to my 9th kindle. My current one is encased in a heavy duty plastic case with a screen protector, and when I'm not using it, I store it in my Grid It, which has another piece of hard plastic and padding to protect it (I don't use my Grid It to organise cables any more because I have too many now and I can't close my Grid It with them in it).
- Document sleeve containing:
- Photocopies of our passports (my NZ, and Zev's NZ and US)
- Photocopies of our marriage certificate (all of my credit cards etc are in my married name, but my passport is still in my maiden name, so just in case that causes any problems, I want to be able to prove that I've changed my name legally)
- Passport photos (get some done before you leave home - you'd be surprised how often you need them!)
- Our vaccination passports from the travel doctor, with a record of all our vaccinations and when we received them
- A handbook from the travel doctor with advice on lots of illness that may strike while you're on the road, from heat rash to malaria
In addition to all this, we have photos of all our documents, including our bank cards, saved on my Dad's computer at home, and in our emails, so that if our bags get stolen we have records of everything.
- A small pouch that I take with me everywhere, even just out to dinner or the shops, containing:
- wet wipes
- tissues (not pictured - I'd run out!)
- hand sanitiser
- lip balm
- hand cream
- Sunglasses. $10 from the pharmacy, safe in the knowledge that if I lost them, I wouldn't give a shit
- Wallet. I have a large-ish wallet that has lots of card slots, and lots of different compartments for cash so that I don't flash all my money every time I want to pay for a bottle of water. I usually carry this with all my money and cards in one place when we're in transit (I know, I know!) because I feel safer having everything in one place where I can keep my eye on it. Once we arrive somewhere, I usually decant small amounts of cash and a card or two into a smaller pouch which fits in my crossbody bag, and leave the rest in the room
- iPhone 6S with lifeproof case. I don't have the newest model, but there's no point in bringing a phone so old that it doesn't work. The lifeproof case stops it from getting smashed when I drop it for the 100th time. Don't leave home without a smartphone, and either sort out a local SIM card ASAP (make sure your phone is unlocked) or ensuring roaming is turned on. It truly is a lifeline. Not pictured because I'm using it to take all these photos!!
- Passport. Obviously. We don't make a habit of staying in total shitholes, so unless we need them, we don't carry our passports with us on a day to day basis. You're far more likely to have them stolen from your bag on the beach than from your room at your guesthouse - just bury them in your luggage so they're not too obvious.
- Sandcloud towel. Yet another absolute favourite of mine. This little gem has saved my bacon on so many occasions! I have the mint baja regular towel, and I use it for everything. Usually, I'll either wear it in transit, or pack it on top of my handbag. While it's marketed as a towel, I've worn it as a scarf, used it as a picnic blanket, used it as a blanket or extra layer when I've been freezing in air conditioning or at higher altitudes - and every time I use it, I'm so so grateful I bought it. And they're another company with a mission! 10% of their profits are donated to charities that are involved in marine conservation!
- I also have a couple of other lighter cotton scarves that I've picked up on the way. Sadly I just lost the one I got in Sri Lanka (I left it on the chair at dinner the other night, and no one handed it in), but I picked up 2 more in Goa. These are great for covering shoulders at temples, blocking the sun, and covering up when you're feeling a little exposed, without feeling like you're adding too many layers when the temperatures are already high. I normally pack these in my handbag too, just in case.
So here is all the stuff in my handbag unpacked:
Here it all is packed into its pouches etc:
And here it all is packed into my handbag:
And there you have it folks. This is an exhaustive list of everything that's in my bag after 2 months on the road. There's nothing in there that I wish I wasn't carrying (otherwise I'd just get rid of it), and there aren't any glaring omissions that we haven't been able to address (other than really wanting a new Scrubba wash bag but having to wait). If you've made it this far, congratulations.
I'd love to hear if anyone else has any packing tips or must haves. Packing lists are some of my favourite posts to read, so please comment if you have any suggestions!
Lots of love,
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