For the past five months, The majority of my physical life has been confined to a 46 liter space.
I’m posting this from my latest temporary home in Nieu-Bethesda and having had to unpack and repack just a few days ago, I’ve started to realize which items are starting to define my trip. By having to prioritize a limited space, the things I have chosen to carry with me have, by necessity, been fulfilling a specific hierarchy of self-need. I won’t preach extreme minimalism for all and I do think that 46 liters is a bit drastic for anyone living in a semi-permanent location. But even before I left home, I started looking around at all of the things I own and wondering, ‘does this fulfill a specific need?’ Do I own this or does this own me? I’m not prepared for the fully ascetic lifestyle but by reducing my possessions to 46 liters, I’ve created a lot of space to be me.
This is not the ‘Master Packing List’ for all long term backpacking trips, but rather as a snapshot of my current priorities. Mileage may vary for all individuals and indeed for me in a different time in my life. This list is also not everything little thing I have but rather the ‘trip defining items’; all the rest could vanish overnight and not change the overall rhythm of the journey.
Basics and Safety
* I wouldn’t get very far without this first item. Prior to traveling, I made sure that I had more than enough pages to load up on stamps and visas. Not only will I use my passport at immigration but it’s been my main form of identification in other countries and is used at check-in for hotels and hostels as well as most vehicle rentals. I’ve also made a laminated copy of my ID page to keep on me at all times.
2. Debit and Credit Cards
* As slim as my budget has become, I still need some amount of money for my travels. A lot of the countries I’ve been spending time in are primarily cash economies but I still use a credit card for larger and online purchases. I’d also recommend traveling with two of each card. If you lose one (it’s happened to me in Thailand) you’ll be able to use your backup while you work on getting a replacement. I have seen many a backpacker lose a debit card either by theft or carelessness and try to withdraw money using a passport. You can’t.
* It’s April 2017 at the time of writing this and the main cards I’m using right now are:
* Charles Schwab (backup: BoA Debit Card)
* Chase Sapphire Reserve Credit Card (backup: BoA Travel Rewards)
* I am traveling with one pair of shoes and one pair of cheap sandals (that get ruined pretty easily and need to get replaced every few months for a dollar or two). Of the two items I specifically invested in before this trip, my shoes are one. I bought a pair of La Sportiva Bushidos because they can be worn for hiking, running, and for a night out on the town. They aren’t the perfect shoes for any of these activities individually but running shoes would have been used too infrequently, boots would have been to cumbersome, and a traditionally stylish pair of shoes would have been too nice for the trails. My Bushidos work for a run down from the mountains straight into a trendy bar for happy hour.
* The other item I specifically purchased for this trip was my backpack. I have had a variety of camping backpacks and actually traded in my previous pack for another one slightly smaller, an Osprey Porter 46 Liter. This way, I’ve limited myself to taking only what really matter and ensuring that I’ll be able to take this bag as carry on for most flights. Different packs would have made more sense if I was going be doing more camping and staying exclusively in cities but, like my shoes, I’m happy with my hybrid on this trip.
* I almost never wear them at home but I have become so accustomed to wearing ear plugs now that I can’t imagine sleeping without them. These are a lifesaver in busy cities, active farms, and especially in communal living situations as my 7 other roommates may be coming and going at all hours of the night. I picked up a pack of Mack’s Pillow Soft Silicone Earplugs and have supplemented with random free ear buds in hostels from South East Asia. Pro tip: use a scarf as an eye mask to create a black out sleep environment.
6. Hygiene Kit
* Just because you’re a dirty vagabond doesn’t mean you have to be dirty, vagabond. My items in heavy rotation include:
* Toothbrush / Toothpaste
* Soap Bar
* Backup Toilet Paper
* Band-Aids / Neosporin / Bacitracin
* Nail Clippers
7. Clothing, Towel
* I’m not going to tell you everything I wear since that would be crazy and because it’s changing all the time; I’ve bought some new shirts and I’ve donated some old ones to communities along the way. I have about enough clothes to give me a new outfit every 5 days but I wash the most worn ones every 2 or 3 days. I’ve got a few nice shirts to wear in the cities, some warm layers for changing climates, and for one month I even had a three-piece bespoke suit.
