Long before I started traveling, I loved to:
- Read about the stuff that people travelled with.
- Consider how I’d fit my entire life into a backpack.
- Learn about the gadgets I’d use along the way.
I’ve since travelled a decent amount and my love of packing lists holds strong and it’s because of this love that I’d like to answer a question no one is asking: what do I take with me when I travel? The list, as you’ll see, is quite short.
My Packing List
I should note that I didn’t leave Australia with all of this stuff. I picked some of it up along the way. The list adapts to which country I visit first.
Backpack: Deuter Futura 28L
I spent an ungodly amount of time picking the right backpack. A year before I went anywhere, I started looking at my options and eventually came across the Deuter Futura 28L (mostly because of what Tynan has written about it).
This backpack has accompanied on me all of my travels in all sorts of environments — rural Tanzania, snow-drenched Kanazawa, etc — and I imagine it’ll stick with me for a while longer.
Here’s why it’s so wonderful:
- It’s universally accepted as carry-on while not being so small that everything has to be crammed inside of it.
- Despite putting it through hell, the backpack barely has a scratch of damage. I won’t need to replace it anytime soon.
- The frame is light, comfortable, and designed to keep the whole thing slightly off my back, preventing sweat.
There’s also a rain cover that pulls out from the bottom and, while I usually forget that it’s there, it saved me on a rainy evening in Osaka.
So while it took ages to decide whether or not I should buy the backpack, I know now that it was the perfect choice. I have no desire to use anything else and it’s the easiest item to recommend on my list.
Computer: Macbook Air 11.6″
Before I turned sixteen, I hated Apple. Then I wanted to mess with the Apple-only software, bought a Macbook Pro, and have become one of the fanboys I once had so much disdain for. I’ve since bought an 11.6″ Macbook Air and it’s pretty good:
- The solid-state drive keeps the computer fast.
- Although I can feel the weight in the backpack, it is light.
- Battery life (especially in later models) is getting better.
If you’re not loyal to any particular operating system though, there are non-Apple laptops that are lighter and faster and have better battery life. Maybe I’ll make the switch back to Windows, or maybe I’ll even switch to Linux, but I haven’t been able to sever myself from Mac OS X as of yet.
Phone: iPhone 5 (16GB)
I was the last of my friends to get a phone and they still complain that I’m hard to reach because I leave it in Airplane Mode most of the time. But I do need a phone when I travel and chose the iPhone 5 because:
- It has the best interface for texting.
- The camera’s good (and I don’t travel with a camera).
- Google Maps has saved me a couple of times.
Ideally though, a company would release a phone with a simple interface, these features, and nothing else. I don’t care for the apps and it’s annoying to get stuck on a plan I hardly use.
Apple makes good products, and I do think the iPhone is the best in its class, but it’s way more than what I need.
eReader: Amazon Kindle
I preordered a Kindle the day I was able to — the first generation didn’t ship internationally — and there is nothing else I own that I love as much. I expected to remain loyal to dead-tree books but there’s just too many advantages of Kindle books:
- They’re cheaper.
- They’re more pleasant to read.
- They’re immediately accessible.
And of course, they’re a lot easier to travel with compared to lugging around a stack of physical books.
I don’t read a lot when I’m traveling but the Kindle is the perfect remedy to a rainy day or a long layover at an airport. I’ll never go anywhere without it.
Microphone: Samson GoMic
Since I work when traveling, and since some of my work involves making videos, it helps to bring a microphone with me. There’s a lot of options these days but I’ve had the GoMic for seven years and, at just $40 on Amazon, it’s:
- Held up remarkably well.
- Capable of capturing great audio.
- Very small and easy to pack.
Maybe it’s not the absolute pinnacle of tech anymore but I have no desire to replace it. You can see what it’s capable of in this video that I filmed in Portland, Oregon. (Be warned: I look like a drug addict.)
Soap: Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap
This is one of those products I saw on just about every packing list because it’s considered such a versatile soap, making it perfect for travellers. You can use it to wash your hair, clothes, or body, and it last for ages so you’ll surely get your money’s worth.
I used the Tea Tree Oil version since I bought it after getting a cold and needed something to help clear the airways.
T-Shirt: Tech T Lite Short Sleeve
Icebreaker makes clothes with Merino wool, a material that:
- Keeps you warm in cool weather.
- Remains breathable in warm weather.
- Wicks sweat from your body.
- Dries quickly.
- Resists odour.
There are synthetic alternatives that do a fine job for less money but this shirt accompanied my dad to South America, tagged along for my travels since then, and while it was eventually laid to rest in a Parisian bin after developing one too many holes, it lived an honourable life up until that point.
Eventually, I plan for the majority (if not all) of my wardrobe to be from the Icebreaker brand. For the moment though, that remains a luxury I can’t afford (and one that feels a little too self-indulgent).
Underwear: ExOfficio Give-N-Go Brief
ExOfficio make amazing travel clothes and their underwear is easily worth the expense. They’re comfortable, don’t absorb odour, clean easily, and my only regret is that I travelled with just one pair. (I did have other underwear but only generic brands.)
One of these days, I’ll own three pairs and wear them exclusively throughout the year.
Pants: ExOfficio Men’s Nio Amphi
Years ago, ExOfficio sent me these pants so I could review them on an old blog of mine and I reviewed them well because they’re great for what they are:
- Extremely light.
- Easy to pack.
- Quick drying.
They’re a great fit for hot climates and they served me well in Tanzania. But I didn’t wear them at all on my recent trip. When it got hot, I wore board shots, and when I arrived in Portland and needed warmer gear, I wore jeans.
