When embarking on long term travel, what you take with you will make a big difference on the experience. In this article I look into the packing list, tips and lessons learned for going on a several month trip with only cabin luggage / hand luggage, all this including items such as laptop, camera, tablet and sleeping bag.
When preparing for spending 6 months on the road, I knew that this would also be a chance for me to put into practice some “minimalist lifestyle” and try to strip my temporary belongings to the bare minimum. This article is based on a trip taken during the second semenster of 2017, traveling from Spain through Austria, Poland, Ukraine, Georgia, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Nepal, Thailand, Vietnam and Hong Kong.
When traveling for a long trip weight and volume are key factors, thus it is important to be meticulous in what you take and making sure that you will actually use every single item. Also, most things you might eventually need can be bought along the way so it is definetly better to under-pack than to over-pack.
Travelling light has many advantages, even if most of the time you will only be carrying your bag from the airport/station to the hotel and viceversa. Apart from the obvious cost and time savings at airports, it is definetly a plus regarding comfort and flexibility. It can also be a healthy exercise at minimalist lifestyle and learning to make the most of having less.
I was looking for a 50L backpack with the following characteristics: Cheap, durable, light. comfortable, and with vertical & horizontal accessibility. While the options are endless, I finally decided for the Decathlon Forclaz Easyfit 50, currently available for 70 Euros at their online store.While it is true that technically this backpack is above the generally allowed cabin volume, I never had any issues carrying it on board (more than 20 flights). Usually staff are not concerned with what you have on your back.
Weight however can be an issue, since some airlines have ridiculous weight limitations on hand-luggage (8 kg is quite common). The only times I have had the hand luggage weighed is when online check-in is not available, which is very seldom nowadays. However there are some ways to get away with extra weight. First wear your more bulky clothes on you, such as boots or jacket. Then you can also take your laptop or heavier electronics in a separate plastic bag (if you use a bag from the duty free even better!), they usually won’t make you weigh these.
The biggest question: To laptop or not to laptop. After much deliberation I decided to go with it. While you can fulfil most of your digital needs nowadays with a smartphone or tablet, a laptop is always more convinient and user-friendly. However, what really tipped the scales for me was photo management. I wanted to be able to back-up, clasify and edit my photos on the road. While all this is technically possible on a tablet or even phone, it is much more of a hassle, and when you have thousands of photos you want to make it as intuitive as possible. Otherwise you will get home with 100k photos and the task will be so daunting you will never get it done. I carried a 15” Macbook Pro from 2015. Although compact, the weight is quite high, thus if possible I would have opted for something lighter.
Other things I took with me
- Nexus-7 tablet, mainly for e-books
- Fujifilm X-Pro1 Mirrorless camera with the 18-55mm f/2.8-4 Lens. Also picked up a very portable 35mm f/2.0 in Hong Kong.
- USB powerbank. It’s a must, considering the criticality of our mobile phone for finding directions, retrieving reservations & emails, etc.
- In-ear noise cancelling headphones, for flights, train, bus, or other noisy environments. I have a pair from Audio Technica and can’t stress enough how useful they are.
- Small bluetooth speaker for listening to music in the hotel or elsewhere
- I also carried with me a HP Sprocket portable ink-less printer, for sharing photos with people along the way.
Unsurprisingly, electronics were more than half of the weight and volume in my bag.
This was the most head-ache inducing area, as the options are endless. My requirement was having enough clothes for at least one full week without having to do laundry. While finding a place to do your laundry is easy most of the time (and otherwise washing clothes in the hotel sink is also an option), it takes time and effort if you have to be constantly doing it, which could be spent more productively.
I also wanted to have both casual/sport and semi-formal clothes, as well as all-weather options. Apart from regular ammount of clothes necessary for 7 days (including a pair of black leather boots, shirts, t-shirts, etc), here are some useful items:
- Black Etnies Scout sneakers, ultra-light and compact
- Microfiber travel towel
- Ultra-portable down jacket, similar to the Patagonia nano-puff
- Rain jacket & pants, for hiking in the rain
- Light sleeping bag & cotton liner
Dark colors are always better in case of stains or dirty environments. A couple of light cotton bags for compartmentalizing the items are very useful.
There are several things which can prove very useful when on the road, especially in certain environments. Here is a list:
- Ultra-portable day-backpack, very usefull for going around when you leave your bag at the hotel. I found one at Decathlon for a couple of euros which was the size of an egg.
- Portable water filtration system. I used a Sawyer Mini, which screws to the top of most bottles, and comes with its own 0,5L portable water pouch.
- Money belt to keep your most valuable belongings (Passport, credit cards, Back-up SD cards). I like one which attaches to your belt and hangs like an inside pocket.
- A small roll of scotch tape, safety pins, zip-ties, and sewing kit, for fixing any rips or eventualities.
- Small number-code lock for backpack
- Rubber sink stopper and some clothes detergent. Most hotels will not have a stopper, which you will need to wash your clothes in the sink if necessary.
- Short elastic rope for hanging clothes in the room in case of lack of space
- Small LED headlamp. While most smartphones have a pretty powerful torch integrated, if you find yourself somewhere without electricity or want to move about in a dark space without bothering others, a headlamp is very useful as it keeps your hands free.
- Toiletries in small 100ml or smaller containers.
- Disposable ear plugs
I hope that these lists can provide some useful insights into what should be taken or may be useful in such a trip.