What We Had in Our Backpacks for 15 Months on the Road--and What We Should Have Left At Home


I get many emails complimenting me on my “stylish backpacker” looks (thanks, guys!), so I figured I’d share my secrets on what to bring, what to leave at home, and what didn’t make it past the first month. This is as comprehensive a list as I could make for what you should pack for a round the world adventure, which is essentially the same thing you should pack for a one month trip to Europe, or a three month stint in Asia.

If you have questions about technology and tech equipment on the road, read Rob’s post on that here.

The beginning of our three day trek in Sapa

Full disclosure: some of these links are affiliate links, which means if you click them and then buy something, Rob and I get a tiny percentage of your purchase. Since it doesn’t cost you anything extra and it helps pay for our servers and our beers, we’d love it if you did a little shopping!

What I Still Have in My Pack After 15 Months

  • Beauty and hair products. You know how blogs say to buy beauty products on the road because they’re cheap and easy to replenish? Well, they lie. Every time we had friends or family join us during our trip we had two requests for them: Deva Curl hair products and SPF face lotion. You may not have our curly hair needs, but I’m fairly certain you don’t want to put whitening face lotion with bleach all over your skin. And seeing as that’s pretty much the only thing available in most of Asia, here’s my biggest tip to you: bring face lotion with you! Plus, if you have one of those bathroom organizer holder/hanger things, it makes it really easy to pack and unpack in a jiffy.
  • ExOfficio underwear. Quick drying, odor resistant, and technically sexy—at least for women. There’s nothing NOT to love about this underwear. The worst thing that happened with the underwear was when the laundromat in Nepal lost two of Rob’s favorite pairs. I kid you not when I say there were almost tears. On a positive side, we each still have a few pairs coming home with us. If they paid me, I’d be in a commercial.
  • Zip off convertible pants. So they’re not sexy, but you can’t negate their practicality. While I still don’t understand why they don’t make pants for women that zip off in the mid thigh versus the knee, my North Face zip offs are coming home with me. (So are Rob’s ExOfficio version, which actually looked nice enough to double as real shorts.) Quick to dry and amazingly stain resistant, they’ve made it through tons of adventures and still have more to go. They no longer look new, but who really cares? Sometimes you’re not looking for beauty points. (On a side note, my Lululemon leggings are officially dead.)
  • A beach bag and Longchamp purse. Having a daypack is key, but for trips to the beach or to a restaurant, my cheap beach bag from Old Navy and the traditional (non cheap) Longchamp Le Pliage made me feel a little more like a real person and not someone who lives out of a backpack. Well worth the space and weight!

What I’m Glad I Brought But Didn’t Make It Home

  • Trekking shoes. There are those that say they’re too bulky and heavy, and to them I say, “get shoes, not boots.” Although both Rob’s and my North Face trekking shoes are sitting in a New Zealand dumpster, they came in incredibly handy over the last 15 months. I must have put at least 400 miles on the things and they held up pretty well until the last few days at Everest. I could have never made it through half our treks with just sneakers and I’m glad I bought the real thing back home instead of relying on North Fake products on the road. (On a side note, we both had North Face water shoes, which pretty much have no traction now. They were good while they lasted, but died pretty quickly for the price.)
  • My favorite dress/t-shirt/shorts, etc. You know how people say to not overpack and that you can buy everything on the road? Well, that’s true, as long as you’re not busty, tall, or expect clothes with a good fit. Although some of our favorite items of clothing didn’t make it home, I can’t tell you how happy we are that we brought them along. When you only have four shirts, it’s nice when they fit and make you feel good. Plus, at that point, even if the t-shirt cost $100, the cost per wear is about $0.30. (For women, Lucy made some great travel friendly tops that lasted pretty well!)
  • SPF and bug repellant clothing. I promise ExOfficio isn’t paying me to say this, but as someone who’s constantly attacked by mosquitos, having clothes with bug resistant properties was awesome. Wearing 50% DEET for a year straight isn’t exactly good for you and my Bugs Away shirts made it unnecessary. Unfortunately, they look a little worse for the wear, and hence, were left behind. Rob’s problem is sun, and his Land’s End SPF 50 shirts did the trick! After much swimming and trekking, their sun resistance went the way of their bright colors. Alas, they too were left behind in New Zealand.
  • Cute bathing suits. So maybe three pairs of bikinis was overkill, but considering two of them are now dead, I don’t regret bringing them one bit. Bring a cute one and a more athletic one. Both of Rob’s swimming trunks are dead as well. Lucky for him, they were from Old Navy.
moving to the release zone for the turtles

What I’d Leave Behind Next Time

  • That travel skirt/dress/shirt combo. Sure, it’s space saving to have one article of clothing double as three, but if you feel funny wearing it at home, you’re likely not going to want to wear it on the road. Money wasted. (Sorry Rob’s mom who bought me this particular article of clothing!)
  • An overzealous first aid kit. While our Z Pack, Cipro, and Malarone came in handy, we probably didn’t need to carry around 2 kilograms of bandaids, Tums, Advil, and god knows what else. Bring things you absolutely need to have right away if you’re sick, but leave room to buy things like cold medicine. It’s a ton cheaper out of America anyway.
  • Random things from Rob’s pack. Two t-shirts, so he’d only have four total. 10 meters of rope, since 10 meters total was probably sufficient. The tripod he forgot the screw for, since it was always useless. 200 pairs of contacts, since he wore his prescription sunglasses every day except when we went diving. Ahh…. Rob :o)

What Did You Pack for the Road?

Let us know if there's anything you loved or hated about how you packed! Also, if you're interested in my thoughts on other travel essentials such as packing cubes and sleeping sheets, read my Is That Essential Essential post here.