In the end, I gave the pants to a friend and he made much better use of them, so they are a good product. I just don’t need them.
Socks: Horizon Merino Hiker Socks
My parents bought me these right before I left the country for the first time and they’ve held up since then. But if I were to buy a new pair, I’d probably go with the Icebreaker brand just because I think it’s one of the more reliable brands of the market.
(If I’m starting to sound like an Icebreaker fanboy, then you’d have a completely accurate perception of me.)
Shoes: Vivo Barefoot Aqua
A few years ago, I stopped wearing shoes. They’re bad for feet and posture, I learned. But I grew up beside the beach and know the area well so it wasn’t hard to walk barefoot safely. I just couldn’t hope for the same to be true when I left the country.
Many barefoot enthusiasts wear the Vibram Five Fingers shoes but I went with the more traditional looking Vivo Barefoot shoes from Terra Planna and they’ve been amazing:
- They don’t restrict the foot so you’re able to have the benefits of walking barefoot without the drawbacks.
- They held up very well over the course of years — surviving snow, desert, multi-day hikes, etc.
- The styles make them appropriate for just about any situation you can imagine.
And they were my only pair of shoes for this whole time so they took a massive beating across my travels. They did develop a hole in the right sole after an aggressive game of tag with a friend’s daughters in Paris but I went out of my way to buy the same pair and have been equally satisfied with the quality and the comfort.
(They don’t actually make the “Aqua” model of shoe anymore but there’s plenty of options available. If you want the same shoe I bought, some stores should still have stock.)
And everything else…
I don’t want to write paragraphs about mundane items like cables and chargers, so here’s the remainder of my travel gear:
- Travel adapters for different regions.
- Macbook Air charger.
- Kindle charger.
- iPhone charging cable.
- Four digit combination lock I never use.
- Wallet full of foreign currencies.
- A4 notebook for scribbling down thoughts.
- Pen that came from somewhere. Maybe Phuket.
- Scarf that was given to me in Portland.
- Jeans from Old Navy that started falling apart real quickly.
- Jacket from Old Navy that’s held up better than the jeans.
- A long-sleeved, polyester t-shirt for colder weather.
- Board shorts that my sister says are ugly.
- Electric toothbrush I’ve had for years.
- Toothbrush charger that falls over a lot.
- Nail clippers I bought in Thailand.
- A set of $10 headphones for listening to music.
What I Didn’t Take With Me
In some regards, my list appears anaemic. I didn’t travel with some items that some people (and especially digital nomads) consider essential. Let’s run through what’s apparently missing and I’ll explain why I didn’t pack it.
I took a Canon 60D with me for my first time overseas and came back with some amazing photos but, in general, I find that having a camera encourages me to take more photos than I really need and becomes more of a distraction than anything.
If I were to buy a dedicated camera, I’d buy an Olympus E-PL5 to save on space and weight over the DSLR but, for now, I don’t need more than the iPhone.
External Hard Drive
I work exclusively on computers so it’d make sense to have an external hard-drive for back-up purposes. This is just one of those things I don’t want to lug around though, so I don’t. I make sure all my important files are in Dropbox and that’s worked well so far.
Years ago, I bought a travel towel. I thought it’d come in handy. Then I never used it. I tested it once at home, was kind of let down, travelled with it anyway, and at some point I lost it. The end.
I had one of these towels, and they are well-reviewed, but I’ve never been far from a regular towel and they’re much more comfortable.
Travel towels only seem necessary if you precisely know for sure that you need them. Otherwise, they’re probably overkill.
I’m not clamouring for anything new on my packing list but a few extra things would probably come in handy.
For whatever reason, I still don’t own ear plugs. They cost basically nothing and supposedly make it much easier to fall asleep on planes and in dorm rooms. I’ve just never made the effort to buy them.
These appear to be decent but every brand seems to have some drawbacks. I’ll probably forget to buy them before I leave the country again anyway though.
↳ Related: How To Choose the Best Seat on Any Plane
I always fly with budget airlines and they never give me free sleep masks so I still don’t own one of these. One would have come in handy on a recent 10-hour flight though when the lady next to me left her television turned on the entire time, even when she was sleeping. (I almost reached out to turn it off but then she woke up and continued watching it.)
This one is expensive but seems interesting.
Universal Travel Adapter
I’ve never needed a converter when travelling. Most electronics can handle different voltages. But you do need an adapter if you want to use any outlets when you’re on the go and, at the moment, I use an adapter I bought on eBay, along with one I bought at the airport last year. It’s not the best setup and I should buy a adapter that’s usable everywhere but, you know, laziness.
This is something I’ll remedy for the next trip and, from a tiny bit of research, this adapter looks good.
Despite my fascination with stuff though, if there’s one thing I’ve learned about travel it’s that worrying about what you have when you leave the country is a waste of time. Most “must-have” travel gear isn’t necessary and I’ve travelled just fine with gear that’s usually vilified by backpackers — anything made with cotton, denim, etc.
So while it’s fun to see what other people have in their backpack, don’t let it be a limitation. You don’t need Icebreaker shirts or the fanciest of travel adapters to have a good trip.
The latest in travel gadgetry can make like a little easier on the road but that’s all it ever is — a convenience.
If you’re interested in reading more about packing light, check out:
- Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel. The book that introduced me to backpacking.
- How to Travel the World with 10 Pounds or Less. A little old at this point but plenty of great recommendations.
- Tynan’s Gear Post from 2014. More gear than I’d ever need but extremely in-depth and interesting to read.
And if you have a packing list of your own, feel free to share it in the comments below. (You’re allowed to share links to a blog post, too.)