We are about to set off on the first international leg of our round the world and thought it would be useful to share this post on our approach to a Minimalist RTW Packing List.
We recently did a tally of the places we’ve each traveled, Quan’s count is 58 countries and Jesse’s is 36. Jesse’s longest overseas trip was two months traveling across Southeast Asia including Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia. Quan’s longest was also two months sailing in Thailand, hiking in Nepal, and visiting Bhutan before she moved to Colorado. We also made travel a priority even when we were working. In the past two years we traveled to Cuba, Colombia, Spain, Italy, and have hiked several National Parks across the US. We love travel and we place priority on doing it in a way where we focus on experiences rather than things. We have found that the key to doing this is traveling light.
Based on our itinerary we will travel through all 4 seasons. We’ll also need clothes for hiking, beach, and city. Finally we are attending a wedding in Italy during our RTW, but were lucky to have a friend bring us our clothes for the wedding so we did not have to include that into the pack.
A Few Ground Rules
Here are some general guidelines we used when putting together our packing list:
- Don’t pack anything “just in case” – we would rather buy than pay the price of carrying items that we may never use.
- The pack can never be too light – weight adds up. One more pair of shoes, one more pair of socks can become a death spiral that could add a few pounds too many. Think of your poor shoulders!
- You do you. If you don’t wear it at home, you won’t wear it on the road. Almost every RTW packing list we researched suggested zip off hiking pants. We personally hate them, not on the list.
- Don’t be afraid to buy at the location! Based on past experience hiking in Nepal and Peru, many of these locations have local shops that sell winter jackets and additional gear. Our general rule was if we didn’t’ expect to use the item for 80% of the trip, we would opt to buy.
- Don’t pack anything you’re not willing to give up. We will learn as we go on what works and doesn’t work in this pack list. We both agreed that if there was an item we weren’t using, we should be ok with donating or leaving it behind.
So with these ground rule in place, here is the list of items on our Minimalist RTW Packing List.
- Eye Mask
- Toothbrush, tooth paste, floss
- Eye drops
- A pair of socks
- Lotion, chapstick, and a lavendar mist
We plan to replace these items as we use them on the road.
After lots of test drives of other travel pillows, we can’t say enough good things about this pillow! It inflates easily and has a button which allows you to easily deflate to your comfort level. There is a removable covering so you can throw it in the wash. It quickly folds away and stores in a compact bag that comes with the pillow. There is nothing grosser than a travel pillow that’s run through a TSA security screen!
Sleep Liner: Sea to Summit Coolmax Adaptor Liner with Insect Shield This is the closest thing to carrying your own sheets with you. We plan to use this on our camping trips as well as when we are staying at unsavory hostels where we would prefer to not sleep on the sheets.
Starter Toiletry Kit
We expect to buy toiletries along the way, but did make ourself a starter pack which includes:
- Travel body wash, conditioner,
- Lotion, deodorant, shaving cream
- Face wipes
To Carry The Load
Where we spent the most time and effort was researching the best backpack for carrying the RTW load. After a lot of research and several trips to REI to personally test out options, we decided on Osprey Packs Farpoint 55 Travel Backpack. Quan got it in Caribbean Blue and Jesse in Black. Here is the criteria we used to make this selection:
- Lightweight & small enough to use as a carry-on (reviews showed that this pack was accepted on low cost airlines for carry on)
- A zip off day back that provided extra storage, ability to consolidate, and eliminates the need for an extra day pack
- Comfortable straps including a stow away panel for when we need to throw the bag under a bus/train/plane storage compartment
- Padded handles on the top & side which gives this bag such versatility- you can carry it as a duffel or as a backpack
- Internal & External Compression straps to help tighten and minimize our pack
- A suspension frame & hip belt as well as a Small, Medium, and Large option so you can customize to your height. We are small people and don’t need large packs!
- The bag opens up flat giving you a wide access for organizing and finding your things.
This is what it looks like packed with the straps tucked away:
In addition we are also bringing these storage items:
- Travel Purse: Quan found hers for $5 at the Chinatown in Flushing, Queens, but there’s a similar one on Amazon: Dakine Women’s Jive Shoulder Bag Daybreak One Size Her main criteria was an outside zip pocket for easy passport access and a light weight washable material.
- Fanny pack – Quan got hers for free from a friend so will try to bring fanny packs back! For day hikes she likes to have a fanny pack which allows easy access to her phone for taking photos.
- A fold away day pack: LeSportsac Classic Medium Travel Tote, Midnight Tropical This is for when we’re doing sight seeing in cities or to pack for a day at the beach.
- Travel Money Belt & Passport Holder: We each have one. We will be traveling to several remote places that require us to hold large amounts of cash so we wanted a third place to stash large bills.
- Travel Lock: Travel Combination Cable Lock to lock our valuables into our backpack when we do day outings.
Women’s Packing List
Even after taking this photo, we did another round of minimizing so here is where we landed for a woman’s RTW pack:
- 12 pairs of underwear – several of which are the quick dry ExOfficio Women’s
- 3 hiking socks, 2 running socks, 1 wool socks
- 1 bra & 3 pair of sports bra
- 2 dresses: I buy and discard these on the road. In Muslim countries or in cold hiking conditions (Everest Base Camp) there is no need for dresses.
