Out of all of the little things that I enjoy in life, packing is actually one of my favorites. To me, it symbolizes the beginning of something or the start of a journey. Whether it’s packing my bag in college to head to a coffee shop or heading out for an international adventure, packing has always made me giddy with excitement - a sort of adrenaline rush for the unknown trail ahead. With this journey having been thought about and planned for over a year, you can imagine the rush I felt while packing up my massive backpack. It would serve as my suitcase and home base for the next 12 months, so I wanted to get it right.
And that’s exactly where I was wrong. In my opinion, there is no particular right way to pack for a journey like this. A good amount of friends and mentors gave me advice on what to pack and how to pack, and in the end, I took bits and pieces from all angles and came to terms with my own style. Here is a look into what and how I packed, some tips for packing that I’ve learned so far, and some important pre-planning tasks.
I have lot of clothes, (that’s what 4 years of free t-shirts at basketball games and community service events will do to you) so when it came time to choosing which clothes to bring, I thought I’d be in trouble. However, it actually was fairly easy. In fact, it was cleansing and freeing in a way. Since I had planned my trip to be in warm weather areas as much as possible, I didn’t have to worry too much about packing for completely different climates. That being said, I still had to choose wisely.
Jacket (1): I have a super light weight one that keeps me very warm, and it’s pretty fashionable, which as silly as that sounds, is helpful since I’ll be wearing it almost every day. I did also bring a ridiculously lightweight sweatshirt that could be worn as an extra layer underneath. Shoes (3): With help from my Dad, I chose a very durable and flexible pair of walking shoes from The Walking Company. They are waterproof, pretty European looking, and are very comfortable. I wear these most of the time. The other two are a pair of black shoes that are good to wear shorts with, and my Nike running shoes. These can be used for hikes, longer walks/exercising in, etc.
Socks (10): Socks are easy to pack, so I made sure to bring a good amount of them. Wool socks are great, and I bought some from REI that you can wash out in a sink and dry super fast. Tip: put them in your shoes to save space when packing.
Pants/Shorts (3/4): Two pairs of jeans, and one pair of khaki color pants that are similar to jean material. The khakis can be used if I need to look nicer at any point, and they’ve already come in handy a handful of times. Regarding shorts, I have 4 pairs with me. One is for exercise, and the others are for hiking and walking around cities, towns, etc. I also have two belts for my pants (a regular one and a nice/fancy one), and one for my shorts.
Underwear (10): Underwear is pretty small, so bringing 10 pairs were similar to the socks in that they can be packed easily and won’t take up too much space. A key thing with underwear is to find some pairs that can be washed in a sink and dried quickly (like the socks), so that if you don’t have access to a washing machine/dryer for a while, you can have clean underwear.
Shirts (12): I have 10 regular shirts (short and long sleeve), and then 2 button-down/fancy shirts. I’d recommend getting a few of the sink-washable shirts too. (Hint: REI is awesome)
Hat (1): A dermatologist I went to before my trip gave me a super great hat to wear, so I brought that along.
With such a long journey ahead, much of which would be in places with limited access to medicine, I needed to be prepared. Therefore, I have with me a small first-aid kit and all sorts of pills to combat congestion, stomach problems, allergies, and everything in between. As I’ll mention later, I also have malaria pills for when I go to places with high risk of the disease.
Towels: My wonderful aunt gave me something called a micro-towel that is basically the world’s greatest invention. It’s a full sized towel that dries almost instantly, and it packs away into the size of a bag of chips. I also got myself an even tinier one to serve as a washcloth of sorts. Computer: Choosing to bring a computer was tough, but with all the photo/video editing I will be doing for personal projects, I needed to bring it. The good news is that it’s very lightweight and easy to pack. I also have a hard drive to store photos on that I have packed in a waterproof little bag that came in a toiletry bag that I have.
Converters: I have two incredibly versatile converters for many different types of outlets. Along with these are my charging cords for my devices.
Toiletries: Pretty self-explanatory. I made to sure to get travel sizes and to be truly smart about what I needed versus what I wanted.
Camera: I have a very lightweight DSLR camera with me, as well as a GoPro. Each has their own carrying case and stays with me at all times in my daypack.
Tips for packing that I’ve learned so far:
- Take batteries out of anything you have and put them in when you need to. This way nothing will turn on accidentally in your bag(s) and drain the battery.
- Be strategic and pack things that are heaviest at the bottom of your bag. Also pack things that you won’t use too much toward to bottom of your bag.
- Roll your clothing. It saves a lot of space.
- Compartmentalize. At REI they have these amazingly light bags that you can sort your things into. For example, I have four and one has my shirts in it, one has my pants and shorts in it, etc. This way, you don’t have loose clothing in our bag that spills everywhere if you need to grab something. It’s almost as if your bags has little drawers and it’s been exceptionally helpful so far.
- Bring backups of things that may be important. I have a backup daypack if mine breaks, and it can also be used as a waterproof bag in case I need it.
- Be versatile with what you use things for. I got a toiletry bag at REI that I am using as my camera bag because it fits perfectly and is waterproof.
- Leave space in your bag. My bag isn’t full (it’s currently at 40lbs) and that’s a good thing. This means that I have space should I need to buy something along the way (a new pair of shoes, an extra jacket, etc.) and it also means my bag is lighter than it could be. Yay!
- Grab things along the way, but be smart. For example, I took some of the hotel shampoo and soap when I was with my family so I can use it in a hostel if I need it. I also grabbed a couple shower caps in case I need to put something wet away, but that could just be me overanalyzing things like usual…
- Bring a Nalgene water bottle. It will save you money and will remind you to stay hydrated. There are also a bunch of refill stations in Europe.
- Bring your student ID. It can get you discounts at tons of museums and other attractions.
- Be okay with change: if a tactic isn’t working, that’s ok. Try something else. Just make sure you’re okay with things breaking, not going as planned, etc, and be ready to problem solve! J
Before I set out traveling, there were a few very important things I needed to get done. Here are as many as I can remember:
Vaccines: Making sure I had all of my shots for this journey was important. I was lucky to have a few shots from years ago still covering me, but I still had to get a few. For example, a yellow fever shot is not only important, but it also is required to enter into a few countries.
Passport/Visas: Visas can take a long time to get, so doing this as early as possible, no matter how many you need, is crucial. In my case, I need about 12 visas for places I want to go during my travels. Some require(d) sending in documents while others can be applied and accepted online. I recommend using Travisa. They’re great to use and at the very least to check out what is needed for each visa. When it comes to a passport, I actually applied and was accepted for a second valid US passport. This is because with the amount of traveling I am doing without returning to the US, I need to be able to send one off to get a visa while I keep traveling with the other. This can all be a bit confusing (still is at times to me), so if anyone reading this has any specific questions just let me know.
Doctors Appointments: The generic checkups and whatnot are actually important as well. I went to an ophthalmologist, a dermatologist and a dentist before I left to try and get everything in good shape. It also helped because some doctors will give you special creams or pills or random things to take with you for free (like the hat I got).
Phew! I think that’s everything I wanted to get across. The main point with all of this, however, is that everything is constantly changing for me. I’m consistently figuring out better ways of doing this, and I will probably gather and shed some things along the way. I’m always learning along this trip, so please let me know if you have anything to add or if you have any questions!