* For my towel reasoning, see ‘Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’.
* This is all packed into 3 Eagle Creek Packing Cubes.
8. Locks, Money Belt
* Not everyone is out to get me but locks give a piece of mind when I can’t keep an eye on my things. I always travel with one TSA lock threaded through the zippers of my Osprey pack so I can sleep easy on the plane, trains, or buses knowing that no one is sifting through my things. My other TSA lock always comes with my day pack to use on lockers if I’m visiting a museum, beach, or somewhere else I need to leave my bag for a few hours. Finally, I carry a padlock to use on my door when I have private rooms. Hostels usually provide you with a lock and key but I prefer using my own and the combination lock allows me to avoid having to carry an extra key around when I’m out. A money belt is something that I never thought would have proved to be useful but I wear it every day now.
* As a note, NOTHING is guaranteed to keep your things 100% safe (especially if you forget to put things in your money belt, again see Thailand) but locks deter the majority of petty thefts. If someone does peek into the luggage compartments underneath the bus, they are probably a lot less likely to bother with a locked bag than the one that is partially unzipped with an iPad hanging out the side. Theives are lazy.
Love, Esteem, and Self-Actualization
1. Paperback Book and Kindle
* I’m making a distinction between reading a physical book and reading on a Kindle. I recently received a Kindle as a gift and although I love it and have been flying through books on it, I will continue reading my paperbacks as well. I am frequently overwhelmed by the expanse of options we are blessed / burdened with in today’s modern society. I need to scroll through Netflix for 15 minutes before settling on the RIGHT movie to watch while I cook dinner and in the same way, books easily become dull when I know there’s another option a few finger taps away. When I enter a hostel and find 7 options on the shelf, I typically find that four are in English, two of those are the right size to carry around, and only one is about something that interests me. Why would you want more options than that? The Kindle still serves a purpose to allow me to keep up on my growing list of books I’ve been recommended.
* Side note: I made a personal goal to read 100 books this year, I’ll post more about that soon.
* Currently Reading:
* Paperback: ‘Identity’ by Milan Kundera
* Kindle: ‘Brave New World’ by Adolus Huxley
2. Computer, Phone
* How else was I going to bring you this beautiful blog post? I often wish they weren’t necessary items on my travel but my own computer (ASUS X200M) has proved instrumental to daily writing and big days of travel planning.
* After many battles with Verizon over unlocking my former phone, my Galaxy J5 has become the only phone I use. It’s frequently in airplane mode or turned off.
* Currently typing:
* This blog post by using my phone as a mobile hotspot
3. Coffee Gear
* For anyone who hasn’t been reading prior posts: GOOD COFFEE IS IMPORTANT TO ME. Right now I’m carrying my Aeropress with a reuseable metal disc filter and my Hario Slim Grinder. Just add some locally roasted beans and hot water.
* Currently Grinding:
* Sumatra (Indonesia) beans roasted in the gas barrell at Two Goats Deli where I’m working for April
* You’ll never be able to capture everything; but people back home will want to see some of the things you’re seeing and ten years from now you’ll want to remind yourself of some of those beautiful sunsets and waterfalls. I’m not an advanced photographer so I didn’t reserve a lot of space for photography gear. Instead I carry a small handheld camera that I can slip into my pocket. I chose the Olympus TG4 since I’m happy with the quality of pictures it takes (it shoots in RAW as well), it’s waterproof up to 15 meters, and it can withstand falls up to 3 meters.
* Currently Shooting:
* Farm animals next door, scenery in the Karoo, and the neighbor’s (Frans) sculptures.
* Probably my most valued possession I have in my bag. Every preceding item can be replaced with money but the pages in my journals have the rawest distillate of my thoughts on this trip. Without WiFi or a book to read, I can keep myself occupied for hours writing a log of my day, expanding on some thoughts, or just creating some head-space.
* Currently writing about:
* My own dang business