- 2 pairs yoga pants: I am one of those girls who wear yoga pants as pants
- 1 pair of shorts
- One pair of hiking pants: I love these! After a lot of trial and error these are the only hiking pants I swear by
- 2 tank tops
- 2 quick dry t shirts
- 2 Zip Up Long Sleeve Tech Shirts
- 1 Long Sleeve Quick Dry
- All in One Jacket: An outer shell wind breaker + an inner fleece
- 1 Columbia Women’s World Trekker Vest: Great for airport days as there’s tons of storage in the various pockets!
- Light Weight Rain/UV Jacket
Women’s Footwear List:
- Hiking boots: After a lot of trial and error, these happen to be the shoes that work for me, but I would highly recommend trying out yours long before your trip. A good a pair of hiking shoes can make or break a trip.
- Flats: I originally started with a pair of Rothy’s but have ended up buying a near pair locally every 1-2 months because I wear them to the ground.
- Teva Women’s Original Universal Sandal: This item has been a real MVP on the packing list! Great for water crossing or as a post hike shoe. Paired with a thick pair of socks they even work well in cold settings!
- Flip Flops: This is still in the pack, but very close to getting tossed out
- Winter Hat: Mine is a knit hat that Jesse bought for me in Peru. Here is a similar one.
- Henschel Aussie Crushable Mesh Breezer I sadly lost this hat early on, but have since replaced it with this sun hat
- A scarf is also a useful items for entry into temples & mosques, we did not pack one but plan to buy locally.
- 2 pairs of cheap sunglasses: We lose/ break them so often we typically replace them on the road
- Swim suit
- A set of thermal underwear
Men’s Packing List
- Shoes: Hiking boots,
- Tevas and flip flops though we are considering throwing away the flip flops as the Tevas have been a MVP on the packing list.
- 1 pair of Feiyue for city walking
- 1 All In One Jacket & Fleece
- 2 pairs of hiking pants
- 1 pair of long underwear
- 1 pair of sweats
- 1 pair of jeans
- 2 pair of chino shorts
- 2 athletic shorts
- 1 long sleeve button up shirt
- 3 wicking t-shirts
- 3 cotton t shirts
- 1 bathing suit
- 6 pairs of underwear ExOfficio Men’s
- 3 pairs of hiking socks, and 2 pairs of regular socks
- Winter hat, baseball hat, gloves,
- 2 pairs of cheap sunglasses
- Light Weight Rain/ UV Jacket
In terms of electronics, we opted to keep it very simple. We will each bring an iPhone which we’ll use as as camera, phone, and for mobile blogging. We did bring a small travel laptop as we read that most low cost airlines and travel booking sites work best on a laptop. We also each brought an iPad with books, movies and songs. We opted to leave our iWatches behind as they would mean additional cords and chargers. We will have several legs where we’ll go a few days without easy access to electricity so opted for these two remote battery options:
- Battery Phone Case: These are great because in the evening you can charge the case and the phone at the same time.
- Anker External Battery: We opted for this one which holds 5 Days of Charge but still retains a fairly light weight
Finally, here are the additional miscellaneous items we included in our pack:
- Cassette Adapter: We expect to be doing a lot of long drives in remote regions with old vehicles and wanted to have this on hand to play music from our phones
- A jack for charging devices in the car
- 2 extra carabiners, a few safety pins
- 2 head lamps
- A simple first aid kit with travel meds (we opted for diahrea & elevation meds), Yellow Fever proof
- Hand Held Water Purifier & 2 Nalgene Bottles
- A pack of stickers: one of our favorite things about travel are the kids we meet along the way. We’ve started carrying stickers on our travels as gifts we can leave behind.
- Passport, with several copies tucked away and an electronic copy in our email. We also have our China and Tajik visas already.
- Driver’s license, international drivers license
- Proof of yellow fever shot
- Extra passport photos for visas along the way
- A debit card and 2 credit cards each
Health & Travel Insurance
Health insurance while you travel is a must. While it doesn’t supplement your insurance at home, it does cover any medical costs that could arise from diseases or accidents, as well as baggage issues, cancellations and delays. It will also cover the cost to get you home if you do have a medical issue, where your health insurance back home will cover your healthcare costs from there.
We decided that health insurance was not an item to be cheap. We opted for a high deductible plan at home for catastrophic coverage. For travel, we bought a policy with World Nomads Insurance, which consistently has the best reviews for coverage as well as speed of paying out claims. Our policy for 6 months (which we will extend if we travel longer) was approximately $700 each (this was for the Explorer plan, the Standard plan, which has less coverage limits would have been $630 each). This cost includes up to $100,000 for Emergency issues, $500,000 (the Standard plan covers up to $300,000) for evacuation and repatriation expenses, $10,000 for trip cancellation and up to $35,000 for Collision insurance.
So there you have it our Minimalist packing list. We weighed our bags, Quan’s is 22lbs and Jesse’s is 18.5lbs. This is light enough to travel without checking the bag and for us to carry on our backs for extended periods of time during our commute within a country.
Here we are on our way to Kazakhstan with our Minimalist RTW pack on. The only addition you’ll see here is a lightweight sleeping bag which we’ll use during our trekking expedition through the Stans. We bought these used for $5 each as they will get left behind once we’re done with that leg of the trip.
We will come back and update this post as we continue with our travels to adjust for items that we discard or buy along the way.