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It’s The Little Things – Essential Items for Long-Term Travel

2 Oct

Photo by Natmandu on Flickr

Earlier today, as we were trying to avoid walking through a thick stretch of tourist market in Ubud, Bali,  we were talking about how light we feel without the need to have all the ‘stuff’ that we regarded as essential for our daily lives when we were in NYC.  Our priorities have obviously shifted, and as such, our essential items have also shifted.

When we began to gather our gear for this trip we spent a lot of time thinking about what would suit our needs best.  Our packs can only hold so many things, so we wanted to make sure that we weren’t filling the space with frivolous items.  We searched other long-term travelers’ packing lists and made lists of our own.  We bought, and returned what seemed like a million different items of quick-dry clothing.  We were even running around on the last day before we left trying to gather those last minute items that we had forgotten about.

A few months ago we finished posting our own packing lists in the hopes that others might find them useful.  Today we’d like to narrow those items down into a list of little things that, as long-term travelers, we have found to be the most useful over the course of the last year.

Cheap flip-flops – This might seem obvious, but if you plan on staying in dorms these are essential for avoiding foot plague and other nastiness in the common showers.

Packing cubes – I never really understood these, but now that we pack up and move every few days I see that they are a huge lifesaver.  Nearly everything in our packs goes into a cube, and then the cubes go into our bags in a jigsaw-like manner to maximize space.  It makes it so that we can each get packed, empty to full, in just a few minutes.

Small combination lock– Again, this might seem obvious to some, but we’ve used our locks for everything from hostel lockers, to just locking our bags every day when we leave our rooms (we lock the laptops, etc inside them).  Sure, people could slice the bag open to get to our stuff, but it prevents opportunistic theft.  We also carry a little package of zip ties that we’ve used to secure smaller bags when we’ve had to leave items with a hostel (like when we go on multi-day treks).

Headphone splitter – Sometimes we want to just have a night in to be ‘normal’ and watch a movie.  These allow us to watch movies together on one laptop.

Quickdry towel – This is not my favorite item (it’s like drying yourself with a chamois), but has been one of the most useful.  We’ve stayed in many places, mostly in S. America, that didn’t provide towels, so these were essential.  In addition, when we hand-wash clothes we find that they dry more quickly when you wring them out in a towel, and these towels not only absorb tons of water, but they dry in only a few hours.

Smartphone – We brought Justin’s phone with us, even though we cancelled his plan (and it doesn’t use a SIM card so we can’t use it for calls), because we use it for an alarm clock, emergency wi-fi,  and GPS.  If we connect to wi-fi we can download maps of our destinations, which is incredibly helpful when you arrive in a new city and aren’t exactly sure where to go.  It was also essential in India where they don’t always announce train stops…without this we definitely would have missed some of our stops!

Multi plug thing – This is one of those plugs that allows you can charge 3-4 things at once.  With two laptops, two I-pods, two kindles and two cameras this allows us to make sure we’re always charged up and ready to go, even if we get a room with only one outlet.  It’s important to just get a two-pronged plug unless your voltage adapter allows for grounded plugs.  No need to go fancy with this, we picked ours up at a hardware store for less than a dollar.

Sleep sheet – We never would have expected it, but this has turned out to be one our most useful, non-clothing item on this trip.  They are made to be used when a place lacks sheets, has questionable cleanliness, or to put inside a rental sleeping bag.  We’ve used them for all these purposes, but also for loads more, including – warmth on long, cold, bus rides; as sarongs when we need to enter temples in Bali; as beach towels (they are huge, so your whole body fits on them!); and as a laundry bag.

As a counter to our favorite items, we figured we should include some of the crap we didn’t need after all:

Money belts – Justin doesn’t carry a wallet, so that solves his pick-pocket problem.  We do have an Eagle Creek money belt that we really like, and he used to wear it on the long bus rides in S. America, but honestly, we haven’t used it in at least 5 months.  We keep it around just in case. I had a more traditional money belt, and again, I used it once or twice on overnight bus rides, but other than that it just sat in my pack and wasted a little bit of space.  I got rid of this after 6 months.

Pacsafe – We got it ‘just in case’.  We NEVER used it.  We sent it home after 6 months..

Ethernet cord – In some places this might be a good idea, but we’ve found that most places have wi-fi, and if they don’t, they don’t often have wired internet either.  Not a huge waste of space, but totally unnecessary.

Tell us, what are your ‘must-have’ travel items?

Mas Grande – Feeling Like a Giant in Bolivia

30 Apr

Generally you can find anything you need for day-to-day life in most parts of the world.  Toothpaste?  Yup, even Colgate.  Shampoo?  We’ve found it everywhere.  Lotion?  Yup.  Fleece sweaters.  Check.

The one exception has been flip-flops for Justin in Bolivia.  We each have a pair of super cheap rubber flops for showers and whatnot, and they tend to wear out about every eight to ten weeks.  Justin’s had his current pair since we were in Puerto Varas, Chile way back in January, so he is WAY overdue for a new pair.  Not only are they almost totally worn through, but the little prong between the toes keeps popping out of the sole causing him to stumble and hop around like a maniac at random interludes.

Justin's busted flops

The problem is…he has gigantic feet.  Justin is 6’2″, not including his curly mop of hair.  His shoes size down here is a hefty 45.  We had looked for replacements in Salta, Argentina, but he didn’t find any he liked and eventually we ran out of time and needed to head out to Bolivia.

It turns out, he should have just bought the ugly pair in Argentina because we didn’t stand a chance of finding what we needed in Bolivia. We searched for days.  We walked into every store we saw that carried sandals, picked up a pair and asked “Tiene 45?”   We’d point to Justin’s feet and the vendor, astonished, would invariable shake his or her head and reply.  “No, el mas grande es 43.”

Defeated, we eventually gave up and continue to repair his sad little shoe with the duct tape we brought wound around a pen.  I suspect we’ll run into the same problem in South East Asia, so we better stock up before we get there.

Packing List Part 5 – Bags

27 Mar

We’ve made it to the final installment of the packing list series!  If you haven’t checked them out already, head over to our “Things We Carry” page and check out the rest of our lists – ‘Clothing’, ‘Medical and Toiletries’, ‘Electronics’ and ‘Miscellaneous Gear’.

We’ve got to carry all that gear around in something, so our final list is dedicated to the bags in which we carry our stuff!  We brought a mix of old comfortable bags, and new ones bought specifically for this trip.  This is the only gear category in which we are completely satisfied with everything we brought.

Head on over to the new page to check out our Gear Bags.

Packing List Part 4 – Miscellaneous Gear

12 Mar

It’s time for another installment of the packing list series!  If you haven’t checked them out already, head over to our “Things We Carry” page and check out our first three lists – ‘Clothing, ‘Medical and Toiletries’ and ‘Electronic Gear’.

We’ve tried to be as prepared as possible for situations that we know we’ll encounter, but we also wanted to make sure that we were bringing things that were durable and that we’d use regularly.  For the most part we did really well in that regard, especially when it comes to the miscellaneous gear that we cart around.  There are a few exceptions though, the biggest being the pacsafe cable.  This was on a lot of ‘must-have’ lists we looked at, so we got one…and we’ve never used it.  Most of the hostels we’ve stayed in have had lockers, and when they haven’t, we just lock everything up in our packs using our regular luggage locks.  I’ve never felt the need to lock a pack to something, though I suppose that could happen somewhere down the line.

The other thing we haven’t really used much have been the backpack rain covers.  We’ve seen people who keep them on practically all the time, but we just haven’t found them necessary at this point.

Click on over and check out  the full list of our miscellaneous gear.


27 Jan

That’s what we are most of the time.  Dusty. Sweaty. Dirty. It’s like a backpacker rite of passage, but really, it just feels gross.

Our days are filled with activity of one sort or another – biking, hiking, swimming, even just wandering around town for hours.  While an endless summer of travel certainly has its advantages, it does make for a ripe experience clothing-wise.  With only a few changes of gear each it seems like we are constantly sifting our clothes into piles of ‘dirty’ or ‘less dirty’.

When we chose items to take on this journey, we very specifically packed things that could be washed easily by hand.  The thing is, you can only get clothes to a certain degree of clean in a sink, especially after 6 hours of hiking on dusty trails in 90 degree heat.

I’ve taken to wearing my clothes into the shower sometimes and beginning to wash them right on my body.  In El Bolson, Argentina,  we went on a hike that covered us in so much dust that I thought my blue socks would never recover.  It took 30 minutes of scrubbing before they came even close to resembling their former selves.

*Incidentally, it seems the best way to clean socks is to put them on your hand like mittens, get some soap on them, and then scrub them together like you are washing your hands*

Last week we finally gave in and paid an exorbitant amount of money in Valdivia, Chile for our clothes to be laundered.  It wasn’t until we were back at the hostel unpacking our clothes from the laundromat’s bag that we realized our clothes still weren’t clean.  We smelled them.  They clearly had been washed because they definitely smelled better, but they were still dirty.  The ends of my pants legs still emitted dust if I plucked at them.  The pits of our shirts still felt…off…  It was too late to go back and complain, so we chalked it up to crappy washing machines and vowed to open and check our clothes at the laundromat from here on out.  We chose the ‘least dirty’ clothes once again, and headed out to Pucon.

We’ve spent the last few days at the home of a woman in Puerto Varas.  She has a washing machine.  For a reasonable fee she told us she would wash our clothes for us.  We kept our expectations low and set out for the day in the only items we hadn’t put aside for laundering.  This means I wore pajama pants to lunch.  We returned at the end of the day to find our clothes folded and neatly stacked outside our bedroom door.

It was with much trepidation that we carefully unfolded and inspected each item.  They smelled good.  They felt good.  Vigorous shaking produced no dust! We finally, finally, finally, have actual clean clothes!

Today we leave for Puerto Natales to embark on a series of camping/backpacking trips in some of Chile and Argentina’s finest national parks.  We should be filthy as ever in no time.

Packing List Part 1- Clothing

27 Dec

We FINALLY got around to putting up the first part of our packing list – Clothing.

In the months before we left I spent hours looking at packing lists from all kinds of RTW trippers, and even more hours making, then re-making my own list.

So far we’re fairly happy with the clothes we brought, and have worn everything at least once, with the exception of some of the colder weather gear that we’ll more likely use as we make our way further south.

We’re working on setting up the rest of the gear posts – medical kit, tech gear, and everything else – so check back often to the “Things We Carry” link at the top of the page.

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